Improve Your Pre-Hire Assessment Process



Greg Levine
05/16/2011

Last week, CMIQ published Greg Levin's "Five Elements of a Successful Agent Recruiting Program." The piece gave some of Levin's best agent recruiting practices seen over his 17 years in the call center industry. This week, Levin follows up that piece with his best practices on improving your pre-hire assessment process.

While a comprehensive and strategic recruiting program is certainly key to attracting the right type of agents your call center seeks, careful assessment of all applicants is still essential to make sure that they truly have what it takes to endure customer abuse, cramped cubicles and headset hair for years on end, or at least through orientation.

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High-Tech, High-Touch Hiring

After the recruitment and early screening phase, the best-run call centers utilize a holistic blend of technology and hands-on human tactics to help select the best candidates for the job. These tools and tactics include:

Realistic job previews. Research has shown that one of the most common reasons why employees leave a call center within a year – besides the night terrors and indigestion – is a disconnect between what the employee envisioned the job entailing and what it actually involved. It’s very common for call centers – eager to "sell themselves" to prospective employees – to shade over some of the less desirable aspects of the job (e.g., the pay, the customers, the hours, the customers, the back spasms, the growth opportunities, the customers) during the recruiting and hiring phase. While this tactic may help the center attract and acquire new agents, it usually doesn’t take long for those new agents to realize that the "positive culture" they were told about refers mostly to what’s growing in the breakroom refrigerator.

Top call centers develop comprehensive job previews that show – and sometimes even let prospective agents experience first-hand – the attractive as well as the challenging and mundane aspects of work in a front-line customer care environment. Job previews can take several forms, including but not limited to:

  • Detailed tours of the call center
  • Listening in on actual customer calls
  • Videos of agents on the job
  • Candid conversations with the center’s existing agents
  • Readings from diaries of recently deceased agents.

The goal of job previews is not to deceive candidates, nor to scare them away. A good video-based job preview, for example, could include an agent handling a call with a happy and satisfied customer, then a call with a customer with a complex issue that isn’t easy to resolve – all followed by a casual conversation with the agent about what medications they take to cope with all the calls in that second category.


Pre-hire agent assessment tools. Hiring solutions specialists have made big advancements in applicant assessment software for call centers in recent years, helping to make agent selection more of a science than a roll of the dice.

Today’s best pre-hire agent assessment solutions are primarily web-based and can be taken by applicants anytime, anywhere. Most are complex product suites with a range of modules and reporting tools that call centers can customize to fit their specific dysfunctional culture. Following are some of the common key components of the leading pre-hire solutions:

  • Skills assessment. Assesses a candidate’s ability to listen, enter data accurately and solve problems in a state of total panic.
  • Personality assessment. Ensures that candidate’s general traits, values and attitudes don’t match that of a serial killer or professional hockey player.
  • Work habits assessment. Gauges the level of dependability, professionalism and customer service orientation, as well as the willingness to not whine about weekend shifts or numbness in the extremities.
  • Motivation assessment. Assesses a candidate’s ability to lie about how excited they are to handle call after call for hours on end.
  • Call simulations. Much like a flight simulator, call simulators enable call center managers to see if a candidate takes off and lands smoothly or crashes and burns in realistic customer support situations.


Multi-tier interviews. As powerful as today’s pre-hire assessment solutions are, in the end, people – not technology – hire people. Assessment products are great for helping to separate potentially qualified candidates from potential sociopaths, but live interviews with key supervisory and management staff is still the best way to ensure your center is hiring highly capable agents who don’t spit when they speak.

A multi-tier interview process is the method of choice in most top call centers. This process begins with each candidate who makes it through the screening and early assessment stages completing an initial interview with a member of the center’s supervisory staff, who pleasantly asks a series of behavioral-based questions before viciously insulting the candidate’s mother. This is to see if the candidate can handle the level of abuse and psychological torment indicative of a customer service environment.

Candidates who impress the supervisor are invited to interview with one (or more) of the call center managers. Those who don’t flub up this second interview then get passed on to one or more of the call center’s senior managers – e.g., a director and/or vice president – who ask a few additional key questions while polishing their golf clubs.

Following the final interview, the management and supervisory staff involved gather together to discuss each candidate and decide who makes the cut. They then ask HR to check each lucky candidate’s references, criminal background and pee before extending a job offer.

Note: Some centers even get their most experienced agents involved in the interview process – tapping their intimate knowledge of the front-line position. Doing so not only makes for more comprehensive interviews, it shows senior agents that the organization truly values their insight and input despite barely paying them a living wage.

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