How to make online assessments more engaging

Apr 12, 2023 | How-to, Selection & assessment

Psychology theory provides the basis for practical ways recruiters can make online assessments more engaging, explains Ben Williams, MD at Sten 10.

Online assessments are a highly popular way for recruiters to evaluate candidates, but they can also be disengaging.

Research from the ISE suggests that one of the largest struggles for graduate recruiters is to make the virtual assessment process fully portray the experience of working for a company and its benefits.

Here are business psychology consultancy, Sten 10’s, top tips to make online assessments more engaging, grounded in psychological theories.

1. Use Gamification 

Gamification is the use of game design elements and mechanics in non-game contexts, and it can be an effective way to increase engagement in online assessments.

According to self-determination theory, individuals are motivated by three innate psychological needs: autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Gamification can increase a candidate’s sense of autonomy by giving them more control over their progress in the assessment.

Incorporating a leaderboard can also increase a candidate’s sense of relatedness by creating a social context for the assessment.

You can read how ISE members are using gamification in recruitment.

2. Provide feedback

Feedback is a powerful motivator, and according to goal setting theory, it can improve performance by providing information about progress and identifying areas for improvement.

Providing feedback during an online assessment can give candidates a sense of progress and accomplishment, increasing their motivation to continue.

Additionally, feedback can provide insights into areas that candidates need to improve, giving them a sense of purpose and direction.

3. Personalise the experience

Personalisation is a way to tailor the online assessment to the candidate’s preferences and needs. According to self-determination theory, personalisation can increase motivation by satisfying a candidate’s need for autonomy.

Personalisation can be achieved through various methods, such as using the candidate’s name throughout the assessment, providing a choice of questions to answer or providing personalised feedback.

4. Keep it short and sweet

Attention restoration theory suggests that brief and intermittent breaks from a task can improve cognitive performance and increase engagement. Therefore, it is essential to keep online assessments short and straightforward.

The assessment should only include the necessary questions and exercises to evaluate a candidate’s suitability for the role. An assessment that takes too long can lead to fatigue and disengagement, reducing the quality of results.

5. Integrate multimedia

According to dual coding theory, using multiple modes of representation can enhance learning and memory. Integrating multimedia, such as videos, images, and audio, can make an assessment more engaging and memorable.

Multimedia can also make the experience more interactive, breaking up the monotony of the assessment.

Additionally, multimedia can enhance the authenticity of the assessment by providing a more realistic and immersive experience.

6. Use storytelling

Narrative psychology suggests that humans use stories to make sense of their experiences and to create meaning. Incorporating storytelling can create an emotional connection with the candidate, making the experience more meaningful.

Using a case study or scenario that reflects the challenges and opportunities of a role can give candidates a sense of purpose and direction.

Additionally, using storytelling can help to demonstrate the organisation’s values and culture, creating a more authentic and immersive experience.

7. Provide clear instructions

Cognitive load theory suggests that providing clear and concise instructions can reduce cognitive load and increase engagement. Clear instructions can help candidates understand the assessment and what is expected of them, reducing confusion and frustration.

Additionally, clear instructions can create a sense of competence by providing candidates with the information they need to succeed.

8. Optimise for mobile devices

Usability is a critical factor in the design and delivery of online assessments. With more people using mobile devices, it is essential to optimise the assessment for mobile screens.

Optimising for mobile devices can make the assessment more accessible and convenient for candidates, increasing engagement and participation.

Additionally, optimising for mobile devices can demonstrate the organisation’s commitment to innovation and technology, creating a positive impression.

9. Offer a realistic job preview

Social cognitive theory suggests that individuals learn by observing and imitating others. Providing a realistic job preview can give candidates a sense of what the role entails, including challenges and rewards. This can reduce uncertainty and increase motivation by providing a more realistic and accurate picture of the role.

Additionally, providing a realistic job preview can help to ensure that the candidate is a good fit for the role, increasing the likelihood of job satisfaction and retention.

10. Provide social proof

Social influence theory suggests that individuals are influenced by the opinions and behaviours of others.

Providing social proof, such as testimonials or endorsements from current employees, can increase a candidate’s motivation and engagement by providing evidence of the organisation’s positive culture and values.

Social proof can also provide a sense of relatedness by creating a social context for the assessment and highlighting the organisation’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.

By applying these 10 tips, grounded in psychological theory, recruiters can create engaging and effective online assessments for candidates, particularly graduates.

Using gamification, providing feedback, personalising the experience, keeping it short and sweet, integrating multimedia, using storytelling, providing clear instructions, optimising for mobile devices, offering a realistic job preview, and providing social proof, can all contribute to a positive and engaging experience.

You may also be interested in…

Job simulation assessments can help graduates understand an employer’s culture

The good, the bad, and the unclear of AI in recruitment

How to deliver a great graduate recruitment experience


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