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Why Should You Provide a Good Experience to Job Candidates?

A positive experience improves attraction and branding.

Key points

  • Recruiters should focus not only on the validity of selection assessments but also the candidate experience. 
  • Selection assessments that satisfy feelings of competence and autonomy improve a job seeker's experience.
  • Employers can use the guidelines offered by self-determination theory to enhance the applicants' experience.
Source: DALL-E / OpenAI
A job candidate
Source: DALL-E / OpenAI

Have you recently applied for a job? Were you asked to complete online assessments, such as a personality or an aptitude test? How did you feel about the assessment and the hiring organization? Did it give you the chance to show your knowledge and skills?

If you have recently completed an online selection assessment and perhaps felt that your choice of answers did not reflect who you truly are, you’re not alone. Some tests give you multiple-choice options that you can select from, but some go as far as restricting you to choose between two options—for example, choosing between two statements the one that best represents you (e.g., “I’m good at making friends” vs. “I work hard to achieve deadlines”), a method that is called “forced-choice.” This method is supposed to stop people from being able to present themselves in an overly positive light to increase their chances of getting selected for a job and provide employers with a more valid assessment. However, this method is not generally liked by job applicants: It makes them feel that they can’t properly show who they are and what they can do.

Why should we care about how applicants feel about an employment selection process? It can influence their decisions if they get a job offer and how they talk about an organization to other people. Consequently, it can not only affect an organization’s ability to attract people to work there, but it can also influence brand reputation.

I was recently part of a research team that examined whether we could improve the experience of job applicants by modifying forced-choice assessments. This way, employers can benefit from the advantages of forced-choice assessments while preserving a positive candidate experience. We used self-determination theory to design these improvements by focusing on enhancing people’s feelings of competence (feelings that you can demonstrate your skills through the assessment) and autonomy (feeling less constrained by the forced-choice format). We tried two modifications:

  1. Reflective review: After the forced-choice assessment, applicants viewed a list of items they had ranked "most like them" and had a chance to say if any of them did not describe them well. This was followed by viewing a list of items they had ranked "least like them" and having the chance to say if any of them did, in fact, describe them well.
  2. Free-text response: After the forced-choice assessment, applicants could write, in a text box, if there were any aspects of themselves that were overlooked or misrepresented during the assessment.

We found that a reflective review of responses was more effective at restoring feelings of competence and autonomy relative to no intervention and to the free-text response intervention. Consequently, this intervention improved applicants’ feelings of fairness with the assessment.

Our study shows that recruiters should pay attention not only to the validity of selection assessments but also to the candidate experience. Employers can use the guidelines offered by self-determination theory, namely to focus on satisfying psychological needs when designing assessment processes, to enhance the experience of applicants, potentially leading to better employer branding and applicant retention.


Borman, T.C., Dunlop, P.D., Gagné, M. et al. Improving Reactions to Forced-Choice Personality Measures in Simulated Job Application Contexts Through the Satisfaction of Psychological Needs. J Bus Psychol 39, 1–18 (2024).

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