Candidate screening in the United States is in the midst of rapid innovation. Traditional processes of assessing candidates’ skills focused on resume screening that evaluated candidates’ degrees, training programs, or prior work experiences—a process that favored credentialing intermediaries like higher education institutions, industry associations, and former employers. Today’s employers, however, are turning to advanced algorithmic solutions for verifying candidate competencies and predicting best job fit. The tools—such as resume filtering, talent analytics, online simulations, cybervetting, digital interviews, gamification, and badging—leverage big data and artificial intelligence to directly assess candidates’ skills.

Whereas online, always-on assessment approaches have the potential to democratize the hiring process, reduce human bias, and diversify the talent pool, the new technology-facilitated ecosystem is uncharted territory. A new report by Ithaka S+R takes an important first step in mapping the wild west landscape of new assessment technologies and the third-party providers designing and implementing them. It provides important context for the paradigm shift in employer talent acquisition by giving an overview of the novel screening tools employers are using, showcasing emerging trends and promising partnerships, outlining new assessment technologies’ barriers for adoption, and recommending areas for future research and collaboration.

Our research into this area uncovered the following themes:

  • Traditional pathways from education to the workforce are starting to be supplemented and circumvented in the new assessment ecosystem, and traditional intermediaries like higher education institutions and industry credentialers are often out of touch with employers’ new methodologies.
  • Third-party providers are rapidly entering this new technology-driven ecosystem, but the marketplace is flooded; assessment technology selection can be a burden for all players in the ecosystem, including candidates.
  • Incompatibility—of both content and software—across assessments and employers’ human resources systems presents a barrier to broad-based and efficient use of direct pre-hire assessment.
  • Emerging partnerships that leverage several players in the ecosystem to provide integrated, multimethod assessment strategies are best equipped to successfully measure and develop candidates’ skills.

Because the adoption of these tools is still in its infancy, we conclude our research with targeted recommendations to both tame and harness the power of today’s unregulated assessment ecosystem. These include performing further research on new assessment tools’ validity and their future impact on the labor market; developing ethical and legal frameworks that protect individuals’ right to privacy; and piloting multiplayer programs with third-party auditors that fold assessments into students’ learning pathways. The latter has great potential for helping to close the skills gap. Evaluating learners in, for example, a particular major and using applicable employers’ actual assessment tools for that field can help students better use their education to ramp up the skills needed to land their first job, and to help educators better tailor their curriculum to impart the competencies for which employers are hiring.