Storytelling about Wonderlic With Becca Callahan
Welcome to the Use Case Podcast, episode 158. This week we have storytelling about Wonderlic with Becca Callahan. During this episode, Becca and I talk about how practitioners make the business case or the use case for purchasing Wonderlic.
Becca is an expert in all things I-O psychology, machine learning and so much more. Check out her LinkedIn profile here. Her passion to help HR professionals and hiring managers identify top applicants and predict on-the-job performance by providing them the most trusted assessments on the market really comes through during the podcast.
Give the show a listen and please let me know what you think.
Show length: 29 minutes
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Becca has dedicated her career to helping organizations leverage science to hire the best people for their open roles and put the talent they have in the best possible position to thrive. As CEO, Becca's vision for Wonderlic is to create innovative and practical approaches to solving talent problems while upholding the highest-possible standards of accountability and transparency in assessment.Follow Follow
Welcome to RecruitingDaily’s Use Case Podcast, a show dedicated to the storytelling that happens or should happen when practitioners purchase technology. Each episode is designed to inspire new ways and ideas to make your business better. As we speak with the brightest minds in recruitment and HR tech. That’s what we do. Here’s your host, William Tincup.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup, and you are listening to the Use Case Podcast. Today we have Becca Callahan from Wonderlic, and we are talking about the business case or use case for Wonderlic. And so without any further ado, we’ll get into introductions. Becca, would you introduce both yourself and Wonderlic?
Hi William. Yeah, absolutely. First of all, I want to say thank you so much for having me, and I’ve been a big fan of your work for a long time, so this is a very full circle moment for me to get to be here. I’m Becca Callahan, I’m Wonderlic CEO, and I’ll start just by telling you a little bit about who we are. So Wonderlic is a talent assessment platform that really just helps you hire the best people.
We take universal, very stable measurements of potential to perform, so cognitive ability, personality, motivation, and apply them to thousands of specific jobs. And what organizations like about that, is that they need to find exactly the right person for all of the unique jobs that they have, so it helps them get to that targeted look at a specific individual and a specific job very quickly.
Just in the realm of assessment, we really remove a lot of barriers that you typically see in the field of assessment, a lot of times around training and certification or services, and we do that really by making things really simple, and intuitive, and easy to use totally off the shelf. I think that one problem that can happen in assessment a lot of times is you can get some information that actually further complicates your selection decision.
We are very big believers that an assessment should simplify your selection decision, not further complicate it. We are an 80 plus year old company, and though a lot of things have changed substantially, I would say a few things about our core have remained the same. We still really value scientific quality above everything else, specifically prediction and fairness, so that really is still the north star that we drive to, and that really guides everything that we do.
Thank you for the kind words at the beginning, by the way. For those that are listening, we’re mostly talking pre-hire. But I would assume that maybe you do some things also post-hire or internal mobility wise?
We’re actually primarily pre-hire. That selection has really been our laser focus for many years, and we care a lot about getting to the right selection decision that really ameliorates most woes. So that’s something that most organizations are still trying to improve at every turn in their hiring process.
Thank you for clarifying. You mentioned stable and valid, and so I want to make sure the audience understands what that means scientifically. That you’ve got a bookshelf of assessments that is for call centers, different types of folks, different jobs, and you can pull things down. These are assessments that millions of people, let’s just say, have been through. Take us into when you say stable and valid to the non PhD or to the non IO psychologist, what does that mean?
Yeah, absolutely. That’s a fantastic question, and I think super critical for making really any decision about any sort of selection or screening tool that you might decide to use in your hiring process. We actually have had hundreds of millions of people through at this point. That’s one of the benefits of being an 80 plus year old company, which definitely feeds the science very nicely. But really what we’re measuring are stable characteristics that predict performance on the job. So you might think of these things as traits or characteristics that are going to manifest in a lot of different behaviors on the job.
You might think of that differently from something like specific skills. Specific skills are also super important, but they’re also very rapidly evolving. I’ll use an example of a role that we are hiring for right now. We’re hiring for a Salesforce administrator, and you may, in your Salesforce administrator, want someone who has some specific Salesforce administration credentials, but you’re also going to want to know that as the role evolves and as it changes, they are going to be able to learn new skills and adapt, that they’re going to have process and project management skills to be able to manage all of the data, that they’re going to have people skills to manage to their internal customers well, that they’re going to be fundamentally motivated to get out of bed in the morning and want to do that job.
So these are really long term, evergreen, stable characteristics that just give you a sense of how someone is going to show up every day.
So I’m walking into Tiffany & Co as a practitioner. How do I know what to buy? If I’ve never really been down this, and again, there’s professionals that haven’t really… They’re not exposed to it, or HR folks that aren’t as exposed to it for whatever reason. Maybe they come up through a different industry that doesn’t use a lot of assessments. And you walk in the front door of Tiffany’s, and it’s like, okay, how do you make the decision in terms of what to assess for, how to assess it, where to place it in your funnel, all those things, that are kind of heady decisions to make and can be a little bit daunting for the folks that haven’t been using assessments for 20 years.
That is such a great question. So I think to extend your Tiffany & Co analogy, the question that I would first have in our minds is who is actually going to wear the piece of jewelry? Who’s going to wear the ring? Because that’s what gets lost a lot in assessment, is who is the user? And really, one of the problems that we have, I think, in the field of assessment in the assessment industry, is this curse of knowledge. So we know a lot about what we measure, we know a lot about our constructs and we fall in love with them, and so we over complicate things.
That really does a huge disservice to business leaders and hiring managers who are actually making selection decisions every day. And if you think about that perspective, which is really, I’m a business leader or hiring manager who has a job to do, and I’m going to encounter a lot of different talent tools and HR tech tools throughout my week and throughout my day. And so the way I can look at them is something that creates more administrative load, that bogs me down, that makes things more complicated and less clear, or something that might enable my decision, that might create a shortcut, that might quickly clarify some things.
That’s really what practitioners and what HR executives really need to be thinking about when they’re thinking about how to buy an assessment tool, is how is this going to really enable selection decisions within my business leaders and hiring managers? And the reality is most of them aren’t going to be able to engage in a very meaningful way with a bunch of training.
They genuinely don’t have time for that most of the time, so things have to be extremely simple, extremely intuitive, extremely easy to use off the shelf, and that sort of consistency, if things are easy to use, it creates a better outcome, so it’s going to help them hire better people, it’s also going to make your selection decision more consistently defensible, and it’s also going to be a lot more fair to the actual candidates who are being considered.
So I think that is the number one thing that I would really think about, is how can I make this completely simple and intuitive and easy to use totally off the shelf for the key user, which is the person who’s making the selection decision, and what are the types of barriers that they might come up against that could either be handled quickly and intuitively in the product, or might require an escalation to a service point, or a service to be engaged of some kind that’s above and beyond your product? Which oftentimes is really not what you want.
The next thing that I would think about, the other thing that I think is probably pretty critical is definitely the quality of the science in the assessment tool. That’s one of those things that I think in our field, it’s not something that you can touch or feel. It’s a lag outcome that you observe over time, which is, did I find the right people and were they high performers? It takes some time to observe the quality of the tool that you’re using, and so I think there is quite a bit of good due diligence that HR execs can do upfront when they’re really shopping and thinking about that. I would describe science as sort of a snapshot in time.
So whether it’s a new vaccine or drug, or a new Tesla, or a new assessment, you’re kind of getting a snapshot of hopefully the best science that exists at that point in time, which means that science continues to evolve. And so what you have at that snapshot in time is going to become, at some point, outdated, so you really want to make sure that you’re purchasing from a firm that has a really strong scientific foundation. But maybe more importantly, a significant ongoing investment in updating that science, because it is going to be something that will really meaningfully impact the outcome that you get, which is, do you find good people for your jobs or do you not?
You used the phrase off the shelf a few times, and I want to, because I interact with practitioners like you do pretty much on a daily basis, and most of them, and got a lot of them, they believe what they’re doing in the industry or whatever problem they’re solving for, they believe that they’re unique snowflakes. So you’ve got on one side, this validated standardized, and a lot of folks that have been through it.
And then you’ve got this other perception of, we need something that’s truly unique to us at company X, let’s just say. We have a unique thing going on. How do you get them intellectually and emotionally over that hump of going, “Okay, if you feel like you need something custom, let’s talk a little bit about it, and let’s talk about the pros and cons of that, because there are pros and cons to that, and then what’s what are the pros and cons to that?”
I think off the shelf, it’s a way of talking about how validated the data is, and how validated your assessments are. These are substantial validated assessments that have been in the marketplace, millions of people have been through them, but practitioners, you do face the same things that I face sometimes. They feel that whatever they’re going through is truly unique to them and their situation.
I’m so glad you brought this up, because this is something that I care about so much. And also, just having been in the assessment world for a decade, what you’re describing really, really lands with me. I hear that from practitioners all the time, and I would say a couple of things to that. True customization is going to be challenging for most organizations. If you’re Amazon, if you’re a huge organization with really endless resources, you can probably get custom job profiles for every single job that you have, and also high volumes of people in those jobs helps a lot as well from a data standpoint.
But most organizations are not going to be able to get that, because they need to hire somewhat quickly in a pretty agile way for lots of different types of novel jobs. In many cases, for roles that don’t have a ton of volumes of people who are currently in them, a ton of incumbents. And so they need a way to be able to hire off the shelf that does actually get at those jobs unique and specific performance requirements. And so this is actually something that has been a huge focus for us over the last decade, but really especially over the last couple of years.
We currently have a jobs architecture where we have over a thousand jobs off the shelf, which is really something that we have spent a ton of time and scientific effort building, because of what we hear from practitioners, which is, “I need to make sure that you really understand my product manager job, or my technical sales role, or whatever it might be.” And so we really, really focus on having that available off the shelf with really robust understanding of what are the knowledge, skills, and abilities of this job? So that’s available really at their fingertips.
However, and I actually wasn’t necessarily planning on talking about this, but this is going to be a William Tincup exclusive, we have an update to our jobs architecture coming in December. It’s been a multi-year, multi-million dollar investment on our part using IO psychology and artificial intelligence, and we will have three and a half million off the shelf jobs. The intention of doing that is really to say, “Okay, you do have very specific and special jobs.”
Industry and vertical does change the way performance looks in a specific job. There’s all kinds of things that do need to be taken into consideration where competencies may change, knowledge may change, skills may change that are required for that job, and that may change the specific combination of those characteristics that you’re looking for, that are really going to predict performance.
So we’re very excited about that. But you did pick up on the thing that we really care about the most there, which is we think it should be available off the shelf, and you shouldn’t have to go through a lot of really challenging or heavy customization to be able to get there.
Right. You should have both. [crosstalk 00:15:16] One of the questions is where are you innovating? Which, check, you’ve been, heads down, working on this for years and it’s finally coming to market, which I’m sure none of that was easy. Another podcast just for figure out how the sausage was actually made. At the beginning, you mentioned that assessments can be different things to different people. You can measure cognitive and your behavioral and personality.
Do you find practitioners knowing the differences between some of those things, or having a preference for one or the other, or maybe within certain jobs they want maybe more personality and less cognitive or whatever? How do you explain the differences in what’s being measured, and mirror that to success on the job?
Oh gosh, that is such a great question. So I will say, we do see some, not necessarily biases, but preferences that practitioners come with for sure. A lot of times, depending on their background, their industry, things like that. There are certain types of assessments that have tended to gravitate towards certain roles over time, so we do definitely see that. But I think there is definitely a universal sense of desire for the assessment to get the best outcome.
So ultimately, it’s our responsibility to say, “This is the combination of characteristics that’s going to maximize prediction, and also maximize fairness for your candidates that are being considered for the roles.” I’ve never met a practitioner who doesn’t want those things. However, I will say, just in terms of what we’re seeing very recently, in this trend of the great resignation, which has led to a ton of hiring in a lot of organizations, I have seen a really significantly staggered and increased need for individuals with a great ability to learn.
That’s something that we’ve been hearing really, really frequently from our clients over several months.
For sure, for sure. Lots of desire for ability to learn, motivation to learn. In that remote onboarding environment, you really can’t fake whether or not you’re actually getting traction in the job, and you really can’t fake whether or not you’re really adapting to the environment and the training materials and taking advantage of them or not. So that’s something that has definitely been, I think, just a product of a lot of the job turnover that’s been happening, and thus the number of people that have just been plunged into these new jobs in the remote environment.
There has been a dramatic demand for ability to learn, which really just gets back to cognitive ability.
So you joined Wonderlic, and obviously you could have joined other assessment plays or other companies in an assessment role. What made you fall in love with Wonderlic?
That’s a great question. I would say definitely a handful of things. Wonderlic historically has really been focused on… It’s more of a mid-market focused company, small business and mid-market, and so we’ve really, really been focused on how can we create, like we talked about earlier, those really beautiful off the shelf experiences? So how can we dramatically simplify and make decision making a lot easier? That’s something that is a huge pull to me.
That relentless user focus of how can we make life easier for people who don’t have a lot of time, is something that’s a really compelling problem space. Because what we’re taking is something that’s pretty psychological and heady, like you mentioned, and oftentimes difficult to interpret and difficult to understand. We can keep that in an ivory tower with high barriers in a way that’s really difficult to access, or we can really translate that so people everywhere can make better hiring decisions.
So that’s definitely one piece. Another piece is really the emphasis on fairness. That’s something that we care about a lot. We care a lot about diversity and inclusion, and there are so many pieces in assessment that can really help level the playing field and also contribute to that. But even just having a really candidate centric mindset. Every single candidate who takes our assessments gets feedback right at the end, and they get some results immediately.
That’s something that matters to me a lot, and something that a lot of assessment companies would not be willing to do. But we think it’s really important for candidates to be able to get some sort of gratification for how much time they just invested, is really, really critical.
Well, and you can say that at the front end of it, it’s like, “Listen, we’re asking for 10 minutes of your time. At the end of this, we’re going to give you feedback.” Which, as a candidate, it inspires me that, “Okay, you’re not just taking my time. You’re actually going to provide some value and some insight into things that maybe I knew, or maybe I didn’t know.”
Absolutely. They deserve it for their time and they deserve it for transparency. They deserve to understand generally what’s being measured and how they’re being considered, and we get excellent feedback on that from candidates, because they want to know that it was a fair shot and a fair audition for the role, and they appreciate having a structured way of being able to audition for that, but then also getting feedback immediately on how they did, I think, is a much more gratifying experience.
We care about that because it does definitely improve engagement for all of our client employers, but it’s important for us as a brand to have that degree of transparency and good relationship with candidates as well.
So two questions last, one’s the demo question is, when folks, they’ve never looked at Wonderlic, first time they see Wonderlic, what do they fall in love with?
That’s a great question. I would say we provide really, really excellent user experiences. And that’s generally what surprises people the most. I think a lot of that has to do with being an older company, and having one of those older brands. A lot of people don’t know what we’ve been up to for the last several years, and our biggest focus really over the last, I would say, five to 10 years, but especially the last five years, has been really, really high degree of investment in design and user experience to make things just so beautiful, so simple, so easy to understand.
And then also, and this goes back to the question about jobs, very specifically relevant to them. It’s one thing to have a product where it gives a lot of robust information, but all in generalities. What we’re able to provide is something that’s going to be immediately resonant, because that’s the pain that people have when they’re looking for an assessment. It’s hard to find people for a lot of jobs. It’s hard to find good people who are going to perform well in a lot of specific jobs. So you want to know, does this organization and does this product really understand my specific pain?
It’s funny because one of the things you’re doing both with the UI, but also with the product is you’re making science really consumable and palatable for folks that maybe aren’t hard sciences oriented. So I love that. And again, without naming names of clients or stuff like that, but just your favorite use case that a client has used the talent assessment platform in a way that maybe you thought out of, or maybe even a unique way that you didn’t think of, but just your favorite.
And I know you got thousands of them, but just pick one from last week. Make it simple, and definitely don’t name names. It’s just something that inspires you when your customers always do really interesting work. When you peel away, you’re like, “Wow. That’s actually really compelling.” Have you quite thought of it like that? We don’t see normally when people use it that way. But what’s your favorite story?
Oh, gosh. There’s so many good ones, but for the sake of recency, I am going to pick one that I heard last week. I heard a great one last week where we had a client who had… It’s a transportation company that has many different branches across the United States, and they faced the typical challenge that you see in a lot of organizations where you have centralized HR, but lots and lots of different geographies where adoption of those HR tech tools varies significantly.
And so they started using Wonderlic in about May, and had good adoption in some of their branches, and not great adoption in some of their other branches. And so they told us they started using it in the branches where they had that really high level of adoption, and they started hiring people who were consistently across the board, signaled as high potential to perform in our platform. They were getting really good results, and they’d already had the opportunity to really observe performance there and see that there was a really, really high degree of uptake on training, and immediately good performance.
And then they had some of their branch managers who had been hiring people who were showing up as low fits, and had started to recognize that they were also so low fits and low performers on the job. And so they said they had this big company meeting where they all came together and realized this, and then decided, “Oh, maybe we should use this across the board.” It was very cool for me to hear because it’s one of those things where you want people to get that tangible traction and that tangible, positive experience as quickly as possible, and then also to really use that to help with implementation and adoption internally, and that happened pretty quickly in this case.
It happened in less than six months, which is music to my ears. Sometimes that adoption cycle, as you know, especially with HR products, it can take so many years, and so it was so cool to see that we really had that traction and that internal buy-in, which made the life of the HR executive, who’s our primary buyer, so much easier. So that was just that was a very cool one that was really neat to see, and I think I really care a lot about the implementation piece probably too much.
It’s something that really gets me excited because it is actually the thing that we care about the most, which is, did you get the right people or not? And so to see that come full circle so quickly was very cool. That’s the one that’s top of mind for me that’s making me smile this week.
That’s a fantastic story, because again, for their company, you’re not talking about externally, you’re not talking about the industry, you’re not talking about other competitors, you’re talking in your company. The Dallas, and Chicago, and Los Angeles branch, they’re using it. Here’s their results. Here’s your results by [inaudible 00:26:52]. So it’s almost like the lag in that adoption curve actually helped you in a weird way, because they didn’t adopt, and then you could actually highlight the fact that, “Okay, listen, no harm, no foul. Here’s where we are.”
You can continue down the path of what you’re doing and get the same outcome, or you can look at Dallas, Chicago, and LA, and change your outcomes. So what would you like to do? Most people at that point when they’re faced with that type, the starkness of the results, most people are like, “Okay, yeah. I probably need to adopt it. I probably need to adopt this.”
It’s so true. And it makes it obvious and so much easier for the HR practitioner who’s really trying to support it, so that’s what we love to see.
At that point, it’s just like, “Hey, listen, it’s in your best interest.” The job’s hard enough. You could make the job easier if you just go use the assessment platform, and it gives you more prediction on what’s going to be successful. Use it or don’t, but do you want to make the job more difficult? Go ahead. Becca, this has been fantastic. Thank you so much for your time. I know you’re busy, I know everything’s crazy especially with things coming up in December, which by the way, December’s like a week away. It’s crazy.
Yeah, that’s crazy.
But thank you again. Thank you for your time. I appreciate you.
William, thank you so much. This is a fantastic conversation. I loved your questions. I’m hoping that we will get to talk again in the near future. Thanks again. Have a good week.
And thanks for everyone listening to the Use Case Podcast, until next time.
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William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.