Understanding the Wonderlic Automated Reference Check

Before extending a job offer, most employers first check applicants’ references. Traditionally, this involves asking about dates of employment, attendance, and salary. We recognize that while this type of information can be useful, it does not provide the breadth or depth of insight that is required to make informed hiring decisions.

To help organizations better understand and assess job applicants’ likelihood of being able to succeed in certain occupations, we created the Wonderlic Automated Reference Check.

12 Competencies
This tool assesses candidates along 12 core competencies—the knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics that define outstanding job performance across all career fields, at all levels of work, for every employee. Our internal team of test experts developed these competencies after many rounds of analysis and modification.

Here are the core competencies that are assessed:

  • Adaptability: responding effectively to change, and adjusting methods to achieve goals
  • Communication: engaging in effective spoken and written dialogue with others
  • Decision Making: applying analytical and critical-thinking skills to gather facts, develop solutions, and determine courses of action
  • Interpersonal Skills: engaging in behaviors that increase the quality of relationships with coworkers or customers
  • Job Knowledge: demonstrating the role-based knowledge required for the job
  • Learning: obtaining and applying new information for use in problem solving and decision making
  • Organization: planning, organizing, and establishing priorities to achieve objectives
  • Productivity: satisfying the workload requirements of the job in an effective and efficient manner
  • Quality of Work: producing work that demonstrates the appropriate level of accuracy, completeness, and reliability
  • Service Orientation: engaging internal and external clients in order to understand and satisfy their needs
  • Teamwork: collaborating with others to achieve a common goal or objective
  • Work Ethic: demonstrating personal integrity by operating in an accountable, reliable, and respectful manner 

Reference providers rate how frequently the applicant engaged in each of the competencies (Almost Never, Seldom, Sometimes, Usually, Almost Always).

In addition, linked to each competency are five behavioral indicators of outstanding performance. While they are not inclusive of all behaviors that demonstrate outstanding performance, they are intended to measure the breadth of the competency in an efficient, effective, and reliable manner. Like the development of the 12 competencies, the behavioral indicators went through many rounds of analysis and modification. And just like the competencies, the reference provider rates each of the behavioral indicators on the same frequency scale.

To demonstrate, below are the behavioral indicators for Communication.

  • Expressed opinions, insights, and information clearly when speaking or presenting
  • Gave his/her full attention to what others were saying, and demonstrated understanding when responding
  • Highlighted key points and conclusions in writing effectively
  • Read and understood information and ideas presented in writing
  • Matched level and style of communication to suit the needs of the audience

Indeed, communication is a broad term, and our behavioral indicators attempt to capture this breadth in terms speaking, listening, writing, and reading. The behavioral indicators for all competencies exhibit this level of breadth.

Weighted by Occupation
Although we determined that certain competencies were universal, it is naïve to assume that they are equally important when comparing occupations. For example, Communication is important for both lawyers and paralegals. However, lawyers (who frequently present and argue cases before judges and juries) are required to have a higher level of communication, while paralegals only need an average level of this skill.

To help us determine the importance of each competency for occupations, we used the Occupational Information Network (O*NET). O*NET is an online database that contains nearly 1,100 job descriptions.

Our team mapped O*NET criteria (e.g., knowledge, abilities, skills, work activities) onto the 12 core competencies to determine competency importance ratings for all jobs within the O*NET. Through our analysis and verification process, the relative importance of each competency for every occupation in the O*NET database was calculated according to the following scale:

  1. Not Important
  2. Somewhat Important
  3. Important
  4. Very Important
  5. Extremely Important

For the most part, our competencies are universal: Over 95% of the competency ratings are rated as being at least Somewhat Important.

For an additional layer of refinement, we work closely with clients to verify and, when appropriate, modify the default competency importance ratings based on their unique positions.

Scoring
An applicant’s overall score is based on the following factors:

  • The importance of the competency (Not Important to Extremely Important)
  • The relationship between the applicant and the reference provider
  • The reference provider’s  rating of how frequently the applicant demonstrated the competency (Almost Never to Almost Always)

Competencies that are rated as being more important have a greater weight when determining an applicant’s score. In addition, references who supervised the applicant have a greater weight than other, non-supervisory relationships (e.g., coworker, colleague, educator, personal reference). Lastly, applicants receive higher scores to the extent that they perform the competencies more frequently.

Based upon the summary of all of this information, we are able to quickly determine Cautionary, Acceptable, High, and Top Performers.

Benefits
Empirical research finds that structured, competency-based reference checks can add incremental validity and utility to the selection process. Indeed, there are many benefits to implementing the Wonderlic Automated Reference Check in your hiring process:

  • Verify: Gauge the accuracy of information provided by job applicants
  • Predict: Determine the likelihood that applicants will be able to succeed in certain occupations
  • Uncover: Gather and summarize feedback from key individuals (e.g., supervisors, subordinates, coworkers, clients)
  • Ease of Administration: References can be provided 24/7 from any computer with Internet access; no more phone calls and scheduling conflicts
  • Low Administration Costs: Reference providers can complete the process in less than 15 minutes; a minimum of three references is recommended
  • Detailed Reports: Results from multiple references are combined into one overall score, while significant problems are highlighted
  • Utility: Quickly identify Cautionary, Acceptable, High, and Top Performers, allowing you to focus on only the best applicants
  • Legal Defensibility: Documents reasonable care in the hiring process, which serves as an excellent defense against negligent hiring suits 

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