The cost of a bad hire is significant. It’s been estimated that a misjudged recruitment campaign can cost the equivalent of 2.5 times the total annual compensation of the successful candidate. Everything from hiring fees to team disruption, from reputational damage to the opportunity cost of time means that hiring managers do everything they can to mitigate risk in the hiring process.
One step that is increasingly seen is skill testing. This has been going on for years for lower level and very specialist positions – you wouldn’t expect to hire a computer programmer without being very confident that she could code – but we are increasingly seeing pre-employment tests across the board.
So what can you expect if you are asked to submit to testing?
Well, it depends on the position you are interviewing for. Generally speaking, you might face a combination of hard skills and soft skills tests, along with the possibility of psychometric tests. Hard skills consider your ability to do a specific job. A hard skill for a secretary might be ability to type at speed. For an accountant, it might be the ability to use products like Sage or Quickbooks.
Soft skills are more generic in nature. They cover areas such as your ability to learn or to reason – they’ll be used to evaluate candidates across a variety of industries and functions.
Psychometric tests are used in a different way. While it might be possible to determine the “most skilled” candidate based on typing speeds, for example, psychometric tests do not rank candidates. Instead, they are designed to understand aspects of a candidate’s personality and – for example – her ability to fit into a certain type of team.
So, if you are set a test as part of a recruitment process, what can you expect?
Generally speaking, tests are taken online. In some cases, it will happen at the very beginning of the recruitment process – the Indeed job board, for example, allows clients to include tests on areas such as literacy and numeracy as part of the application process. However, generally speaking only shortlisted candidates will be asked to undertake the more demanding tests. Assessments are typically delivered online, but some hiring managers will ask potential candidates to sit the assessment from controlled conditions and this might require a candidate to attend a mutually convenient location to undergo the assessment. There have been cases of tests being taken by people masquerading as the candidate – recruiters are understandably keen to avoid this.
Depending on the nature of the test, you may well be offered the opportunity to take a practice test. You should always do this. The questions in the practice test will be different to those in the actual assessment, but practice tests are a great opportunity to understand the interface of the skills testing software being used and get a flavor of what to expect. Some tests (particularly those evaluating “hard skills”) are taken against the clock, and so taking the opportunity to familiarize yourself with the skills testing software can only be a benefit.
Some candidates get nervous at the thought of a test. Don’t be. Hiring managers will very rarely hire on the basis of a test – most see assessments more as a way of validating that you are what you say you are, and can do what you say you can do. Assuming you are applying for the right job, a skills test should not cause you any issues!