Skills Tests Update

An iPhone screen with text indicating applicants will be required to complete an online pre-employment skill test.One of the most widely read items here on Career Lantern is my 2018 article Should You Expect a Skill Test During a Job Interview? I also have a 2019 podcast entitled Skill Tests and Assessments. If you have not yet checked them out, I encourage you to do so. Whether called “pre-employment testing” or “skills tests,” their purpose is to help employers get an accurate picture of an applicant’s true level of knowledge or skill in specific areas. With this information, employers can quickly process the huge number of online applications they receive, filtering out all but the most skilled individuals. Those select few may then be considered further and possibly contacted for a formal job interview.

Skill Testing Has Become Mainstream

It’s no secret skill testing of job applicants has been around for years. I remember taking some type of test back when interviewing for one of my first jobs. Although it has always been around, testing just seemed a somewhat quiet and behind-the-scenes type of thing. But, as of late, skill testing appears to have become highly visible and more mainstream. For example, consider the popular job search website Indeed.com. In many of its television and other advertisements, Indeed openly talks about how it offers employers the ability to skill test applicants.

According to their website, under the heading of Indeed Assessments, Indeed offers employers the use of a large library of over 50 test modules on various topics. These cover areas including:

  • Computer skills
  • Critical thinking skills
  • Business math skills
  • First aid
  • Lesson planning for teachers
  • Mechanical skills
  • Proficiency in various languages

Within many of the above topics, skills can be tested on specific items at various levels. For example, in the area of computer skills, proficiency with Microsoft Excel can be assessed at basic, intermediate, and advanced levels. This enables an employer to test applicants at a level appropriate for the posted position. Consider multinational companies. They have operations scattered throughout the world and need employees who can communicate fluently with their foreign counterparts daily. Using the services offered by Indeed, the proficiency of job applicants can be assessed for English, Spanish, French, Italian, and Mandarin languages.

You may not know it, but Indeed is not the only skill testing game in town. In fact, there are numerous other online testing services available to employers. Many of these have been around for years. Indeed just happens to be the most visible to the public lately, thanks mostly to their frequent TV ads.

Why Online Testing?

Before the internet, companies might have received only a handful of job applicants for any one position. It was simple enough to hand the few interview candidates a pencil-and-paper test to assess their skill level. Then, HR departments began posting job openings online. Shortly thereafter, the number of job search websites grew like wildfire. As a result, companies now receive hundreds – if not thousands – of online applications for any single posted position. Plus, applications may originate from anywhere in the world.

Certainly, companies like to receive a large response to their job postings. However, each of those applications must then be processed and every applicant evaluated. How can an employer possibly handle such a workload? Naturally, as you would expect, every applicant claims to have all the required skills. But, it is just not physically possible to interview everyone. So, how can the employer identify and interview just the few applicants who really are the most skilled?

Online Skills Tests to the Rescue!

Applicants can be easily and cost-effectively tested online, either during or after the initial application process. Scores can be automatically calculated and the candidates ranked.  Based on those results, that whopping list of job applicants can be quickly and easily pared down to a more manageable number, perhaps just the top 5 or 10. Problem solved. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), “Pre-employment testing and new screening tools and technology can help HR professionals minimize hiring time and select the most qualified individual who best fits the organization.”

Having readily-available, professionally prepared tests is a valuable resource for employers. Even larger companies may not have the internal expertise, time, or money available to develop such tests from scratch. Using assessment services is usually less costly than hiring a firm to custom-design all the needed tests individually. Additionally, it is important that skill tests are “validated.” The validation process ensures tests are effective and do not unintentionally discriminate against protected classes of applicants. Not only would using a discriminatory test be illegal and potentially result in lawsuits, but the employer might miss out on perfectly acceptable candidates.

What Does This Mean for Me?

Forewarned is forearmed, so be ready mentally. Don’t get caught off guard or panic if you encounter a skill test when applying for a position. In fact, the data suggests you should probably expect it.

The Criteria Corp, a provider of web-based pre-employment testing services, cites a survey from the American Management Association (AMA) which found “…the use of pre-employment testing has been growing steadily over the past fifteen years. The AMA’s data revealed that:

  • 70% of employers did some sort of job skill testing
  • 46% of employers use personality and/or psychological tests on applicants or current employees
  • 41% of employers test applicants for basic literacy and math skills”

As an Applicant, What Should I Do?

First, take a close look at the position posting or job description. If it states the need for specific skills, there’s your clue. At a minimum, these are the skills you will most likely be asked about during a job interview. However, the employer may do more than just ask and take your word for it. They may test.  This could happen anywhere during the hiring process, from the point of application to the actual job interview.

Next, ask. The fact that you may be required to take a skills test should not be a secret. If the job website or communication received from the employer does not mention a skills test, politely ask if there will be one. The employer may even provide helpful information such as whether the test is technical, a personality test, a math or reading comprehension test, or whatever. 

Finally, prepare for a skill test. Merely being ready for the oral portion of a job interview alone isn’t good enough anymore. Yes, you still need to anticipate the questions you might be asked and have answers ready. But, the employer may dig deeper. Those skills you claim to have? Are you ready to be tested on them?

How Do I Prepare?

Once you have identified the skills the employer is looking for, do an honest self-assessment of your proficiency in those areas. If your skills are excellent and up-to-date, great! You’re probably good to go! If not, determine the areas which need improvement and study. Don’t forget that in some fields, such as law enforcement, firefighting, and so forth, physical tests are often used in addition to other types of tests. Can you do the required number of chin-ups, push-ups, etc. as stated in the description of the physical requirements? If not, you will need to work on these as well.

Preparation Resources

Given the number of potential career fields and skill areas, it is not possible to list all the specific preparation resources available. Here are some suggestions which you can investigate further on your own.

  • Booksellers offer numerous study guides and manuals specifically designed for certain government jobs, apprenticeship tests, and various licensure exams.
  • Study guides for college placement exams such as the ACT, SAT, GMAT, and others have sections covering math, reading comprehension, etc. which may be helpful in brushing up your skills. These are readily available from booksellers.
  • Many national trade organizations offer study guides for certifications, registries, etc. in their specific fields. If you do not see something listed on their websites, give them a call and ask about available resources.
  • Local government, community organizations, or colleges may offer job preparation courses, sometimes at little or no cost.
  • Consider taking a college course, either locally or online, for the skill needed.
  • Contact a local company or someone working in your career field. Ask if you could stop in for a brief visit to learn more about the field. They will likely welcome you and may be able to recommend resources.
  • Online self-assessment tests; a few are listed below for your convenience. Note: Career Lantern has not evaluated the following products and/or services, and no endorsement is expressed or implied. Before making any purchases, be sure to carefully evaluate the offerings to determine their acceptability for your use.
    • JobTestPrep offers online practice tests (at a cost) with many tailored to prepare applicants for application to specific companies or industries.
    • CriteriaCorp offers JobFlare®, a free app to assist in preparation for the Criteria Cognitive Aptitude Test (CCAT) used by some employers.

Agree? Disagree? Feel free to leave a comment and share your experience or thoughts!

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