Pre-Employment Screening and Job Testing: Would You Pass?

pre-employment-screeningAs if landing an interview isn't hard enough, some job opportunities require a pre-employment screening that can assess candidates before they even present themselves. In some cases these tests reduce the number of candidates for convenience's sake to the hiring managers; however, in many cases the tests or assessments can filter out candidates who really are not a good fit. Everything from customer service to highly technical jobs require specialized skills and knowledge that can be tested.

A recent article by The Washington Post highlights some good tips for dealing with behavioral test including:

  • Find out as much as you can in advance about the test
  • Search for online practice tests
  • Ask about taking the test in another form if you think you'll do better
  • Don't over-analyze the questions or take them too literally

I have seen and taken tests that gauge your ability to multi-task or prioritize work. A key to "passing this test" is to understand first what activities/tasks the company would consider higher priority. Knowing as much as possible about the hiring company is always helpful. It is also important not to get flustered. Remind yourself this is a simple test and it is possible to do well in several ways (there's more than one right answer).

Some tests will try to assess your ethics and decision-making. How do you justify the decisions you make? Are they made based on what is best for you personally? Your team? The environment? The company? Again, it is important to know a little about the company's background and vision statement. Perhaps every decision they make has to pass a higher standard than you're accustomed to. Be sure to use sound logic and common sense. The company is just looking to see you have a good process and judgment. Don't second guess or over-analyze the questions.

Tests that address aptitude to the job can be subjective in nature. It is easy to get frustrated during the test and ask yourself, "Why are they asking me this? What are they going to do with the answers?" This type of pattern of thought will not help you. If you feel the test is unfair, you can stop and share your view, but you also are saying you do not want the job. In most cases, the test is designed to be fair and to reveal key elements to your abilities. And remember, legally, everyone competing for the job is taking the same test. Also, if it is culturally biased, the company opens themselves up to lawsuits. Obviously, this is not their goal.

Technical screening for any jobs requiring use of technology, from data-entry to high-tech, is becoming more and more common. Approaches to this include:

  • standardized tests taken on the Internet (or certifications) like Brainbench
  • self-assessments in different tool sets (there's no sense in inflating your ability in this assessment -- they will figure this out later)
  • technical problems to tackle (similar to a role play)
  • even a review of previous work done, like code, is not unlikely

For data-entry, administrative, and even some retail jobs, companies can choose to test on abilities using Microsoft Word, Excel, typing, and 10-key. Many jobs have specific technology requirements, like medical billing or drafting software. For call center positions, there are tests on sales and listening skills, and even etiquette. Evaluations can include factory environments as well. Programming and operating heavy machinery can be tested.

The best advice for handling specialized or technical screens is to make sure you are honest with yourself about your abilities. If you're not clear on the priorities regarding the job requirements (some skills may be more critical than others), then ask. You might find out doing poorly in one area of screening is not critical. The skill set may not be pivotal to being successful in the position, but a nice bonus in a good candidate. Obviously, if you are rusty in any area, get some practice and/or reacquaint yourself with the tools.

Bottom line: If you are applying to jobs that are a good fit for you and doing your homework, you are potentially well-positioned for the job, and the pre-screening should only propel you forward. Maintain this mindset during the process to avoid a negative downward spiral during this stage of the process. After all, once you pass the test, you know the job is within reach.

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