interviewer gave me a typing test for a non-clerical job — and then canceled the rest of the interview

A reader writes:

I’m job hunting again and recently had a really embarrassing experience during an interview. The interview was for a job in the industry I work in, but in a very different role. The day before the interview I read up on the company and the industry and I went into the interview feeling fairly confident.

When I got there, the hiring manager met me and escorted me an empty cubicle and told me to take a typing test, and then she would meet with me and the head of the department I’d be working in. I was startled. No WPM requirement was listed on the job posting, she never mentioned any type of testing when we scheduled the interview, and the job was not presented as a clerical position in the ad. I have to confess, I’m not a good typist, but it’s never been a requirement for any of the jobs I’ve had. Long story short, I bombed the test, the interview was cancelled and I was escorted out of the building. I was rattled, but thanked her for her time and left.

Since then, I’ve done some online typing tests to improve my skills. Here’s my question, is it acceptable for me to ask when scheduling other interviews if tests will be given? I don’t want to make a bad impression before an interview, but I want to be prepared.

That’s … weird. I’m curious about what type of job it was. I’m a big fan of having candidates simulate the work they’ll actually be doing on the job, but I can’t imagine giving a typing test for a non-clerical job.

I think you can ask about this beforehand, but you want to be careful about how you ask. If you don’t use the right wording, you might come across as less than confident in your skills. I would say something like, “I’d like to prepare for the interview ahead of time. Can you tell me how many people I’ll be meeting with, whether there’ll be a period for skills assessment tests, and so forth?”

That said, I don’t think you’re likely to run into this a ton.

{ 15 comments… read them below }

  1. Mneiae*

    That sounds ridiculous. I hope that my interviews don't turn out to include tests that were not mentioned beforehand. I'm fairly proficient at typing, but doing other tests that include things like multivariable calculus would kill my job prospects, especially if I walked into the job thinking that it included no multivariable calculus.

  2. Isabel*

    You should have been given an advanced warning in order to prepare for it. You're probably better off not working for this company. It shows a lack of professionalism and coordination on their part. Remember that an interview goes both way. You are also evaluating whether or not you want to work for them. The best companies are those that left a favorable impression with the candidates regardless of whether they get hired or not.

  3. Richard*

    I think that the easiest way to find out about these things in advance would be to ask your contact for an 'itinerary for the day', to give you a better idea of what's going to happen; it also shows that you have an organisational nature.

  4. Anonymous*

    I've actually encountered several employers who wanted me to take tests (typing and otherwise), and I wasn't applying for clerical jobs either.

    One employer wanted me to retake a professional exam–one that I'd already taken, and passed, and the entry fee was nearly $1000!!! I declined their request and pursued other employment opportunities.

    I'm just not interested in working for a company that needs to administer tests to skilled, mid-career and managerial professionals. To me it represents a lack of decision-making skills by management and an unhealthy corporate culture where worker's skills and contributions are trivialized–not a place I want to work!

  5. Anonymous*

    Do you think that maybe we can stop it with the constant "you're probably better off not working for the company" comments?

    There are tons of jobs that aren't fun, tons of companies that are run poorly and tons of managers that shouldn't be. Yet many people would take that in exchange for a roof over their head, food in their bellies and healthcare for their kids.

    I just keep seeing that comment over and over on all sorts of business related blogs, and it's become rather irritating.

  6. Anonymous*

    A typing test is a really good way to weed out people who are not proficient with computers. If you're going to be expected (as a large part of the job) to work on the computer, send professional emails, etc. – you could do worse than weed out with a typing test.

    1. Vicki*

      Not true.
      I’m a professional programmer and writer. I do not touch-type.
      I type fairly quickly when I’m on a roll, knowing what it is I want to say (writing text) but not as fast when programming. Programming is different. You think a lot.

      I would be insulted to be asked to take a typing test for a programming job or a technical writing job. I need to know my way around a keyboard, yes, and need to have high quality standards wrt editing, punctuation, syntax. But a typing test isn;t the way to show that.

  7. Anonymous*

    @anonymous 12:04-So you're telling me that you would tolerate abuse in the interview process and then go on to take a job where it was pretty clear you'd be at best underappreciated or at worst abused?

    You go right ahead.

    Job seekers may be in a tough position–needing a job. True; however, we are still human beings and still have a right to be treated with dignity.

    I have no qualms–even when I am seeking as an unemployed person–about passing on jobs that I know will not be a good fit in the long run. It's not just about getting in the door, you see. It's about how you can grow and THRIVE within a work environment and how you can contribute to your company's growth.

    Good luck.

  8. Jason*

    I appear to be walking into something similar this week. I have an interview with a mortgage service company Thursday and I just found out yesterday from the staffing agency that my interview will include a typing test with a minimum passing score of 40 wpm (which is not mentioned in the job posting at all) immediately prior to the actual interview.

    Now this interview is supposed to be for some sort of analyst position which from my understanding is math heavy, not document creation heavy. I'm not a touch typist (yet) so my wpm currently hovers around 30-40 wpm. I'm practicing with hopes of improving enough to make the minimum, but I'm not terribly hopeful considering the short notice.

  9. Bohdan*

    Why should you have a warning for everything in the interview? It seems to me that the exit was handled poorly, it left a bad impression, but asking someone to type? That's not so bad.

    Maybe they simply wanted to see how you handled it. The reason the interview wasn't finished may have been any number of things besides typing speed.

    It sounds like the poster freaked out.

    I've administered computer tests, that involved typing, for all sorts of positions. Heck, sometimes I just wanted to see if they new how to use a mouse and work a keyboard.

    If you can't handle fairly benign surprises, like being able to perform a basic task, then there are problems.

    Were you ever told you weren't interviewed because you failed a WPM requirement?

    I might also add you can't trust someone to have specific skills because they say they do, or should based on their career position. There are people that graduate from high school and college that can barely read.

  10. Beth Ann Agen*

    At my nonprofit agency, we give typing tests to all candidates who are in non-clinical positions. We do so exactly for the reasons stated by a previous poster to determine if the candidates can use a computer proficiently. Our administrative staff is extremely small, we have two office locations and interact heavily with the public through email, social networking and documents. If a candidate cannot type 40 wpm, they will not be able to handle the volume of work necessary to complete their tasks. We do, however, put a minimum typing in all our job postings and the hiring manager tells every candidate they will be tested.

    If you have noted on your resume a proficient level of skill with any software (Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, etc.) then it is fair for the company to expect that you can type.

  11. Rebecca*

    lol, "abuse" ? They were kind of jerks to spring the surprise typing test and then cancel the interview, but that's hardly "abuse."

  12. Anonymous*

    This reminds me of one job interview I had for a temp admin position- which at least was clerical! I got there and they sprung a data entry test on me by giving me a stack of business cards and telling me to set up a contacts spreadsheet for them. This surprise was followed by the following surprises:
    -They were on a MAC platform, despite nothing being said to me or my recruiter about it
    -They stack of business cards was all international ones- lots of (to me) long, unusually spelled names and international phone numbers
    -And then they told me the hours and the pay were both lower than my recruiter had led me to believe.

    I called my recruiter and withdrew myself from consideration for the position in the parking lot immediately afterwards.

  13. Marla Beard*

    Who wants to hire someone who can’t type at least 35+ WPM? Do you really want a manager who takes too long to respond to an email, finish a report, etc., or do you want to hire someone whose productivity won’t be bogged down by their bad typing?

  14. Shasta*

    Are you sure there really was a job opening? I have worked places where they interview people when there is no job opening or they’ve already selected someone (usually already in side the company). Perhaps someone just wanted some free typing done.

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