what’s the point of this assessment test?

A reader writes:

I am in the interviewing process with a medium-sized environmental consulting firm and they want me to take a test. A 3-hour long test. The HR guy I’ve been in contact with just let me know that it would be a 3-hour long test about half an hour before it was supposed to begin (I’m doing it at my home computer). He is calling it an “assessment” and it’s going to cover my writing skills and my Excel skills.

Why do they need me to do this? What is the point of this test? I graduated from a very good school, did well enough in the interview, and have a respectable work history, so presumably I’m smart enough and already have the basic skills required to work at this place. Why would they have bothered to interview me otherwise?

I’m wondering if you have any insight into this practice? Are they going to use the test results to decide to hire me versus another candidate? To determine my salary offer? I don’t really understand this, as it seems to be a big hassle on their end (it’s taken weeks to set this test up and I’ve been given no information about it) and I’m not really thrilled about taking another test. 

Well, first, the HR guy who didn’t bother to let you know that this would be a three-hour test until 30 minutes before you were supposed to begin it is rude and inconsiderate. He should have given you advance warning about that.

However, the test itself seems reasonable (although unnecessarily long). Employers use assessment tests like this to verify the skills that you’ve so far only self-reported. The fact that you graduated from a good school actually doesn’t verify that you have strong writing skills or Excel skills. Lots of people graduate from school without being great writers; most of them, in fact, since great writing is a fairly rare skill. And Excel? Depending on your major, you could easily graduate without ever once even using Excel.

So the idea behind skills assessments is to find out if you really have the skills you say you have. For instance, I once hired someone for a position that required fairly advanced Excel skills. She spoke confidently in the interview about her Excel experience, and her resume detailed projects that allegedly involved high-level Excel usage. But once she was on the job, she could barely use the program. After that, you can bet I never hired for that position again without having candidates do an Excel exercise that required the skills they’d need to use on the job.

In fact, I never hire for anything now without using one or more exercises that simulate the work the person would be doing on the job — – whether it’s having a fundraising candidate do a mock funding pitch or having a bookkeeper do an exercise on cloud accounting software. It’s far, far more valuable than simply trusting candidate’s own self-assessments or even relying on their work history, since (a) work history can be inflated or even misrepresented, and (b) their former employers might have very different standards than I do.

So do the exercise. It’s to your advantage too, since if you’re not the fit for what they’re seeking, it’s far better for you to find that out now than to struggle or get fired after you’re already on the job.

{ 79 comments… read them below }

  1. Sarah Jobseeker*

    Thanks for the feedback Allison!

    Update about the assessments: I took the Excel Assessment thinking that I only 3 hours to complete it, which was a bit stressful and I started out in a rush. I ended up taking more time after I carefully read the instructions which indicated I could have as much time as I comfortable with. The Excel portion went ok, but required me to use one function I was unfamiliar with. Later, after it was turned in, I realized a mistake I made in setting up my calculations using the new function– small and easily fixable, but important.

    After I had turned in my Excel Assessment I got another email about a separate Writing Assessment, though I thought the Writing Assessment was included with the Excel Assessment (it required writing too). I was given a prompt and one day to write a comparison analysis, which I also completed and turned in on Friday evening.

    Both Assessments were very much in line with my training at school. Nearly all of my coursework in graduate school required me to complete similar assignments. I probably spent 8 hours total working on them, but I don’t feel confident that I’ll get an offer due to the mistake in the Excel sheet.

    1. just another hiring manager...*

      If you know you made a mistake on the assessment and know how to fix it, maybe you should email the company/HR person to let her or him know ASAP.

      I would reject a mistake in a minute, but would look kindly on a candidate that saw the error of her ways, understands how to fix it, and was straightforward about rectifying her mistake.

      Your email could say something like “After submitting my Excel assessment, I realized that I made a mistake when I X’ed instead of Y’ed. This small mistake could easily be fixed by Z’ing. I apologize for the oversight, as I take pride in my work and would work to prevent these types of errors in the future if I were a part of the ABC team.”

      Without that kind of additional information, as a hiring manager, I can only conclude that you didn’t know what you were doing…

        1. Sarah Jobseeker*

          Thank you for the advice. I fixed my mistake and emailed my recruiter, as ‘just another hiring manager’ suggested. I do feel like I’ve blown it at this point, but I’ll be better prepared next time I’m told to expect an assessment.

          BTW: Part of my surprise at the assessments comes from not knowing that this is a common practice in hiring. None of the other students who graduated from my Masters program and pursued similar positions have ever mentioned being asked to do these types of assessments for the jobs they now hold. The practice makes perfect sense, I just did not know that it was common!

    2. Elizabeth*

      Eight hours sounds like a *lot*. I suppose I did spend more than that much time preparing a sample lesson for my interviews (I’m a teacher, and it’s common practice for candidates for a job to teach a demonstration lesson to kids at the school where they’re interviewing), but somehow spending eight hours on Excel and writing for a prompt seems more intense. Unless it turns out that they do want someone considerably more skilled than you are, and that they therefore intended the exercise to take a lot less time, that sounds excessive.

      1. Sarah Jobseeker*

        The writing prompt required researching two of their clients, then writing a comparative analysis of the services offered by the clients. I took about 4 hours to do the research and write a careful, concise report. To me, this seemed like a reasonable amount of time to do a good job, and I think that it went well.

        I also took about 4 hours to complete the Excel assessment. I don’t think it should have taken me that long to finish it. I had to learn a new function, which was what made it take longer and tripped me up. I know how to use Excel fairly well, I describe my skills as “intermediate” and can set up spreadsheets professionally. I don’t know every function in the program– nor do I claim to.

        I agree the testing seemed like a lot. But after completing the assessments I can see that they both translate directly into the type of work I’d be doing for the company.

  2. Imran*

    I don’t like ppl complaining about assessment test. I’ve given test until 3am (offline) only to be rejected.

    Be glad for them, and never ever take them as insult.

  3. Kelly O*

    I’ve gotten quite a bit of schadenfreude-esque pleasure out of the fact the recent college graduate hired as our Excel “expert” has asked me quite a few questions about more practical functions of Excel, as well as needing me to set up a mail merge because she doesn’t know much about Word. We won’t go into the Outlook issues.

    That said, those tests do seem a bit long. The longest I can recall spending on assessment testing is probably three hours, but that was for a series of tests, and that entire period was not spent actually completing the programs.

    1. -*

      And even if that person knew every function in Excel, they still may not succeed as an Excel “expert.” Advanced Excel also requires the ability to break down complicated problems and issues into logic, often times lengthly and unwieldy formulas. Our (also very young) self-dubbed Excel expert knows alot of cool random functions, but I am still the one who builds the large, difficult templates, etc. – for whatever reason, the ability to know random excel functions usually does not translate into an ability to really utilize them.

  4. Joey*

    Is it that hard to figure out that the point of assessment tests are to get some sort of an objective assessment of specific skills?

  5. AJ*

    From an academic literature standpoint, combining interviews with work samples/assessments like this is a more sound, albeit lengthy, method of ensuring the best candidates are hired. Since the whole point of selection tests is to find out if an applicant would be a good fit and if she can get the job done satisfactorily, why not take a few extra steps to make sure they’re investing in the right employee?

    Interviews by themselves are OK in terms of validity and enable the interviewer to find out a lot of information about you. On the flip side, you may also encounter a not-so-competent/friendly/informed/unbiased interviewer who may fail to see you as a qualified candidate. Here, it would be to your benefit, and the company’s, to have another hurdle in the process.

    Work samples tend to be the best at predicting future job performance because you may be faced with an actual scenario you would encounter on the job. In this case, it would be data manipulation on excel and also writing skills. It’s also unbiased, in a sense, because you’re limited in the amount of knowledge you can fake. Used in conjunction with an interview, employers are better able to reduce mistakes in selecting the wrong employee. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but bad selections are greatly reduced.

    Depending on if the company is combining your interview and work sample scores, your good score on the interview could compensate for your small mistake on excel, so don’t give up!

  6. ChristineH*

    I completely agree with Alison’s answer. While my current field (social work/nonprofits) probably doesn’t require them as much as skills-based jobs (such as office worker or any business/financial jobs), I recognize the importance of skills assessments (but the tests in this case were way too long). On the other hand, job seekers might want to consider ascertaining in some way what specific tasks will require the use of the software in question. Remember, interviewing is a two-way street!

    This might be a stretch, but I’d also like to see knowledge assessments. I could easily say, “I have good knowledge of community resources for people with disabilities”, but an employer’s idea of “good knowledge” might be more extensive than that. I think this was a big part of the problem in my last job.

    @Kelly O – Your post has me wondering if college students are ever made aware of the importance of learning common software packages. It’s been ages since I was in college, so I don’t know if any of that is incorporated in coursework.

    @the OP – Good luck!

    1. Becky*

      At least at my college, not really. I came out knowing how to use Word and Excel as I needed it for my assignments, but not how to use them for tasks that I might actually need to do in a work environment. Mail merges are honestly something you don’t ever tackle in your courses. And just to note, Outlook drives me up a wall. Honestly, something I never had to go anywhere near before I graduated, yet it’s absolutely vital at every job I’ve interned and worked for since.

      1. Anonymous*

        Mail merges are honestly something you don’t ever tackle in your courses

        It might be seasonably appropriate to ask about using them to write thank-you letters….

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          The problem, I think, is that there aren’t even really courses where this would come up (or be brought up). I can’t think of a single college-level course that would focus on the mechanics of using Word. It might be something students should teach themselves (there are loads of tutorials online), but someone needs to tell them do it! Another option would be for college career centers to offer tutorials in Word, Excel, etc. — would go a long way toward preparing students for careers in a way that much of what career centers offer currently doesn’t!

          1. KayDay*

            That’s true for word, but not so much with Excel–maybe it’s just me, but I feel like I really need to use many of the excel functions in a practical way in order to learn them…I took an excel course once and forgot many fo the functions that I didn’t use. I also tried to teach myself to use Access, but since I never could apply anything, nothing I learned really stuck.

            1. Anonymous*

              At least if you learned the functions at one time you might remember that they exist – then you just have to figure out (again) how to use them when it becomes necessary.

          2. arm2008*

            I taught project management at the university level and the courses required a significant amount of writing. When it comes to bad formatting it’s easy to push my buttons, so to protect myself (and the students), at the beginning of the semester I had a lab assignment going over how to do certain formatting in Word. This lead to much moaning and groaning crying when I deducted points from their assignments for formatting problems. They whined to the academic director, who questioned me on why I would deduct points for bad formatting. By the end of the quarter 95% of them could do the required formatting, but not necessarily happily!

            A couple years later, one of the students told a colleague “I thought April was the biggest jerk in class with all the stupid things she made us do, but now I use what she taught us every day. She really knew what was important.”

            Generally, the students won’t do it unless forced. The adults I work with are the same way. Many teachers don’t even know how to use Word formatting because nobody forced them to learn… As much as it hurt, my students got more than they signed up for :-)

    2. Steve G*

      Some of the mechanics of outlook would be a waste of time to teach at school. The trick of outlook is knowing 1) if a function to do xxx even exists, and 2) in which sub-menu it is. While other school subjects train the mind and teach students how to learn and think, outlook functions are really just about “in which sub-menu do you go to (whatever….recall an email).” Essential to know, but not very esoteric.

  7. Nathan A.*

    I wish that assessment tests were more prominent. It could take away from the gray area in hiring a potential candidate if there are certain measurable qualities that are required for the job.

    I think that companies should ask for GMAT scores, or something similar, if they wanted a writing benchmark. The GMAT has a part called the “analytical writing assessment” that grades the writing strength of the test taker on a scale from 0 to 6.

    1. Anonymous*

      Unless the position required a degree that required taking the GMAT, that’s a very expensive job requirement…

    2. Joey*

      The reason why they’re not more prevalent is because interviewers have this crazy belief that their gut instinct alone is the best judge of character and skills. What they don’t understand is that most of gut instinct can be turned into measurable data.

      1. Nathan A.*

        You’re right, this would be expensive.

        If large Fortune 500 companies could have test taking centers in house that use a test such as the ones administered in the GMAT or LSAT, that would be an interesting solution. Then again, this would also be expensive.

        I wonder if the tradeoff cost of having a better measuring stick for new hires would be comparable to cost of bearing with a bad hire.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          You can also do it for free, simply by creating an exercise relevant to the work of the position. I do this for every position I hire for, and it’s hugely helpful.

          1. Natalie*

            I would almost say your way is better. When I was temping I had to take assessments that locked me out of answering a question if I chose the wrong option twice. The testing program considered opening the wrong menu (without making a selection) and using hotkeys and shortcut bars to be wrong answers. It was extremely frustrating.

            1. Long Time Admin*

              Natalie, I hear you! When I was between admin jobs and looking for temp work as an administrative assistant, I found the agencies’ tests to be vastly different than real office life. I knew all the keyboard shortcuts as well as the mouse shortcuts, but the test wanted candidates to use the menus, which were cumbersome to use and took more time. I had forgotten where a lot of the command were on the menus, so my scores were a lot lower than my real life ability.

              And to all these employers who want their professionals to do mail merges, calendaring/scheduling and spreadsheet, I say “Hire an Administrative Professional! It’s what we do!” (And for less money than your professionals.)

              1. Elizabeth West*

                Gah! I hate that. Also, when you’re testing, there’s more pressure and sometimes that affects the way you perform. I’ve had numerous clerical tests that end up being about tasks I have never done, and then if I actually interview or end up getting the job, I never do them.

                Like 10-key, for example. I applied for a job today that isn’t in accounting, but they test everyone with it and I didn’t do so well. :( Not horrible, but under their standards. I can only hope the screening interview and my resume speak for themselves.

                I’ve found some practice exercises online that I will try to improve my scores with. Typing is easy because I’m a writer, so I do a LOT of that.

          2. Anonymous*

            Alison, thank you for setting up your own exercises. As a someone else mentioned, those menu-based tests that temp agencies use are a bad joke.

    3. Ask an Advisor*

      What constitutes good writing on a standardized test like the GMAT or GRE is usually very different from good writing in the context of a particular job. For example, the GRE scores complex sentence structures more highly, but concise simple sentences might be better on the job.

      1. Elizabeth*

        Definitely true. There might be even more specific aspects of good writing for a particular job. For example, I’m a teacher, and for my last job interview I had to write a sample report card comment for an imaginary student. Clear and concise sentence structure helps make a good report card, but so does the somewhat harder-to-quantify ability to deliver bad news tactfully but directly.

  8. Anonymous*

    My only complaint about this is the rudeness and inconsideration in regards to the neglegince of the HR representative in not mentioning how long the test is. Waiting until the last minute to say “oh yeah, this is a 3+ hour test” is downright rude, and I wonder how much this reflects the culture of the environment you are entering with this employer. Is everything last minute in how long you need to do something or further instructions on something? That’s the red flag to me. I have heard of assessment tests before so that doesn’t give me any concerns.

  9. Anonymous*

    I have to be VERY interested in a company to do lengthy interviews and assessment tests. My time is worth something (well, to me – it’s worth nothing to them). Last time I was on the market I scheduled an interview with a company I was lukewarm on. They listed off the full day of interviews I would be doing and I told them no thanks. Been there, done that. Often, there’s a second day of interviews for the final candidates. I guess whether you can get away with that depends how in-demand your skills are in the job market.

    1. Elizabeth*

      If I was already pretty sure I wouldn’t want to work at a place even if they offered me the job straight away, yeah, I might get myself out of the process before doing a whole day of interviews – but if I were considering the job at all, it’d be worth it to me to spend a day there. It’d give me a lot more insight into the place and what it would be like to work there.

      My last time around, I interviewed at a place where lots of people (at different levels) met with me. I actually saw that as a really good sign – that if I worked there, too, my input would be valued on decisions and that people worked as teams. That definitely turned out to be true.

    2. YALM*

      By all means, if you’re not that interested, skip the long interviews and assessments.

      If you think consuming your time means nothing to the interviewers, either you’re missing some of the picture, or you’re interviewing with the wrong companies. Our assessment takes two hours for the candidate to complete. It takes us about 30 minutes to review it (times up to four reviewers.) I don’t want to waste your time asking you to take this if you don’t seem promising, and I don’t want to waste my time reviewing it if you’re either not that interested or clearly the wrong candidate. Screening candidates is a huge time investment for the hiring manager, too.

  10. Anonymous*

    I used to work in a mid sized Environmental Consulting firm. I just have a few thoughts:

    1) Excel is more important in this field than any University will admit. I once calculated the entire emissions of an oil refinery in Excel, then compared it to the emissions of the dairy in the next county, and the fast food place down the street. Your Excel skills, however good they are now, are bound to improve should you get this job!
    2) My firm was not particularly organized when it came to hiring. It sounds like this one is at least attempting to be. That’s good. Do the tests.
    3) Many of our staff were burned badly by a series of “really talented, highly qualified” hires. Ivy league engineering degrees, but lesser Excel skills than a GED candidate. Their writing was disorganized, and one woman even attempted to be cute in her introduction. Engineering writing, like science writing, is dry, repetitive, past-tense, and matter of fact. They need to know you can do that. Take the test.
    4) I hope this firm is better than mine, but be prepared to give up everything personal if there is a deadline. Right or wrong, we did it. Well, junior staff did anyway. We worked hard and performed miracles. We bonded. It was a wonderful. I was my second best job ever, and my third worst at the same time. I am grateful I had the opportunity and joyful I no longer work there.

    Good luck and I hope you get the job!

    PS, on reflection, I realize there are not very many mid sized Env Eng firms, so maybe we are discussing the very same company! If so, take the job! Then plan your escape! :)

    1. Anonymous*

      I’m dying to know what firm it is too! I used to work at a midsize environmental firm as well, but I’m pretty sure they don’t use tests for hiring.

  11. Anonymous*

    So what about people who are just test takers, but know what they are doing when it comes to practical work experience? I once had to take several assessments for a potential employer that included a reading, writing, math and IQ test. I did well in school, but test taking just wasn’t my thing. Plus the added pressure of doing it during an interview process made it much worse. I don’t believe that assessments are an accurate way to measure a candidate.

    Plus AAM, just b/c one candidate screwed it up doesn’t mean “all” candidates are like that.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Of course it doesn’t mean that all candidates are like that — but the risk of a bad hire is serious enough that it makes sense to do as much as possible to ensure that you’re hiring the right person, which does include creating ways to see the person actually doing the work that they’d be doing on the job. Interviews and resumes can only tell you so much — it’s important to see the person actually doing the work.

  12. Anonymous*

    I know this is going to sound a bit bitchy and I’ll apologize up front because I think it needs to be said. Just because you graduated from a “very good school” doesn’t mean you get a free pass on interviewing and jumping through the organization’s “hoops”. There are a lot of applicants out there and an assessment test helps level the field. Too many people seem to have been sold on how going to a specific school is going to magically open the door for them. If the school was as good as they say and you are a good fit for the position then that should come through in the assessment test.

    I completely agree the HR person should have explained the test better and the length of time you would need to take it. You should feel lucky that you made it far enough to be asked to take the assessment. I also agree that you should contact them and explain the mistake you made because that may help you.

    1. JT*

      The OP listed school+work experience+a good interview, not just school, as a reason to question the value of the assessment. And the OP didn’t suggest skipping interviewing.

    2. Sarah Jobseeker*

      Anonymous: I definitely don’t think that I get a “free pass” on anything, I’ve never felt that entitled. The reason I was surprised by the assessment is from my understanding of this type of hiring process: the employer won’t bother to interview a candidate unless they think she is qualified. This is why it surprised me…. my thinking was that we had already established I was qualified through the two interviews I’ve been through, as well as my work history. So I didn’t understand what the assessments were hoping to accomplish.

      I am new to the this field, though not to working. I spent most of my twenties working jobs that I heard of through word of mouth and was offered nearly all of my past positions based on personal recommendations. This more formal hiring process is unfamiliar to me and very stressful. After taking the assessments, I understand why they were offered. I just wish I’d been given clear instructions and a little heads up by my recruiter. But, life rarely gives us a heads up and clear instructions…

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Depends on the exercise itself, but the exercises are generally designed not to take more than about an hour or so. But since I don’t know people’s schedules (and when they’ll have time to do it) , and since I don’t want to have to spend my time thinking about their schedules, I usually just go with asking them to return it “sometime in the next few days” or “within a week.”

      1. Long Time Admin*

        Wow, Alison, you are sure trusting! I know a lot of people who would have a friend complete the test for them, and then submit it as their own.

        Maybe you are able to select candidates from a better class of people. ;=)

        1. KellyK*

          If the person is clueless about the given task, they aren’t going to be a good judge of their friend’s skills in it. I bet a lot of people who cheat end up turning in something fairly lousy.

        2. Dawn*

          I don’t think I’d give it to the candidate to bring home. I would ask them if they could come in for a quick assessment test and then limit it to about an hour. I’m too paranoid that someone would cheat.

      2. Eva*

        Thanks for elaborating!

        Long Time Admin: Wouldn’t people would have to be outrageously short-sighted to cheat on an assignment like this by getting outside help? What are they going to do a few weeks later when they’re required to perform in the same way on a daily basis?

        Hopefully the same lack of judgment that would cause a candidate to cheat would raise red flags elsewhere in the interviewing process.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yes. I actually sometimes say something like, “Because we’re looking for an example of *your* work, please do not have the exercise edited by anyone else. It could be disastrous if the person in this position required major editing once on the job, so we believe it’s to your advantage as well as ours for us to look at unedited writing at this stage.”

          I’ve also gotten very good at spotting plagiarism red flags (which fortunately the Internet makes it easy to confirm).

          1. Eva*

            So how widespread is plagiarism in your experience? I was naive enough to think you wouldn’t have experienced it because of the certainty of being found out once on the job, but it doesn’t sound like it?

            1. YALM*

              Cheating happens a lot. And even if it’s discovered after the candidate comes on board, the new employee is getting benefits of employment and not providing value to the employer. It can take time and be very expensive to remove the problematic employee, and the employer has likely lost the opportunity to hire a truly viable candidate. It’s just better to find out before the offer is made.

        2. Long Time Admin*


          I used to know several people who believed in “Fake it ’til you make it”. They wouldn’t have batted an eyelash at cheating on any employment test. Yes, it does speak volumes as to their character, but that often doesn’t become apparent until later on. And some people don’t care if they get fired later on, as long as they get the job now.

          I knew a computer operator who kept calling her previous co-workers for help on how to do this, that, and the other thing. Literally several times a day, until they finally refused to help her any more. She had to sink or swim on her own (I think she sunk, but I can’t remember for sure).

          Employers don’t always catch these people. They’re usually very good at conning decent folks.

  13. Dawn*

    Several years ago I decided to do an Excel and MS Word assessment test for someone we wanted to hire. I was tired of getting people who couldn’t write a simple letter to a customer without it being riddled with grammar, punctuation, and spelling mistakes. My boss couldn’t understand why I would bother and probably thought I was being overly picky (it was my first hire), but it was the best thing I ever did. We now have someone who writes very well, knows how to spell, and uses punctuation correctly. And she knows Excel.

  14. KayDay*

    One thing that irritates me about some (certainly not all) assessments, is a lot of the skills could be quickly taught on the job–particularly for entry level employees. I work for a small organization, so I understand that if the Excel expert leaves, there would be no one to train a new Excel expert, in which case an assessment would definitely be warranted.

    But if you are a researcher with excellent Excel skills looking to hire a research assistant, there is a good chance that the skills they need could be taught on the job. If someone can demonstrate that they are good at learning software, and understand the relevant data, they can probably learn to use a new tool/program.

    Companies these days are shooting themselves in the foot by not being willing to train new employees. There are no doubt some great candidates who may not know how to do V-Lookup functions yet, but who would shine on the job once taught.

    1. YALM*

      Agreed. Many companies can do a better job of training new hires (and old ones, for that matter.) Not all job skills are teachable that way, though.

      We use assessments to identify what core skills and what bad habits the candidate has. I can teach or fix some things but not others. If the core skills aren’t there, I can’t hire.

  15. Suzanne*

    I’ve had to take skills tests once or twice (not as involved as described) but the problem is that there are usually several ways to do any function in excel or word, but the tests I took only let you do it one way, which may or may not be the way you are familiar with.
    I am admittedly not very proficient at excel because I’ve rarely used it. I’ve taken several classes, but without using it, I rapidly forget how it works. Again, I find myself bemoaning the lack of on the job training that seems so pervasive in this day and age. I know I can learn whateve excel functions are needed for the particular job, but employers, far too often, seem to want employees to be mind readers…

    1. Elizabeth West*

      Same here. I don’t use it for accounting, chart or math functions because I don’t do accounting. I’ve mostly used it for lists and organizing information. I’m pretty good at that. Now to find a job that needs it….

      1. Anonymous*

        + 1. Unless you’re working in an accounting capacity, chances are you’ve used it for lists and organizing information. That’s how I’ve certainly used it.

  16. Anonymous*

    When I was a hiring manager, we gave skill assessments for positions that required high level technical expertise. It was done on-site, so that no cheating could occur, and was not timed, although an expert would be able to knock it out in two hours or so. What was more important than even the test was that we *always* gave some critical feedback to see how the candidates dealt with being asked to change things and we also put them in a room with some staff to see how they interacted with others. There were some highly trained people who could not handle being told something could be fixed on their work, and there were some people who weren’t particularly strong on paper but really hit it off with the team members and were willing to put effort into improving their work. When we started doing this, it greatly improved the quality of our hires.

  17. nyxalinth*

    Until right before Christmas, I worked for the number one pet insurance company (yes it exists) in their customer care program. I lost the job because my brain refused to retain all the insurance and billing codes needed to pass the test in secondary training. It was a shame, because I loved working there. No matter how hard I studied, I just couldn’t get it to the point where i could just spout it off the top of my head, much less pass the test, and we had a whopping three days to do it.

    I think they would have benefited from testing or assessing the ability to quickly memorize and retain very complicated information. most call center jobs I had allowed you to look things up as needed, so this was new for me. I’m not stupid, but oh gods I felt like an idiot for failing and losing my job.

    1. NicoleW*

      That sounds frustrating. I’m surprised you couldn’t have a cheat sheet of codes taped to your desk, or the look-up option like you mentioned. It seems a shame to let go of a good employee because they couldn’t memorize all the company-specific codes in 3 days.

      1. nyxalinth*

        for whatever reason, it’s how they choose to do it, I think they feel it provides better customer service faster if the agent isn’t constantly looking stuff up. I agree however, I also know I was a damned good agent, getting 90% or better on my call scores. Their loss, unfortunately.

        I do know that until the last year or so their hold times were horrible, so this might be the reason why they’re so harsh about it being memorized.

    2. Jen M.*

      I’m really, really sorry. That stinks massively!

      Just know that the next company for whom you work will be getting a great employee, and your ex employer is at a major loss.

      Good luck to you. :(

  18. Tara*

    I recently interviewed via WebEx (Skype) for a position that required a large amount of public speaking and presentation skills. I was told ahead of time that I was going to be given a powerpoint assignment and one hour to complete it. Once finished, I would present the assignment to my interviewers and then answer interview questions. I prepared myself by researching the organization (a state government organization) and searched online for ideas of what kind of power point it would be. I would say I am fairly proficient in PowerPoint. Once the instructions for the assignment came around I was completely shocked when they asked me to come up with a outreach plan for one of the public programs they offer. It threw me so much for a loop, I was fairly sure they were looking more for content than for skills, so my powerpoint expertise turned into blundering confusion. I used a generic theme on PowerPoint to give my presentation some style, had no animation, and barely anytime to even produce a decent idea. Now I wonder if they really wanted content, or if they wanted to see how well you work the program. Either way, I am not a fan of these skill assessments unless you really know ahead of time the basic idea of what your getting into. BUT…I have heard a few horror stories about folks who have been hired, and then after they start, they cannot tell a spreadsheet from a slideshow.

  19. Anonymous*

    I think that assessments that measrure basic job skils are good i.e. spelling, grammar, basic word and excel functions are useful, but these assessments are completely pointless and inaccurate if you want to measure advance skills. How could you judge someone by just 1 assessment or presentation? Especially if the candidate already has an extensive background in the field, then it’s obvious that the person has the knowledge to know what they are doing or talking about.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      People operate very differently, even when they have experience at high levels. So seeing them in action, actually doing the work, can be hugely revealing about whether their style is the one you want … whether it’s writing, communicating to groups, breaking down a problem, philosophical alignment, or anything else.

  20. Memmeme*

    I’ve been an Executive Assistant to C-Level executives for 10+ years and always been rated as a Top Performer. So I honestly feel weird when a potential employer or employment agency gives me a typing test. It’s almost impossible being in this position without knowing how to type. Well, I’m definitely not the fastest typist, but you don’t need to be. It makes more sense for them to ask for copies of my performance reviews which mentioned all these skills and more anyway.

  21. Nathaniel*

    @Sarah Jobseeker best of luck on the job! did you get an offer? It’s unfortunate that the recruiter didn’t set expectations properly. You should ask to see the results, especially if they’re comparing your results to a company expectation. It could provide some valuable coaching.

  22. momo*

    I’m often given writing tests during interviews when I apply for roles. It just seems a bit silly to me. I know I can write and have lots of writing experience, yet I always turn in terrible bits of writing during these tests. They seem quite pointless to me and unrealistic. I’m usually given 20-30 minutes to write something utterly random. The information is sparse and I’m unable to perform any extra research or ask questions. I tend to panic and just write whatever comes into my head because I have no time to think carefully. Sure, I get that they may be testing my ability to work under stress, but I’m well aware in the types of roles I’m applying for, I’ll be given a proper brief, time and be able to clarify anything. It’s never, ‘You’ve got 20 mins to produce a polished piece on something you know nothing about: GO!”

    So far, any interviews with tests have gone badly. The interview has gone well, but the test not so well. The feedback has always been, ‘Your test made us uncertain of your writing abilities.’

    I’m now at the point of giving up on finding another writing based role and either sticking with the one I have or moving into a slightly different area.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Rather than changing fields, I’d work on doing better on these tests. Come up with a few faux tests and give yourself them at home so you can practice — this is easy to do with this sort of writing test.

  23. Talyssa*

    Is it normal to ask for a work sample type test immediately after the first phone interview (30 minutes?) I just did one but I thought it was ODD – they gave me some vague parameters and 3 specific things they wanted to see, I spit out some rough versions of those. I only spent about 90 minutes – it was the sort of thing I *could* have given hours but I felt like that was an unreasonable time expectation at this point in the process. I got a rejection almost immediately – like, sent it late last night, got an email at 5:15 pm saying no thank you. Now I’m sort of steaming because I had actually hung up the phone after the PHONE interview thinking “I’m pretty sure I’m not what this guy is looking for” and then they sent me the assessment test about 20 minutes later so I figured what the heck and popped out something quick. Now I’m wondering if he ALSO hung up the phone thinking “I’m pretty sure that isn’t what I’m looking for but I’ll let the recruiter waste her time anyway”. I know its not a productive line of thinking to be cranky about that possibility, but now I’m wondering if the expectation really was that I’d churn out something very involved and polished at that stage? Or if this is just an example of weird interviewing/hiring practices?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s pretty normal to ask someone to do an exercise at that stage, but you can always ask for clarification about much time they’d like you to spend.

  24. How relevant?*

    At least this assessment test was directly job related. I’ve had to take personality or psych tests coupled with “skills” tests that consisted of rudimentary arithmetic. For a high tech development position! Luckily this is rare.

    More common are requests to code a seemingly mundane algorithm in front of 5 or 6 people. The sort of thing you might ask a new college hire. I hadn’t coded such problems since college or early jobs decades ago, so I stumbled thru looking like a dope. So did I spend the last 20 years faking it? Not convinced these “tests” revealed anything more than a rusty memory. Most of these routines come pre-canned nowadays to allow concentration on higher level work, like building a house instead of fashioning your own 2 by 4s, bricks and nails.

  25. Jay*

    Just completed an initial interview followed by a 6-day Technical Assessment and still not sure of the outcome and if there’s gonna be any gain for my investment of time and energy…

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