Three reasons why it is important to assess a job candidate’s abilities

Practical Skill Testing

Three reasons why it is important to assess a job candidate’s abilities

Given the costs associated with recruiting, which can be “astronomical,”(1) and the significant role that employees play in the health and success of a company, finding the right hire is of critical importance.

It can be challenging to find the perfect fit for your vacancy, however.  Conventional methods of resume evaluation and interviewing are not always enough to determine if a candidate’s qualifications translate into an ability to successfully perform in a position.  As such, many employers and hiring managers are supplementing traditional recruiting efforts with tests and exercises designed to measure a candidate’s practical skills and abilities.  Here are three reasons why you may want to consider doing the same.

Expectation vs. Reality

Competencies cited on a resume or offered in an interview may not accurately match a candidate’s actual skills.  Candidates may exaggerate their experience and aptitude to meet the requirements listed in a job description.  Conversely, they may be uncertain about their skill level on an objective scale or concerned about giving the impression of exaggerating, and end up under-representing their abilities.

While ATS programs are valuable and useful tools in the recruiting process, they can contribute to this problem.  Filtering by keyword can allow every candidate who simply makes mention of a word, or a set of words, to achieve a high ranking, without any regard for the depth of one’s knowledge about that thing.

Depending upon how your system is set up, someone who took a two-hour workshop on Excel could come up side-by-side with someone who worked with the application daily for several years.  The wide array of online resources that advise job seekers on how to beat the ATS with “keyword stuffing” doesn’t help matters, either.

The best way to assess candidates’ real abilities is to have them complete an exercise that demonstrates their actual skill in performing real job activities.  Asking them to create a spreadsheet, give a presentation, or analyze a data set will show you how they tackle a task and reveal their true level of aptitude.

Context Matters

Even if a candidate is proficient at executing a task, that competency was developed through experiences with another company, one that may have different processes and protocols than your own.  Both the candidate and your organization have their own understandings and definitions of certain functions, and they may not be aligned.

For instance, a candidate for an IT technician position may be accustomed to working in an environment with autonomous decision-making, while your company takes more of a team approach.  Or a candidate for a customer service job may have referred issues to a manager in a previous workplace, whereas he or she would be responsible for resolving those problems within your company.

You cannot assume that job positions, and the skills that people acquire while working in them, are identical in every organization.  Giving candidates a hands-on practical exercise will help you to see how they define and work through the steps of a task.  It will also assist in determining if skills from previous jobs can be successfully implemented within the framework of your processes and protocols.

The Full Package

Human Resources professionals have long recognized that it takes more than having the proper qualifications and core competencies to make a good hire.  The best candidate also needs to possess the right interpersonal skills, personality, and value orientation to fit into a company’s culture.  The best candidate needs to represent the full package.

Employee productivity and satisfaction are deeply tied to culture fit(2) and play a significant role in the effectiveness and success of a company’s operations.  Those soft skills and probability of fit are exceptionally difficult to glean from information on paper or through the filter of an interview, however.

The traditional hiring model is to evaluate a candidate primarily on previous experience and the possession of a certain skill set.   Yet increasingly, HR experts are recognizing that potential- what a candidate is capable of- may be more important than what he or she has already accomplished.  Potential is also difficult to pin down through conventional assessment methods.

If designed correctly, however, a practical test of real abilities can offer insights into soft skills, culture fit, and overall potential within your company.  How candidates respond to both direction and feedback- even how they respond to being asked to perform an exercise- can offer clues about flexibility, motivation, and working style.

Keep It Legit

While skills testing can assist in the critically important effort of assessing a candidate’s abilities, care should be taken to ensure that such exercises are only used for evaluation purposes.  Unless someone is a paid employee, anything that an individual creates is his or her intellectual property and should not be used for company purposes without compensation.  Yet that can be a helpful measure in itself; if you want to use someone’s work in an official capacity, then you are likely to have found your candidate.



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