Beat the Dreaded Computerized Hiring Test

Posted July 19, 2012 by Marcy Twete in Career Moves

More and more companies are using them, and they could mean the difference between a job offer and a “thanks, but no thanks” response from a potential employer – it’s the dreaded computerized hiring test. Today, I’m breaking open the reality behind these ridiculous tests and giving you the tools to get through it unscathed.

First, how do I know what to expect? There are basically three types of computerized tests for applicants – many of which are a combination of these three types of tests:

  1. Personality based tests – these tests ask questions like “Would you rather work alone or on a team?” or “Do you consider yourself introverted or extroverted?” or “When in a social situation do you approach others or wait for others to approach you?” etc.
  2. Skills based tests – often these tests are a combination of three types of questions – numbers questions, vocabulary questions, and mental acuity questions. Numbers questions might ask you to look at two sets of numbers like 18839 and 18893 and identify whether the two sets are the same or different. Vocabulary questions might ask you the definition of the word ‘palliate’ or other little known vocab words. Mental acuity questions might ask you to identify what NAFTA is or other quick questions on general cultural knowledge
  3. Industry specific tests – if you’re interviewing for a PR firm, they might ask you questions about media outlets. If you’re interviewing for an IT job, there may be a skills test on coding or technical support. A teacher might be asked to supply a sample lesson plan, etc. These are the tests that can most vary.

What the heck are these tests for?

  • If it’s a personality test, the purpose is “are you a sociopath?” If it’s a skills test, the purpose is “are you an idiot?” If it’s a practical test the purpose is “do you know this industry?”
  • Employers now, more than ever, desire quantitative results for candidates. This gives hiring managers a quantifiable and comparable set of data more easily put in an Excel spreadsheet than interview notes or even qualifications.

How do I get through this kind of testing? Now, I’m not necessarily encouraging you to cheat. But I believe wholeheartedly that these kinds of tests are not indicative of real skill, and that you should maximize your chances at making them a non-issue if you are aware of something that might be difficult for you. So some of the tips I’ll give you could be consider cheating or cutting corners. This is simply an indicator of the fact that I believe adults taking standardized testing to get jobs is juvenile and a bit ridiculous.

  • Right is better than finished. Many of these types of tests are timed, and while you are docked points for not finishing a section, you’re judged more in areas of mental acuity and general intelligence based on wrong answers vs. unfinished answers. It’s better to correctly answer as many questions as you can than it is to finish sloppily.
  • If you’re terrible at vocabulary words, have a second computer or mobile device open to quickly Google a vocab word you’re not sure of. Perhaps even have a friend or spouse there to help you with the test to keep this part doable.
  • Answer questions based on you on your best day ever.The truth might be that you’re introverted and have a hard time working on a team. Unfortunately, that’s not usually the answer that is deemed “socially correct” on these kinds of tests. It’s better to position your answers based on your best day ever – the day you want to go out and change the world. That would be the day you’d be extroverted, a team player, and want to succeed at all costs. Those are the kinds of answers employers want to hear.
  • When it comes to numbers, get help. Sure, they say not to use a calculator. But when’s the last time you did math without your computer’s calculator or the one on your phone. No one is going to know if you use your phone during this part. Again, it’s better to be right than fast.
  • If it’s industry specific, it’s all about you. If you’re being asked to complete a project or answer industry specific questions, sure Google can be your friend, but overall this is the part that’s all you, baby. You can’t fake your way into marketing without a knowledge of marketing, right? So do your best – that’s all you can do.

Finally, if you are in a position where a test like this could be abnormally difficult for you – perhaps you have a learning disability or reading issue that you face daily but isn’t always a huge problem. Perhaps you get anxious when testing. For whatever reason, if your anxiety or legitimate disability could prohibit you from doing well, be honest about it. Consider saying to the hiring manager, “I received your request regarding online testing. Is this something that is required of the hiring process? If so, could we potentially talk through some options for my testing? I am excited about this job and feel I will be a good fit for your team, but have difficulty with timed and standardized testing.” It may be that the company will allow you to talk through the test with an HR rep or to take the test untimed. It’s always worth asking.

My biggest advice, though, is don’t sweat it. Like I said, these are generally sociopath and idiot tests to make sure they’re not hiring the next John Wayne Gacy or Elmer Fudd. You’ll do fine. But don’t get all uptight about it, either. Cheating schmeating, right? It might just be in this case.

About the Author

Marcy Twete

Marcy Twete is a career fundraiser turned corporate responsibility executive, a career and networking expert and the author of the book "You Know Everybody! A Career Girl’s Guide to Building a Network That Works."