Can You Print this Page: Surviving the Skills Assessment

Posted January 31, 2014 by Lindsay Bosch in Career Moves
Testing Center sm

The last time I took a timed, moderated test, I think our President played the saxophone. (Let’s just say – it’s been a while.)  So I was surprised last year on a job interview when a potential employer informed me that all short list candidates would undergo a skills test.  The next day I visited a local staffing firm to take all kinds of tests in my abilities on administrative software.   Hours later, I stumbled out a bit stupefied – clutchingmy results – my skills most thoroughly assessed.  There I was, reduced to a series of percentages…

  • Clerical Proofreading – Questions Correct:30 out of 37, Percentile Ranking: 80
  • Microsoft Access 2007 – Questions Correct: 26 out of 30, Percentile Ranking: 70
  • Microsoft Excel 2007 – Questions Correct: 30 out of 30, Percentile Ranking: 90
  • Microsoft Word 2007 – Questions Correct: 27 out of 30, Percentile Ranking: 70
  • Office Grammar and Spelling Questions Correct: 34 out of 40  Percentile Ranking: 70
  • Typing – General [5 Minutes Onscreen]  – Adjusted Words per Minute 41

I was thrilled about the Access score, as I had never used it in my life… but a bit nonplussed about the experience overall.  For must of us, I think we consider this kind of software the tool through which we accomplish the higher ends of our work.  Born and raised on computers, we don’t view the use of basic software as a skill in and of itself. It is rather, a means to an end.   More traditional employers however, may still have this testing policy in place, referring back to a time when computer skills were acquired mid-career.

A few quick tips, then, for those who find they need to run this gauntlet during a job search:

  • Give Yourself Time: As a candidate with an existing job, I showed up hoping to knock off the test on my lunch break.  I was asked to do six tests and write a sample email – each designed to take 30 to 40 minutes.  In all, the tests took over three hours to complete. Call ahead and ask about the tests that you will be taking, and their average length.  Talk to the testing center about possibilities of breaking up your sessions if need be to fit within your schedule.
  • Be Comfortable:  Skills assessments are often conducted at staffing agencies.  Unless you are completing the tests at the offices of your potential employer, no need to dress for a job interview.  The impersonal computer-based test set up will be familiar to anyone who has taken the LSAT or GRE.  Make sure to bring the water or coffee that will help get you through it.
  • Be Kind & Ask for What You Need: Though not an interview, the staffing agency will be chatting with the HR department of your potential employer, so do conduct yourself professionally.  Remember, though, it’s not the formal SATs. When I scored lower than I would have liked on Clerical Proofreading, the staff allowed me to retest.  I also had them email me a copy of the scores for my personal records.
  • The Test Software Is Weird: You won’t actually be using Word, Excel or Access.   The skills test programs are more like shadow versions of the actual software.  (I used Kenexa Prove It!) It didn’t like keyboard shortcuts, and was programmed to accept only one way of performing an action.  Know your weird software work arounds may not work in this setting.  Wrong moves often prompt an “Are you done message,” so I came to learn that no prompt often meant I was on the right track
  • Keep it In Perspective: I got the job.  And a few months later asked about the skills testing. My boss admitted that she didn’t use it as a large decision maker, but that it was just a way to set candidates apart if she has a tough choice.  The results are clearly taken with a grain of salt.   For my part, I did the same when later interviewing candidates for a new position in the office.  “Can you use Adobe Pro?” I asked one interviewee, “No,” she said,  “But software comes and goes and I am confident I can master any new procedure in a day.”

Now that is clearly 1 of 1 Questions Correct!

About the Author

Lindsay Bosch

Lindsay Bosch is an arts and nonprofit manager who has worked in cultural institutions for over decade including the American Library Association, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Chicago Film Festival. Lindsay is interested in the self-driven (and often self taught) trajectory of women’s careers in nonprofits and writes about issues related to leadership, branding and work culture. Lindsay holds a Bachelors degree in Film and Media from Northwestern Univ. and a Masters in Art History, Theory and Criticism from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She is the coauthor of the art history textbook Icons of Beauty: Art, Culture and the Image of Women.