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Job Assessment Tests: Don’t jump through hoops

In the October 3, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader doesn’t like doing assessment tests for employers who put no skin in the game.

Question

I really enjoy your direct and honest feedback to job hunters each week. I’d like to get your thoughts on jobs that make you do “assessment tests” to prove you are qualified.

assessment testsI do not work in the tech field where I know these are common. I’ve worked in marketing for 15 years, won awards, and worked for some top-name businesses. But recently I have encountered many recruiters that want you to prove your worth.

My favorite was for a company in the San Francisco Bay Area that needs to fill a marketing and web content position. Two hours before the phone interview, the marketing director sends me an e-mail saying that I need to prove my research skills and she will send me a question 10 minutes before our interview time. I have to research the question and have it submitted before the interview.

I was ready to walk but did it just to see if I could. (I succeeded). After the talk, I was unimpressed with her abilities and withdrew my application.

Recently, during my first in-person interview for another job, I was asked to write a five-page press release by the next day. I politely told the manager that my extensive work experience speaks for itself and I would be happy to send links to my previous press releases. She said that wasn’t good enough and I said, “I’m withdrawing my application.”

As you can tell, I’m ready to walk away from imposing situations like this that, for the most part, waste your time. What is the proper way to say “no” to these assessments? Thanks!

Nick’s Reply

My compliments for walking away from these kinds of abusive hurdles. Such employers undoubtedly think what they’re doing is a clever “pre-assessment” of job applicants. That is, they want to assess whether it’s worth their time to meet and assess you. They lay the burden on you, while they avoid putting their own skin in the game.

My guess is they add this step because some HR consulting firm charged them a bundle for “best methods” in recruiting. But there’s nothing “best” about abusing the job candidates those same employers complain are in short supply! Talk about trying to appeal to a candidate!

Assessment tests are often bogus

For an in-depth look at this topic, see Dr. Erica Klein’s Employment Tests: Get The Edge.
Job assessment tests come in many flavors. Tests and assessments can be useful tools for employers and job seekers. But more often than not, they’re misused. Some assessment methods are transparently ridiculous and unreasonable — and they’re not assessments at all. They’re bogus.

I think the way you’re dealing with unreasonable demands is just fine. And I don’t think anything you say to employers or recruiters is going to make them stop insisting that you jump through hoops, participate in totally one-sided “interviews,” and do free work. These employers have established a policy and a process. You’re not likely to change any of it. But it may be fun to make a point to them — a point that may hit home after they lose lots of good job applicants to their competitors.

I love your story about the marketing director. I wonder if she instructs her company’s salespeople to pre-assess potential customers by making them submit a five-page statement about “Why I’m worthy to listen to your sales pitch.”

But you asked me how to say no to these “assessments.”

How to Say It

When you’re asked to jump through hoops that you think are unreasonable, be ready to respond. Here are my suggestions about how to say it, ranked by snarkiness. Decide how far you want to go.

Meet or beat it.

“I’d be happy to invest my time to meet with you so we can determine whether we should work together. If there’s serious mutual interest, I’d be glad to show you how I’d to the job profitably. But without a corresponding investment of time from a serious employer, it’s just not prudent for me to do what’s essentially a one-sided assessment. I’m currently in discussions with three other employers and I expect to choose one in the next X days. If you’d like to meet to explore working together, I’d be glad to come in on one of these dates and times: [list 2 or 3 dates]. If those are not convenient, please suggest some others and I will look forward to talking shop.”

That’s pretty assertive, but so’s an employer’s demand that you do work before just a phone interview. I’m a big believer in showing how you’ll do the work to win the job — in a face-to-face meeting. But if the employer isn’t investing its own time and effort, it’s presumptuous of them to expect you to do so.

Pay me to do your job.

Sometimes it helps to put a price on what the employer is demanding:

“Just as I’m sure you don’t charge prospective customers to do a sales call, or to provide product samples for their evaluation, I don’t charge for interview meetings or samples of my work. I’d be more than happy to meet with you. But if you want me to work solo while you attend to other matters, my hourly rate is $X. If you’re willing to invest a couple of hours of your time, I’ll invest mine, too — no charge.”

I’ll do it if you’ll do it.

Sometimes it helps to put the shoe on the employer’s foot. You’ll win only the most honorable fans with this, but please understand that this is the shoe the employer is trying to get you to walk miles in:

“Attached is a psychological assessment test to be completed by the manager I’d be working for if your company were to hire me. If you’ll please have him or her complete it, to help me ensure I’d be working for a properly qualified manager, then I’d be glad to take your assessment, too. Since you already have my resume, kindly forward a copy of the manager’s resume so I can review it. Since time is of the essence, please be aware that I’m at the offer stage with two of your leading competitors.”

I don’t do tricks.

This one’s pretty snarky but, hey, would you go on a blind date with someone who’s not going to show up?

“An interview is called that because inter- means between, mutually, reciprocally, together — not one-sided. I’m looking for a good employer, and that means one that respects me enough to invest time together and reciprocally. I don’t jump for treats. Do you really have so many great candidates that you can afford to ask them all to do tricks before you’ll interview them? I’m ready to interview you if you’re ready to interview me.”

You’re not worth my trouble.

This one requires no explanation.

Talk to the hand.

Why do they do this?

You know such jump-through-the-hoop job assessments are inappropriate and usually offensive. So do I. Why don’t employers know it?

It’s pretty simple. These are employers that don’t know how to recruit job candidates. They want you to do the work, preferably with no investment on their part. These employers want you to incur costs before they do. They want you to pay for hiring managers’ (and HR’s) ineptitude. They’re all telling you one thing: “You don’t want to work here because we have no idea how to hire.”

What are the most ridiculous or offensive assessment tests you’ve been asked to jump through? How have you responded? Is there a way to say no that keeps you in the running? If you’re an employer, how do you justify asking candidates to perform — before you invest any time in them? (That’s not a loaded question. We’d really like to know.)

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77 Comments
  1. Ohh how I despise these test. As an HRD for the past 15 years this only shows me the lack of skills company X’s HR department has. As a recent job seeker I have come across these more and more even given the fact the science was debunked decades ago. Having been around these test for years I find them easy to manipulate – you looking for a “ball buster” a “gental sensitive soul” I can fool you into think I am one by my answers.

    I recently had the opportunity to use one of Nick’s well crafted responses (escapes me now but something about the next logical step is a face to face interview) when surprised with a set of 10 essay type questions required before my interview. I don’t work for free and if some recruiter or HR fool wants me to work for 1.5 hours to write essays and do their job then they should be attaching a 1099 with those questionnaires. Never heard from them again but boy did I feel great after sending that reply.

    • @Adrian — if you can share any references to reports that have debunked “the science,” please share.

  2. I don’t mind job assessments for entry-level candidates, but for people with a record, it’s silly. I had a potential client ask me to write 3 sample articles for them. I said, “I have over 1000 articles posted on the internet. You can read those.” They hired me.

    • Although I have a problem about both the validity and reliability of these tests, my concerns are more practical: time! Many employers contract with 3rd party testing services to run these tests; it can often take an hour or more to complete these tests. If every employer did this, that would greatly reduce the amount of time for filling out applications.

  3. I suspect companies want to do “psychological assessments” before interviewing to determine if a person can be ‘managed’ prior to interviewing them. This is funny (not) since there is never a discussion with a licensed psychologist or formal report prior to submittal to employer.

    Sadly, I have learned the hard way to avoid companies who insist on these ‘evaluations’ and those whose online applications are much more sending than a resume and cover letter.

    I would rather a future employer take the time to know me and me get to know them and let me use my examples of success and adaptability to demonstrate that I have ‘the goods’ and will be successful.

  4. After you withdrawn your application, may I suggest you send a letter to the CEO explaining circumstances and rational for doing so.

    • CEOs and boards of directors are usually blissfully ignorant of what their HR departments are doing to job applicants. All the board hears is, “There’s a terrible shortage of qualified candidates!” So the chairman of the board then gets quoted in the press about “the lack of training and skills” in the workforce. After 6 quotes like that from various companies, the US Department of Labor produces a report confirming it. And so it goes.

    • Great idea

    • That company lost my interest. I also avoid companies who have an on line application that basically makes one rewrite their resume or takes more than 10 minutes to complete.

  5. Today’s post, where a candidate was asked to write a 5 page press release by tomorrow…

    Talk about HR demonstrating ignorance. 5 pages is a white paper. No journalist is going to read beyond
    maybe 2 pages, and most won’t get past the first three grafs on page 1. Besides, what you want is to
    get contact with the media when you issue these things….for background information, contact….

    Anyone who had ever written news, or handouts for news media, would know that. HR clearly had no clue.

    • That was going to be my reply. This was obviously a trick question because a press release should just be one page. I’d love to write a snarky reply to THAT request.

      • I agree. When first reading that portion of the “Question” I thought you could write a press release about a company that had the gall to ask individuals in the initial interview stage to do their work for them.

      • I agree; press releases are notably terse, which illustrates perfectly how clueless HR is in asking candidates to submit samples of 5 page long press releases.

        CEOs, Chairmen of the Boards, why do remain silent on these onerous and inane “requirements”. They don’t help hiring managers assess who can best do the jobs, and they alienate the good candidates (the ones you’re supposedly looking to hire). If you have any sense, you’ll take HR out of the hiring process except for on boarding the candidates you do hire. Otherwise, let the people who know what is needed to do the job make these decisions.

    • I was thinking the same thing. Aren’t press releases usually triple spaced?

    • You’re absolutely right, Jim. Clearly HR didn’t have a clue about standard press release practices.

  6. Like a good soldier I have filled out many of these assessment tests. One company required a personality test and then a 200+ question aptitude test for a financial analyst position. The next day I had an interview with the company’s CFO. He mentioned that I performed well on the tests but the position had not been approved yet. After about three weeks, the budget issue still had not been resolved, so I moved on.

    Since that day, I have absolutely refused to fill out these tests. These aptitude tests are an absolute waste of time. Speaking from a risk perspective, these companies are handing a HUGE piece of evidence to any lawyer in a discrimination lawsuit. Now the hiring managers and HR need to document why a candidate was not chosen, especially if the candidate performed well on the tests. Is it a slam dunk in court? No, but much like jumping out of your car/truck after rear ending someone. You should not say, “Are you OK? That was completely my fault. I wasn’t paying attention at all! Hope you don’t sue me – I have really good insurance.”

    • Anna, you’ve pointed out the real problem. Employers use job postings to test the market for candidates, thereby wasting people’s time. It’s fraud. There is no job. That’s the lawsuit waiting to happen.

      A good friend of mine is CEO/owner of a very successful high-tech company. He walked into his manufacturing facility and saw piles of boxes shrinkwrapped on pallets, waiting to be shipped. “What order is that for?” he asked. “Oh, we’re still waiting to get the purchase order,” his operations manager replied. “WHAT??” said the CEO. “The P.O. is pending, but they always order the same thing so we produced it in advance.”

      The ops manager is about to get fired. So, what’s that CFO doing interviewing job applicants when there’s no P.O. for the job? This guy is responsible for THE BUDGET??

  7. I was recently interviewed by a company who religiously used the STAR behavioral technique. After my 4.5 hour interview (with different people at an hour each), I ended up not getting the job. It’s okay because I left the interview not feeling excited about the opportunity and I counted my blessings.

    But, what I really want to tell them still to this day is that such a technique is useful as a tool if used lightly. Each interviewer was so well trained (almost forcefully trained, ingrained) that I felt ignored. Not one person put their darn pen down to simply hold a conversation with me. They were DISTRACTED by the tool and I was second place to their note-taking priority. If I deviated from their scripted question, they (almost rudely) reeled the conversation attempt back to the scripted question with a behavior that was almost as if their minds were saying “NO! I’m so scared! We can’t talk about something else; I have to write down your response to the question I read so I can move on down my script”. I still wonder if a teacher was to grade their paper after my interview.

    In short, tools are a side piece and should never distract us from the true task at hand: having a mutual conversation. I felt ignored. I felt second place below the STAR “technique”. You didn’t interview me; you appeased an internal task to a manager/leader. Kudos…? But…

    Did you really even get to know me?

    • K Ster, I’d love to see who, or what, they hired.

  8. A 5-page press release? In what world does this company exist? PRs should be 3-4, SHORT paragraphs, tops. I’ve never written one more than a page long in my 7 years in the industry.

    I had a company recently ask me to put together and full marketing strategy, with a budget and all, before they would even grant me a phone interview.

    I withdrew and they asked why.

    I told them what they were requesting was WAY too much and that I do not do that kind of work for free.

    • I’m glad to see some of you caught that. A 5-page press release? HR needs a class in PR.

  9. I actually can very much see the benefit here. I work as a network engineer and our boss knew what he was doing, and he managed to put together a very good group. He didn’t need this kinda test. However we had another manager for a different network group who didn’t know networking, and drooled all over degrees and certifications and for years he hired the dumbest people you have ever meet, one of them literally spent 2 weeks troubleshooting a cable that wasn’t plugged in between routers. Since our group was doing the work of 2 groups we put together an assessment test for the manager. Nothing challenging at all, it was ~10 min worth of troubleshooting with full CLI access.

    I will admit I was in an interview that used a simulation on the internet, that was horrible: the question was wrong, you couldn’t make changes, most commands didn’t work, and shortcuts that you use on a normal CLI kill the web-browser. That was not a fair test.

    • Daniel: Such tests can be beneficial when used at the right time, but my point is that it’s disingenuous to demand that candidates do tests before the employer even deigns to meet with them. What this tells us is, the employer isn’t sure it’s recruiting the right candidates. The problem is the recruiting protocol, not the candidates. Job applicants should not waste their time with employers who want to go to lunch while the applicant spends hours working for free.

  10. insofar as these assessment tests are concerned, I have not come across them too often, but the few times I did I never received a job offer. Even so, I have often chosen to go ahead with the assessment just for fun – like doing a crossword puzzle. (By the way, I am taking the GRE this weekend as I am planning to do an online Master’s degree at a well known university, and I’m looking forward to it. My company pays most of the cost of graduate school.) In fact, I once showed up to meet with an HR person at a company where I didn’t think I was that qualified for the job. I was asked to take an assessment on the computer and it was actually quite fun. I must have done well because the HR person was interested in talking to me right away. She was young and trying really hard, so I thought I would give her the practice. To my prediction, I did not get the job, and the company was pretty bad anyway. Another time, I took an assessment on the C++ programming language which I only know a little bit about (I write mainly in C with C++ constructs). I knew I didn’t do well on that assessment, and I wish I would have known ahead of time I would be doing it.

    I think you have to decide for yourself on a case-by-case basis.

  11. Nick,
    Back in the Stone Age, when I was a bit younger, a job offer required me to take a hand- writing test. I refused the test and passed on that job. Can you tell me what valid information an employer can derive from such a test?

    • Note to Tony, please do yourself a favor and check out one or two books on handwriting analysis from the library. There is a lot of information to be learned from handwriting, though I seriously doubt that the company employs a person with enough training to assess the results. I find the topic very interesting. If legible handwriting is a job requirement, then such a test may be reasonable. Otherwise, no.

    • As Dale points out, handwriting analysis is used to cull job applicants. But I’d love to see the report on a rejected handwriter — and the science justifying it as a valid and reliable test. I’d also love to see the disclosure they gave you about the purpose of the test.

      Psychological tests, though often misused, abused (and faked), are at least subject to the rules of the APA, which you can find online. That gives applicants at least some recourse.

    • I used to work for a delivery company that did a handwriting ‘test’ for all applicants. It actually was a way to get a handwriting sample in case the person decided to steal (over-labeling shipments during handling was a common day to steal back then). The company had previously obtained the sample after the person was hired, but a coworker would often tip them off as to the true reason for the test, so the person would purposefully write in a way that was not typical of how they normally write.

      • So essentially they would get tipped off and then fake their handwriting so that they could steal later? Lol

        What kind of packages are we talking about here?? Ahhaha

  12. I do think assessments have a place, but they have to be used in the right way.

    First, any assessment has to have a basis in real science and relate to the actual job performance in some way. Even if you have a good assessment, there’s still the issue of the employer misunderstanding the results. In other words, there is point in giving a skills/psych assessment where 90% of the findings do not relate to the job and potential performance.

    Then there is the whole thing here where the tests just become abusive to the candidate. Aren’t well designed job specs and assessments supposed to make the process go smoothly for both employers and candidates?

    • If you’re going to take any kind of psychological or skills assessment, it’s worth understanding the meanings of VALIDITY and RELIABILITY in the testing context. There is a science behind testing, but many employment tests make a mockery of it.

      See: https://allpsych.com/researchmethods/validityreliability/

      I’d never take a test like that without asking the employer to show me the report on the test’s validity and reliability — and I don’t think you should, either. Failure to provide this information tells you either that the employer has it but doesn’t realize what it means, or that the employer is entirely clueless about tools it’s paying for that may be entirely phony.

      • Agreed on all fronts. I want to understand the validity/reliability of any such assessments/tests and how they correlate to on the job performance at the specific company.

        And any assessments should be done after there is a mutual interest from both sides to proceed.

        • @Dave: “any assessments should be done after there is a mutual interest from both sides to proceed”

          I think that’s the key. The employment process have become ridiculously rude and presumptuous.

  13. My hoops are a little different. I’m a medical transcriptionist working from home and companies want us to test along with an application before they’ll consider talking. So, with 45 years’ experience doing acute care hospital and clinic transcription in various specialties, how do I gracefully tell them, “I don’t do tests because I’ve probably been transcribing longer than you’ve been alive.” These tests are generally a combination of multiple choice questions and sample dictations with terrible sound files and foot pedals that usually don’t work, putting you at a huge disadvantage from the get-go. Even if you apply for an in-house position, you still have to take at least a typing test. I’d love to set their hoops on fire.

    • Rebecca: That’s an interesting point. Until I read your comment, I would have said that jobs where you’re home-based, and possibly never need to go into the office, are jobs where an objective test about speed and accuracy is necessary and legit to pre-qualify you.

      But if the testing is sloppy, the applicant is doomed to fail.

    • I love it “I don’t do tests because I’ve probably been transcribing longer than you’ve been alive.”

  14. This definitely remains a sore point for me, as I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been insulted with these “stupid until proven smart” tests/projects/evaluations. Back in November 2013, the week before Thanksgiving, I had an interview for a design job at John Hancock in Boston. I met with the “communications manager,” it went wonderfully, so he brought me back in for the required half-day “panel approval” interview (which I can’t say I enjoyed, half of them clearly couldn’t care less, one woman even told him as he was about to bring me into her office that “now is not a good time”). When it was over and he was walking me out he told me I was up against one other “finalist” for the job (to add that nice “game show” vibe to the experience).

    The next day, I waited on pins and needles hoping and praying I’d get the offer. At 4:30 I received a phone call from some HR girl (she could barely construct a sentence) telling me to expect an email with a “test” to complete to prove I can design. Talk about a let-down! Whatever, I said, fine, send me the test.

    Friday 5pm rolls around with no email, so I figured since next week is Thanksgiving I guess that test won’t be coming for a while. Imagine my shock (again) when I received the email at 6PM that night with orders to redesign an interface on their webpage but with no real creative direction beyond “keep it consistent with the corporate brand” combined with the contradictory “BE CREATIVE!” And they send me this at 6PM meaning the jerk is gone and I can’t ask questions, I’m just supposed to design using guesswork here — no design project can succeed without a review between designer and client first (my own creative brief I required clients to complete is four pages long), and sure enough I had loads of questions.

    Oh, and the deadline was first thing Monday morning. THEY DIDN’T EVEN ASK ME IF I HAD PLANS FOR THAT WEEKEND, which I did (again, because of the upcoming holiday, was traveling home to be with my family)…Okay, nothing’s free in this world, gonna grind my teeth and do it in the hopes that I’ll be rewarded for my pain and suffering. I finished and emailed my work to the HR girl Sunday afternoon. I explained that because I couldn’t ask questions I did three different designs that addressed different scenarios. You want a direct regurgitation of the concept with just some different stylizing, here ya go…you want something a little more dimensional and edgy, here ya go…are you open to something completely different, here’s an idea…The HR girl (who I guess was on call) forwarded my email to the comms mgr who replied with something like “duh, I guess I didn’t do a good job of communicating what I wanted with this…what I want you to do is just forget everything I said in the first instruction email and just do what you think would work, oh but keep it within the corporate brand and be creative.”

    Are you kidding me? It’s now Sunday pm, and he just dismissed all three designs and I’m supposed to start over?

    I emailed back with “this job is clearly not a good fit.” And that was the end of that. Four years later my blood pressure still boils when I think back on this. I then swore I’d *never* perform tricks like that again in the hopes that some hiring manager will possibly consider thinking about maybe becoming interested in hiring me. (And the most painful observation of this IMO is that we have a “communications manager” who can’t communicate for jack squat.)

    • Here’s one example of how I handle this nonsense now…Last January I applied for a design job with Healthcare Business Insights. The ad stated there would be some sort of artistic evaluation, but I figured that if granted an interview I’d give them the chance to talk about this test. Of course, they sent me the test before even an interview:

      —–
      Thank you for your interest in the E-Learning Graphic Design Associate position with Healthcare Business Insights. Congrats on making it to the first steps of the process. The first part is designing the attached sample slide.

      With this position, you would be working on the design and layout of e-learning courses. This sample will assist us in evaluating your creative approach to design and layout, as well as how you interpret e-learning.

      The attached document includes simple instructions to help guide the overall format. Please send the finished sample to us in PDF format.

      Please return the sample to us no later than 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday, January 11, 2017.
      If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.
      ——

      I thought that last “please do not hesitate to contact me” bit was kinda funny as there was NO name at the bottom of the email.

      Here’s my reply:

      ——
      This is terrible.

      I’d have at least expected you to first grant me a quick telephone screening to review the position and give me the chance to ask questions about this task — do you want to see stock photography or illustrations/iconography? is animation permitted (and, hence, can we deliver a video instead of a pdf)? do you have a style guide to follow? etc. My own creative brief that I require clients to complete is three pages in length. I do not perform any kind of work — paid or free — based on guesswork as that’s just a recipe for failure.

      At a bare minimum, you should have at least shown me the courtesy of confirming whether or not I’m available through Wednesday to do this — what if I were still out of town for the holidays (my family celebrates Orthodox Christmas on January 7)?

      Nick “Ask the Headhunter” Corcodilos recommends that applicants “submit a bill in advance for my time and ask the employer to pay it prior to submitting anything” when asked to perform free work as part of the hiring process [link provided]. Instead, I think I’m just going to withdraw my candidacy for this position.

      This is another very sad display of how badly hiring in America has deteriorated.
      ——

      NO reply received. I know it’s another dodged bullet, but it seems like every job opening is now a bullet to dodge…Oh, and they just re-advertised the job on Indeed the other day, no mention of any design test/evaluation this time…

    • “this job is clearly not a good fit.”

      Better: “You’re an unprepared idiot who just wasted much of my holiday weekend.”

      Then forward his “explanation” to his board of directors. Probably nothing would come of it, but it’s like buying a lottery ticket to the guy’s exit interview. You can sleep better knowing you have a chance. :-)

      • “but, but, it’s industry standard! all of our competitors are doing it!”

        • Could be why the industry and your cometition are in the doldrums?

      • Interviewed many years ago. The president required a conceptual business plan for a startup I would head up, he took the plan and I was not hired but he used it for the startup. That was the last time I worked for free.

        • @Retired: If I had a dime for every story like yours…! Thanks for the reminder.

        • As a writer and copywriter, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had to do so-called « test ». Once for a copywriting and translation task, the client rejected my application so it was a bit suprising to see, upon revisiting their website, my copy and my translation in there. The client is a huge multinational so suing them was not an option.
          More recently, I’ve been working freelance as a translator and applied for the same role within the same exact team, except this wasn’t a freelance role, it was a permanent role. I got along very well with the team, the managers said I was the quickest learner/worker they had ever had. I had an “interview” with the manager and someone from HR. The HR person didn’t bring my CV, looked at her phone and barely looked at me for the whole of the 15 min of the interview, asked me questions that wer utterly irrelevant and I learned later through one of the managers (who was dying to hire me….) that the HR person rejected my application under the pretense that I didn’t seem passionate about the industry (an industry I’ve worked in for more than half a decade…)

          • @Lizzie: “The client is a huge multinational so suing them was not an option.”

            That’s exactly the kind of company to take legal action against. Lawyers love slam-dunk cases like this where a quick settlement is likely. See https://www.asktheheadhunter.com/8311/lee-hecht-harrison-a-failure-of-integrity

            When we walk away from abusive employers and let them get away with it, it just gets worse.

            • Thanks Nick! About the rude HR lady, I forgot to mention: I was being interviewed for a French translation role, and surprisingly she didn’t speak a word of French….

  15. I fairly recently experienced an automated version of this, applying for a position in a major university/med school where I had worked previously. Where they used to be very traditional, staffed with relatively accessible humans, they have now outsourced their entire HR front end to a 3rd party that accepts applications via their website. I agree with the idea that online applications are generally a waste of time, but I’ve had a slightly better hit rate with academic ones, so I decided to spend 10 minutes and give it a try.

    The initial process was painless, the usual, demographics, resume, and cover letter. I thought I was done, but then I was asked to take an online evaluation. At first it looked optional, but after quitting out of it I got several emails telling me that I had to take their test to submit my application. The job looked interesting, I figured it would be quick and easy, and like an idiot I went back to look at the test.

    The first few questions were innocuous, but soon got to the point where I realized that we were entering inappropriate territory: If you do a job well, who should get the credit, you or your boss? What would you do if your boss took the credit even though you had done all the work? At that point I saw that the progress percentage indicator was still in the low single digits and there would be quite a bit more to follow. So I sez to myself: that’s all I need, a stupid and invasive canned psych evaluation (I’ve worked developing and computerizing real medical versions of such instruments, I’m very familiar with them) attached to my profile at that company for all time, and who knows where else the information would end up?

    Of course I stopped right there, and quit out of the application and resolved never to apply for another job at that university. It was truly creepy and disconcerting.

    • @Rick: When I think about the money and talent that gets wasted when employers “outsource,” I wanna barf.

      • So why do companies outsource so much? A friend of mine who does a combined accounting and HR position says it has to do with liability. I get that. Isn’t that what business insurance is for? Another thing this same friend said: if a company does not want to give you a job, and when you contact them, if they say nothing, then they can say in court truthfully, “….but I never said that we weren’t hiring him,” or worse, “I do not have any record that this person applied to our company.”

        For example, my wife and I are over 50 – as an engineer I can get jobs. For her, she is a librarian and for those few library jobs out there, they want to hire a young person. (Age discrimination exists – especially for women in female dominated positions – and it is not going to get better.)

        I’m concerned that employment is going to become problematic in the US in the near future – I’m concerned that this will lead to brain drain. Brain drain has ruined many midwestern states – for example I left Ohio to move to California for a 66% pay raise. Yes, I pay more to live here, but there are better opportunities (business does well here in spite of being rated as business unfriendly – I don’t get that). Most of all, my kids are in better schools and their friends are from different countries.

        Companies might like Ohio or Texas because they can reduce their expenses by paying less (I don’t like it, but I totally see their side), however, their best people will tend to leave. As for me I would not go back. The industry has left that state. Too bad.

  16. Here ya go…www crossover com/ca-java

    Scroll down to “Step 2: Take the Fundamentals Test” followed by “Step 3: Implement the Tech Trial Project” which “typically takes candidates 8 to 10 hours.”

    I took a peek at some of the other jobs listed and all of them have this kind of nonsense, even the administrative assistant opening has a ONE-WEEK assessment (no mention of whether the applicant will be paid for their time). You’d think a company with such bad ratings on Indeed would be less picky, http://www.indeed.com/cmp/Crossover/reviews — “The interview process is amusingly complex and convoluted. Only someone desperate-desperate-desperate, I’ll say it again, d-e-s-p-e-r-a-t-e would humble themselves to endure it. But, God knows, there are lots of those folks around these days, and Crossover knows it, too.”

    • I just checked out that site and those jobs — how cool is that? Sheesh!

      Has anyone applied for a job with this firm and DONE ALL THAT TESTING????

  17. I have encountered this in 2 instances recently.

    The first one was from a hiring manager for a position as a Desk Director in a recruiting firm. The manager connected with me on LinkedIn to see if I was open to a career change in recruiting. They needed somebody with my industry experience and language skills. I was intrigued and always thought this was a field I might be interested in, though I know very little about. So I went for it. After multiple phone call conversations (3 or 4?), I was asked to prepare a “business plan” that would highlight my strategy for my first year on the job. I thought the request was smart and obnoxious at the same time. Obnoxious for all the reasons you stated. Smart because, in case I would not be a good fit, it would (maybe?) still give him ideas to explore. Smart also because it would give him a good idea as how good a grasp I had on my possible new career and how serious I was about it. But in the end, it was smart for me, because as I drafted it, putting numbers together, ideas and strategies on paper, linking them to the conversations we had had before, I realized the numbers didn’t make sense to me and it would not be the best use of my skillset. So, in the end, the request was welcome since it led me to a decision I may not have made without it.

    The second one is for an upcoming interview where the third interview is a case study over the phone. Fourth interview will be meeting with the team on-site. I’m a little on the edge on this one. It is a usual request for management consulting type of roles and I really do not mind it. What I do not like here is that it is conducted over the phone vs a teleconference or in-person meeting. It adds a level of anxiety: what if I do not hear the data correctly? In any case, I welcome it as a good exercise and certainly an interesting experience, but I do not like the format.

    • If an organization or company required a fourth interview, I would just withdraw my application. To me, that’s too much to ask of anyone.

      • For me, it depends on the role and the company. McKinsey usually has 7 rounds. I would definitely not miss the opportunity to go through each rounds if I had the chance to interview there.

        • Elaine..people who worked for any of the drone consulting firms don’t make my resume cut, for many reasons

          • I can certainly understand that. There is a lot more to those management consulting firms than the drone missions you are referring to though. Their business is changing.

      • I’m having the same issue. I’m based in the UK and an American company is opening its EU operations in London. I have applied for a managerial role and am on step 2. I asked them how many steps would the process have and they told me it would be 4: 2 phone interviews, a test (lol) and a face to face interview. I’m thinking of withdrawing my application.

    • @Elaine: I’m a big proponent of showing an employer a mini-business plan that shows how you’re going to do the work profitably. It makes you stand out.

      But ONLY during or after an in-person interview. ONLY after they have invested time with you. Talking to you on the phone is not an investment from them.

      Asking you to do all that work after ONLY phoners is akin to a scam. They want you to work for nothing without their even taking time to meet you.

      There’s no other way to look at this. There may be a real job at the end of that long, long tunnel, but this process is a scam. I’d RUN.

      If a company won’t meet you in person, there’s no reason to do ANYTHING for them other than submit a resume and confirm an appointment.

      • I’m 100% with you and that is exactly what I did – because I’ve been reading your blog!
        I also never provided them with my business plan draft, nor did I applied formally and shared my resumé. The exercise was useful for me though. It made it clear it wasn’t for me. I also forgot to mention there was an in-person meeting planned a few days after the call. I couldn’t make it and based on what I learned doing that business plan, I chose not to reschedule.

  18. @SIGHMASTER:

    “The interview process is amusingly complex and convoluted. Only someone desperate-desperate-desperate, I’ll say it again, d-e-s-p-e-r-a-t-e would humble themselves to endure it. But, God knows, there are lots of those folks around these days, and Crossover knows it, too.”

    Pretty much sums up the US employment market.

  19. As a private consultant I see a pattern in that the original advice seeker and these responses are associated with mid to large companies. As such, these entities are like lemmings, following the lead rodent over the cliff. This is obvious in the various experiences listed in this conversation. The vast majority of these companies send their HR people to seminars, etc. whereby the latest, greatest techniques are proffered usually by some university or specialty company with “credentials” that make one’s head bob in the appropriate manner. As such, when applying for any position with these companies, expect this sort of treatment because the company in question has listened to the “expert” who knows the theory behind the bullshit.
    I advise small businesses up to 75 employees. Beyond that it’s been proven when HR departments come into existence, stupidity reigns. Part of my dealings with smaller companies who seek personnel is to give them two tests, which I perform. One is to determine how they best learn (verbal, visual,hands-on or reading). The second is how they perform in field situations per the listed position. An analysis of these two tests is then given to the employer with questions to ask the applicant during the interview. The tests also weed out those obviously unqualified and allow the prospective employer better use of the interview time. In the vast majority of cases, those selected by the employer do a better job, stay longer, and assist the company in gaining more market share with accompanying increased sales and profits.
    It’s been a matter of educating the business owner and their assigns in how to do a function they are basically unfamiliar with and would get assinine advice from HR companies. I’ve even had clients inform me they originally did take the advice of these HR companies with disastrous results and came to me more in desperation. There have been times when it hasn’t worked out and that’s due to people who basically are con artists and capable of deceiving almost anyone.
    Bottom line is if you desire a job with any mid to large company be prepared for the bullshit test. Do more research prior to contacting the company and find out who the person is you would be working for and find a way to contact them personally. When HR pulls the garbage test on you, then make a copy and passte (if possible) and send that to the ultimate overseer. There’s obviously no guarantee anything positive will come about but at least you tried. Remember with the turnover in business, this potential boss may go elsewhere and should you cross paths, they will remember you.
    In my youth, I didn’t have to contend with today’s insanity but back in the dark ages there still were stupid evaluations to determine capability. I finally made my mind up not to apply to any company that was steeped in bureaucracy. As a result, stock in peptobismal dropped significantly.

  20. There is another aspect of pre-interview testing that does not get much airplay: privacy. As other respondents have noted, these tests are often administered by third-party outfits with whom the applicant has at best an arms-length relationship. Unless a test is administered anonymously, an applicant’s identifying information, as well as test outcomes, are in the testing company’s possession. Do you trust “disinterested” third parties not to attempt to profit from such information? Imagine, for example, psychological profiles obtained from an unsuspecting job applicant later being marketed alongside their credit report.

    Speaking from personal experience, I was once asked to take a programming test that was to be administered on a third-party server. I declined the opportunity, pointing out that thousands of lines of my code were already publicly available from Github. I was also dismayed by the “privacy” policy offered by the testing company. Paraphrasing, rather facetiously, the policy could be summarized as follows:

    We’re a bunch of cool software dudes who think privacy is really important, so you should feel really safe with us. Of course, if we are acquired by another company, then all bets are off.

  21. Talk about timely, I just completed a SHL Online assessment on Monday for a position with LA County. Apparently, this is their procedure before you even have an interview. No pass– no interview. In my case, desperate times call for desperate measures. Having said that and taken the test, it is humiliating.

    • There are good employers who respect job applicants and know how to recruit. Skip over ten of the LA Counties and go invest your time in an employer that cares.

  22. A follow-up to my earlier post. Part in reference to Mark’s concern about third party privcy. My company conducts a series of different skills tests for prospective employers that are administered to applicants. The results of these tests become the sole property of the client. We keep no archived results of these tests. Bear in mind the keyword is skills testing, which is vastly different than what many of the commenters have stated they have taken.
    Make no mistake about the current political situation and environment taking place within our borders. The polarizing aspects taking place ARE causing an array of responses among businesses, large and small. There is an element who feel empowered by media reports about the current political happenings. As such they “come-out-of-the-closet” and conduct their business activity to reflect their political mindset. Another element is coming off the fence and aligning with current political fads and mindset thinking it’s best to “climb on the band wagon” because appearances lead one to believe this is the coming trend. Bottom line is this mindset will continue to grow within the business community until forced to otherwise change operating procedures. Fear is a key component driving many businesses into accepting “qualifying testing” methods to either find an employee who aligns with the company thinking or to uncover those who don’t, in which case that person is eliminated from consideration for employment.
    This actually is not new. Back in the 50’s with the McCarthy communist craze, businesses conducted such testing. Again in the 60’s and 70’s testing methods were employed to uncover anti-vietnam war sentiments. The 80’s and 90’s push was to determine “team players” via testing. The common thread is the bigger the company, the fearful they become in hiring and as such are quick to grasp any idiotic “test” that makes their decision making easier. Opt for the smaller companies where the environment isn’t quite as bad as big business, yet.

    • I work for a large company and was subjected only to a drug test and background check. I got a copy of the background check. All this happened AFTER I received an offer. They do make a strong effort to be ethical.

      I have found interviews and onboarding to vary widely without regard to the size of the company. I have also found a sense of ethics to vary regardless of company size. There is one large company I would never work for where I contracted for 2 weeks several years ago where their sense of ethics was very low. Other people agree with me. I’m glad I know.

  23. I think we have all come to the conclusion that HR, on it’s best day, can interview a entry-level HR clerk.

    Anything else is beyond their pay grade.

  24. Here’s a radical idea–how about employers spend actual time with candidates, and I don’t mean making candidates jump through hoops online. Talk to them. Tell them about the job, what an average day/week/month/busy time is like. Be honest–if it gets crazy and people work late during a busy time, let them know. Let the candidates meet not only the hiring manager but the other members of the team/dept. in which s/he would be working. Let the candidates ask questions of the worker bees. Let your employees answer them honestly. Tell them about the hairy situations, ask them what problems they’d solve and how they’d solve them. Introduce them to people who work in depth upstream and downstream from where they would be working, so they can see the bigger picture and get a sense of where they fit in, not only in the dept. in which they’d be working but how their jobs impact the other depts. and the employer as well.

    Leave the silly hoop jumping (psych tests, etc.) out of it. Those tests, while employers may think they’re helpful, they’re no different that great keyword search that you subject candidates to–a smart candidate, or one who decides to have some fun toying with you, could figure out a way to ace the psych test. Those tests don’t guarantee that you’ll get the best candidate or a good fit. This is just another way to weed out those who made it through the online application/ATS minefield.

  25. I’m a bit late with this story (only just occurred to me that it might be good to share it here as proof that assessment tests really are useless)…Check out this company’s Glassdoor reviews (company is Altisource), https://www.glassdoor.com/Reviews/Altisource-Reviews-E314037.htm (I’m generally not a fan of that site, but sometimes it does have its uses).

    I landed a phone screening with their recruiter back in 2015, the call ended with her telling me the next step is an assessment test. Of course, she couldn’t see me roll my eyes when she said that, I waited until after the call to email her to tell her that I’m withdrawing as a candidate as I find assessment tests offensive and demeaning. She replied with the usual defense of said test, “it helps us to better understand our candidates work style during the interview process” followed by “thanks for applying / best of luck / yadda yadda.”

    After this encounter, I went over to Glassdoor and had a good laugh at what I saw, in particular the recurring theme amongst the negative reviewers was that the company was full of incompetence and “they don’t hire the best people.” Logic would dictate that if you’re not getting the best talent with an assessment test, then maybe it’s time to dump the test (I know, we’re not living in a logical world anymore). I just took a peek at the interview reviews and they’re still putting applicants through the same nonsense (and getting the same complaints).

    [Another disturbing observation is the argumentative and downright dismissive responses from some character claiming to be the HR vice president (“I am sorry you didn’t feel your Manager respected you” — sorry YOU didn’t FEEL? Blaming the victim is NO way to respond to a complaint), talk about knowing nothing about putting out PR fires, IMO this just makes the company look even worse.]

  26. I was once asked, after I had been shortlisted for a job in marketing many many years ago, to do and submit to the company a report from my market research on a FMCG sector in Spain. They very precisely specified what they wanted. I was appalled, I have not even responded and withdrew. Basically, I assume they wanted to have the (or some) job done for free.
    Nick, after reading your blog for several years now, I would have been more open in voicing my “concerns” to the company and more “descarada”, as they say in Spanish, if some recruiting manager asked me to do something similar.
    I particularly love your advice on “…kindly forward a copy of the manager’s resume so I can review it.” Brilliant! LOL

  27. Just this month, I was invited to interview with a very well-known and supposedly people-focused retail company. Only 3 days prior to the interview I was sent very murky specs for 2 assessments: 1) editing a 10,000 word piece of content and 2) a 10-minute presentation based on unrelated content from their material, both of which I was to complete prior to a one-hour panel interview. All this required a minimum of 12 hours on my part with no investment on theirs. I withdrew my application and told them why in gentle terms. Now, I wish I’d been more critical of their approach. Love the tip about sending a copy to upper management.

  28. Oh god, where do I even start?

    In my field, which is technically oriented, it would be totally normal on a job to refer to resources, manuals, etc in order to problem-solve any issues you ran into. You would not be expected to do everything solely from memory. But employers have fallen in love with skill tests that are just “walk in and deal with whatever we throw at you for 2 hours (plus travel time)”. They won’t tell you what software you’ll be using or anything else and you’re not allowed to use any “aids”. E.g. it could be a “statistics” test, and you’re supposed to have memorized all the statistics techniques, I guess. You could easily fail the test simply because you only half-remembered something from first-year uni that on a job you would have just looked up in 5 minutes anyway.

    And that’s all BEFORE the interview. I have been pulling out of such competitions, without saying why. I may start borrowing some lines from this blog post in future.

    Here’s a little bit of irony: My last job, a short-term contract, had no tests. They basically asked “can you do X?” and and I said “yes”, and they *trusted* me. And because I could actually do X, it all worked out fine. In fact a few things came up that they could not have predicted or tested for, that I had no experience with, but I – get a load of this – found the right resources to teach myself what I needed to know to get the desired result. Frankly, I think THAT is a skill any employer should be interested in, but I hardly ever get to talk about it.

  29. I work in IT, and had an interview that wasn’t necessarily an assessment or skills test, but ended up being what I will call technical Trivial Pursuit. A 2 hour technical interview of a hodgepodge of do you remember, what does this obscure acronym mean, how do you program this, basically a bunch of random questions that someone wouldn’t know the answer to unless they used the stuff all the time or had a photographic memory. Essentially the type of information that one could easily look up i they really needed to know.

    I dodged a bullet on that one, because the company essentially wanted one person to do 4 jobs, all with different skill sets, with very little overlapping, for a laughable salary.

    • I have had interviews with such trivial pursuit type questions that were basically a litmus test. No matter how good one is, this is a setup for failure. Questions would be fired at me until I didn’t know the answer, and then they zeroed in on that subject until I broke. Where I have been given a job offer, however, the interviews seemed to be almost too easy.

      Make the interview easy for the person you want, and make it hard for everybody else. It’s very easy to do that since specifics are kept confident anyway.

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