employment hoopsI recently applied for a Senior Sales position for a medical device supplier, having 15 years of national experience in health industry sales across Australia and New Zealand. The employment hoops they expect me to jump through are bizarre. The employer requires all applicants to pass an outsourced online “assessment test.” This is completed in the local office or remotely with a junior HR person monitoring to ensure the applicant is not cheating.

I found this approach rather bizarre for 3 reasons.

  • 50 questions in 15 minutes means 20 seconds per question. Some can be answered in seconds, others not. The candidate is told to guess rather than waste time on solving the question – not real-world since in business guesses ultimately don’t pay.
  • Mathematical reasoning questions (no calculators allowed) take quite some time to gather the facts and determine an answer – maybe easy for a Master of Mathematics.
  • The expectation to have a vocabulary way outside the normal range is unreasonable. I do not know how the junior HR lady passed the test as her native language is Mandarin. When we chatted some of her sentence structures were not correct. She too admitted having difficulty with the US phraseology used in the questions.

I don’t understand how a U.S. company recruiting for a sales job in Australia is using an assessment test where examples are U.S.-centric and not international (e.g., Outside the U.S. all measurements are metric, not miles, yards and inches). And how does the company expect applicants where English is not their first language to score a passing result?

I would be interested to read your comments on this recruitment approach.

Nick’s Reply

This isn’t recruiting. It’s trolling for meek job seekers. They’re not assessing how good a match you are to do this job. They want to see how submissive you are.

More employment hoops

This falls under the category “jumping through hoops for a job,” a troubling topic we’ve discussed before.

The details you provided suggest these issues:

  • By definition, these tests are “canned” — one size fits all. While the employer may use testing judiciously, the reality is that HR is often seduced into letting someone else do the hard work of judging a job candidate; in this case, the test vendor. Tests conveniently become the determining factor in candidate selection. That can be a big mistake, especially in an economy where jobs go begging.
  • The instruction to not guess suggests the test is scored on a curve. It is designed to make takers fail on many items. So, it’s not really about what you know or what skills you possess. It’s about how you compare statistically to other test takers. That’s not an assessment. It’s a comparison. In other words, they’re looking for the candidate with the smallest number of “incorrect” answers, more than they’re looking for skills and knowledge.
  • Using U.S. standards to assess candidates who live — and who will work — in a different country and culture is, well, the wrong answer. In testing, we talk about validity and reliability. A test is valid if it actually measures what it is supposed to measure. How can an Australian be judged on their communication skills when the test items are written using U.S. vernacular? (A test is reliable if you take the test again and again and score the same each time.)

Subjecting yourself to any canned assessment tool is to put yourself at a disadvantage, unless, perhaps, the employer can show you verification of the test’s validity and reliability, and unless the employer is willing to discuss your results with you. The American Psychological Association publishes a good selection of articles about the Rights and responsibilities of test takers: Guidelines and expectations.

What employment hoops do you encounter today?

Your reservations about such testing are valid. You should worry about how you are being judged, and whether you’re being judged appropriately and fairly.

When an employer uses testing as just one part of a thorough assessment and interview process, it may have a place in hiring. When the assessment you’re asked to do raises the kinds of questions you have, the time to ask those questions is before you consent to it.

As I said at the outset, we’ve discussed tips about how to deal with testing requirements, so I won’t repeat them here. But it’s been a while since we’ve enumerated the kinds of employment hoops — perhaps more accurately, obstacles — employers want you to face before they will even interview you.

  1. Are you willing to walk away from employers whose “hoops” seem unfair or unreasonable to you?
  2. Have changes in the economy and job market changed the kinds of hoops you’ve encountered in recent job searches?
  3. Are employers more or less likely today to forego testing until after interviews?
  4. How do you handle employers who make such demands?

Let’s get up to date on what employers expect of job candidates nowadays. You’re much closer to this than I am, so please share your experiences. This is one of those Q&A columns where I expect the Comments section to be more chock full of good advice than anything I’ve written.

What employment hoops do you face, and what do you do about them?

: :

  1. The hoops that I have noticed is the increasingly ridiculous number of interviews that job applicants are expected to have to go through, even for positions that don’t require significant skills.

    As you might recall, the worst case I know of is someone who went through 29 interviews for the same position at a company, and didn’t even get a job offer out of wasting over 29 hours of his/her life.

    • Back in the day, I went through 4 interviews to be a cashier at a grocery store. Seemed like overkill to me, but at least I got the job!

  2. Sounds to me like what they are assessing is how candidates handle pressure by presenting a test designed to be obviously unreasonable and stupid eg us metrics. Don’t be surprised if us applicants are presented with uk terms and metric. The hr rep was probably told to count f bombs

    • Not to derail this discussion, however it is curious that almost all other countries went metric except the US.

      I grew up, i.e. was educated in the metric system. For small measurements, millimetre(s) are much easier for folks like me to grasp, than 1/32 of an inch.

      • @Borne, the US was going to convert to the metric system, but the effort was derailed during the Reagan administration.

        I remember learning the metric system in grade school and being told we needed to know it because the US would be metric when we were adults. Didn’t happen, but I do remember some of the conversion factors to the English system.

    • @Don: Correct. I would have posted that if you had not.

      I am mixed on the concept. For example, I interviewed (and accepted) a job where I officed and worked with senior executives. Blowing up or collapsing under stress was not an option. Other than putting the Candidate under stress, I am not sure how to screen people out.

  3. I now ‘refuse’ to do an Assessment test as part of a job intervivew, and I remove my application. I did one many years back and of course it was timed and time was up, the HR gal came over to me and said ‘sorry you didn’t pass’ so we won’t be going further. This was with Dell in Austin, TX. I was so blown away as they initially told me the hiring manager had seen my resume and really wanted to speak with me… I sat in my car and called a friend and cried! Since then I have taken a few more when they kept pushing, and now I simply refuse and let then know if my background, skills and solid experience is not good enough then I am not interested in the position.

    I call it ‘stacking the blocks’ for part of the test. These companies are probably odd to work for if they base a lot on these assessment tests which they apparently do, plus they Will Not share the output with you which I feel is unprofessional.

    True you can’t answer some questions in 20 seconds unless you are a wizard with math! AND those blocks you have to determine which block or triangle, etc., is next in line. Unfortunately companies who require this are missing out on really good people, their loss I say!

    I keep a spreadsheet of companies I have sent my credentials/resume to, and I note if there is a test involved so I don’t repeat myself sending again if there is another opening. There are also those ‘personality’ tests, Really?? They are better off getting to know the person with a 2 way conversation rather than 1 way nothing live and you have to answer with only one option… I refuse those now as well.

    If the interviewer has good skills themselves they should be able to engage with a candidate and determine fit, experience that is needed and they should listen to the candidate and how they present themselves, how they respond to questions, especially if they are going for a sales role.

    I’m in the middle of a job search for a Sr. Sales (Pre Sales) Engineer role and I need to be able to communicate with my prospect,, not toss them a quiz to take to see if we want to try to sell them something, or provide them with a written doc to sell my product, that will never get the sale!

    I could go on and on more than I already have here… NO ASSESSMENT TEST FOR THIS Gal… been there done that, NOT happening again. I have not found anyone who can tell me in detail how this is helpful for the hiring process, they just say, that is our requirement… Before I start an interview I try to find out their process to make sure there are no ‘tests’ in the mix so I don’t waste my time. Doing a presentation or demo for the process s OK for sure, especially if that is what you will normally be doing in your role, I’m all about that. It’s more fair if you can this about something you already know. Now there are some places that expect you to present/demo their solution.. I have done that and been critized because I may have missed one function. We need to remember that even tho they are interviewing Us, We should be interviewing them as well.

    Best of luck to all of us these days.

    • Hi Karen!

      The Dell tests sound like IQ tests.

      I’m an excellent standardized test-taker. Pattern recognition has always been a strong suit for me, and the higher-stakes the test is, the better I seem to do! When I took the SAT in the 7th grade (11 years old and hadn’t studied algebra yet), I scored 1110 out of 1600. An 1100 would get you in to most universities other than maybe the Ivies.

      I wish I had your list of companies that required those assessments OTHER THAN the “personality” assessments.

      As an Autistic woman, “personality” tests are extremely biased against me, if for no other reason than that the questions are entirely too broad, and the answers never reflect any nuance or accounting for different contexts, nor do they allow you to explain WHY you would behave one way or another.

      But those math quizzes? And the “which shape comes next” tests? Yes, please!!! Sixty complex math questions in 10 minutes and you aren’t allowed to write down ANYTHING except the final answer (i.e., do ALL the calculations in your head – no scratch paper), bring it on! Lexical diagnostics evoke no opprobrium from this loquacious philologist and aspiring polyglot! Four hour exam on clinical/medical scenario decision making? My liberal-arts-degreed self is delighted!!!

      If anyone knows of a job where you’re paid to take tests, let me know! But for now, I’m struggling through my 6th year of unemployment and desperately trying to navigate the hiring labyrinth backwards, blindfolded, and underwater, with a sprained ankle. Grr.

      Yay invisible disabilities! /s

      • I think you should supercalifragilisticexpealadocious your antidisestablishmentarianism. Then you could, “See John run. Run, John, run.”. I gotta go. Gotta finish my quantum astrophysical informatics. Then I get to colour in my Winnie The Pooh coloring book. Tchau tchau.

      • Hi Autistic —

        Love your comment here, and was particularly struck by “6th year of unemployment” and yet an apparent positive attitude. Tried to find you online / on LinkedIn with no luck. Would appreciate being connected (not selling anything).–ohio and if you do send a connect request, please include a note. Thanks.

        • Hi again Autistic —

          I keep forgetting that this site plays with hyphens.

          In case you tried to reach out, my address is:

 (-) (-) ohio [a double hyphen, not a dash).

      • Hi Autistic Among You – The company SAP has specific recruiting for people with autism:

        My brother-in-law helped to launch the program after learning more about the talents of those with autism via his autistic son’s journey. There is a network of companies that take an Autism Inclusion Pledge

      • I highly recommend weareunmasked

        It’s uk based but there’s lots of successfully employed and self-employed autistics who can give specific advice there. (Self employment is actually over represented in the autistic community) the book 2 hour job search is also good. Use to find employers not advertising.

    • @Karen: Your comments are stacked with important points.

      “There are also those ‘personality’ tests, Really?? They are better off getting to know the person with a 2 way conversation rather than 1 way nothing live”

      As you noted, this is a management problem. I believe employers turn to tests because they’ve failed to train their managers in how to interview and select job candidates effectively. Most managers can’t interview their way out of a paper bag. Those who are expert at assessing candidates walk away with the best hires and, I believe, in far less time — which leaves their competitors holding that bag!

      “I’m in the middle of a job search for a Sr. Sales (Pre Sales) Engineer role and I need to be able to communicate with my prospect,, not toss them a quiz to take to see if we want to try to sell them something”

      That might sound to some like a gratuitous, snarky comment, but it’s profoundly accurate! After all, that employer is “selling” the job to you, just like you’re expected to sell the company’s products. Sending out a product brochure and a questionnaire won’t cut it. You also note how important it is to “interview the company” — and this is a perfect data point to look at carefully. Do they talk with you, or do they tell you to talk to the hand?

      “I have not found anyone who can tell me in detail how this is helpful for the hiring process, they just say, that is our requirement…”

      And it ranks right up there with demanding your salary history. When you ask why, they really don’t know. “It’s the policy!” There are legions of personnel jockeys enforcing silly policies that cost them good hires every day. It’s up to the candidate to politely but firmly insist on knowing the justification for testing — or to walk away, having realized the hiring process is NOT going to get any better.

      “Doing a presentation or demo for the process s OK for sure, especially if that is what you will normally be doing in your role, I’m all about that.”

      And that’s the perfect thing to say to any employer that wants to test you. Offer the better alternative! “Let’s talk shop! Let me show you how I’ll do the job!” More about “how to” here:

      • @Nick: re “tests because they’ve failed to train their managers in how to interview and select job candidates effectively”

        Personally, I have only worked for one company (40 years in the workforce) that trains their people how to do interviews.

        While some people naturally have talents better suited for interviews, many of the skills can be learned. Especially putting a Candidate at ease and drawing information out of them. Not to mention understanding the legal and regulatory issues involved.

        Most of all, as consistent process that all the interviewers follow.

        • Ditto. I worked for several companies. None taught interviewing to managers or interviewers. Only HR offer “Do and Do Not” CYA training

    • “… now I simply refuse and let then know if my background, skills and solid experience is not good enough then I am not interested in the position.”

      I’m right there with you. Since I have gone freelance as copywriter, if my portfolio isn’t enough, please move on. I will.

  4. We used a battery of assessments when hiring senior executives but the weighting of decision to hire was a fraction of total score. Industry experience, cultural fit and intuition was bulk of determining decision. The positives of assessments were measured intelligence (how fast you processed information), personality (win friends & influence people, risk taker, empathy, compassion, competitiveness) and stress (derail, overcome obstacles, rebound). We never pushed testing (hiring executive could forgo testing) and always confirmed that scores were not the determining factor. If hired, assessments could become part of your coaching plan for personal development.

    • @Paul: Thanks for the perspective from the trenches. I like your closing point:

      “If hired, assessments could become part of your coaching plan for personal development.”

      For the employer, I think that’s a good test of the test: Would you trust the results to guide a plan of coaching for the new hire? If not, don’t use the test. I also believe deeply in outcomes analysis: A year and two years after hiring, does what you’ve learned about the person comport with the findings of the test?

  5. Walk away.

    • NO! run away, Scott warp speed 30 seconds.

  6. Having worked at NYU in the past on some very successful medical research projects, and having been hired quickly and easily based on the recommendation of my then-PI, I was dismayed to see that the hiring process now requires the applicant to take a long, invasive personality test after submitting a CV and an application. If you don’t complete the psychiatric evaluation your application will not be considered.

    Out of curiosity, I started the interview, since one of my medical research projects was development of computerized psychiatric screens for mood disorders. It was, shall we say, inappropriate. I quit after a dozen questions, withdrew my applications and will never apply there again. Sad, because it had once been (and still might be) a good place to work.

    • @Rick: Perhaps the most disastrous outcome of pre-interview testing is that the employer is relying on an essentially automated (even if it’s not online, it’s on automatic) to make the first cut of candidates. The first cut is the most crucial — it’s where we find the outliers and truly outstanding candidates that no test is likely to identify but that most tests will discard before any human judgement is applied.

      I’ve never seen any analysis of that hidden cost to employers. If anyone doubts me, please read Gilman Louie’s comments here:

      • @Nick: I agree – I’ve been on both sides of the hiring process, and when looking for people to work with I found that if the CV was more or less in the ballpark it was much more useful than anything else to sit down and talk with them. A good interviewer can sense a lot about some of the more intangible things that make people good working partners.

        I think one of the big problems with the personality tests is that a lot of potentially excellent employees are so turned off by the process that they’ll never bother to finish up their applications, to the company’s loss.

    • In a past life, I was, formerly, a Senior SIU (Special Investigative Unit) Investigator in the insurance racket. Investigated/solved murders in burned properties, worldwide high dollar thefts, burned vehicles to collect insurance, burned property to collect, all kinds of fraud, all the way down to simple soft tissue faking fraud in car accidents.

      I NEVER take “tests”. Started refusing YEARS ago when they started pushing. My nose always knew something stunk.

      After I got fed up being requested and refusing too many of these fraudifying “tests”, I decided to investigate. Here are just a few factoids from my investigation:

      — the private corporate employment “testing” “industry” is COMPLETELY unregulated … any schmuck schmo can open up a “testing” company and “testing center” in their Ma’s basement where they’re living;

      — they claim complete “copyright(s)”, ie, complete ownership, on the (ie, your) “test” results, so they, thus, proffer to the “test” takers whether the takers are “allowed” to see the results of “tests” taken … so far, nothing has been done about this in the law … the federal .gov and State .govs have ignored this travesty of privacy …

      — one of the largest fraud-o-“testers” operates out of Saint Louis MO, I am sure you have heard and/or experienced them and/or their tests … they are running wild wild West right now and have been for decades with absolutely no oversight. …

      Caveat emptor your @/$/$ when it comes to these tests and these frauds.

      Some interesting-ness:

      • @SR: Clearly I’m in the wrong business :-) As far as testing goes, I’ve seen instruments being developed carefully, painstakingly, by MDs, psychologists, researchers and mathematicians, with great pains taken to come up with meaningful questions to try to screen for mood disorders…NOT to make superficial judgements about a potential employee’s suitability, but

        a) for statistical research, and
        b) to see if perhaps the test taker might be interested in a follow-up with a human doctor.

        Even so, there were serious caveats: these were NOT diagnoses, the accuracy was not guaranteed, and the results were protected by HIPAA: this was not the kind of stuff one would hand off to a hiring manager, ever.

        I cannot imagine that these things would go well in a commercial setting not constrained by competence, medical knowledge, and good faith.

    • @Rick, I applied for a job last year that was very close to my previous position, in the same industry. The response I received was an automated email with a link to take a test before proceeding further in the recruiting process. I didn’t respond to take the test; I decided I didn’t want to work there.

      I also had an outside recruiter respond to an application via phone call and tell me I had to take a test to proceed further. She said her client required it, which I’m sure is true. I told her politely that I wouldn’t do it, so we wouldn’t be able to proceed. She seemed confused, so I guess most people just take the test.

      I did wonder later if possibly…just possibly…the test results would have been shared with other clients. I don’t think there are any federal laws to prevent that, and I’m sure there are none in the state I live in.

      • @Rick – my understanding about these test is that they share them with the hiring manager, AND WILL NOT share them with us the test taker.. That part makes me crazy! I commented early on in this thread that I ‘refuse’ to take these tests, I was told ‘I didn’t pass” and never spoke with the hiring manager who supposedly really wanted to talk with me… such is life I say, frustraing as it is when you are job searching. I agree a lot of people probably do say.. ok I will take the test not really understanding, etc.! I think it would be very informative and helpful to the test taker to see the results. I already went on a rant about these assessment tests so I won’t do it again here.

        • @Karen: As I mentioned to Sia, we have no control as to who gets to see the results. For myself, I don’t even want the hiring manager to see them. This sort of testing is an invasion of privacy, creates records not governed by any sort of meaningful rules, and the results are permanent and can be shared with anyone.

          • @Rick… you know we are all talking to the point of ‘WE’ are required to take these tests, whether the ‘stack the blocks’ as I call them OR the ‘Personality’ test/assessment AND that we the test taker are not allowed or provided with the results tho they are given elsewhere… so you have to figure if it is a requirement, then everyone who works for the said company has to take them, therefore, the next time I am confronted with this requirement I am going to ask the requestor if I can see the results of the hiring manager’s test for my information? AND we know what the answer will be … NO .. whch will be no surprise… then I would probably politely mention that I am interviewing them as well…

            Agree with all your comments @Rick… and when things become so automated that a software program decides if you should be granted a ‘real’ interview yes I do not want to work at that company either… Their loss at this point!

      • @Sia: Your last point is what troubles me most. Most tests require you to sign a waiver that I believe allows the test company (and perhaps the recruiter and employer) to save your results. You might then apply to another company, and they’ve got your results already in the database. You could be rejected never knowing why. I haven’t seen any useful discussions about this anywhere. Your test results could theoretically be sold again and again without your knowledge. Eyes wide open when signing stuff.

      • @Sia: I also refuse to do any psychological tests, whether organized as a sit-down test, or even when the HR droid tries to read off a few amusing-but-to-me-inappropriate “penetrating” questions about my work habits or personality.

        You’re right to wonder who will be looking at the results of these tests, most if not all of which are of dubious lineage, accuracy, and propriety. After all, they are being stored in a database somewhere, under your name/id, and it’s forever. None of it is covered by HIPAA, no one is constrained to tell you who it’s shown to, or even if it’s sold to others. It’s a creepy process, and I’ll have none of it myself.

  7. and yet, all of these companies are still whining how they ‘CAN’T FIND QUALIFIED CANDIDATES!!!’
    The stupidity is mind-boggling.

  8. I assume that paper or digital testing is expected to save time, reduce hiring risks, help insure cultural fit, & probably other psycho babble things that escape me. Even if some of that was correct, any tiny value add offered by such testing, is offset also serving to filter out or chase off, high value prospects & hires.

    Corporations that use these tools are sending a loud & clear message…”We don’t trust ourselves to spot talent, hire them, and those that we do, will find we lack management skills as well.

    Anyone who recruits/interviews & who has even a modest amount of empathy in their DNA, knows that some very good qualified people don’t interview well. Adding monkey drill testing doesn’t improve matters. And the opposite, some very poor fits, are super star interviewers, as in an acquired skill. Ditto tests. Good interviewers can filter out nervousness & the like and spot talent.

    Applicable testing is fair & useful for all concerned to determine fit. Tests that give applicants a chance to do the job, show their stuff beats by far sitting in an interview room with a pencil or cursor. In turn, doing-the-job testing gives applicants to test you, e.g. what you are going to provide to them to do the work, who they will actually work for & with, what a day working for you is like. It can be done & I’ve worked where we did it. It’s a win win process.

    Testing, experienced by the writer is a business disaster. Think about it. Suppose these tests actually did identify desired personality traits, technical skills, potential etc etc. Suppose. a company used the scored results as the primary trigger to hire people. Then diversity of thought just took a hit. A company of clones would be built. Absent of critical thought, healthy challenge, devil advocacy, and anyone who’d point out the emperor has no clothes. You’d end up with group of people who run about telling each other how wonderful that new product will be & how great the company producing it is. It will probably work in the short term..until it doesn’t when the competition eats your lunch.

    And likely everyone would look alike, be the same age & so on. In my view this is the real value and essence of Diversity programs, and why they are good business. They ensure those molds would be broken by bringing in diversity of thought & if the management is smart, it’s put to work, in all work areas.

    I worked in the hi tech R&D world. My nice quiet sentences on diversity of thought was cleaned up, politely put. In the R&D world, proponents of various theories, tools, processes held on to ideas with religious fervor and would do battle for their adoption. Achieving buy-in was rigorous, but would happen to the ultimate benefit of the involved projects. the absence of those “debates” risked mediocrity.

    We did not use tests to seek out ideal personalities, team players, smart-on-paper people. The companies I worked for managed by results, and focused on finding people who could deliver them, do the job. If we ended up with Attila the Hun working with Mr. Rogers. So be it. Get over your differences and get a job well done.

  9. I’ve also read that even if you use a valid and reliable test, many of the people are interpreting the results incorrectly, such as using it as a pass/fail to weed out candidates, when they are supposed to just show supplemental information that may or may not help in the hiring context. For example, it may help when determining how to coach/train employees.

  10. “And how does the company expect applicants where English is not their first language to score a passing result?”

    They don’t. This is a way to screen out those candidates without being accused of open discrimination.

  11. I worked for a company that made the guts of those giant green boxes on street corners: AT&T switching nodes, AND the guts of heart monitors for surgical suites and telemetry.

    One of our AT&T boards was over $1 million in components alone because the PCB itself had 7 solid gold (instead of copper) layers, and all the components also had gold leads and innards to prevent corrosion in their outdoor habitats, and each board was the size of a cookie sheet.

    They had several pre-employment tests. One was basic arithmetic and measurements, and one was hand soldering a small sample board.

    I had learned to solder as a child with rosin-core solder and never touched the large bottle of flux at the test station because I didn’t know what it was and certainly didn’t need it!

    After a few days on the assembly line, I was yanked out and assigned 100% to Test and Engineering to work on prototypes for them because they’d never seen such strong soldering skills without flux.

    (Flux is acidic and therefore highly corrosive. Typically it is “washed” off of components after assembly, but the wash chemicals back then were hazardous, and not everything *could* be washed, so some items had to be painstakingly cleaned of flux residue by hand with q-tips. My ability to solder using only the flux integrated into the solder itself meant that my items required very little hand-cleaning; whereas other techs who literally flooded the surface of the board with extra liquid flux had items that were impossible to clean by hand because flux was trapped between components and the circuit board itself, and just everywhere.)

    I’d gladly take a series of tests like that again.

  12. Nick…I’m really getting tired of your notion that canned HR tests can’t get you good candidates, and networking is dead. I’m way too busy to reach out to find people, and the quality just keeps getting lower and lower. My competitors seem to find good people, why can’t my HR wonkers find them? Wrong software ? Should I be using Briggs Myers or the Santos ResumecScreening software?

    @Karen, feel free to reach out to me through Nick as I’m hiring into tech sales over the next 12 months building out a team. Anyone who intelligently contributes to ATH “gets it”.