Interview Techniques: check the basics of the applicant with testing

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008 - job hunting, Job Interview, Job Interview

Interview Techniques – testing!

One of the elements that is most asked about in recruitment is, how do I find out if an interviewee will perform and fit into my organisation? Of course as a recruiter, I would say employ a recruitment organisation – the simple reason being that a third party perspective gives a better angle from which to asses fit

But there are two areas where, employers can check fit of candidates at low cost, and resultantly reduce employment risk

Interview tasks:

Away from psychological tests, interview tasks can vary from the physical or mental test to the simplistic in environment. The best tests are simple because what the test should prove is an aptitude of both ability and application.

Letter writing tests are a quick and easy task to check an applicants ability to both read and write, as well as compose – under a bit of pressure. Often these types of tests are addressed as customer complaint issues, with a typical scenario drafted for the candidate and the associated complaint letter supplied, plus a single sheet copy of the companies policy on how to answer customer complaints containing the top three/five issues. Doing this sort of test first also gives the interviewers the opportunity to ask the candidate on why they addressed the scenario in the manner chosen.

Physical ability tasks can also be undertaken. When I worked in the telecoms world, there was a need for applicants to have good eye site and not be colour blind. The later training will mean that blue-orange-green-brown-slate will for ever be a little part of my instant recall memory, but in my interview a piece of cable was held up in front of me and I was asked to find six different coloured pieces of wire. Amusingly, later as part of my apprenticeship I had to refine this test to produce a piece of white wood 12inches in width and 6inches in depth, with eight chosen wire colours applied to a white background, and a selection of 36 other pieces of wire which the applicants had to match in the interview

There is also the opportunity in some cases to check basic industry training awareness, and the two I will pick out here come from the catering industry. Dave Thomas of Wendy’s fame describes a scenario in his business biography “Dave’s Way” where he was interviewing an area manager in a restaurant, who suddenly got up in the middle of the interview and walked over behind the serving counter. On the interviewee’s return Thomas asked him why he got up, and the interviewee said: “because, from the sound of the fries in your fryer, they were not left out to defrost for long enough, and were at too high a fat temperature.” Thomas states that he hired the guy on the spot, and he later became one of Wendy’s key directors – the test also became part of Thomas’s technique in later interviews! That is a difficult scenario to recreate, but a simpler test I heard of was to give all interviewee’s a potato peeling exercise. The ingredients were a potato, a bowl, a potato peeler and some water; the instructions were to peel the potato. I liked this test because, the ace in the test was not about your ability to peel the potato – the task was about cleanliness, and did the interviewee dispose of the peelings and dirty water correctly and leave the freshly peeled potato in clean water? If not = fail!

Come and meet us days:

The simplest test I have ever seen, is the “come and meet us” day. However much you meet, test or interview a candidate – that’s not in a real work situation.

If you like a candidate, and they like you, then invite them in to your office/team for half a day, may be even a day. Then, with a bit of an agenda to chaperone them around the team, introduce them to people and let them ask as many questions as possible – even a bit of one on one time, may be even paying for lunch.

The questions employers have about this technique is – am I likely to lose a good employee because we haven’t done formal induction? Well, if you were likely to lose them – better on a “come and meet us” day than after the cost of formal contract signature/induction etc.

How should candidates approach interview testing?

Candidates should accept that, even if an interview schedule doesn’t define a specific test as part of the interview procedure (most will advise before hand if a test is part of the interview procedure, particularly physical tests on Health & Safety grounds), that an interview is a test, and as you have been offered and accepted an interview that you have consented to any reasonable part of that interview procedure to test your ability to perform the job – and that this could include a test.

Tests should not be approached as examinations – quite often there is no definitive pass/fail standard in an interview test, its more about testing ability with aptitude. They necessarily need to be short, and unless you are asked to attend a specific physical test or aptitude day they should be designed to be accessible to all the potential candidates.

When placed in a test situation, read the instructions fully through at least three times – planning and clear thought in test situations, as the employer is seeking to put you under pressure, will give you a better result consistently more often that an immediate call to action. Then plan your action, write that plan down clearly – quite often as part of the instructions, you will be advised that all notes should be included with your answer – and stick to that plan. If you make changes to the plan, then note these. The key here is that the test is short and simple, but pressurised – the actual answer is not right or wrong, its as much to do with about how you approach this simple task.

You will often find in interviews that the test comes first, and the interview second. Expect that once you are in the interview to be asked how you approached the test task – you may well find that your plan is used as part of that section of questioning as to why you approached the task in that way.

In summary:
There is a tendency these days for HR departments to drift towards more politically correct testing methods. But personally, if done correctly, there are better ways to test actual “fit” of a candidate than a remote psychological testing approach. I think all employers could and should sit down and come up with three such tests, and introduce “come and meet us” days – it might show up some issues before you formally employ a new candidate, and it does reduce total recruitment cost through increasing effectiveness.

Good Luck!


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