Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Entry-level selection tests

I received an interesting press release from Competency Management Inc. describing its new tool to assess entry-level job applicants. The company says its test can reduce turnover by making sure candidates have the necessary skills before they're hired.

According to the company, CoreCompetency Valuator assesses not only basic skills such as reading, ability to learn, and flexibility, but also "will do" competencies such as attention to detail, honesty, and customer service. The tool was designed by a team of Ph.D. psychologists and scoring is said to be 100 percent accurate.

I don't know about you, but I'm a little skeptical about how well a test like this can assess soft skills like ability to learn, honesty, and customer service. I'm curious enough to request a demo, so I'll report back if I get one.

What do you think about competency tests for soft skills in entry-level jobs like this? I know jobs requiring higher-level skills do at times require tests--for example, I had to take a copyediting test when I applied for this associate editor job.

But copyediting is, in my opinion, a much more quantifiable skill than ability to learn. So what can companies do for entry-level jobs? Behavioral interviewing may be a better option than competency tests for soft skills.

In addition to asking applicants how they used a specific skill in the past, some companies are putting people on the spot at the time. IT companies have been giving applicants brainteasers to solve for a while--Microsoft may have popularized the practice. See this article in CIO magazine.

Other companies put people through a day of tryouts. As I wrote about in my August Intelligence column (requires registration), Headsets.com requires applicants to work for a day under observation.

To me, this kind of approach makes a lot more sense than some kind of test that attempts to measure and quantify such squishy soft skills.

Side note: Google has been taking an unusual tack recently by posting billboards with a difficult math problem and ".com." No other info is given. If the person solves the puzzle and goes to the Website, they find another, more difficult, puzzle. Eventually the person is led to a fast-track recruiting page for the company.

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