COVID-19 has proved to be a watershed moment in history. Recruitment went down by as much as 60% in April (Naukri) and is limping back since then. As job applications per position increase 100+ times, and candidates also seek to move across sectors, aptitude, personality, domain and skill testing is on the rise across levels.
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“Ma’am, can you help me?” On seeing this message from Prakash, Seema immediately wrote back, “Of course, talk to me.” Prakash immediately called Seema, his ex-manager. Seema got to know that Prakash, a MIS executive with 6 years of total experience after completing B.Com, had just received an exhaustive spreadsheet with hypothetical details of quality of products manufactured for the last 6 months from the hiring team at Coplast, a leading plastic furniture manufacturer. He was expected to analyse it and get back to the hiring manager within 48 hours. She gave him some tips on how to analyse, apply problem solving and 6 Sigma techniques and prepare a presentation.
Prakash’s experience is not an isolated incident. As I work with clients in helping them secure their next assignment, an emergent theme is the rise in candidate testing across levels. If earlier testing was assumed to be a standard practice to filter out candidates at entry or junior levels, today with recruitment becoming virtual and no of candidates applying per role increasing exponentially, recruiters no longer have the bandwidth to review all resumes and have to increasingly rely on ATS (Applicant Tracking Software), AI (Artificial Intelligence) and candidate testing to shortlist the few candidates who can be taken through the hiring process. Tests are widely regarded as a good predictor of job performance. Candidate thus need to be prepared for tests to assess their abilities, skills, behavioural competencies and work samples across levels.
Let’s understand some common types of candidate tests and how you can better prepare for them:
1. Aptitude Tests: Also known as Cognitive Tests, these are often testing of logical and critical thinking aptitude. These cover an array of questions across problem solving, verbal reasoning, spatial reasoning, numerical reasoning, logical reasoning, learning agility, perpetual speed and accuracy. There are many practice tests available online and guide books can also be bought. Since you cannot predict the test, the best approach would be to practice 8-10 tests before giving the actual test.
2. Personality Tests: These are increasingly being relied upon by companies to check whether a candidate is a good fit for the role. Companies are using tests developed by newer psychometric companies on the block like Mettl or going in for time tested tests such as SHL’s OPQ (Occupational Personality Quotient), Thomas Profiling, DISC, MBTI, PI, 16 PF etc. Each of them has its pros and cons and results have be seen vs the requirements of the job, and must be interpreted by a trained individual. Candidates need to do these with a calm, non-stressful mindset and stay true to oneself. Trying to outwit a personality test is not recommended.
3. Written Questionnaires: Several organizations are now asking candidates to write about themselves. Questions could range from factual questions to subjective questions asking detailed questions about themselves, such as strengths, weaknesses, top achievements and failures etc. My advice would be to stay authentic and back up with your answers with examples. Review once to check for completeness and relevance of the example. Try to pick an example from recent employment history, max up to 10 years ago.
4. Hackathons: Increasingly being used by technology firms, hackathons are a great way for candidates to showcase their technical and problem-solving skills. In addition to company organized hackathons by IT majors like TCS and IBM, there are many hackathon websites which allow you to solve complex problems, take skill tests and also double up as a job portal. TechGig, Challenge Rocket, Hacker Earth, Hacker Rank, Skillenza are some of the popular platforms for candidates to test their technical skills.
5. Case Studies: Case Studies, popularized by consulting firms during their recruitment process, are now regaining popularity as a means to assess competencies during virtual hiring. We are seeing a re-emergence of case studies especially for marketing, strategy, planning and people leadership roles for junior to mid-career roles. The general approach for a case study is to define the problem statement, list any key hypothesis, create a framework for talking about the problem and solutions and be creative. This is a great opportunity to showcase your business judgement and communication skills.
6. Work Samples: Just like the problem that Prakash was given in the beginning of this article, work sample assignments are extremely popular during virtual hiring process. Whether it is an HR executive being asked to show a sample response to an employee grievance, a graphic designer asked to design a poster within a couple of hours or an MIS executive like Prakash asked to analyse data and provide solutions, work samples provide an insight to the hiring manager of the candidate’s skills and abilities.
7. Identifying Challenges & Defining Strategy: Senior Executives need to focus on how they can add value. A common question for C-Suite candidates is what do they perceive as the key challenges, how to address them and their thoughts on the future strategy. This question is very often a key differentiator between candidates across the multiple interviews. It is important for them to research the organization, ask questions and be cued to the interviewer’s answers to read between the lines.
What we are seeing is an inevitable change in the way hiring is conducted. The change was coming over some years with the emergence of many technical platforms for testing candidates. As organizations seek more predictability of on-the-job performance and recruitment models seek to get more agile and nimble, candidates need to be prepared to showcase their performance. This is a welcome change which will help reduce recruitment biases and is favourable for candidates.
—The writer is HR Advisor and Career Coach