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Technical skills testing for recruitment: a must-have tool or unnecessary obstacle?

Technical skills testing is popular with recruiters as an objective way to assess candidate skills during the selection process. In certain cases, it can prove decisive to a successful hiring strategy.


So, it’s not unusual to carry out specific tests for different types of roles, especially for more technical positions, as a CV’s portrayal of education and experience can only tell us so much about a candidate’s actual skills. Tests also provide objective criteria on which to base our comparisons and decisions. 


In this article we will review the pros and cons of this model, as well as the most suitable stage to introduce a technical assignment during the selection process. 



The benefits of technical skills testing


From a practical point of view, technical skills testing offers an appealing means of measuring candidate abilities. While CVs may describe qualifications earned and courses completed, assessments allow us to see for ourselves how candidates tackle real issues and situations they will have to deal with on a day-to-day basis. Technical testing:


  • Allows us to easily and accurately identify candidates with fewer technical skills.
  • Saves time during the selection process by reducing the number of interviews we need to carry out.  
  • Leads to shorter interviews as it is not necessary to evaluate technical expertise which has already been assessed during the testing stage. 
  • Provides an objective way to quantify candidate skills, making it much fairer and easier to compare.  
  • Eliminates bias, giving all candidates the same opportunities.  


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The disadvantages of skills testing


However, not everyone is a fan of using technical tests in the selection process. Critics argue they focus too much on technical skills while overlooking other important abilities and expertise. They carry drawbacks such as:  


  • Not providing a complete picture of a candidate’s abilities.
  • Candidates can be put off by lengthy tests (more than two hours), prompting them to withdraw their application. 
  • There is always the risk that good candidates could be rejected on the basis of a single assessment.



When should you use candidate testing?


The main aim of technical skills testing is to decide whether or not a candidate will advance to the next stage of the selection process. We should use this step, therefore, when we are uncertain about how to proceed.


It’s best to request examples of previous work from candidates before inviting them to an interview. Depending on the role in question, you can ask for their portfolio, GitHub link, or references, etc. This will give you an idea of their experience and skills.


If you like what you see, introduce the skills test just after this first exchange and before the interview round. It is important to validate their skills before they meet the rest of the team.


You can send the test by email to complete from home, but make sure it is not a lengthy exercise to avoid discouraging candidates. If you think it is necessary, you can also organise tests at your work premises. 



Examples of technical skills tests


Skills tests are useful in any profession that has an important technical element; for example, when it requires specific tool handling skills or when there are complex procedures involved.


Here are a few examples of roles and corresponding technical assignments for inspiration:


  • Developers and programmers 

To understand these candidates, as a minimum you need to find out which programming languages they have used in previous projects. Set coding tests and count GitHub as a close ally to get to know developers and programmers better.


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  • Accountants and bookkeepers

It is fairly common to ask candidates to complete practical assignments in Excel, such as financial projections, for these types of roles. 


It can also be useful to test candidates on creating budget allocations for different departments, calculating the ROI and even data visualisation and reporting.


  • Writers

If you are looking for a content developer, you can create tests to assess email composition, posting on social networks or writing blog articles on a topic that requires background research. These tests can tell us a lot about candidates’ journalistic and writing skills.  


  • Performance manager

This candidate must be entirely at home with the digital landscape and be capable of allocating budgets to marketing channels, calculating the channel ROI, creating projections based on different variables such as country, region, revenue, average sales time. Tests incorporating these elements will help you to get to know the candidate in depth and gauge their experience. 


  • Designer

A designer’s portfolio is their best endorsement. There is nothing like seeing first-hand the projects a candidate has been involved in to discover their design strengths. The portfolio gives you a glimpse of a candidate’s calibre.


  • Project manager

Set tests to assess problem-solving among team members, idea generation for operational improvements, or exercises relating to logistics and organisation.


Observe how a candidate would manage a project launch according to certain variables to get an impression of their experience and see their soft and hard skills in action.


  • Sales 

All sales execs need to know how to communicate, inspire confidence and empathy, be able to manage a CRM, send emails and not accept no for an answer. 


If you want to probe further, you can ask about their successes in increasing sales of products or services in the past or put them in a tricky situation to see how they deal with uncertain or unfamiliar circumstances. This way you should be able to verify if the candidate profile matches your requirements. 

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