Skills tests: Are they thorough enough?

ITworld.com –

In my previous column, I looked at skills-testing services and how they can help overworked hiring managers evaluate how qualified their candidates really are. Here, I'll evaluate the tests themselves. Both ReviewNet (www.reviewnet.net) and TeckChek (www.teckcheck.com) have large libraries of technical tests for very specific subject areas, and both deliver the tests online.

ReviewNet

ReviewNet tests are written and reviewed by industry professionals. The multiple-choice tests depict real-world scenarios and focus on problem-solving. For example, instead of just asking: "How many meters can you have between an Ethernet switch and a networked computer?" The test might present a little scenario: You have a workgroup that needs to be connected to the network, but it's too many meters away. How can you connect the workgroup in question to the central Ethernet switch?

In the real world, there is often more than one answer, and so the ReviewNet questions have one "right" answer, one "partial" answer, and three incorrect answers. The tests are delivered over the Internet, and the results are sent to the recruiter immediately.

TeckChek

TeckChek's tests, written by industry pros working in the field on a day-to-day basis, take a slightly different, adaptive approach. A test adjusts itself to the skill level of the test-taker. As you go through the test, the testing mechanism analyzes your answers and then delivers subsequent questions that are either more or less difficult. The results are ranked and delivered to the administrator, who receives raw scores, percentile scores, and data on the candidate's strengths and weaknesses. Like ReviewNet, TeckChek's tests are divided into subcategories specific to the technology being tested. The tests are also multiple choice, and up to three of the five possible answers can be correct.

Security is a concern for many clients, and TeckChek addresses it with the TeckChek Secure test suite, designed to be administered in-house in a proctored environment. But the convenience of a test-taker is sometimes paramount -- especially when a manager may be trying to filter out the best of potentially hundreds of applicants. For those situations, TeckChek offers the TeckChek Complete, TeckChek Essentials, and QuickChek, which can be delivered over the Web and taken at the candidate's convenience.

The longer TeckChek Complete is a thorough test that will deliver detailed information about a candidate's strengths and weaknesses. The shorter QuickChek is often used for preliminary screenings of large numbers of candidates. According to TeckChek president Alan Epstein, some managers use QuickChek as a first-level test and then later administer TeckChek Complete or TeckChek Secure as a final, more detailed test for those candidates who make the final cut.

'If you send them a test, it's easy'

CDI Corp., based in Philadelphia, offers IT staffing solutions to Fortune 1000 companies. The company employs 31,000 people itself, and finding the right ones has always been a challenge. Recruiting manager Dave Meyer chose ReviewNet for its ease of use and the technical strength of the tests. "I think it's the best tool out there," he said. Meyer uses ReviewNet tests to assess the skills of candidates in several IT areas, including C++, PowerBuilder, Oracle, and Unix.

Meyer said that other testing services required software to be loaded to a specific PC, which meant that the candidate had to come into the office to take the test. "If you're talking to a candidate from the Internet, they may be getting 30 calls a day. Do they want to drive an hour away and go to some office and take a test that takes two hours? No. But if you send them a test, it's easy. You put in your password, put in the person's name, their email address, select the skill, and submit it. And an email is sent directly to them, saying this is how you take the test -- click here and begin. When they're done, the results of the test are immediately sent to the email address of the administrator. It's instantaneous."

Pros and cons

Both ReviewNet and TeckChek, besides delivering technically challenging tests, make the tests convenient by allowing a candidate to take them over the Internet from any location. Skill tests provide benefits on several fronts: They filter out candidates in the early stages, they help a manager make the final hiring decision, and they help determine project assignments once a hire has been made. Although such tests require up- front expenditures, you'll save in the long run by avoiding the cost of a hiring mistake.

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