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by Stephen D. Silver,A Walden Personnel Testing & Consulting Inc.

Hiring qualified IT candidates is no easy chore. Aside from the fact that it is so difficult to find such people, once you have found them, how do you know how good they are?

None of the usual methods of screening offers a perfect approach. You hardly ever receive a bad resume. Reference checking is also imprecise because most employers are afraid to be sued by the candidate if they give the candidate a really bad reference. Interviews are equally hazardous, considering the restrictions placed on the interviewer. Furthermore, for strongly technical positions, the interviewer is often at a technical disadvantage and does not have the depth of knowledge to properly assess the skills of the candidate.

So what happens? Usually, you attempt to match the candidate’s experience with the software jargon of what the position requires. Very often this is successful, but when it is not, the costs can be very high.

Most of the time, the project that the new hire comes into is a complex one. Consistently successful companies usually have a proven method of bringing the new hire into the process smoothly.

Ultimately, if this person turns out not to be as good as the company requires, the organization can incur substantial costs between the time of hire and when the person is let go. These costs include more than just salary and severance. A hire’s inadequate performance can cost the project and the company tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, plus expensive delays.

Fortunately, there is another way to gain insight into the applicant’s real abilities: through the use of job-related, valid and predictive tests. Tests that simulate what the person does on the job can differentiate in a

very meaningful way between talented people and those whose skills don’t match the requirements. The use of testing is not the whole answer, but testing provides insight that you cannot obtain from other screening methods.

Most people, however, are skeptical when testing is suggested to them. Their skepticism derives from the history of pre-employment testing, which is littered with very bad stories. Tests have indeed been used to discriminate against different groups. Many tests have been created on a very casual basis and bear little relation to the requirements of the position. Personality tests have been used to reject people with high levels of technical skills.

However, professionally designed tests that are predictive of job success and do not discriminate unfairly can be used. The EEOC does not prohibit the use of valid tests; they only require that you follow the rules.

Advantages of using tests would include:

  • improving the average level of ability in those hired
  • improving the morale of the employee group by reducing the hiring of unqualified people
  • reducing employee turnover
  • faster development of better systems at lower cost
  • reducing the cost of hiring by testing people before you fly them in for an interview.

Disadvantages include the possibility of antagonizing a valuable job applicant and slowing down somewhat the hiring process. Cost is usually not a factor because the savings of not hiring one unsuccessful candidate will often pay for years and years of testing.

Walden Personnel Testing & Consulting Inc. has been developing, providing and validating such tests for IT and other personnel for over twenty years. Its web site is www.waldentesting.com. For additional information, please contact Stephen D. Silver, President at 800-361-4908 or e-mail ssilver@waldentesting.com.