Skills Assessment Tests: A vital tool in finding talent

I never realized how much time I wasted phone screening candidates until I took a skills assessment test and realize it could have saved me and the candidate an hour of our lives.

A good skills assessment test:

 

  • Takes less than 15 minutes
  • Doesn’t contain easily google-able answers
  • Reflects Real Life Problems you’ve encountered 
  • Covers what someone should know to be successful on your team
Time? Who has Time?

Treat a candidate’s time as precious; 15 minutes should be an ample amount of time to take a test. Any longer and you risk the candidate losing interest, any shorter and you can’t really discern their skills.
Google Me Not
Asking questions straight out of What Every Good .NET Developer should know is a great way to have people type those questions into Google to get the answers.  The questions should be multiple choice (or if you have time to read the answers, short answer).  The questions to ask are questions that rely on derived knowledge, things that aren’t in the book but learned from experience.  
One such question is the following: 
Which of the following would an Interface *not* be used for?
A. To define a ‘has a’ relationship between two classes
B. To provide an implementation that that other classes can use
C. To avoid tight coupling
D. To allow for easier unit testing
Problems? As prevalent as off By One Errors
Just this week I had to diagnose Out of Memory Exceptions, a stored procedure that didn’t finish running, and Event handlers causing memory leaks.   And that’s just this week!
Your test should include problems that you’ve encountered, or problems that a developer might encounter during their time at your company.  I like to ask questions on .NET memory management, because it’s a topic that is easily overlooked, but really important for well-functioning application. I don’t expect most candidates to get it right, but I do expect for them to have a basic knowledge of how .NET handles memory management.
Make them Familiar with You

Your test should adequately be able to convey to the candidate what sort of topics your will come across. If you work on ASP.NET, then questions about the page lifecycle are good; if you work with design patterns, then those make great questions.  Bottom line is that anyone that reads your test should be able to understand what they’ll deal with on a daily basis.
Setting up the Online Assessment Test
Forget Brainbench. Their questions and answers are all across the internet.  Google has Google Docs, which let you create a Form you can use to create a multiple choice assessment test, and it provides a low-key way to create a test you can create once and use with any candidate — best of all, it’s targetted for your company.
Hiring is an involved process, and using a Skill test can save you time and money and weed out bad candidates.  What other reason do you need?
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