Skill Testing Can Prevent Costly Mistakes

by Michael Callen | March 10, 2009

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HR professionals know that a good hiring decision has positive implications that far surpass the filling of a vacant position. Conversely, hiring the wrong employee can cause damage to an entire department, whether from a disastrous mistake made by the new hire, or the department's low morale due to the burden of repairing it.

But some HR departments still make staffing decisions based upon just two screening methods: the resume and the in-person interview. Both are important to the hiring process, but not enough to insure a proper fit.

When moving straight from the review of resumes to conducting interviews, the HR manager may find that an applicant has all the appearances of being the right one for the position: the person arrives on time for the interview, appropriately dressed, with a list of personal references. At this point, the HR manager has already begun to develop an opinion of the applicant and could be assuming that the applicant has the skills for the job.

Even an applicant who will admit his/her lack of the necessary skills may compensate for it by exuding a high level of confidence and enthusiasm during the interview. It's easy to be influenced by the optimism of the applicant and to think that this "good attitude" will carry through to the responsibilities of the job. Unfortunately, as all HR managers know from experience, good attitudes alone do not get the job done.~

Avoid Wasting Time

The best way to increase the chances of hiring the ideal employee is to test the applicant for the required skills before conducting the interview, but, according to the American Management Association, only one company in four administers tests in professional proficiencies such as accounting, engineering or marketing skills.

The best way to test is with software specifically designed for skill testing. The cost of skill testing software is minuscule next to cost of hiring the wrong employee. By using pre-employment testing software, the manager can narrow down his or her choices and avoid wasting time interviewing unqualified applicants. By using a software system that self-administers, self-scores, and that can be multiple-copy licensed, an HR employee can test dozens of applicants at a time.

Today's pre-employment testing software programs are much more than a typing test. Many use industry-accepted testing and validation techniques and cover a wide range of skill areas. When selecting a pre-employment testing software system, HR managers should look for one that covers these five categories:

  • Windows operating systems, word processing applications, spreadsheet applications and database applications;
  • Keyboarding speed, accuracy, alpha/numeric data, keypad and high volume data entry;
  • Clerical word processing, filing and proofreading;
  • Common business financial tasks plus basic math; and
  • Custom test creation for specific knowledge areas.


Industry-Specific Testing

Another key feature included in the more advanced systems is the industry-specific testing such as legal and medical keyboarding, terminology, proofreading and transcription.

Andrea Torland, personnel analyst in the Office of Human Resource Management in King County, WA, knows from experience how helpful pre-employment testing software can be. King County employees more than 10,000 and she uses the software to quickly test for many different skills in a wide variety of jobs. "I've tested up to 60 or 70 people in a day with a group of nine or ten computers in our training room at any given time," she says.

This has proven to be an enormous time saver for the HR department, Torland adds. "Consider the cost savings just in time alone of testing thousands of people and having tests scored automatically by the software."

Michael Callen is director of Office Proficiency Certification Testing Software, a division of the HR consulting firm Biddle and Associates Inc in Sacramento, CA. More information on the OPAC System, which was developed by the International Association of Administrative Professionals, is available at 800-999-0438,, or

Filed Under: Job Search

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