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Skills Tests: What You Do Or Don't Know Can Help You
An Argument For Giving Yourself Skills Assessments

Posted by Charlie Recksieck on 2020-01-09
For purposes of this article when we are talking "skills tests" or "skills assessments" it's in the world of IT and tech. Not to be confused with skills tests to evaluate what career you should go into based on some personality questions or things like the Briggs-Myers test or entry-level skills like the CBST evaluation.

In a perfect world I feel like hiring or work assignments being based on quantifiable answers to the question "can this person do the job" are a great idea. That said, the measurements aren't that easy; and some people have serious test anxiety even though they're great once they're on the job.

So, we'll touch on employers applying skills assessments. But I'm really writing this to advocate taking these kinds of tests on your own! We'll get into that in a bit.

What's A Skills Test

When a potential employer is reviewing resumes and interviewing prospective candidates, it's easy enough for the applicant to say they're proficient in writing copy, Python development, Amazon Web Services administration, anything. The goal of testing is to more truly evaluate how good the potential employee is, instead of just taking his or her word for it.

Tests like this really are a little more objective. Of course, no company is relying solely on skills testing. It's usually the 3rd step, after resume review and an initial interview.

Skills assessments make the most sense in quantifiable fields like software development and IT where there are very concrete results on the job - does the software and hardware do what it's supposed to or not. But some sort of assessment could be made in just about any field. Companies asking for a "writing sample" are truly employing a skills test as well.

Software - Sample Coding

In software development hiring situations, it's not uncommon to actually have a potential employee write sample code. It's increasingly popular for applicants on their submissions also list the URL of their .Git repository allowing potential employers or supervisors look at their real-world code.

As somebody who supervises programmers and routinely performs code review, this is a good idea. There are lots of sites and articles than can tell you about best-practices in-code (and there is a LOT of good info to read out there). But I can also speak from experience and paraphrase Potter Stewart by saying when it comes to spotting well-written, professional code, "I know it when I see it" even at quick glances of how they indent, how they make comments, how they break up sections of code into sensible discrete functions.

The sample coding assignment can add some pressure to the application process, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Having somebody code under some stress and time constraints is a decent preview of how they would perform under pressure on the job. The test can be fairly elaborate and have them show how the applicant deals with logic and problems.

Diabolical Sample Code Scheme

A friend was recently applying for a developer position and as part of his evaluation process he was asked to write a very elaborate solution to show how he would create logic to take a series of product orders in a warehouse and pack them most efficiently into shipping boxes. This may seem simple but if I were to draw out the design and architecture for this, it gets complex.

There is no "right" answer to such a test. There are usually several ways to "skin a cat" when it comes to programming. But a well-explained elegant solution to a problem is really valuable.

So, it got me to thinking about a scenario. What if a bad actor or disreputable company set up a completely fake job listing with no intention of hiring a software developer but instead wanted to trick people into writing their code?! They could administer a sample code test for every part of problem code, dress it up as part of a job application and all of a sudden you have a lot of talented software developers spending 2-4 hours each submitting innovative and clever code for free!

It's just an odd thought I found amusing and wanted to share. Now, back to my main message of why you should actually test yourself!

Job Boards & Networking Sites

Major sites like Indeed and LinkedIn have skills assessment features. Since recruiters often use these sites, displaying tested and measured proficiency in certain areas can really make your resume or page stand out.

Officially certifications are great things to have on a resume - and in some instances, these certifications can be required for certain jobs. I would strongly suggest that you get certified in areas that you already know. For instance, if you work in SEO, web or social media, then you really should get certified in Google Analytics to show you are serious (plus, you'll undoubtedly learn a few new handy tricks in the process).

These Indeed and LinkedIn "skills" are softer and less official than formal certifications. But they really show you are for real and buttress your claims on your resume or your LinkedIn page.

Why Assess Yourself With These Skills

The most obvious reason for going to the trouble of testing your skills on Indeed and LinkedIn are to make yourself a potentially attractive hire, even if you're not actively looking for a job. You never know who might find you and give you a job offer you can't refuse out of the blue.

Yes, showing off and letting everybody know how brilliant or well-rounded you are is an unspoken reason for some to rack up your LinkedIn Skills.

But the strongest rationale I have for telling you to take these skills assessments is mainly that these tests tell you how you're doing in your career. Let's say you consider yourself at an expert level in Microsoft Excel. Taking the test is a great yardstick to measure if you're as proficient as you think. If you pass, that's great reassurance. If you don't, then it's a positive - it tells you that you should brush up on it or take a quick course online (there are tons of both free and paid sites for training on everything).

Give it a try! LinkedIn - Indeed