Is it "reasonable" to ask IT job candidates to prove their skills?

Is it "reasonable" to ask IT job candidates to prove their skills?

Summary: Increasingly, IT professionals are asked to take some sort of test when they go for a job interview, to prove they know the technology that's on their resume, even when lawyers, accountants and HR pros in the same organizations are not. Is this fair?

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TOPICS: CXO, IT Employment
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Did your last job interview give you flashbacks to this?
Consider your workplace: When a in-house council gets hired, are they tested on their familiarity with those thick law books that line their offices? Are HR professionals required to show evidence that they have never embarrassed their former company? Do accountants have to provide the scores from their back-in-the-day CPA exams?

Yet increasingly, IT professionals are asked to take some sort of test when they go for a job interview, to prove they know the technology that's on their resume. This is the subject of a long--and heated--discussion on Slashdot this week, wherein an IT job candidate says that even with more than one university degree, a couple of IT certifications, over ten years work experience in the industry with two to four years with each employer, working with a wide range of technologies, he's not sure he finds it "reasonable" to take a test on a job interview.

This is, understandably, a sore subject among many commenters. "I won't take them. I have turned down several jobs over it," responds the first Slashdot commenter, banbeans.

But it also might be a sore subject among those who hire IT pros, or enough that nearly every IT professional that has been featured on this blog to date has warned tech job candidates not to embellish or outright lie about their skill sets on their resume. Clearly, many had been burned before.

"Don't ever pad your resume unless you’re able to back it up. I’ve interviewed candidates and if they had kept to what they really knew they’d have been better off... there is nothing worse than someone nixing their chances because they have overextended themselves," explained Michael Donohoe, a developer for the New York Times.

Some blame these resume-embellishers for causing interviewers to distrust IT candidates.

"We only have ourselves to blame. Why do you think the interviewers want a test? Because somewhere along the line, in some capacity, they were burned by an unscrupulous IT person who lied about their level of competency," writes Slashdot commenter multimediavt.

Others feel that the job-seeker is wrong to be offended.

"Actually it does happen in other fields... I'm a statistician/epidemiologist and every post I've ever applied for has had some kind of technical test. Some have been more formal than others. Anyway if I was applying for a post that needed a high level of technical knowledge I would expect to be tested on it," retorts another Slashdot commenter.

How about you? Do you think employers are right to ask IT pros to prove their skills, so to speak? Have you been asked to take a test of any sort when you've gone on an IT job interview? Was is a deal-breaker, or did you not care because you wanted the job?

Topics: CXO, IT Employment

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29 comments
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  • Perfectly Reasonable

    Every (senior) job i have applied for has had some type of a test or proof of accomplishments. This gives me a chance to show exactly what i have done and what the employer can expect in the future.

    My resume is not professionally designed nor am i a consummate salesman - what i have done speaks louder than what i have said.
    bcarpent1228@...
  • RE: Is it

    It depends on the position... I own a systems
    consulting company with a number of decent sized
    clients and have seen all too often people coming into
    positions they are not qualified for. Sure they may
    have a degree or two and had previous employers that
    don't know any better where they got away with god
    knows what .. but when it comes down to it many cannot
    get past their textbook knowledge and apply it where
    it really means something. IMHO i think as many as
    2/3's of the so called "IT" proffesionals out there
    are actually just window dressing. Hired by HR
    departments just looking for people to fog a mirror.
    burto123
  • Absolutely

    There are too many people who (like a presidential candidate who will remain nameless) would pad their resume with titles and job descriptions that he/she never had to make themselves more "marketable". It is very easy to make any job sound important. With the right words and title, you can make even a job at McDonals sound like a highly technical job.

    Also, most past employers would neither confirm or deny the kind of work somebody did for fear of legal liability.

    So the only way to asses the qualifications of ANY future employee (in most fields) is by testing them.

    Skills and experience can't be improvised.
    wackoae
  • Definitely

    We started doing it where I work after a seemingly good programmer (in the interviews) turned out to be completely incompetent (I was one of the interviewers; fooled me too). Fortunately, computing skills are rather easily demonstrated, so it's not that hard to come up with a valid test.

    Think of the exam as a sort of audition.
    John L. Ries
  • RE:It is a necessity today.

    I took a verbal test when I joined a large bank 10 years ago. While I was nervous taking it I thought nothing of them asking me to take it. In fact since being there I have participated in interviews and asked technical questions. It seems that we have even failed at our approach, as people that seemed knowledgeable on the phone technical interview don't know crap when they get hired. I honestly think they had someone else do the phone interview. So as far as sitting someone down and making them prove what they say on their resume, I'm 100% for it. I'm tired of doing other peoples jobs because they do not know what they claimed to know!
    sfaid
  • Not only reasonable but expected

    Not only is it reasonable to ask a candidate to take a
    competence test, it would give me cause to doubt the
    professionalism of an employer that didn't ask me to
    demonstrate my skills before hiring me.

    As for anyone who has turned down a position because
    they were asked to demonstrate their skills, if you
    haven't padded your CV then you should have absolutely
    no objections to a quick demonstration.
    nmh
  • The test needs to be well prepared and organized.

    Otherwise, it's highly possible that a 10 years experiences staff can be beaten up by a new grad or a-only-good-on-papers type of guys because a student have a lot more time preparing, reading and studying on the topics while the professional guys need to work their arse off on their current job. Not to mention that they are more familiar with 'taking an exam' than the person who hasn't been taken it for a decade.
    Dealing
  • Too Many "Dime a Dozen" Certificates ...

    Just because some one has been able to sit through mundane classes, and regurgitate what a book says during a test, does not mean they know what their doing ...

    I'm 43, have a high school education, and no computer certifications whatsoever. I was the go to guy for the last company I worked for when the certified guys couldn't figure it out. I have personally met MS certified people who don't even know who to change access rights.

    Without some form of test (even a small set of verbal questions), how can the interviewee be sure the person knows and understands what they say they do.

    I own a small networking and support company, and 7 months ago hired my first full time employee ... I sifted through 50 resumes, and had three interviews, asking each three the same technical questions (how would you investigate this, how would you fix that type of questions) Two of the three stumble and stuttered, and eventually came up with an adequate solution - the guy I hired gave me a n excellent answer immediately without even thinking about it - this tells you two things - wether the person has the same solution as you, and how fast can they come up with it ...

    Needless to say, I'm very happy with his performance to date, as are my clients ...

    Ludo
    Ludovit
    • I agree

      Before I became self employed I worked in a software house, and for my interview I was asked how to map a network drive. I talked about it in great length and got the job. Afterwards I found out I could have been talking tosh as the two interviewees were sales people and had no idea of technical.

      Later I was asked to sit in on interviews so I too asked the same question. I remember a guy coming in with a MCP pin badge and ummed and arred on mapping a drive which I thought would have been a basic question for a 'qualified' engineer.

      Tez
      terry@...
      • Meaningless Certifications - testing required

        I'd have to agree.

        I have more certifications than most(>20), and enjoy the marketing value of them, but...the tests themselves are mostly wrote memorization, and they've become so devalued they're getting to be meaningless.

        I've interviewed MCSE's who I wouldn't let touch a server of mine. Heck, I'm certified in AIX and Solaris, and I'm NOT QUALIFIED to be an admin on either. The difference is I'll state that in an interview, but many are less scrupulous in an interview.

        The only way to tell if a candidate really knows how to do the job is to ask tough technical questions. Though I would suggest an interview would be a more appropriate place than a written test.
        david.swift@...
  • too many liars in the market

    I've seen many people (including friends / former colleagues ) who have listed skills which they hardly even know.

    They sure do end up getting a higher pay without being able to do their job.

    Some have even gotten away with it (unbelieveable).
    code_Warrior
  • Well, only if

    the tests are relevant. I love taking the IT questionaire, but i'm easily very insulted, when it's some form of IQ test with funny shapes and stuff.

    When i solicit for an IT function, i want an IT questionare, not a kindergarden one.
    TedKraan
  • RE: Is it

    The high cost of technical training has generated a black market of sorts where it is easy to get a cert for a little less from a shop whose content isn't so great.

    The entitlist attitudes of the younger generations is increasing the number of "on-paper" applicants and resume padders.

    Technical fields require specialized skills that are constantly changing and evolving, making it difficult for the non-specialized to keep up. This creates an environment where it is very easy to pad a resume with alphabet soup.

    The bottom line is: Any company who is ready to pay for a technical employee is being duly diligent in making sure that their applicants are who they say they are before they hire. That there are some other job fields that don't test (there are *many* others that do) does not justify ignoring diligence. I have no problem taking a test to back up my claimed skill set, and I don't pad my resume. So I have nothing to worry about. It seems like the OP is trying to justify padding his resume to me. AFAIC, he can take his Comic-Book Guy 1337 Haxor attitude right out the door; I'm looking for someone I can trust.

    Of course, as a technical hiring manager, I must admit that it's quite fun to watch a resume padder squirm when they interview with me. They're easy to catch when they take on that "deer caught in headlights" look. I like to make those interviews as long as possible so I waste as much of their time as possible (since they decided it was okay to waste mine). :-D
    Free_Thinker
  • RE: Is it

    I was given a test for a Network Admin job about 12 years ago. It seemed odd at the time, but it didn't put me off.
    Badgered
  • Unreasonable.

    And, it springs from the unreasonable expectation that someone should come in and be a game-changer on day one. There's no longer any allowance for getting up to speed - i.e. being basically proficient vs. being constantly on the cutting edge. Most of us have families and outside lives - we can't spend our off-hours tinkering with the newest thing. Until the employers start realizing that we will learn it when we need to use it, because that's what we do...you'll always have this as a result of their quest to hire people who can "hit the ground running" with every new technology: which is not realistic given the pace of technological change. Have you looked at the typical posting for an application developer lately? They want someone expert in everything under the sun. There's just too much - it's an era of specialization. We can keep on top of a couple niches, but that's about it. Time for employers to be realistic.

    P.S. - I wonder if it's really due to being burned by H1Bs...try hiring Americans and training them.
    Techboy_z
    • Not entirely

      Employers can, of course, go overboard, but it's reasonable to test for basic skills that the applicant claims he already has. I'm okay with teaching someone a particular programming language or API *if* he already knows how to program and has the proper mentality; I'm much less willing if he only pretends to know.
      John L. Ries
  • Commodity mentality

    It comes from the "commodity" mentality that has developed in many fields. Need something special? Instead of grooming someone, hire a temp with the exact combination of skills needed, have them do the job and then toss them on the scrap heap. Someone shows up with the right combination of skills but wants a competitive salary? Tell ICE you can't find anyone and then ask for a tech visa and add some irrelevant "language ability" like Urdu and then bring in a foreign-born programmer at 40% of market rate.
    Rick_R
  • I agree with the masses...

    Too many liars out there. I have and will continue to take tests to get a job. Heck, I had to take an integrity test to work at McDonald's for Pete's sake!
    Junkyard Dog 911
  • RE: Is it unreasonable to ask an executive level candidate to take a test?

    While test taking may be fun for techs, I have met (and
    worked with) many in the managerial level that there is no
    way they should have been promoted or given the job.
    Maybe if there was a test for middle manages, executives,
    senior executives and the like, it would go over better with
    the veteran techs. Any idiot can get a BS/MS/PhD in
    CompSci/MIS/Math or some other hard science but can they
    pass a test of mundane Unix commands or Windows scripting
    or creating a network policy (Policy Based Networking)?
    B.O.F.H.
    • A lot harder to demonstrate management skills...

      ...than it is to demonstrate technical ones. If you want to demonstrate how good of a programmer you are, all you have to do is to write a program that does something useful. If you want to show what a good engineer you are, all you have to do is to produce a good non-trivial design of the sort you would be producing on the job. If you want to show how good a musician you are, you make music. With management, you'd have to demonstrate how well you can lead a team and that's a lot harder to measure in the short term.

      If if were easy to evaluate management skills before the hire, job security for coaches of professional sports teams would be a lot higher than it is.
      John L. Ries