Interview skills testing: simple mistakes you could be making

Last updated:
February 26, 2021
December 23, 2021
min read
Bev Campling
Table of contents

How are you assessing candidates’ skills before and during interviews? Are you relying on structured interview questions, or are you bringing interview skills testing onboard as well? In line with best recruitment practices, more and more employers are looking for fair and transparent ways to make better hiring decisions.

The focus is shifting from asking interview questions that potentially encourage confirmation bias to methods that are unbiased and also save time and money. Another important point of employer focus is to improve the candidate experience.

Talent Board released a Candidate Experience Research report in 2016 that indicated that 54% of companies surveyed were using job simulations. And a whopping 82% of companies were using some kind of pre-employment assessment tests.

So what’s driving this change in approach?

Firstly, let’s examine confirmation bias

What is it?

“Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor and recall information in a way that affirms one’s prior beliefs or hypotheses.” – Wikipedia

Confirmation bias isn’t necessarily intentional because we all have deep-rooted beliefs and mental conditioning that could be at a subconscious level. In recruitment, confirmation bias can influence transparent hiring decisions, and potentially discourage a fair and diverse workplace.

If we’re going to rely on our perception of a candidate, even if they have a stellar CV and killer past employment references, we can still make snap judgements based on our beliefs rather than fact. Without knowing it, an interviewer can quickly make unconscious judgements to confirm their preconceived ideas.

The result is that we don’t hire the best candidate for the job but rather the person that we liked the most. In reality, even if we really like someone, it doesn’t mean that they’ll be a good cultural fit or even be able to do the job well.

Interview skills testing eliminates bias

Technology allows us to assess job applicants when they apply, and the value is twofold: unskilled candidates are eliminated immediately, and they know straight away. For recruiters it’s a huge time-saver. For applicants, it’s a fair assessment, and they understand why they didn’t make it onto the candidate shortlist.

You can see how skills testing at the application phase can help to eliminate bias. Applicants who make it onto the candidate shortlist have shown that they meet minimum skills criteria, irrelevant of appearance, gender, race or culture.

Using a structured interview process as well as interview skills testing on shortlisted candidates further eliminates bias, as does collaborative hiring. The mix of your hiring team can also improve hiring decisions, fairness and transparency.

Don’t only include hiring and line managers and a recruiter. Consider bringing a peer as well as a direct report into the team. This allows people with different perspectives, but all working from the same interview questions, to evaluate each applicant. When comparing notes and interview skills testing results, you’re much more likely to select the best candidate. Decisions made free of bias will help you to better identify the person who can do the job and be a good team and cultural fit.

There are many ways to assess candidates

Interview skills tests are not the only way we can adequately evaluate candidates to ensure that they’re the best person for the job. There are structured interview questions, job simulations, personality tests and psychometric tests for recruitment. Each of these can be broken down into categories, and you can select versions that will be best for the role, or devise your own based on exact criteria.

A useful skill test definition is that it’s a test, or range of tests, targeting specific job skills to help employers gauge a candidate’s level of proficiency.

Most jobs are made up of numerous processes and skills, and you want to know how competent each candidate is at these. Also, are their skills basic, intermediate or advanced? That makes a big difference depending on the requirements of the role. You can’t, for example, have someone leading a team of people who are more skilled than them.

Your goal is to make the right hiring decisions

If you’re not using interview skills testing yet, or you’re including them haphazardly here and there, you’re not getting the best out of your hiring process. Interview tests must become a feature of your pre-interview process and planning.

Poorly planned interviews will not only result in a lengthy time to hire, but it can also negatively impact on the candidate experience. You want to have everything analyzed, planned and put in place, including what tests will be used before you even place your jobs ads. It’s much like arranging a banquet: you must have the venue, menu, décor, entertainment and guest list planned to precision beforehand. Otherwise the guests will walk into chaos and confusion and wish they’d never turned up.

Where do most recruiters go wrong?

I hear many recruiters and hiring managers say that interview skills testing isn’t worthwhile because it doesn’t yield the desired result. But that’s usually because they’re doing it wrong!

It starts with selecting the interview skills testing that you want to include for each role. This decision must be made by the hiring manager and the recruiter when compiling the job description. Ask yourself “what type of tests and assessment will tell you if a candidate has the hard and soft skills  needed?”

There are plenty of online platforms that you can subscribe to or software packages you can buy that test and assess a plethora of skills and competencies, individually or in combination. When buying into these services it’s essential to ensure that they offer exactly what you need or that their applications can be adapted and customized.

5 steps to getting it right

1. Know exactly what you want

Upfront planning is the key to all successful hiring! Take time to sit down as a team and identify what crucial skills are needed for the job. Write them into the job description. Next, determine the type of personality that will handle the role best. Envision the person that will be perfect for the job and then put it all down on paper. Make sure that the whole team agrees on the minimum criteria.

2. Identify hard and soft skills that must be evaluated

Knowing precisely what you need makes this step much more straightforward. List critical skills and then work through them to see which you want to be measured with interview skills testing. Not all soft skills need to be assessed because some can be confirmed during interviews, such as friendliness and confidence. Key technical skills, however, are best confirmed with an interview test. Even if a candidate says they’re adept, you have no way of knowing their level of proficiency other than by testing them.

3. Select the best interview skills test

If you don’t already have testing facilities, do some research to identify the best ones for your purpose and company environment. During your researchm consider your budget and also compare it to the validity of the test applications. Many of the cheaper tests are not scientifically or technically validated. Does that matter to your organization?

4. Interview tests must be user-friendly

Confirm that you can have a free trial and do a few test runs within the hiring team. Do the tests give you the information you need? Can they be customized? Also, make sure that the software can easily be integrated with your applicant tracking system. You want the results to be readily available to everyone on the hiring team. Finally and most importantly, does the test offer a great candidate experience? You don’t want to buy into something that causes hassles and frustration.

5. Don’t settle on the first option that looks good

There are so many interview skills testing available that you can easily shop around to find exactly what you need. Test as many as you need to and then come up with a list of the top three. Weigh up the pros and cons of each and then make your final decision.

Step back and view the big picture

Before you go ahead and post to your career ssite and job boards, re-evaluate your interview process plan and the interview skills tests you’ve selected. Have you covered every angle? Also, at what stage of the interview process will the tests be conducted and how? Will the candidates be able to do them online in their own time, or will they do them onsite?

Always tell candidates upfront that you will be doing skills testing. You don’t want to catch anyone off guard because that can make them nervous. Also, if a chancer has managed to get onto the shortlist it gives them an opportunity to exit the interview process with dignity.

Some tests are best done early to eliminate time-wasting, while others only need to be done on candidates who’ve made it through to the final interview stage. No two jobs are the same, no companies are precisely the same, and no two people can ever be the same. Each role will have to be played by ear.

Here are some of our favorite platforms

  • Codility to test code online.
  • Devskiller offers developer screening and online interviews on one platform.
  • eSkill offers a large selection of topics from many subject areas.
  • interview mocha provides over 1,000 skills tests that can be customized.
  • Kandio to assess tech-talent.
  • The Hire Talent offers a combination of behavioral and competency-based assessments.

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