RE: On-the-spot writing test during a job interview?

Subject: RE: On-the-spot writing test during a job interview?
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 12 Nov 1999 14:54:05 -0800

I find the impromptu testing [especially if 'sprung' on an otherwise
unsuspecting candidate], and the increasingly widespread use of 'hardball'
questions [like"What's the worst manager you ever had, and how did you
handle that person?", "Give me an example of your worst screw-up and how you
recovered," and such], and pop quizzes on industry terminology [I was asked
to define bit, byte, and other computeroid terms by a prickly interviewer
who was hiring his own replacement!], to be of questionable value.

Can someone with HR or hiring manager experience comment on why
these are more widely used lately? Is it because candidates misstate or
distort their backgrounds or work experience? Is a baseline reality check
needed to winnow out patently unqualified or "weirdness factor" individuals?
Since most interviewers are obviously uncomfortable with them and, I
suspect, not at all trained in techniques that would yield reliable results
from such 'pressurized' methods & questions, why are they bothering?

I've taken a few of the writing 'tests', and found them [from my
POV] to be of no value, since I could easily see how poorly they reflected
my skills, intelligence, or ability to think/analyze/synthesize, by far the
most important aptitude any tech writer brings to the job. Better interviews
have used multiple one-on-one sessions, meetings with the group/dept. you'll
be working with, and the opportunity [requiring longer than 30-min.
meetings] to get a feel for the people, the company [corporate culture], and
the larger gestalt of the place. Of course, nothing substitutes for months
spent working there! as we all well know...

Aren't writing samples, letters or references [real ones] from
former managers, and demonstrated familiarity with the tools, methods and
expectations of the trade better evidence of a seasoned hand? I don't think
I've ever had two jobs in the same industry, and every new niche with its
jargon & industry-specific is at least somewhat unfamiliar to begin with.
The tests I've met were -- if not outright laughable -- certainly a very
crippled assessment of performance criteria. And while I'm generally
comfortable in interviews, I've also felt the anxiety or tension we all
dread in those situations; an effective interviewer knows how to use the
prospect of such tension to advantage by putting the candidate more at ease,
and in so doing, getting more of those other important intangibles revealed
than hardball queries or mini-inquisitions can. Agree/disagree?

Anyone been on the other side, evaluating candidates with the
benefit (?) of a test or of put-the-screws-to-'em interview questions? How
did you weigh the relevance of the various factors?
Insights appreciated...

Al Rubottom /\ 858-642-2134
Sensormatic Video Products Division

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Murrell, Thomas [SMTP:TMurrell -at- alldata -dot- net]
> Sent: Friday, November 12, 1999 10:31 AM
> Subject: RE: On-the-spot writing test during a job interview?
> Keith Cronin asks:
> > What do you think of giving the applicant a writing test during the job
> > interview?
> Your question, and its associated comments, got me thinking (no snide
> comments from the peanut gallery; ESPECIALLY from the PB&J gallery).
> What would your test be measuring? Ability to write under pressure? (Is
> that important? How would your scoring criteria help resolve that
> question?) Ability to be coherent on short notice? Willingness to tackle
> any project set before you? Will you make spelling, grammar, and
> punctuation important? If so, what does that prove? (I have to check
> everything to make sure I'm right--or at least consistent.) Will the test
> conditions resemble the actual work environment? If not, what does that
> mean for the validity of the test?

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