To Test, Or Not To Test, In A Job Interview? — Insider Career Strategies Resume Writing & Career Coaching

Testing applicants’ skills and knowledge during the job-seeking process has become a hot-button issue among job seekers and employers alike. Recently, a financial services employer posted on X an exchange between him and a young applicant; to be considered for an in-person interview, completing a financial modeling test would be required.

While the employer felt that having an applicant take a test to measure their qualifications was an unnecessary burden – their response: “This looks like a lot of work. Without knowing where I stand in the process, I’m not comfortable spending 90 minutes in Excel.” The employer countered with, “… well… I can tell you where you stand now.” The post produced a firestorm of responses. To the employer’s surprise, many people were on the applicant’s side.

The employer, the applicant, and those responding to the post all have credible positions. An employer has every right to require testing to find the best candidate and an applicant has every right to decline and move on. Let’s talk about testing during the job application process and the different ways it can be approached from both perspectives.

The first thing to ask is, “Who has the leverage?” Leverage swings back and forth between employers and applicants depending on the state of the job market. When applicants have the leverage, there is less of a chance they will be asked to jump over additional hurdles to get the position (or in the case above, even an interview). When employers have the leverage, they get picky and can afford to tighten the recruitment requirements.

There is no power equity between employers and job applicants, and the interview process is not symmetrical, meaning employers set the rules, and job seekers must follow those rules if they want the job. Testing is a recruitment requirement employers use as an extra level of insurance that their time and effort to find the right candidate will pay off. Tests can range from as simple as a couple of questions that must be answered to digitally submit a resume, up to highly complex (and intense) “whiteboard tests” or business proposals and presentations that applicants deliver during in-person interviews with a panel of decision-makers as an audience. The applicant must be willing to put in extra time and effort with no guarantee that they will advance in the process, and even risk being ghosted by the company to which they’ve applied, or they can expect to hear, “… well… I can tell you where you stand now.”

As a job seeker, your only power is to decide what makes sense to you. Your time and effort are valuable, especially if you are engaged in multiple job processes with multiple companies. In other words, employers can throw whatever testing requirements they want at you, but you have the right to move on. If you believe time-consuming testing isn’t in your best interests or you should be compensated for your time, cross that company off your list and focus on the next potential employer.

From the employer’s perspective, it’s reasonable to ask a potential employee to demonstrate their skills. On the other hand, in this digital age, recruitment efforts are no longer an internal matter. Every action a company takes can (and often does) end up online for public consumption. Employers requiring applicants to go the extra mile without even giving them the common courtesy of a notification of their status, it’s going to end up on Glassdoor, and savvy candidates that you may want will skip over you when they’re deciding where to apply. Ultimately, employers may want to consider that the time and effort of their applicants are just as important as theirs and offer compensation for people’s time and write it off as recruiting expense, or at least guarantee that applicants completing time-intensive testing are guaranteed an in-person interview to discuss the results of the test and hear their pitch for why they are the best candidate for the job.

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