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The Application Gatekeeper You Never Knew About: Online Tests

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If you have applied for a job in the last decade, then I am willing to bet that you completed an online application. I am also willing to go further, double down, and say that you have had to take an online test as part of that application. These online application tests have become commonplace and appear as part of the application process for Fortune 500 companies all the way down to even mom and pop businesses.

You are probably familiar with the drill, right? These tests appear right after you input your contact information and work history into the application with a friendly statement like “Please continue to answer a few questions. This test should take you about 15-30 minutes.” Questions are usually multiple choice, range in degree of difficulty and most often time sensitive. Topics frequently touch on your past workplace behaviors, emotional intelligence and your sense of right or wrong.

While these online assessment tests certainly help employers narrow down the list of sometimes hundreds of applicants, many talented and highly qualified applicants are currently being rejected for jobs simply because they did not pass these application tests. These people may be the employer’s ideal candidate for the position but they fail to pass this next generation gatekeeper to employment.

Now more than ever, it’s critical that jobseekers prepare just as much for the online assessment test as they do building out their resume and list of accomplishments. We are here to show you how these tests work, emphasize why you shouldn’t take them for granted, provide you tips on what you need to do to pass them, and most importantly demonstrate what not to do.

How do they rate me?

Companies usually have an ideal score range that they look for on these tests. They will quite simply add up the points you earn from each question and that becomes “your score.” You can probably guess what happens next. If you beat the company’s desired score then you will get to move on to the next stage, often a phone interview or onsite interview. If you do not hit that arbitrary number then you get the dreaded rejection letter or the “thanks but we don’t have any open positions that fit your experience.” 

From the company’s angle, online tests are a quick and easy way for a company to weed out jobseekers without having an actual human involved. For our purposes, as we are looking for jobs, we need to view these tests for what they are:  usually the last step before you get to a human. Once we get to a human, we have a much better chance of getting a job because we can relate on a personal level and explain our experience and skills. 

What not to do 

These tests can be disastrous from a jobseekers perspective for many reasons. You are probably guilty of a few of these faux pas yourself. That is how commonplace these errors are. The penalty is often steep if jobseekers do not pass the initial test. Usually companies require a 3-6 month period before someone who failed a test is able to reapply. That means, you can be the perfect person for the job and still get knocked out of the application process by making one of these mistakes. 

  • The “I don’t have time” mistake…Jobseekers not taking tests seriously and those trying to speed through without reading each question, just to get their application in as quickly as possible, will inevitably fail the test.
  • Thinking tests are not important…These quizzes are a major way that companies reject candidates. To even have a shot at moving on you need to treat it as a big deal.
  • Trying to apply on your phone…No, I do not mean picking up the phone and trying to call someone to give them your application verbally. Here we are referring to using your phone’s web browser as a way to complete a job application. Some companies are great at having the capability of accepting phone applications via mobile websites and/or apps, however, most are still not there yet from the tech angle or at the very least, the user experience is spotty depending on the device. You, the jobseeker, have one shot to pass this test unless you want to wait an additional 3-6 months to re-apply. Are you willing to take that risk? Simply use a laptop or desktop connected to solid WIFI and you’ll put yourself in a great position to pass.
  • Not picking a distraction free environment…In today’s world of epic multitasking, you can quickly multitask your way to a failed test if you don’t plan for it.
  • Getting frustrated with the content or the length of the test…Odds are you will not get frustrated if you really have a strong desire to work for the company. Ultimately, you have the choice. If you do not want to work there then you do not have to put in the time to complete the test. If you do, you had better suck it up.
  • You are too honest…You probably just read that again to make sure that was not an error. Let me add a disclaimer that I am in no way telling you to lie on your application or to company representatives, but I am encouraging you to evaluate your level of honesty on these online assessment tests.

What to do

To pass online tests, it is not rocket science, just do the opposite of the steps listed above. Ensure that you have time set aside to complete it, give it its due as far as importance, don’t apply on your phone, apply in a distraction free environment, don’t get frustrated and don’t be too honest. 

Honesty and the Extremes

Going a bit deeper on the honesty piece from earlier, I want to give you an example of what I mean by that. Let’s take the following question which is common on many company tests:

How often do you do great work?
A) All of the time
B) Most of the time
C) Almost Never
D) Never

Now if you are the regular jobseeker, you will answer “B) Most of the time.” The reason you do this is that you want to feel modest and not rate yourself as the highest. You did great work “most of the time” in your career but nobody does great work “all of the time” right? Wrong. Remember that most companies operate on a points system. A human being does not tally the points and will only, in most cases, see your total score. Therefore, it’s you versus the computer.  

Answering “A) All of the time” actually gets you the most points. Answer B will get you points as well but not as many as A. If you are on the borderline for total points, these questions can make or break you. That is why for many company tests, we encourage you to answer to the extremes. The extremes in the previous question would be answer A and D. Depending on the wording of the question, those would be the best possible answers to rack up points for yourself. 

Disclaimer City

Answering to the extremes, while frequently a great online test strategy, also comes with two important disclaimers. First, you need to be completely honest and truthful on your application and with company representatives. Online tests do oftentimes present you with the opportunity to paint yourself in the best possible light with your answers, as you can see from the example above.

Saying that you do good work “all of the time” on an online test is a lot different than lying on the initial application by checking the box that states you are 18 in order to meet the qualifications, when you are 17. The company will find the answer to both but they will find the answer to the age question a lot quicker and you will be on the way out the door.

Second, not every test will be alike. These tips mentioned earlier will work for any test, however, the answering to the extremes piece may not always be the best solution for all companies. A lot depends on the types of questions the company is asking. For the standard questions (like the one above) relating to work ethic and emotional competence, answering to the extremes is a great way to rack up points.  Conversely, if it is a test that is very industry specific or specialized, where you are expected to have a certain type of knowledge, these tests become more of a traditional “one right answer” test.

Today, most companies do use a multiple-choice format in one way or another but there is also a good chance you will see some fill in the blank and essay type formats in your job search as well. Just like the old high school days. Regardless of the test type, use these tips as a guide and recognize when answering to the extremes is appropriate.

Humans Hire, Computers Don’t

Online tests are usually an afterthought to jobseekers – just one more hurdle to clear or one more thing the company is making us do. Most of us just do not recognize the real danger that these tests present. Realizing that these are formidable obstacles and serve as gatekeepers to interviews and human interaction is an essential first step. Following the best practices mentioned above won’t win you the job, but it will give you the best possible chance of getting past the test. The last time I checked, despite the great technology advances in computers, human beings still hire people. Therefore, it is critical that you that you do everything you can to beat the test and get the interview.

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