Tests have become a routine part of the hiring process -- fair enough. But even as a prospective employee, you sometimes have to decide if a company that puts so much faith in paper qualifications is the right fit. I had to make that very choice when one firm put me through the paces until the very end.
I submitted my resume for a senior engineering position and heard back from the company about two weeks later. I expected to be called in for an in-person interview. Wrong -- they first wanted me to take a couple of online exams.
I figured it was a requirement, so I signed on and took the exams. They were a lot like Microsoft’s Certified Professional exams, particularly for Windows Server 2008 and Exchange 2010, but shorter.
On to phase two
The company called the following day to set up an “in person” interview. I asked how I did on the two exams and was told I did very well; otherwise, they wouldn’t have checked in again.
A few days later, I showed up at their company for the interview. However, they placed me in a somewhat empty room, asked me to leave my phone outside, and administered more tests. On this occasion, they weren’t technical exams, but a series of timed aptitude tests, similar to the SAT that I took eons ago. There was even a verbal section and a math section.
They weren't done. They gave me yet one more exam that had no wrong answer (unlike the other exams I'd taken). I’d taken a psychology course years ago in school, and it reminded me of the tests given to see how the person deals with an unrelated or out-of-the-ordinary incident.
I guess an in-person interview had a different definition for them than it did for me. I never did talk to anyone face-to-face about the job. The only people I spoke with were the receptionist and the person who handed me the exams, then said good-bye when I was done.
The next step was waiting for the company to figure out my exam results. The reps called and said I aced the aptitude tests and did very well on the one I called the psychological exam. They also wanted me to schedule an interview with the hiring manager and HR.
Before I said yes, I asked if there were any more tests. I wanted a heads-up if another one awaited, as all these exams had caught me off guard. I was surprised when she told me I was in the clear.
The interview with HR was relatively straightforward. They asked the typical questions: Tell me about yourself, why should we hire you, what is your greatest strength, what is your greatest weakness, and so on. When I spoke with the hiring manager, there were a lot more scenario-type questions related to the job.
The head honcho
The company called soon after with a job offer and to set up the final step in this process: Meet the owner of the engineering company -- an encounter that turned out to be very casual. The owner talked a bit about the company, a little bit about himself, then he asked me a few questions.
First off, he asked whether I knew I was a very smart person, based on the results of the exams they’d given me. It seemed like there was no good way to respond to the question, and he never really stopped talking, so I let him continue. He then wanted to know if the job offer was OK. I said it was, given the size of the company and the scope of the position.
Before the end of our meeting, he asked me one engineering question on a subject that I hadn’t worked with for nearly two decades. I had to pause and think about it for a few minutes -- which felt like an eternity. I came up with the right answer, and the owner told me he asks that same question to everybody hired, but I was the only one over the years with the correct results.
You'd think that after passing all these tests I'd happily accept the job offer, but I ended up accepting a position at a different company -- with a much more straightforward hiring process. The job description was a good fit, but I was turned off by the whole progression, including the fact that despite my test results and more than 15 years of experience, they still wanted me a copy of my college transcript.
I realize that companies want to hire the right candidates, but there should be a limit on how many hoops candidates must jump through. In this case, the interview went both ways -- and I made the final call.