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Do you find pre-Interview questions of value, before meeting a candidate?

I am really not sure if these questions add any value. Maybe for certain levels, but not all. In my opinion a resume should be the reason to exclude or include an applicant in your consideration set. Please provide your input if you give these types of tests - why do you do it? Please provider your input if you have been asked to answer questions - how did it make you feel? I worked with a CTO that gave everyone a four question test, and ten minutes to answer. Three questions could be answered and one was un-answerable. He said that he was able to see how the applicants addressed a problem through the testing. I can see his point. However, if a certain set of individuals refuse to be tested in this manner, aren't you reducing the population of candidates by this exercise, but not in a positive way? I have asked many questions - feel free to grab on any one question and run with it.

Answers

Chris Shumate
Title: Accounting Manager
Company: Dominion Development Group, LLC
LinkedIn Profile
(Accounting Manager, Dominion Development Group, LLC) |

Regis - I was given a test once as a young accountant. I found it very intimidating because I was a young accountant, and I hadn't been exposed to what I was being tested on by the company. I think tests are a good idea to an extent, because it shows that what is on the resume is at least partially accurate. There may be people who lie on their resumes about how great they are, how much value they added, etc. A test of sorts could weed out the value creators, or the resume writers.

However, the extent I do not like tests would be if it is for a lower-level staff position. They will not know as much and should be coached and trained while working for the company (in my opinion).

Nothing against resume writers, I plan to contact someone at some point in the future to do one for me.

Sara Voight
Title: Controller
Company: Critical Signal Technologies, Inc
(Controller, Critical Signal Technologies, Inc) |

I am not fond of testing as it sets the tone for the potential employee as to the type of company they are applying to. That said, I do believe in a solid phone interview before inviting someone in to speak to me. In less than ten minutes I should be able to ask a few questions that give/get information about the culture the candidate is looking for (or looking to get away from), as well as prep them to be ready with examples of items on their resume if/when they get invited.

I have been pleasantly surprised at how honest some of the answers are from phone candidates that end up self-selecting themselves out of the rest of the interview process. That comes from both the culture/work environment answers as well as the "I can't think of any examples to support that line on my resume" answers.

Wendy Bontempo
Title: VP of Finance / Admin
Company: Coldwell Banker Mason Morse
(VP of Finance / Admin, Coldwell Banker Mason Morse) |

I would be very interested in what kind of questions you ask in your phone interviews as we are just starting the process of interviewing for a Assistant Controller position and I've never screened through phone interviews first.

Jaime Campbell
Title: Chief Financial Officer
Company: Tier One Services, LLC
(Chief Financial Officer, Tier One Services, LLC) |

We list pre-interview questions in our online application process, and they work wonderfully.

(1) We do the majority of our business virtually, and it involves a fair amount of written communication - both with us and with clients. It is easy to quickly gather a candidate's capability to clearly express himself or herself in spontaneous writing. We cannot work with people who constantly misspell words, have typos, use bad grammar, or use shorthand in professional setting.

(2) It is essential to our organizational culture to not only have mastery in accounting but in relating to people and in making a difference in their lives as opposed to those who simply follow directions. Our questions are designed to find people who are inspired and inspiring.

(3) Our work requires persistence, drive, and focus. Some candidates don't even finish answering the 7 questions. We don't want to invest our time in candidates who are just throwing their resume out there.

(4) The questions are not fact-based but come from the heart. The trend across companies is that when people are hired, it is often for knowledge and skills. And yet when they are fired or when they leave, it is because of attitudes and habits. So why aren't we interviewing more effectively for attitudes and habits? Our questions focus on attitudes BEFORE the executive team invests time in the candidates.

A number of candidates are ruled out with every step of the process, and those who receive a first interview are the cream of that particular crop. Then we continue to skim.

As a result, we efficiently find inspiring candidates with awesome resumes.

James Weber
Title: President
Company: New Century Dynamics Executive Search
LinkedIn Profile
(President, New Century Dynamics Executive Search) |

Regis, it is totally appropriate and even common-place to have applicants complete a diagnostic prior to consideration for an interview. Retailers are using those diagnostic tools as a part of their on-line recruiting to evaluate basic skills around communications arithmetic, and to get some sense as to the candidate's ethics and integrity.

For my Executive Search activities, I conduct a 15 minute screening interview to ensure that the candidate's background and career goals match the requirements of the position.

Randy Moore
Title: CFO
Company: SJB Bagel Makers
(CFO, SJB Bagel Makers) |

I totally understand testing for entry level positions. I have used them and am amazed, still, at what recent graduates do not know. I don't usually use a written test but will ask a newbie a few basic questions to probe how much they were paying attention in class.

The other side is, after over 25 years experience I refuse to take a test that basically consists of 1. What side of the ledger is the debit or 2. What is an expense. My response is usually along the lines of "you're kidding, right?"

Robert Ewalt
Title: Exam Development Manager
Company: Institute of Certified Management Accoun..
(Exam Development Manager, Institute of Certified Management Accountants) |

Are you talking about questions intended to select candidates to invite for interviews from a stack of resumes? Or questions candidates are supposed to answer when they do come in for the an interview? Both seem okay to me, even the questions with no acceptable answer. How about personality-type screening, such as Briggs-Meyers? I saw these were popular 30+ years ago, fell out of fashion, but I see some indication they are coming back.

Anonymous
(Controller) |
Carla Gordon
Title: Accountant
Company: Govt
(Accountant, Govt) |

I've never used pre-interview questions in 30 years of hiring nor have I had them asked of me during my career.
I have, however, given my own tests to candidates once they went through the interview. The reason for this is because the state govt. I worked for eliminated their civil service testing, and went to using resumes only. Anyone can claim anything on a resume. I've seen people who cannot write coherently or use a little logic to solve a math problem.
Somewhat off topic, but I need to say, lack of writing skills and continually misspelling common words is a problem even at the graduate school level. This is VERY frustrating. Folks, I learned the difference between "two", "too", and "to" and "it's" and its" in 2nd grade. What does this say about your learning curve if you can't get this right after 20, 30, 40 years??

Topic Expert
Christie Jahn
Title: CFO
Company: Prime Investments & Development
(CFO, Prime Investments & Development) |

I think it is okay in certain cases because it gives you a look at the candidates thought process. I agree with comments made such as: which side of the ledger does a debit go - is completely inappropriate. If you have to ask something like that then you have other issues, in my opinion.

We do personality profiling of all applicants. It is an awesome tool and gives you great insight into someone's personal makeup. We have on several occasions wavered on the results if we are desperate and it never works! Once you understand how it really works you can see someone lying quite easily. If you pass the assessment we do a phone interview. If you pass that you get a face to face.

I believe having a process for hiring is necessary so you don't waste time hiring the wrong people; it's far too expensive.

Dabney Wellford
Title: CFO
Company: Wellford Consulting
(CFO, Wellford Consulting) |

Speaking from the applicant perspective, I have seen the use of pre-interview questions to narrow the field. Frankly, they have helped me get further in the interview process, as I got an insight as to the type of individual that they were looking for. Unfortunately (that this even has to be a concern), in this day and age, they do successfully weed out those who do not know how to use the English language properly.

That being said, it is incumbent on the prospective employer to ask good questions that are meaningful and worth the prospect's time in answering them. Probably the worst questions that can be asked are regarding the use of accounting software, as most of them do the same thing in a different way. Any candidate who is worth his salt can adapt to any software out there.

Anonymous
(BSA) |

Some people are very good at taking tests. Some are not. Some people are very good at memorizing facts and answers but don't have much ingenuity. Other people are the opposite. Some people are very conversational. Some lean toward isolation. So, the answer to your questions is... It depends upon the position requirements. Personally, I view it from this perspective... I can teach a person functional type work. It's nearly impossible to teach someone how to work with other people, vis-a-vis, how to be a people person. A written test tells me little about the latter.

Anonymous
(CFO/Board Advisor) |

I am really on the fence with this. I have had written questions, requiring written responses, as well as personality, aptitude and other tests required for several CFO positions I have applied for, been made offers, that I have ultimately accepted. I come out on the side of the request to do so should come from a human, NOT an email.

Here is my stream of conscience regarding this:

First,how much of the resistance to providing written answers, is based upon ego or status, e.g. I have been the CFO of five companies over the last 25 years, why do I need to take a test. My work, reputation, and resume speak for themselves. Yet, if you put that aside, and take a look at this from a different perspective, you may come to the conclusion that testing is fine, and shouldn't be a big deal.

For instance, how do you feel about the pro football combine for evaluating college players prior to the draft? Isn't this a form of testing? Haven't these players already proven themselves during their college playing days?

How about years ago (now I'm dating myself) when Assistants were given typing tests? If testing is allowed for positions with less status and authority, then why not for positions with more status and authority?

Or, how about, the testing Firemen and Police Officers go through, both prior to, and after employment? What about airline pilots? Truck Drivers? How about doctors needing to take their Boards on a continuing basis?

If you are against this form of testing are you also against: Background checking? Drug Testing? Criminal records checking?

Having asked myself these questions, has led me to believe that the resistance to testing has more to do with status and ego (thus the righteous indignation) than perhaps seeing that it is a very reasonable, and perhaps smart, thing for a prospective employer to do.

On the other hand, Jim Craig, Goalie of the 1980 Olympic Ice Hockey Team, refused to take Coach Herb Brooks tests. If Coach Brooks had eliminate Craig because of this, there may have been a different ending in 1980, and the Gold Medal may have gone to the Russians as most thought.

So is it the issue of being asked to take a test that is the problem? Or, is it the threat of automatic elimination from consideration, if you refuse to take the test that is the issue?

Lastly, and my personal pet peeve concerning testing, is receiving the no humans involved, no prior personal or telephone contact, generic email providing a link to some testing site, e.g. www.ondemandassessment.com. These I find only slightly less offensive, than the black hole of non-reply from HR Recruiters and Executive Search Professionals. Sure they are busy. But if they have requested you to take a test, and spend your time and effort, there should be a response back, and frankly some direct feedback from them. It is a reasonable expectation, that they should have the courtesy to say, telephonically or via email, that you are no longer being considered, and why. The idea that they are too busy to do this is boloney. For the touchy-feely HR folks to do this, allow this by their recruitment firms, just shows how truly hypocritical and out of touch most of these folks are.

My two cents.

Topic Expert
Wayne Spivak
Title: President & CFO
Company: SBAConsulting.com
LinkedIn Profile
(President & CFO, SBAConsulting.com) |

I think we've blended two different types of "requirements" being used by employers and are applying them to two (or more) different levels of employees.

Tests can be as benign as "answer these questions" as in essay or "answer these questions" as in short answer/multiple guess.

Tests can be what is 1 + 1 (which is a dangerous question to ask of accountants).

The latter issue is who should take these Tests (and which type, if any). Should lower level employees take a test that shows an understanding of the job requirements? My opinion is maybe, as long as the test is fair, short and to the point.

Should senior level employees take these tests - absolutely not. They are degrading, obtuse and like every other test, prove you can take tests well, but not think out of the box.

A friend sent me this "test" for a VP of Finance job. The HR person stated they whittled 200 resumes to 20, and this "test" would whittle down to 10. When I read that, I said "they couldn't whittle down based on resumes/LinkedIn/cover letters down to 10?".

Here are the questions:

1. How have you changed the field of play as it relates to the field of finance and accounting – at your current organization or in the industry as a whole? Changing the field of play in this sense means transform, change the rules of the game, buck what conventional wisdom says about finance and accounting, and implement revolutionary ideas.

2. Describe a time when you were required to make a complex, high risk decision with only half the amount of information necessary. Tell us more about the situation, how you made your decision, and what was the outcome?

To question number one I immediately read into the question that you want to know whether the candidate will cook the books or how large is their gray area. I mean, if you read the questions on Proformative, a large percentage talk about GAAP, FASB's, ASC's , etc.

Question two asks "how well can you either fabricate, guess or write fiction".

What do you think?

Ken Stumder
Title: Finance Director / Controller
Company: Ken Stumder, CPA
(Finance Director / Controller, Ken Stumder, CPA) |

Wayne, interesting questions.

I took number one to mean "In what way have you gone outside of the standard finance and accounting box to realize organizational change?" (presumably for the better though the flip side is what you alluded to).

# 2 inclined to agree with you. If someone is able to say they made a decision that had that much on the line and did so comfortably with half the needed information, I'd imagine that is a red flag to an employer.

A lot of deliberate, well-researched decisions turned out to be either beneficial to an org or not, but they are generally based on the best available information at the time. It may have felt like 80% of the needed information was available but in business, as is the case in science, new information turns up all the time and people have to learn how to interpret it.

I suppose I'd answer in that fashion. Honestly, I've not yet had to tackle anything that "earth shattering" in my career to date. I guess I'd be weeded out for a VP Finance role at your friend's organization.

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