Job applicant testing

Developing an aptitude test for potential hires. March 28, 2001

I would like to have an aptitude test for job applicants. Any suggestions?

Forum Responses
This is a dream I suspect many of us have had. Unlike some dreams, though, this is a logical one: come up with a test that will assure basic ability before those first payroll dollars are expended.

I think the key thing to remember is that, while you can test for basic aptitude, you can't test for attitude.

Generally, everybody comes into an interview with what seems like a great attitude. Once hired, many maintain that attitude, but some don't, and I think a clear correlation can be drawn between employees' attitudes and their performance.

All of that being the case, I still think it is possible to test for aptitude. What I don't think is possible (or at least realistic) is to completely avoid at least some training of a new hire. At a minimum, they need to learn your equipment, systems and processes, even if they have basic mechanical/craft/construction aptitude.

I think any test, therefore, should remain basic: reading a tape measure or rule (you'll be surprised how many candidates this may eliminate); requiring people to have their own hand tools (yes, this is a test, a measure of one's commitment to the trade); maybe even some basic assembly of machined parts. But beyond that, you risk insurance exposures which could be devastating should something go wrong, so I would advocate against tests on running machine tools, although asking someone to set up a machine (with power at the plug or main switch off) for a particular operation might be useful.

The unfortunate fact is that hiring is essentially a crapshoot. But the good news is that basic testing can tilt the odds in your favor, and if you follow up with clear job descriptions, daily and weekly goals, and (yes) training when necessary, you might spare yourself some bad hires.

Anthony Noel, forum technical advisor

It's those experienced positions that are hardest to fill. Talking to an applicant in detail about the projects they've been involved with can give you insight. We have a 30 day trial period. This timeframe usually gives an indication of what the person can or cannot do. I call references to get an idea of the person's abilities. Don't call Friday afternoons or first thing Monday mornings and expect to get thorough answers.

I developed a test for carpenters and cabinetmakers. The test had drawings with a cut away, showing all materials and a box giving names to all the items. Match the name to the item. Next the same was done for the shop. Several cabinets, frames, styles, cuts, joints, etc.--illustrated--name each. Then there was a written test, measurements, scales, math, etc. This cut to the chase quick!

Once hired, he/she would be made aware (in writing) that his/her position was a trial period of 30 days. A review and determination was then made.

Best thing I did was to give a simple math test stressing fractions. Watch their attitude towards the test and it will eliminate 90% of your problem hires.

We give them a sheet with fraction conversions, some simple math, a couple of shop questions, etc. and some measurements, including one that is in 32nds, to mark on a piece of wood that we provide. I give them a tape measure that is all but useless, along with a very dull pencil. The test is to see not only if they can accurately mark out the given measurements, but whether they ask for a better tape and a sharp pencil. No one so far has done either, with the exception of one guy that we hired that pulled out his pocketknife and sharpened the pencil.

Most important to me is someone with problem solving skills. I'm tempted to give someone a 1/2" ogee bit and see if they can do a 1/2" round over with it. I figure if they come back and say it can't be done vs. trying it, ruining stock and then realizing it can't be done, I may have a winner.

I'm also going to make a competency board that charts the various equipment and the regular tasks we do on each machine. Then I will check a machine off every time the employee masters one. I will give them a raise or bonus as they work their way through the equipment. I figure it will foster some competitiveness between the employees as well as help me keep track of those that are performing up to par.