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How Job Hunters Can Ace Employers' Tests

Here are four things you may be asked and how to answer effectively

By Susan Ricker | AOL Jobs | August 18, 2014

(The article appeared previously on AOLJobs.com.) 

Have you ever looked at a job posting and thought, “Yeah, sure, I could do that” or applied to a position you'd like but didn't necessarily have the skills for? This is one of the biggest reasons employers have a series of tests to weed out applicants who may not be ready for a role's challenges.

Ira S. Wolfe, president of Success Performance Solutions and author of Perfect Labor Storm 2.0 says employers need to test how applicants will apply their skills and whether they can repeat their successes.

“While the interview and references are still important tools, work samples and pre-employment testing are playing a bigger role to assess future performance and potential to adapt and grow,” he notes.

(MORE: How to Decode Job Descriptions)
 
Here are four things employers look for when testing the skills of applicants and how you can prepare to ace their tests:
 
1. Following instructions and demonstrating creativity Ashley Schwartau, director of multimedia production at The Security Awareness Company, was responsible for hiring a new production assistant earlier this year. In order to find the best match for their team, she first assessed candidates through emails.
 
“When we posted our ad, there were five requirements for them to send us when they replied,” Schwartau says. “Anyone who didn't follow the directions we didn't even look at, since that's a pretty basic skill. But then since a couple of our requirements were on the more 'informal' or 'fun' side, we looked at how much thought and creativity the applicants put into their responses. Some of them were so creative, we put those in the 'maybe' stack.”
 
2. Proving experience through examples Schwartau's team expected candidates to display creativity through their own ideas and work, not necessarily what was assigned to them. “It's important to look for other pieces, like personal projects, or stuff they've done on their own just to learn something. Many of the applicants didn't have those things, and when we spoke to them on the phone or in person, it became clear that they lacked a certain creative spark," says Schwarau. "They weren't going to go out and learn how to do stuff without being told or asked. So they wouldn't be good for our team.”

(MORE: 10 Skills to Thrive in Today's Job Market)
 
3. Explaining the process and meeting demands of the job Having an end product that employers like may not be enough to get the job if you can't also work within their workflow demands. Demonstrating passion for your work and being able to complete it within the role's demands is essential.

Schwartau says: “We saw this beautiful series of posters one applicant had done as his semester-long project and they were great. Lots of detail and his own illustrations included. Very modern, fresh look. But then we thought about it — it took him four months to do something that we would need to turn around in a couple weeks. After speaking with him further, it became clear that deadlines and a quick turnaround were going to end up stressing him out and he might be overwhelmed by the pace of our chaos. His skills weren't up to the challenge.”

(MORE: How to Discover Your Career Passion)
 
4. Showing problem-solving skills and knowing resources A favorite adage in work and life is “If you can't explain it, you don't really understand it.” While you may have work experience and an interest in a role, if you can't explain the processes to complete it or offer insight to particular projects, you're not bringing much to the position.
 
Schwartau elaborates, saying, “When a project comes across my desk, I immediately start thinking of all the ways we could handle it from a broad branding approach, down to the 'which buttons will I click in InDesign to accomplish the effect I want?' approach. So we posed a few hypotheticals to the candidates and asked them to describe the process they would take to handle the approach."
 
It may be a lengthy process to secure a role, but demonstrating your skills and abilities and meeting the challenges of an employer is an exceptional way to ensure that both the employer and employee understand the expectations of the position.

Susan Ricker is a writer and blogger for CareerBuilder.com. She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.