Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Interviews and Tests

I applied for yet another job at the beginning of this week, and this time, actually got a callback.

It was only a half victory though. I didn’t actually get the job I applied for, but the posting for it came through an agency, and that agency contacted me to say that while I didn’t get that particular job, with my resume, they’d be happy to register me and help me find a job.

At the very least, it was a step in the right direction.

You see, I think my biggest problem with finding work comes from the fact I’m an immigrant. I don’t mean that people see I’m not American and refuse to hire me, but it causes me problems.

All of my references are in England. When an employer is looking at a stack of resumes, they can either go through the hassle of making an international phonecall, or they can call the references of the guy whose resume is next to mine. Basically, I’m not worth the trouble unless I have a specific qualification none of the other candidates have.

Then we come to the actual qualifications. I can tell you that I have 13 GCSE’s, 3 A-Levels and a Bachelors Degree. Apart from the degree, do any Americans out there know what the other two mean?

I try to explain what they are on my resume, but again it’s a choice of either work out what my qualifications are, or go with the guy with the degree and high school diploma.

Luckily, I explained all of this to the woman who interviewed me at the agency today, and she sat there with me and made a ‘best guess’ at what American equivalent of all my qualifications are. As it turns out, she thinks I’m sitting on a Bachelor’s and three Associate’s Degrees…who knew I was so intelligent?

The one thing I didn’t like about the interview were the competency tests.

I’d told her I know most Office Applications, so as part of the interview, they sit you in front of a computer and you go through a test program.

I absolutely kicked ass and Microsoft Word, and did fairly well at Excell (Which was good, because I told her I knew the basics, that I could use it, but wasn’t up on the advanced features).

The problem, however, is with the tests themselves.

You see, you don’t use the actual program you’re being tested on, you’re using purpose-made testing software that looks like the program you’re using. It’ll say things like “Set a tab stop at two inches”, which you then have to do to get the question right. If you get it wrong twice, it’s on to the next question.

The problem is that the program accepts only one way to do things. It asked me to print a document, and I used the keyboard shortcut, and it told me that was wrong…despite the fact that pressing Ctrl-P does exactly the same thing as File>Print. This was even worse with excel. It told me to write out the formula to add all the numbers in a column…and the way I do that on my own computer is highlight the column, put everything that comes up in the formula window in parenthesis, and then type “SUM” in front of it.

It does exactly what the question asks me to do, is quicker than typing the whole formula by hand…but because I tried to do it that way, it marked it as wrong.

The other thing is that some of the questions are downright pointless. One of my favorites was “Go to page 8 of this document, do not use the scroll bar or page down key”. The answer is easy enough (Edit>Goto), but in the real world you can get to the page quicker by just holding down the Page down key or using the scroll bar.

My last major gripe was that if you sit me in front of an unfamiliar program and ask me to do something, if you give me a few minutes and let me play with it, I’ll be able to work it out. While I scored as an ‘intermediate’ user on excel, if I’d had an actual working copy of excel, and 15 minutes, I could have got everything right.

Well, anyway…I scored highly on the tests that mattered, so hopefully I’ll hear from them soon.

Keep your fingers crossed for me, k?


OzzyC said...

The thing that kills me (as a computer geek) is that most users never use the help section. Heck, I can't count the number of times that a user has asked me a question that I couldn't immediately answer, but while they were on the phone, I'd open help and spew out the answer.

Invariably, they say "Man, how do you know all of that stuff?" It's not a question of always knowing the answer, it's a matter of understanding how to quickly find the solution.

MC Etcher said...

Good Luck!

I've taken those Word and Excel tests, and I agree they are WAY too limited. There are usually 3 different ways to do anything, and the program only accepts one.

Bad programming!

The Girl said...

As an American in the UK, I can tell you that GCSE = American high school diploma. A levels = Associates degree. Bachelors degree = well, a bachelors degree.

I would get letters of recommendation from people you worked with. They can snail mail them to you so you have the original with signature.

Email reference checking is acceptable as well if people don't want to make that call.

I always hated those test. I have my associates in word processing and flunked their test.


Paulius said...

Ozzy : That was the other thing that annoyed me. The help menu was grayed out.

Basically, they wanna know if an employer says to me "Give a a 1.5 point border across only to top of these cells", if I'll be able to do it.

If I can open up the help wizard and get instructions right there, isn't that a yes?

They should test what I can do with the actual program, not a mock up of the 2002 version like I had.

Etcher : Again, time and money. Rather than pay someone to test you, they buy a software suite from some company. It isn't very good, but they can just leave you at a computer and look at the printout of your results later.

The Girl : Thanks, that's actually some really good advice