The Test
After earning a degree in Electrical Engineering, I began interviewing for jobs. In my second, I had an unexpected request. They wanted me to complete an engineering test. I thought school was over?
The test was a mix of electrical theories, work knowledge, and intelligence tests. Unfortunately, I was unprepared, and I did poorly. However, with some experience (from the first test) and preparation, I did much better on the next test.
I have taken multiple tests over the years, ranging from being straightforward to convoluted to completely inappropriate. Often, I saw questions that only people who had worked at the company for years could answer. On three occasions, I took a handwritten that was difficult to read. And the endless open-ended questions. Meaning there were no correct solutions or an infinite number of correct solutions. “What is the best car? Justify your answer.” Umm, what does that have to do with engineering?
Companies use such tests to answer four questions. The first part tests a person’s general knowledge, and the second is to see what a person does under pressure. The third identifies creativity, and the fourth determines how well a candidate would fit the company.
In my early career, I saw the immense value of engineering tests. They made it easy for an interviewer to weed out poor candidates. I once interviewed for a job where they used a multiple-choice test at the beginning, and if the candidate did not pass, the interview was over. What a time saver! Side note. I walked out of that interview because I saw the workers struggling with awful development tools. Side-Side note. That company went out of business.
In my later career, I began to loathe these tests. I felt the companies that used them were lazy, their format was absurd, and their usefulness was dubious. Fortunately, most companies no longer bother with testing and instead rely on a seasoned interviewer’s intuition. It is a bad sign when they bring out the test. Talented candidates also judge the quality of the test, which reflects on the company.
On three occasions, the interviewer wanted to discuss the test with me. “You did not answer question two.” “Yeah, I forgot that basic fact. Sorry. You understand that engineers loaded the internet and textbooks with information so people could look up information all day long. Also, smart engineers always look up critical information.” Such comebacks anger and stun interviewers.
Companies are all the same no matter what the field. So, what kind of test would writers get in an interview? Translation: What test would annoy the heck out of a talented writer?
Let’s start off with an SAT kind of test. This includes spelling, grammar, writing technique, and comprehension. How about a multiple-choice format.
One of our staff loses their temper and shouts at you in front of others, how would you____with this?
A) take
B) react
C) handle
D) deal
How about a comprehension test where the candidate reads a paragraph and answers questions? Let’s make the candidate write a short essay about their career and why they would be a good fit. How about a short story with dialog? Of course, they would provide no topic.
And how would the candidate write their short story? On a notepad without the aid of a computer with spell checking. No pressure.
My response to such a test would be: “You know, all word processors now have spelling and grammar checkers. Plus, writers and scholars loaded the internet and textbooks with information.” Hmm, precisely the same reaction as I had to an engineering test.
How often do such writing tests occur? I suspect such tests would be standard for interviewing newspaper or magazine writers. And I am sure those candidates would argue, “You should evaluate my prior work and not put me on the spot with a silly test.”
However, engineers (and I suspect writers) face an additional challenge. Companies forbid employees from disclosing their intellectual property because they sign Non-Disclosure Agreements. As a result, we cannot bring drawings, documents, or products to an interview.
In the past, employees had it easy because companies could not check to see what employees brought to an interview. Now with the internet, companies can learn that employees have violated Non-Disclosure Agreements. Plus, hiring companies are aware of Non-Disclosure Agreements, and it would be a red flag if a potential employee freely broke such an agreement. I suspect writers find this development even more challenging than an engineer.
Fortunately, my blogs do not contain Non-Disclosure Agreements or tests. Wow, a test would annoy my four blog readers. Now, please sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement about the contents of this blog.

You’re the best -Bill
February 01, 2023
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