How to Test Basic Computer Skills in a Job Interview
By Nicole Vulcan
Computers are a necessary part of doing business. Some of the most basic functions include making employee schedules, ringing up sales, tracking orders and calculating profits and loss. If you're on the hunt for a new employee, they should ideally have some basic computer skills such as word processing, using the Internet and email, and possibly using an instant messaging or spreadsheet program. While you could purchase a program that tests computer skills, you can also get a good idea of your candidate's level of skill with some basic testing at the job interview.
Take stock of the skills your future employee will need to have to do the job. If you have a job description for the position, look it over to determine which programs your employee will be using on a regular basis, or talk to people currently in the same position to get a feel for their daily tasks. Make a list of the computer programs that the employee will use on a regular basis and the skills that the candidate will need to display to land the job. The basic skills could vary greatly from business to business, but could including typing, Internet searches, creating invoices or receipts, or creating spreadsheets.
Make copies of documents your business has created in the past, which can serve as templates for the test. Sample documents could include a spreadsheet with sales figures, a business letter you emailed to a client or an invoice. Open the document in the program in which it was created and select "File" and "Save As" to save the document as a new file, which you can have the candidate manipulate. Repeat the action to create a second copy of the document. Make a series of changes to one of the document copies, such as manipulating cells of a spreadsheet, creating formulas, editing typos or changing fonts. As you make the changes, make a note of each change so you can ask the candidate to make the same changes based on your verbal instructions. Leave the other copy of the document alone; that way you'll have a master "edited" version of the document and the "unedited" version for the candidate to manipulate.
Develop some type of rating system to grade candidates on their computer skills. If you have only one candidate, it may be a simple "pass" or "fail," or you may count the number of errors in the edits they make and compare that error count across the pool of candidates.
Have the documents open and ready when your candidate comes for the interview, so you don't waste time turning on your computer, waiting for it to boot and waiting for documents to load. If you plan to time your candidate to test her typing speed, have a watch with a second hand ready in the interview area.
Sit the candidate in front of the computer where you'll administer the test, and provide her with instructions about what type of skills you're going to ask her to demonstrate.
Read your list of changes, asking the candidate to make the changes to the document. You can choose to give the candidate a time limit for each change, if you so desire. Use your watch to monitor the time. On your list of changes, make a note when the candidate doesn't perform the task in the set amount of time.
Print the document the candidate created so you can compare it to the master document that you created before the interview.
Move on to testing any other Internet or communication based skills that you'll need the candidate to know. This could include asking the candidate to send you a polished business email within a set amount of time, researching a given topic within a certain amount of time, or setting up an account and engaging in an instant messaging conversation with you.
- When you schedule the interview, inform the candidate that you'll be testing her on certain computer skills. Some people don't function well when you surprise them with tests they didn't know about, and may feel too pressured to perform in a way they would in a normal situation.
Nicole Vulcan has been a journalist since 1997, covering parenting and fitness for The Oregonian, careers for CareerAddict, and travel, gardening and fitness for Black Hills Woman and other publications. Vulcan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and journalism from the University of Minnesota. She's also a lifelong athlete and is pursuing certification as a personal trainer.