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Thread: Hiring a new employee

  1. #1
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Hiring a new employee

    I am in the process of hiring a new administrative assistant. Because the market is a bit soft, and the pay is pretty good for the area, I have over forty applicants. I have decided to screen them based on four principle criteria, and while none stand out, there are a hadful that rank above the rest.

    When I invite them to interview, I would like them to take a brief test to help evaluate their skills. I want to evaluate:

    - Writing Abilities: The employee will write minutes, reports and general business correspondence. If very good, I will also have the person doing some PR, like press releases, web copy, etc.

    - Microsoft Word: At a minimum, I need somebody who can do more than just type in Microsoft Word. Page layout, importing graphics, setting up tables, etc. is fundemental to the job.

    - Microsoft Excel: When it comes to Excel, I have set up a loan tracking workbook with amortization schedules, payment logs, monthly and annual reports, etc., with complex formulas and multiple links between pages. I need somebody who can at least follow along and understand the relationships between pages and cells.

    - Accounting: The person needs to have a basic understanding of accounting in order to process loans, maintain our books, pay bills, etc.

    So here is my question of the Throbbing Brain. Does anybody have ideas of questions I can ask, or testing techniques, that would help me to assess these skills? Are there similar tests administered by your employer?
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  2. #2
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Have you considered asking for a portfolio of samples of their work on such programs?

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Planderella's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Michele Zone
    Have you considered asking for a portfolio of samples of their work on such programs?
    I was thinking along the same lines - asking for writing samples, etc.
    "A witty woman is a treasure, a witty beauty is a power!"

  4. #4
    I would give them a short Plan Commission/Board item on tape and have them transcribe the minutes as a test.

    Maybe set up a small Excel test, give them a list of figures and a list of the output you seek and see if they can do it. You can then check to see if they used formulas to figure out the problem or if they used a calculator and just filled in cells with the numbers. Don't laugh...a guy in grad school did an enture spreadsheet on his calculator and just entered the numbers in the cells. He had no idea how formulas or anything else worked. Needless to say I was very surprised when I entered new numbers in the spreadsheet and the others didn't chage with it.

    I would do somthing similar with word. Give the applicant a directory with text files, photos, and charts and see if they can make up a simple newsletter or report.

    I think that these tests are essential because there are many people who claim to be proficient in Word, Excel, and Power Point but really can't do much beyond simple text or data entry.
    "I'm a white male, age 18 to 49. Everyone listens to me, no matter how dumb my suggestions are."

    - Homer Simpson

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    I've found the best admins come through temp-to-hire agencies, where the screening is (mostly) already done, and you have no issues with entrenching a bad employee in a union job. Any chance of that happening?

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Michele Zone
    Have you considered asking for a portfolio of samples of their work on such programs?
    The problem I have seen with portfolios is that they have had an opportunity to get help with the project. It has been reviewed by others who have edited the work, helped with the writing, or given them direction on how to set it up. By testing in house, I will see exactly what they are capable of doing.

    Chet - No, we have to follow standard hiring procedures to advertise the position, etc.
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  7. #7
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    Test for needed skills, interview for fit within the organization. Good luck with the writing, becasue I have found no one in years who can create a paragraph.

    (edit)...or spell
    Last edited by mike gurnee; 06 May 2004 at 2:30 PM.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal
    The problem I have seen with portfolios is that they have had an opportunity to get help with the project. It has been reviewed by others who have edited the work, helped with the writing, or given them direction on how to set it up. By testing in house, I will see exactly what they are capable of doing.
    Oh, gee, sorry. I am a Dork who would submit stuff I really did. Clearly, I am too short of sleep. I actually know the rest of the world isn't quite so honest. But I sometimes forget.

    Of course, when I have something really tough to do, I do get editing help. I wouldn't consider putting together a portfolio of representative samples a Tough Job. I consider a tough job to be one where I need to make an obnoxious point delicately enough to still have some hope of people continuing to listen because what I have to say is important.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Masswich's avatar
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    Sense

    The few times I have hired someone I have gone largely on an intangible sense that the person is excited about the job and smart enough to learn what he/she doesn't know. I have also screen people for their overall political sensibilities so they don't do something stupid that hurts the effectiveness of the office. I don't recommend "tests" since I think you may end up with someone who is basically competent but isn't very imaginative.

    So far I have been lucky that the people I have hired have been good. Knock on wood.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    I have put together a set of three questions that I think will do a good job of assessing their skills. To get a writing sample, I am having them give me a couple paragraphs on why they are interested in the position and what they have to offer. Since they will test first, then interview, this should also help them to collect their thoughts.

    Next, I am asking them to calculate annual unemployment rates for ten years, graph this, then import the graph, a photo, and a text file into Word, and arrange it for presentation. This tests math skills, computer skills, and design skills.

    Lastly, I am giving them a sample loan amortization and payment register along with information about a recent payment. They are to enter the payment information (obvious location and the sheet is protected so that it can't be entered anywhere else) and determine whether the loan is current.

    These cover the three areas I am most concerned about in hiring: knowledge (education and experience), computer skills, and accounting/math skills. A couple of you have brought up another idea for me to explore, though, and that is corporate culture. We are isolated. My office is in a separate building from the rest of the city, shared by three other offices that are all staffed part-time. I am frequently out at meetings or traveling. The person I hire needs to be very able to work independently in an office in which they will often be the only person there. I wonder if there are ways to assess this beyond intuition?
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  11. #11
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Masswich
    The few times I have hired someone I have gone largely on an intangible sense that the person is excited about the job and smart enough to learn what he/she doesn't know. I have also screen people for their overall political sensibilities so they don't do something stupid that hurts the effectiveness of the office. I don't recommend "tests" since I think you may end up with someone who is basically competent but isn't very imaginative.

    So far I have been lucky that the people I have hired have been good. Knock on wood.
    Gee, I could have used an interview with someone like you. I have so much trouble fitting into the "mold" of a traditional job application, etc. If I can't submit a resume and cover letter or similar equivalent level of expressiveness isn't available on the form they want filled out, no one will even interview me. If I can have a little leeway for expressing myself, I seem to get an interview about half the time.

    Creative people tend to come from oddball lifestyles and take a little more personal judgment to assess. You know: like the scene from "Legally Blonde" where she is burbling on about how "He's GAY!" and her proof is turning to the ex-boyfriend and asking "what kind of shoes do I have on?" and he says "Black???" And she happily goes "SEE -- He's GAY!". lol. When I was younger, that was "me". These days, I do a better job of spelling out the connection to folks but I still need the leeway to explain myself or folks look at me like a 3-headed, green-skinned martian.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal
    The person I hire needs to be very able to work independently in an office in which they will often be the only person there. I wonder if there are ways to assess this beyond intuition?
    Great question and I am wondering if I can answer it. Some stuff you have to be self-directed to accomplish:

    Have they taken any online classes? Folks who need a lot of hand-holding often do not complete them. This is less of a problem these days, but when online classes began, professors had terrible issues with high percentages of the students not completing class and saying "But no one ever TOLD me...." A lot of college students are used to being led around by the nose and online classes require you to set your own schedule. Deadlines are given, but it is very much self-directed. They work well for me because I have no problem with that but physically getting to campus is an issue. They don't work well for folks who can't work independently. Completion of an online class also requires solid reading and writing skills, as a general rule, and computer skills.

    What kind of extracurricular activities have they been involved in? Folks who watch TV as their main hobby are probably not going to be reliable for the kind of position you are trying to fulfill. Folks who work for political campaign, volunteer for the audubon society, donate their time and expertise to the local homeless shelter ( ) and so on are much more likely to be able to pick up the ball and carry it.

    Do they have a personal website or other similar accomplishment that rests entirely on their own personal initiative?

    HTH.

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