When it comes to preemployment tests, companies are not necessarily just handing candidates a pen and a pencil or having them answer multiple-choice questions via a computer or phone anymore. A small but growing number of assessments have gone virtual. The assessments, which often conducted via the computer or the web, simulate a job’s functions. You can liken them to video games but within a work setting. Toyota, Starbucks, the paint maker Sherwin Williams, and numerous financial firms such as SunTrust Bank, KeyBank, and National City Bank have successfully used virtual job simulations to assess applicants.

At Toyota, applicants participating in simulations read dials and gauges, spot safety problems, and use their ability to solve problems as well as their general ability to learn as assessed. The candidates can see and hear about the job they’re applying for from current Toyota employees. National City Bank has used virtual assessments to test call-center candidates and branch manager candidates. Call center candidates are given customer-service problems to solve, and branch manager candidates go through a simulation that assesses their ability to foster relationships with clients and make personnel decisions.

The virtual assessments tools, which are produced by companies such as Shaker Group Consulting, Profiles International, and others do not come cheap. But although they can cost tens of thousands of dollars, larger companies that can afford them are saying they are worth it. The benefits? Better qualified candidates, faster recruiting, and lower turnover among employees hired. KeyBank says that by using virtual testing tools, it realized savings of more than $1.75 million per year due to lower turnover. Toyota began using computer-based assessments in the early 2000s, which have been so successful the company has since rolled them out to its other plants around the world.

Candidates also seem to like the assessments because they provide a more realistic job preview and make them feel like they are being chosen for jobs on more than just their personalities or how they performed during an interview. “It was a very insightful experience that made you think about what exactly you like and dislike in the workplace and if you really enjoy helping customers and have patience to do so,” says one candidate tested for a customer service job. It is not just Gen X or Y candidates who have played a lot of video games who like them either. “We haven’t seen any adverse impact,” says Ken Troyan, SunTrust Bank’s chief staffing officer. “There’s some mythology—if you will—about older people not being computer-savvy, and that’s just not so.” One study found that the simulations also tend to result in less of a gap between minority and white candidates than when paper-and-pencil tests are used.

HR experts warn that companies need to be sure they are not simply buying glitzy simulations that do not translate well to the jobs for which they are hiring. Also, the screening tools could potentially eliminate candidates who have trouble with simulations or computers but might make good employees. You should still use the U.S. Department of Labor’s “whole person approach” to hiring, says one HR professional. The “whole person approach” factors in the results of a variety of accepted tests along with prior actual performance and interview results to get the most complete picture of an employee or candidate.

1. What do you think are the prime advantages and disadvantages of “virtual tryouts”?

2. Do you think there would be any EEO concerns regarding this system?

3. Do you think virtual job tryouts might be better suited for some jobs than others? If so, which ones?

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