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What is a Job Simulation?
November 20, 2014 7:00:00 PM EST   By Shoa Appelman
Secretary-job-simulation-test

What is a Job Simulation?

Job simulations are employment tests that ask candidates to perform tasks that they would perform on the job.

Applicants complete tasks that are similar to tasks they would complete when actually working in the position on a day to day basis. For example, for a secretary position, a job simulation might involve typing a passage and completing forms accurately. For a waitress position, a simulation may involve taking a fake customer’s order correctly, or processing a check. Job simulations can also evaluate interpersonal skills, such as resolving an agitated customer’s complaint.

By using job simulations, employers can evaluate whether a job candidate can do the job, rather than guess based on interview answers and personality questionnaires.

As noted on the SIOP website:

What better way to assess an applicant’s job potential than to actually have them complete a portion of the work they will be doing?

Job simulations can be completed in-person, with a trained evaluator, or online, via an online pre-employment test. They can be used to evaluate an applicant’s skills. For example, in the case of an essay test, a simulation can evaluate a candidate’s ability to articulate ideas in writing and mastery of grammar. Or the tests can be used to evaluate a candidate’s knowledge. For example, asking a candidate to fix a broken valve allows the candidate to demonstrate they understand the mechanics of a valve and the tools required to fix it. (Pardon my lack of the correct terminology for the mechanic example. I would clearly not score well in such a simulation.)

The tests are engaging, and often provide a refreshing change of pace over the text-based assessments that do not demonstrate a connection to the job role.

There are many advantages to job simulations, including:

  • Higher predictive validity: If a candidate scores well on a job simulation, they are more likely to perform the job well.
  • Better applicant insight into the job role: Job applicants are exposed to the tasks they will perform and can determine whether they would enjoy the work.
  • Fairness: Because simulations are job-related, job applicants can immediately understand the relationship of the test to the job and perceive the evaluation process as more fair than other employment tests.

There are also disadvantages to job simulations, including:

  • Costs: An in-person job simulation requires raters, a space to conduct the simulation and a scheduling program to give everyone time to complete the simulations.
  • Time: Job simulations can be time-consuming to develop and administer. Custom online job simulations can take a year to develop, because the process involves software developers, media specialists, testers, and psychologists to create a good product.

These disadvantages have outweighed the benefits in the past. As Neil A. G. McPhie, Chairman U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board wrote in 2009,

Job simulation assessments can be a critical measure in ensuring that agencies are selecting the best candidates. Simulations can do a better job of predicting which applicants will perform well on the job than many other commonly used assessments, and they can provide a greater degree of fairness in the process. However, their potentially high development cost is a key drawback.

Today, with the improvement in online test development technology and abundance in off-the-shelf tests available, job simulations are affordable and accessible to small, medium and large businesses.

Companies that offer job simulations include:

Why do job simulations work?

Job interviews are the most popular pre-employment assessment approach available, and they make sense. If you are going to hire someone who you will see for many hours a week, you should try to understand their past accomplishments and establish whether or not you can get along with the person.

However, interviews range from unstructured to structured, and results vary depending on who is conducting the interview. Ultimately, as hard as we might try, we are all affected by biases. For example, if I learn a job applicant likes my favorite television show, Modern Family, I will cast the candidate in a more favorable light than one who suggests the show is over-rated and undeserving of its multiple Emmy awards. I will say, “How dare you! Phil Dunphy is a national treasure. Good day.”

Is this fair? Probably not. Is this illegal? Absolutely, that’s why I use job simulation tests. The job-specific tests are safer than leaving me to my own devices.

Simulation tests present tasks that an applicant would have to complete in a real job. For example, in-basket exercises require a person to respond to emails and messages and voicemails. In addition to actually responding to each request, the test taker must appropriately prioritize the requests and respond correctly. This gives the hiring manager a chance to evaluate whether the candidate can do the work, and do the work correctly, and it gives the applicant some insight into the work they might be doing on the job.

Simulations, especially web-based simulations, ensure that every applicant is going through the same evaluation process. Applicants all see the same test. They also ensure that every applicant is being evaluated, or scored, in the same way. The scoring engines are not biased by personal preferences.

Simulations also help decrease turnover. Sometimes candidates apply for a job, only to get the position and realize it was not what they expected. Simulations help avoid those. Candidates who realize the job is not for them will self-select out of the process, ensuring that a candidate better suited for the role gets and stays in the job position.

In addition to measuring knowledge of a job position and ability to complete the tasks, simulations can also measure interpersonal skills through role-plays. So, rather than someone tell you they are good at listening to a customer’s needs and resolving issues, the person can demonstrate this ability through a branching role-play exercise.

Examples of Job Simulations

I’ve mentioned a couple examples of job simulations above, but here are some job-specific simulation examples that a test-taker might see in an HR Avatar assessment.

Note: These are just a small subset of the simulation tasks measured in each test. For more detail, click on the test links below.

Secretary Test

  • Review Expense Report Guidelines.
  • Identify problem areas in expense reports.
  • Schedule an offsite meeting.
  • Perform cost analysis for travel authorization.

Customer Service Representative Test (Non-retail sales)

  • Verify customer Information.
  • Calculate a customer’s usage requirements.
  • Determine a customer’s eligibility for a discount.
  • Interpret a series of customer complaint emails.
  • Accurately notify customers of a product or service change.
Sales Representative Test
  • Correctly calculate an invoice, factoring company promotion into the final sale price.
  • Schedule multiple customer meetings.
  • Communicate product information to customer.
  • Evaluate customer needs for a proposal.
Retail Sales Test
  • Demonstrate an understanding of different product lines.
  • Calculate a total purchase price, including maintenance, for a product over two years.
  • Help customers make a purchase decision based on their needs.
  • Confirm product availability.

Interested in more simulation exercises? Check out our test library of over 200 tests. Search for the test name in the upper right hand corner and review the task list on the right. Or, register for a Free trial and take a test for yourself!

Job simulation tasks HR avatar employment test

Shoa Appelman

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