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Mobile Testing: Are some pre-employment testing providers acting like Ostriches?
July 31, 2014 8:00:00 PM EDT   By Mike Russiello
Ostrich with head in sand.

By almost all accounts, most pre-employment online testing today is performed via traditional desktop and laptop computers. Our own study of device usage for testing indicates that mobile devices are used less than 5 percent of the time.

Consequently, you probably don't see the major pre-employment testing companies rushing to make their tests mobile-friendly.

However, the changing demographics of Internet access cannot be ignored. Consider this chart, published by Morgan Stanley back in 2010, that shows that by 2014 most web browsing will be conducted by mobile devices:


In January of 2014, the Pew Research Internet Project, a wide referenced source of Internet usage statistics published these facts:

  • Mobile devices accounted for 55% of Internet usage in the United States.
  • 90% of American adults have a cell phone
  • 58% of American adults have a smartphone
  • 32% of American adults own an e-reader
  • 42% of American adults own a tablet computer
  • 34% of cell internet users browse online mostly using their phones

Based on these American statistics, it appears Morgan Stanley was right, and the future is now. The majority of Internet usage is mobile.

Taking a second look at the statistics above from an employer's perspective, the most telling factoid is the last one, which hints that there is a growing number of potential candidates that don't have access to a desktop or laptop device. This means that unless a mobile alternative is offered, a growing number of candidates could be excluded from the candidate pool. That is something virtually all employers want to avoid.

So why are test providers putting their heads in the sand? There are several explanations, and they all probably contribute to this behavior.

1) Test providers don't see evidence in the numbers.

This reminds me of when I started Brainbench, an online testing company, back in 1998. At the time, the Internet was just becoming mainstream, and the vast majority of pre-hire tests were conducted using paper booklets. Many test providers said they didn't see demand for Internet testing. Yet within 2-4 years all of them were forced to move their offering online.

2) Test providers want to research mobile testing before they implement it.

Many testing companies are led by psychologists, and by definition, psychologists are scientists. They tend to avoid doing anything new until there is sufficient published research providing a justification for it. A similar argument was voiced repeatedly in the early days of Internet testing, and the research is still trickling in for that one. However, the world would not wait for the researchers to agree on conclusions, and the world shifted to online testing. The same thing is happening with mobile testing.

3) Mobile support for pre-employment testing requires significant technical modifications.

Here are some key requirements that must be satisfied to make tests mobile friendly:

  1. Support widely varying screen sizes. This means generally that you need to offer only one item (question) per page. Many testing systems cram multiple items onto a single page. On small screen sizes, this just won't do.
  2. Support multiple browser technologies for media playback. Most desktops support Adobe Flash technology for media and animation, and Flash is used for most legacy video-based and simulation-based tests. However, most mobile devices do not support Flash. Instead, they rely on modern web browser technologies collectively called HTML5. Unfortunately, older browsers still in use today, like Internet Explorer 8 and below, do not support HTML5. Therefore, to support rich media playback, as well as advanced interactivity, testing systems must support both Flash and HTML5.
  3. Support different playback rules for playing audio and video on mobile devices. Most mobile devices do not play a video unless the viewer visibly clicks on a play button. Additionally, some mobile web browsers (like the iPhone) play videos outside the browser itself. This can create a clunky experience for mobile simulation users if not handled appropriately. This is not the case for desktop and laptop computers.
  4. Support different video formats required by different web browsers. Unfortunately, there is currently no universal format that all web browsers can reliably play. Therefore, testing systems must support and manage multiple formats for each audio and video.

Of course, performing these modifications requires significant investment. Is it enough to make other test providers stick their heads in the dirt? Quite possibly. Just ask them.

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