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Should Companies Make Candidates Take a Writing Test?

It’s long been a practice in the communications field for companies, especially larger firms, to request that their prospective employees pass a writing exam. I’ve heard many tales about these stress-inducing and difficult tests, wherein test-takers feel as though they’re trying to be tricked out of the job due to the test’s complexity.

Often times, these tests are used to gauge a job candidate’s knowledge of AP style and ability to think quickly. Though certainly those are relevant skills to any public relations position, some versions of these tests sound upsettingly gruelling. I have heard, on more than one occasion, of companies intentionally making these tests difficult to pass just to gauge an individual’s’ ability to cope with stress and maintain professionalism. While this is presumably a rare and radical approach, it does beg the question, should companies be administering these tests?

The short answer, in my opinion, is, “Yes, but…”

I think it’s absolutely critical for companies to certify in some way that a candidate’s supposed skills on their resume can be supported by action. However, I don’t think that these dreaded writing tests should make or break a candidate’s potential for a position.

A few weeks back, I met with Melissa Geitgey, APR, Director of Marketing and Communications for the Indianapolis Neighborhood Housing Partnership. Among her plethora of helpful professional development advice for me was this gem, “I can teach you how to write a press release, but I can’t teach you emotional intelligence.” I completely agree with this sentiment. Writing boilerplate copy for a company isn’t hard. It’s much more important to me that a candidate has the emotional intelligence and problem-solving skills to successfully navigate a client issue.

Upper-level staff certainly do not have time to handhold new hires and teach them all the nuances of the industry. That doesn’t mean that candidates should feel a need to panic if they don’t know the answer to every question on the test or that companies shouldn’t hire them for this reason. After all, I have not encountered a seasoned PR pro who doesn’t at least occasionally refer back to the AP Style Guide or ask a colleague for advice.

So, yes, companies should administer these types of tests, but I think it’s more important that hiring managers get to know the candidate first and see if their non-technical skills are a good fit for the company. There’s no use in having a speedy press release writer on staff if they don’t have the social savvy to play well with others.

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