What are Online Skill Assessments Really Worth?

If you haven't interviewed in quite some time, you might be surprised to see the ubiquity of online skill assessments, both on recruiting platforms and in hiring processes.

Online skill assessments are usually conducted in the form of timed multiple-choice questions. They usually consists of 10 to 30 questions. The main goal is standardize a set of questions that all candidates (or prospective candidates) complete in a limited time, to then rank them in terms of skill proficiency. The pitch is that it allows the "best" to rise to the top without any sort of bias, as everyone is taking the same test in the same condition.

Of course, in practice it isn't as glamorous, so let's see what my personal experience with online skill assessments were, both as a prospective candidate (on recruiting platforms), and as a candidate (in hiring processes).

Skill assessments on recruiting platforms

As a prospective candidate, a few recruiting platforms allow you to take online skill assessments that earn you badges that you can showcase on your profile. The benefits for a prospective candidate is that it is supposed to signal proficiency in a set of skills to companies. For companies, that provides an additional filter to skim through potential candidates.

I have only taken part in skill assessments on LinkedIn and AngelList, so my mileage might be quite limited, yet I think there are a few interesting learnings to be shared!

Both platforms present assessments as multiple choice questions with a time limit. To move on to the next question, you need to first answer the current question. Given the time constraints, I found myself just guessing some answers.

I would challenge the relevance of some questions, in particular on LinkedIn, as I was able to pass some assessments while guessing a good chunk of the questions, and fail some on technologies I have used for many years now. Most questions felt like weird edge cases on topics that were not particularly relevant in an artificially time-constrained environment.

On top of that, while researching for this blog post, I found a few places that listed the answers to the skill assessments. As the questions need to stay the same to be able to then rank candidates, that also means that it is extremely easy to cheat on those assessments.

Overall, I didn't feel like I gained anything by taking those assessments, except maybe the badges that you get on your LinkedIn profile if you score in the 30th percentile, and the badges on your AngelList profile listing your score percentile.

The next logical question is to ask how those badges are viewed by companies, as that is your main goal by taking those assessments as a prospective candidate. Again, this is all quite anecdotal, but I did feel like my profile got a boost in terms of recruiters reaching out on LinkedIn. That boost was even more obvious on AngelList as I scored in the top 10% of all applicants.

Knowing that those assessments are easily cheated though, if I were a company looking for good profiles to reach out to, I might not put any weight on their scores on those assessments.

In conclusion, what are online skill assessments in recruiting platforms really worth? I'd say, if you have some free time on your hands, it doesn't hurt to give it a try. Just go in with the knowledge that it is an imperfect assessment of your skills, and that the benefits are probably quite marginal.

Some companies seem to use similar tools in their hiring process, so it can also be used as training.

Skill assessments in hiring processes

For companies, the appeal is also standardization and ease of setup. Skill assessments are often used in one of the first rounds of their hiring processes to filter out candidates. By making every candidate go over the same set of questions under the same time constraints, companies can easily rank them and only move forward with the top performers.

I had to go through a couple of skill assessment quizzes in a couple of occasions in my recent job search, one was on a Google Form and the other using TripleByte.

Both assessments were multiple choice questions with a time limit. Similar to my experience taking assessments on recruiting platforms, questions seemed quite random and the time constraints quite artificial. I did objectively bad in both cases, guessing or being quite unsure while answering about half the questions, yet, to my very surprise, I went through in both case.

The fact that the skill assessment rounds didn't seem to filter me out really raised the question of if they were even useful in the first place. My hunch is that they tend to have fairly low predictive power and are mostly used as a "fizz buzz" test to weed out candidates that have no experience in programming.

If that's the case, why send such tests to candidates like me with several years of experience? Not only is it a waste of time from my side, it also potentially backfired for those companies as I ended up dropping out of their processes.

So, are online skill assessments in hiring processes worth it? Based on my limited experience I'd say vehemently no. It is a waste of time and resources. I believe that the best hiring process is one where each steps provides high quality signals on a candidate, and clearly those assessments were quite poor in that regard.

The overall experience of taking those assessments is also not ideal and might alienate great candidates.

Where do we go from here?

When I first thought about writing about skill assessments, I was going to focus this article solely on recruiting platforms like LinkedIn or AngelList. While interviewing, I also faced similar assessments in some hiring processes.

My conclusions on online skill assessments apply to both cases: they are an imperfect way of testing for technical skills. Their only benefit is standardization, which eliminate bias when comparing candidates, but the signals they tend to yield are of such poor quality that it is questionable if, despite their lack of bias, they are in any way valuable for companies.

So, as a prospective candidate, should you do those skill assessments on platforms like LinkedIn or AngelList and earn some badges to display on your profile? Sure, if you have some time to do so. It's probably better than nothing. Most companies probably won't care (or , in my opinion, shouldn't care), but it also can't hurt your profile.

As a company, should you make online skill assessments a part of your hiring process? Categorically not. They have poor predictive power, they are a waste of your candidates' time and they risk alienating great candidates. Instead, invest more time and effort in crafting a sane hiring process where you gather high-quality signals in an unbiased way while treating the candidates like human beings.

Antonio Villagra De La Cruz

Antonio Villagra De La Cruz

Multicultural software engineer passionate about building products that empower people.