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How to Ace a Simulated Work Assessment

Companies are increasingly looking for a demonstration of your capability through a test in the form of a simulated work assignment in the hiring process. These simulations go by a variety of names including:

  • Take-home technical assessment
  • Case study simulation
  • Take-home coding challenge
  • Art test

Other types of tests resemble certification tests, but in this article, we are discussing those assignments that are often multi-day and involve the creation and delivery of a work product. Think of them as auditions.

The great thing about work simulations is that they are blind. They focus simply on your ability to perform, and they filter out all manner of hiring distractions and biases. If you are great at what you do, no matter your demographics, education, or work history, you get a level playing field upon which you can demonstrate your strengths. The simulation is your ticket to show your value.

By understanding the objectives of the test, you can improve your performance. The following tips are based on 10 years of facilitating simulated work assessments that include assignments in software development, art, QA, big data, design, and more.  Assignment durations have ranged from one day to 10 days.

The Top Three Things That Matter:

  1. Deliver your work on time – this is an easy way for companies to filter people out so do not get disqualified because you missed the deadline
  2. Completeness – You want to address every task and every clause of every part of the assignment. If there are any steps you do not do to the full extent possible, you should document your approach. If the assignment is to develop test cases for a broad scope then tell them the scope and make sure to show a range of competency including depth. Never tackle a scope wide and shallow. Always pick a scope you can go deep in.  
  3. Work on the hardest task first – If you have the option of prioritizing the tasks in front of you always do the hardest task first. In 10 years this one piece of advice has proven the single piece that correlates to job offers. Our candidates who do this get offers at a much higher percentage than candidates who approach the test by doing the easiest steps first.

What Companies are Looking for:

The assessment is an audition. The company is not just looking for someone who can do the test. They care how the test is completed. They want to see your work in context, and they want to understand the full range of value you bring. When you do the work product, you have latitude in how you approach it and what you put into it. You should make sure you demonstrate strength in the following attributes in the work product you deliver.

  • Detail orientation
  • Adaptability
  • Resourcefulness
  • Critical thinking
  • Clear thinking
  • Organization

Get Extra Credit:

When you go above and beyond the instructions, you send very good messages. Companies want to hire people who are passionate about the work and who are interested in working with them. The following techniques will send those messages and give you a big advantage over your competition:

  • Acknowledge receipt of test to all senders and copied names
  • Send an email to everyone letting them know you returned the assessment
  • Add documentation to your work
  • Give them your design documents

No cheating:

In general, you want to avoid turning in any work that is not your work. There may be cases where you feel it is allowable to use work from other sources. Make sure you annotate all the work you use. There are automated tools that will detect plagiarism and the use of artificial intelligence large language models like ChatGPT.

Asking questions:

Companies do not mind if you ask questions. But the act of asking questions adds complication to your process and you would be wise to keep the following in mind.

You need to ask questions in time to get the feedback and put it into your results.

You don’t want to ask questions and then ignore it. You don’t want to ask questions so late in the process it appears you have not cared to start the assignment. You should also ask your questions on or before Thursday as Friday questions may not be answered till Monday and cost you as many as 4 days of test duration.

Remember that every interaction is part of the test so avoid communicating that you require excessive direction. Keep your questions to a reasonable quantity.

Be intentional about the questions you ask as well as timing. Get your questions in early.

You should not fear picking approaches to addressing the assessment on your own. For most tests, that is part of the test. If you feel you have made a choice that has risk then document the choice and the reasoning in your deliverable.

Managing the Available Time:

These tests tend to be simulations of work so you need to manage the deadline like you would at work. You should draft a plan, if only in milestones, at the start of the assignment. You should make sure your plan leaves extra time for unexpected outside events or test challenges. Your plan should be a plan to deliver an excellent product, not a minimal product.

If you, for any reason, don’t feel you can deliver the required level of excellence in the available time, then ask for more time. It makes more sense to ask for more time and get a passing grade than not get enough time and fail. Your request for time will not hurt you. The company will give it to you or not and that will be the end of it.

If you encounter unexpected life events that would take you away from work on a normal day, then you need to express those to the company and ask for more time. This is what you do at work and the company should understand that things come up. You must report the situation as soon after the event as possible and you should be clear about how much extra time you need. Managing these types of situations with professionalism can actually reflect positively on you and improve your status in the eyes of the company.

The Role of Passion:

In 10 years of administering these simulated work assessments, the one universal truth has been this: people who are not passionate about the job have an exceedingly difficult time passing the test. We have seen passion and desire for a role overcome weaknesses in experience and talent. And we have seen exceptionally qualified people score very low on assessments.

Passion and desire are your secret weapons. If you want the job you will naturally deliver a good work product. You will naturally be attentive to detail and creativity. 

If you don’t want the job or you are not motivated to do a great job, do not waste your time on the test. Be a professional and wrap up the process on your terms.

Concluding Thoughts:

Your guideline for all other questions is simply this: What would you do in your normal job if this situation came up? That is the test. Treat it like work. Do a great job on the work assessment, just like you do at work, and you will get the job.

If you are good at what you do, then the work simulation approach is perfect for you.