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Any thoughts on how you would handle this.
Do you employ a house painter but having the potential painters come in and paint for two hours? Do you expect a potential receptionist to give you two hours of work for nothing except the hope that you will employee her?
Your HR department just seems lazy to me. I would not take the test.
They are so far off base or esoteric it isn't even funny. It's like some maroon (© Bugs Bunny) opened a manual to a random page, closed his eyes, dropped his finger and formed a question around that. They are rarely an indication of job skills, but a good indication of how well you can retain completely useless information that will never be used on a daily basis.
We've thought of asking the client to create a basic html/css page based on our specifications.
This is actually your best bet. But be fair about it. Cut them a check for an hour's work (or two, depending on the specs,) give it to them. Have them give it a go, and allow them the opportunity for feedback, and LISTEN to it. If the task must be performed in YOUR environment, give them ample time to get familiar with the system they will be working on before starting the test.
"Develop a page to XHTML specifications, do not use tabled layout, insure cross browser compatibility, etc etc etc . . ."
"Although I performed the task to spec, the specified page is "vanilla html" and an XHTML doctype inaccurately represents the page content."
This feedback option, in my opinion, will be GOLD in determining if they are fit for the position.
One last comment,
We're clearly wanting skills with XHTML/CSS, JS, jQuery and XML with a desire for experience in Flash/ASP, JSP, Java and ASP.net.
The adage "buyer beware" applies, know what you're asking for and buying. :-)
I sat in a chair right next to the person and would answer questions or advise them if they seemed to be struggling. And it gave me a chance to throw some things at them like, "Can you center align the entire page but not the text" or "Can you align everything up to the top of the browser window" and see how they reacted.
It really let me know who knew there stuff and who was full of BS. And even little things like seeing someone adding a CSS color and watching them quickly type "co", press tab, and enter #fff let me know that they had a good grasp on CSS in dreamwweaver. Others would spell out the entire word "color" and then double click it in the dropdown list when it was already spelled out...
So yeah it worked well for us.
It works for us; we do a basic test of SQL c# to filter the hobbyists from the pros. I write questions that test application but require knowledge - things like
- write a function to convert sql date time to a more user-friendly format
- write the pseudo code to prevent x-site scripting and page scraping
We also asked for things to check they are OK using professional tools like:
- What source control features are essential?
- What is the syntax to create a UDF in SQL2005
Best way to approach this is to based questions on your apps, after all you need someone who can work on your apps...Also put 1 month probation in the contract if unsure
3) what is well-formedness?
6) what does the keyword "var" do when declaring a variable?
11) What is "onreadystatechange"?
MOST of the applicants failed miserably. A few did very well. A couple of them totally aced it with 100% correct answers. But one applicant in particular not only knew all the answers, but expressed them clearly and intelligently and was able to elaborate by explaining *why* "var" is useful to limit scope to the current function or method.
A background check and proof of previous work far outweigh these tests. However, if you have a lot of great candidates and want the "very" best one then a test could be useful, but I think just sitting down and talking with a candidate for 5-10 minutes will tell you a lot. What's most important is their work ethic, because all this stuff can be easily learned if they encounter a problem at work. They don't need to know everything on day 1 but they need to want to know everything. Big difference.
15 questions, to be completed orally,
Regarding work ethics. Hard to test this. I have found that people either want to learn and have a career or just want a 9-5 defined j.o.b. Both are useful
My next test was a few simple questions about stuff you need to know to write code by hand. In my experience, anyone who has never written (X)HTML by hand has not earned their stripes. Questions were things like, 'In CSS how do I take away the underline of a link?' or 'Where do meta tags go in a web page?' As you can see these questions differentiate a a web builder from a CMS or Dreamweaver expert.
Lastly, I asked them architectural questions like, 'How do I put a redirect in without having access to the web server?' and 'What does it mean when you put a website address in the location bar and it says it can't find it or it doesn't load?'
From this battery of simple, intuitive tests, you can identify those who understand what they are working with from those who were taught a set of tools but don't know the long division. Which would you rather have building your house... a guy who is an expert with a hammer or a guy who knows how to measure.
Hope these suggestions are a help.