Pre-employment writing tests: do we need them?

21 February 2019

Fixing team members’ writing is an all too time-consuming part of many people leaders’ role. Poor written communications not only cause frustration and inefficiency, they can result in poor team engagement and job dissatisfaction. In turn, this leads to performance issues and increased staff turnover.

Australia’s literacy crisis

Our labour force increasingly favours professional occupations over lower-skilled jobs. This is resulting in a higher demand for literacy skills and the ability to communicate clearly and concisely in writing.  

Concern over Australia’s level of literacy is not new. The 2006 Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey (ALLS) revealed that almost half Australians aged 15-74 years had literacy skills below Level 3 (the minimum level required to meet the increasingly complex demands of a knowledge society).

The unsettling reality is that it is possible to be awarded the Higher School Certificate, and even a university degree, without a good grasp of English grammar. Analysing Shakespeare’s plays, or writing academic essays, may be thought-provoking. But is this preparing our young people for the kind of communications they will need to write in the world of work?

Testing applicants’ writing skills

Organisations have been doing psychometric testing for decades. Yet how many test an applicant’s ability to write? Many applicants pay a professional writer to prepare their resumé and covering letter. The applicant’s poor writing ability may not become apparent until after they have been appointed to the role.  

Poor writing skills will impede onboarding as well as the applicant’s ongoing performance in the role. It will also affect opportunities for advancement, particularly as leaders are often required to write increasingly complex reports or communicate sensitive issues at a high level.

If written communication is a critical part of their role, assessing applicants for basic writing weaknesses, such as the inability to structure a sentence correctly, is essential. Recruiters can question referees about the applicant’s writing ability or set a short writing test as part of the interview process. This could be as quick as asking the candidate to comment on a fictitious piece of poor writing, asking them to rewrite a poorly written paragraph or write a hypothetical email.

Clear communication is a critical skill in many workplaces. Recruiters need to regard proof of good written communication skills as a prerequisite for employee selection and promotion.  An investment in your team’s writing skills will not only lessen the risk of miscommunication and costly mistakes, it will enhance your organisation’s professional image and bring real financial returns.

For help assessing applicants’ or team members’ writing ability at your organisation, contact us today on 02 9238 6638.

Or download our free ebook Australia’s Written Communication Crisis: 5 Warning Signs Managers Can’t Afford to Ignore.

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