More companies are relying on questionnaires to screen candidates before scheduling a job interview. In addition to asking about information not included in résumés, these questionnaires attempt to verify must-have technical and communication skills (in addition to salary requirements or sponsorship needs).
While there’s no standard format, tech pros are usually asked to respond via email. And therein lies the challenge: even if you have the required experience and skills for the position, you may still be eliminated from consideration if you don’t ace these questions.
With all that in mind:
How to Rock a Pre-Hire Questionnaire
Candidates who provide detailed project descriptions or explain how they’ve used a particular tool or methodology will catch our attention, explained Jacquie Wavra, recruiting manager at Overstock.
Tech pros often fall short because they don’t respond to the entire question, she added. For instance, Overstock applicants are asked to explain the difference between black box and white box testing and their experiences with each method.
“Most candidates describe what it is, but not how they’ve used it,” Wavra said. “They only need to provide a couple of sentences, but they need to answer the most important part of the question.” Skipping questions shows an inability to follow instructions, especially when you have a few days to respond.
If you can’t submit your answers by deadline, you can try and ask for an extension. Avoid stress and writer’s block by quickly jotting down your initial thoughts on paper, then spending the balance of your time editing and polishing. Using the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) format (or a similar strategy) can ensure that you go beyond the bare-bones information in your résumé to really provide an engaging, detailed story. As in a regular job interview, make sure to go into detail about your relevant projects and work experience.
If you choose to write code in response to a specific technical question, be sure to provide comments that show your thought process, advised Paul Freiberger, president of Shimmering Careers, who responded to questions via email. Without comments, the reviewer may be unable to follow your intent and logic.
And by all means, feel free to use first person and let your personality shine through, especially if you’re applying for a customer-facing role. You don’t have to write award-winning prose, but you must provide something relevant, detailed, and accurate.
“A resume only tells you so much,” Wavra said. “We’re looking for someone who can speak to the business by connecting their skills to the environment.”
How to Bomb a Pre-Hire Questionnaire
Some Overstock applicants seal their fate by copying and pasting answers directly from the Internet, Wavra said. So be sure to use your own words, especially when answering standard technical questions.
Along those lines, make sure that your answers jive with the information in your résumé and profiles on professional networking sites. Variances can raise red flags and cause hiring managers to doubt your truthfulness.
Of course, spelling and grammar always count, so ask a trusted advisor to proofread your responses before you hit send. And don’t stop there: ask that advisor to evaluate the tone and thoroughness of your document. If you compose your answers too quickly or write infrequently, you may have no idea how you’re coming across.
Finally, follow up. Be sure to solicit feedback if you don’t hear back within a few days. Following up emphasizes your interest and gives you a chance to gauge the manager’s reaction to your written responses.