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Is there a technical skills test in your future?

Jane Jones, a fictitious MIS director at a local hardware store chain is applying for an IT management job at a Fortune 500 e-tailer. Jones has 10 years of networking experience, a resume filled with a dozen certifications and glowing references. But when she arrives for the job interview, she chokes on a basic skills test of tasks she hasn't performed for years.

Jones's experience, though make-believe, is not unusual. "When candidates go on interviews for high-level technical jobs, they are often surprised to find that they will be given a technical skills test," says Jackie Connor, a recruiter at Jesse Garon Associates in Paramus, NJ.

The reason companies give these tests is to make sure prospective IT managers have the actual knowledge that backs up an impression they give during an interview or the words that are written on a resume, according to Kevin Brice, president of MeasureUp, an on-line certification exam simulation site.

Brice predicts the practice of technical tests will increase over the next few years and become more customized. "If I am a big company that runs a Banyan network, uses Cisco routers, Microsoft Back Office, and Lotus Mail," he says, "how can I possibly find someone with all the certifications I need without an assessment of their expertise based on my own system requirements?"

For now, a typical networking test probably will include a hands-on examination in which a candidate can demonstrate his or her ability to perform basic tasks like setting a new user ID or configuring a piece of hardware.

Connor and Brice advise job hunters to spend time before the interview brushing up on reference manuals, reviewing basic tasks, taking practice tests and thinking about answers to possible questions that would validate their skills.

Cohodas is a freelance journalist in Newburyport, MA.

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