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Why You Shouldn’t Assume Job Applicants Have Basic Computer Skills

[fa icon="calendar"] December 14, 2016 / by Michelle Silverstein

Computer skills tests are popular amongst employers who want to make sure their job applicants are qualified to work with computers. There are many different types of computer tests used in the pre-hire process, including basic skills tests and micro-skills tests (i.e. specific tests on Excel, Outlook, Photoshop, etc.). But for many employers, computer knowledge seems universal, so they might feel inclined to forgo basic skills tests in favor of more software-specific tests.

In fact, one response we commonly hear from customers who use our popular basic computer literacy test is that the test seems too easy. A typical question on our test might ask a job applicant to use a browser, work with files, or perform general email tasks.  To some, tests that measure basic computer skills may seem overly rudimentary, assuming that everyone in the applicant pool already has a base level of competency with computers. The data, however, says otherwise.

A recent large-scale study demonstrated that the great majority of people have computer skills ranging from poor to nonexistent. The study tested over 200,000 people across 33 affluent countries, ages 16-65. Participants were tasked with completing a range of tasks varying in difficulty, which the study used to measure computer skills divided into 5 levels of proficiency. Here’s how everyone stacked up:

  1. Strong skills: 5% of the participants
  2. Medium skills: 26% of the participants
  3. Poor skills: 29% of the participants
  4. Terrible skills: 14% of the participants
  5. Can’t use computers: 26% of the participants

Just 5% of the participants exhibited strong computer skills, while a total of 69% possessed skills poor or below. (See what kinds of tasks were associated with each skill level here.) What this demonstrates is that basic computer literacy rates are staggeringly low, far lower than what you might expect. This challenges assumptions about what the “average” person’s technological abilities are.

Because this study only included people between the ages of 16 and 65, the results are reflective of the working-age population. The results provide a window into the abilities of a modern applicant pool. Ultimately the average applicant is a lot less savvy than you might think, and basic computer tests still have a valuable role to play as a pre-hire screening tool, especially for entry-level roles that require general computer usage.



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