Simulation Tests in 2022: Examples, Benefits, and Limitations

by Sandra Jenkins

Gone are the days when you had to do things through trial and error just to know what may go wrong with your processes and how to fix them. These days, simulation tests are one of the best practices to benchmark.

In fact, with the digitalization nowadays, there are now all kinds of simulation software that help visualize queuing in logistics warehouses and high-demand fast-food chains, power consumption of a new building or the power generation of a new solar farm, and more commonly, the 3D rendering and visualization of infrastructure plans.

Much like the software, simulation tests are tools to improve processes, including recruitment, with less time and cost investment requirements.

What are simulation tests?

More and more companies use data predictive analytics for hiring, including data-driven pre-employment tests, you would still need to determine how accurately they predict the qualities of the employees you end up hiring using them. 

A simulation test is an example of such a pre-employment assessment. With simulation tests, you have control over which factors of the job are more important in the long term. Especially with virtual simulation tests that recreate a scenario on the job using computer software, data are more easily controlled, varied, and extracted.

Unlike the more traditional and more emphatic recruitment tactic of doing interviews, simulation tests employ a more experiment-like method.

In simulation tests, the candidates are tasked to do certain activities that will be expected of them in case they are hired. Applicants are observed on how they handle the tasks given to simulate how they will perform on the job once employed.

Here, the observance has more measurable and evidence-based metrics to assess the potential of a candidate as a new hire. While the observation itself may not totally escape bias from subjectivity, the controlled environment allows the recruiters to limit the external influence on the assessment.

Examples of simulation tests

One example of a simulation test is for administrative positions, especially one at the assistant level. The recruiter may ask them to encode and produce digital copies of the official documents and file them appropriately. The candidates may also be asked to organize calendar schedules and file archives.

In the field of finance, a potential accountant may be asked to prepare financial statements using a provided ledger or tasked to compute financial ratios given certain scenarios and financial statements.

A candidate for the position of financial assessor may be asked to forecast a company’s financial standing in the next three (3) or five (5) years and make a recommendation on whether the bank should grant their loan request and at what interest rate.

For future drivers and pilots, simulation tests are more direct. The recruiter will ride as a passenger of the driver applicant during a test drive along a predetermined road course that is representative of what will be the driver’s route when hired.

Since it is more expensive and dangerous when a plane crashes, most aviation organizations have flight simulators that pilots can drive through takeoff and landing, and through a weather disturbance such as a storm or heavy cloud formation.

One of the more common examples of simulation tests is for teachers. After interviewing, most schools arrange for a demonstration where candidates teach a group of students about a particular topic.

Usually, the teacher will submit a syllabus beforehand and the principal along with other teachers will be observing the class to see how well the students engage in the class and how well they understand what the candidate teacher is discussing.

Simulation tests are also commonly used when hiring for vocational or highly technical jobs. Baristas are asked to create certain kinds of coffees for the owner to try. Furniture makers hire people who have experience in designing and constructing furniture. Made-to-order clothing shops employ able sewers. Bakeries look for applicants who are able to make different kinds of pastries, bread, and even cakes.

Benefits of simulation tests

Simulation tests are good assessment tools for a number of reasons that traditional interviews nor cognitive aptitude tests can provide. While traditional interviews can impress a panel on how confidently a candidate deals with pressure and cognitive aptitude tests can predict how successful a candidate will be in the future, they do not actually show you how exactly a candidate will be on the job.

Below are some benefits of simulation tests so that you can weigh whether to include them in your recruitment process.

  1. Grounded in Reality

First and foremost, you do not know how humble or exaggerated applicants perceive themselves. While the educational background and work experience can easily be investigated on their truthfulness, the applicants’ understanding of their skills and knowledge may be unrealistic for you.

Rather than taking the applicants’ words on how good they are, it is still best to see firsthand how they actually deal with pressure, uncertainty, and the knowledgeability required for the tasks they will be handling on the job.

With simulation tests, you can see how pilot applicants maneuver planes through crisis situations, how sales manager applicants engage with customers, or how teacher candidates implement their lesson plans.

  1. Validity and Reliability

Because the tasks applicants are asked to perform mirror actual parts of the job, there is greater reliability in the content of the assessment. Consequently, the applicant’s performance will then be highly representative of how they will actually perform if they are hired.

For jobs that require high specialization, there is a greater need to hire someone who can already do the job.

For highly specialized fields such as those for pilots, machine engineers, drivers, chemists, baristas, and divers, simulation tests can show how skilled, knowledgeable, and adaptable candidates are on the job.

Additionally, there is a lower risk when you hire an applicant that can actually do the job. While written tests can check for an applicant’s technical knowledge and interviews can show their social impressions, these are not as reflective of their job behavior as simulation tests.

  1. Perceived Fairness

Unlike pre-screening which depends on the applicant’s background or interviews that depend on the first impressions the applicant made with the panel, simulation tests are more accepted by applicants as fair due to their results based purely on their performance doing the actual job.

  1. Cost Savings

Because you will be hiring those applicants who are already skilled and experienced in a particular profession, this will contribute to potentially saving on training costs. Instead of dedicating a few months for on-the-job training so that the new hires learn how to do their jobs, you will only need to allot a week or two for orientation before letting the new hires settle into their new jobs.

  1. Shorter Time-to-Hire

After having candidates go through simulation tests to assess their working qualities, there is not much you will have to check afterward.

Because you already know what kind of worker they will be, you now only have to verify their background and appraise how they fit socially into your organization. This lessens it takes you to hire a person from when you first posted or announced the job vacancy.

  1. Workforce Assessment

Not only can you use simulation tests when hiring, you can also use simulation tests for workforce assessments.

For technical jobs that require a certain quality to their outputs, you can use simulation tests to determine if the current employees are keeping up with their qualifications and if their results are still up to par.

Limitations of simulation tests

Like other pre-employment tests, simulation tests also have their own setbacks. While observing how a candidate behaves in a work environment, albeit a roleplayed replicate, may seem to be the only tool you will need when determining who among the candidates best fit the job, it is imperative to understand these limitations so as to best implement simulation tests during recruitment for positions highly suitable to these hiring tools.

  1. Difficulty in Evaluation

In simulation tests, there is no standard to follow. Judging a potential employee’s job performance is very subjective. One manager’s standards for outstanding performance may differ from what another manager may recognize as outstanding performance.

Also, the approach to the task and how they accomplish the given assignments may differ from applicant to applicant.

In addition, there is no right or wrong answer in simulation tests. The nuances are open to interpretation. Because the solutions are not black and white, there is difficulty in evaluating the performance of the applicants.

To assist you in evaluation, especially for simulation tests that do not use computer programs,  you may opt to provide a template scorecard to the panel members. In the scorecard, you have to put the criteria with which they need to judge the applicant, the description of the criteria so that they are clear and informed on what exactly they should be looking for, and how much weight each criterion holds. This way, you can easily translate qualitative judgment into more calculable quantitative data.

  1. Measures Learned Skills

Keep in mind that simulation tests are proving a candidate can do the job. Meaning, that they will be using their already acquired knowledge and skills to do their tasks. For the part of the company, this will be a short-term investment since the organization does not need to spend on new hire’s training.

However, this may be problematic in the long run, when an employee needs to exhibit growth as it also reflects the organization’s growth. Simulation tests do not account for the candidate’s ability to learn new skills or gain more knowledge.

These tests also do not check how adaptable the candidates are to possible changes in the work environment or possible crisis situations they might encounter.

  1. Lack of Versatility

Simulation tests require a controlled environment. Factors that may affect the simulation environment should be set up specifically and constantly so that the only variability is the candidate’s performance. After all, these tests are designed to mimic very specific and static scenarios to be measurable and comparable. 

Notably, simulation tests need to be immersive and realistic. Creating a dynamic controlled environment for the sake of recruitment is both impractical and unrewarding. Hence, to keep simulation tests as interactive, truthful, and quantifiable as possible, the variance is kept to a minimum.

  1. Extensive Development Required

In terms of costs, there is a lot to consider. One of these is how much it costs to develop the appropriate simulation. With the fast pace of technology advancement, if you need one who is able to encode documents quickly now, this may not be what you need from a job applicant a few months from now.

If you have started using a system or software for a particular job and included this in your simulation test, you may need to update your simulation test in a year or two once the new version comes out.

In addition, you also need to invest time to keep your simulation up to date. As a recruiter, you have to take the time to be in the know on how exactly the team or department that vacant position belongs to works so that you can incorporate this to the simulation test. And then, you would have to do this for every single position your company is hiring for.

  1. Time- and Effort- Consuming

Simulation tests can be rarely done in groups. Creating multiple controlled environments for simultaneous simulation testing requires much more investment in terms of capital, time, and effort. As such, simulation tests are usually done one by one, which means having all your candidates go through the simulation tests will take so much time.

Also, all those who are preparing the simulation tests, the observers, and the panel that rates the performances of the applicants have to invest just as much time and effort to keep the integrity and validity of the simulation tests. 

Using simulation tests in your company

Simulation tests are only one way to gauge a candidate’s performance and how greatly they can contribute to the organization’s growth in the future. During recruitment, you will still need to evaluate a candidate’s intellectual ability to be able to predict their future individual growth and success.

Between cognitive aptitude tests and pre-employment assessments such as simulation tests, you can now determine whether an applicant is the best fit for the job and the organization and whether they can contribute to the company’s growth and success.

Before employing simulation tests in your company, you have to carefully consider whether the job position’s responsibilities and requirements are best assessed with simulation tests. Remember that simulation tests are best used for job positions that require a standard procedure or result. This way, the assessment can be easily developed, evaluated, or both.

Still, keep in mind that there is always space to learn. Some candidates may not score very high in the simulation tests but they may have steep learning curves and prove to be excellent employees who learn by doing. 

While simulation tests cannot replace a recruiter’s experience, judgments, and sometimes even gut feel, they can work together with other recruitment tools so that you can determine who is the most qualified candidate for the job. With a candidate’s resume, interview, references, and even a basic knowledge exam, together with simulation tests, there is no way your decision when hiring will not be clear.

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