In total we estimate this exercise will take 50 minutes. The exercise in this module will take about 25 minutes to complete but can be shortened if necessary.
We find the work exercise provides a necessary piece of information that generally confirms our opinions of a candidate, or in some cases, causes us to think about a candidate differently than our initial impressions.
After our initial screening determines whether an applicant has the background and experience that might be a match with our needs, we invite the applicant into our offices for a 40 minute presentation about OPPAGA and to complete a 90 minute work exercise.
We believe that this combination is critical; the presentation gives the applicant a chance to get to know us and what we are about, and helps get their minds into thinking about the kind of work we do.
The work exercise is a 4-page case study, adapted from a real life example of a program we reviewed. We use a topic that is not neither technical nor controversial, thus avoiding areas where an applicant may have prior knowledge, preconceived notions or strong convictions.
We set the applicant up in a vacant office with a lap top computer, and ask that they prepare the response on the computer in Microsoft Word. There are five questions related to the case study that test difference dimensions of the applicant's thinking and skills.
For example, there are brainstorming and methodology questions. There is a question asking the applicant to interpret some simple data in a table, and another question asking the applicant to construct a simple table they can construct the table in Word, Excel, or by hand.
Finally, there is an open-ended question that is designed to give them an opportunity to briefly show their writing skill grammar and logic. The overall process of completing the work exercise also gives us a good idea of whether they organize their work to get it done within a limited time, and whether they follow directions.
The writing exercise is mainly valuable as a 2nd opinion on the opinions that we form while reviewing the person's application package or while interviewing a person.
A person with minimal training and experience who does a mediocre job on the exercise would be eliminated from further consideration.
However, if an applicant performs much better on the work exercise than we would have expected based upon their experience and training, we will look very closely at that applicant. When a person with relevant training and experience performs worse than we would have expected, it does not eliminate the applicant from consideration, but again causes us to look closely.
We use the work exercise as an alternative to any kind of writing sample. We found no value in writing samples, since we have no control over the conditions in which they are completed. For a period of time, we tried a group exercise format, in which we would invite 5 or 6 applicants to come in at the same time and discuss a case study together.
We abandoned this idea after we realized how much variance in these groups could be created by the particular group of individuals in the group. The exam practices have changed. Many years ago, the Office used long multiple choice exams as a screening tool. Oral exams were also structured.
Several years ago, the Office changed to requiring some applicants to complete a written, take home case study after their initial interviews.
Recently, the Office has developed two sets of exams one for performance and one for financial for applicants to take before they are interviewed. The exams are given in the Office-applicants have one hour to complete the questions.
Interview questions are also becoming more structured and hopefully more consistent among the interviewers. By using the standard written exams, we hope to be able to better identify applicants who have basic analytical and writing skills and will be successful in performing audit work.
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