Are job candidates with IT certifications any good? Test them!

December 19th, 2008 | by Ivan Pepelnjak |

Numerous companies use certifications to screen job candidates. Even if all the caveats associated with this process are given, you might encounter candidates who have multiple high-level certifications but cannot differentiate a router from a box of cheese. How can you identify (and reject) such people?

Surprisingly, the solution is very easy: give them access to a few boxes and assign a simple configuration task. For example, we’re using our “IP Primer WAN remote lab” as a screening tool for entry-level candidates. Any of our BGP or OSPF remote lab exercises might be good to identify the skills of a candidate claiming to have CCNP certification. However, testing candidates’ skills by using remote lab exercises associated with a course has limits: if nothing else, the lab descriptions contain a list of all applicable commands and individual configuration steps. This information wouldn’t be useful to someone who has no clue whatsoever, but might be of great help to other candidates.

For high-end candidates, develop a scenario that closely mimics your network—or what you plan your network to be in a year (after all, you’re hiring people to work on your network), build a small test lab and give each candidate a few hours to complete the task. Provide Internet access, too; having the ability to find solutions on the Net is an important skill these days. When the work is done (assuming that the candidate doesn’t just run out of the building when you mention the lab), review the configuration with the candidate and let him/her explain what was done and why.

If you don’t have the skills or the resources to prepare the tests, NIL can help you. We’ve developed hundreds of remote labs that support Cisco certification training, so we know exactly what a candidate having a Cisco certification should know. The labs we’ve been developing range from low-end labs (CCNA) to complex CCIE-level challenge labs, so we’ll be able to design a scenario that will precisely fit your needs, deploying it on our remote lab equipment to give you a complete end-to-end solution.

This whole process is undoubtedly time-consuming, so you should use it only in the very last step of the selection process, when the number of candidates is manageable. However, the results will more than justify the costs: you’ll be able to select the candidates who have proven to you that they’re the best available.

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