Applicant screening assessments

Apr 20, 2020

Finding and hiring good engineers is critically important, but difficult to accomplish. Don’t be afraid to seek outside help or use assessment tools to help you along the way.

As president of a small, multi-discipline engineering firm, I’m responsible for multiple tasks and, like many other firms, hiring is one of the most critical and difficult tasks on my plate.

For years, Virginia Tech allowed us to send mass emails to their seniors segmented by department. This made it possible to quickly identify new engineers. Recently, VT switched to a multi-school job service which has a horrible filter system, but at least lets me download PDFs into one big combined file. I’ve learned to divide the file into separate pages and then let our system parse them and create applicants for our jobs. That said, getting an applicant list is the easy part.

Effective applicant evaluation. The big challenge here is figuring out how to effectively and efficiently evaluate applicants. Will team members want to work with them? Can leaders count on them? Will clients be glad they are working on their projects? Are they going to be good employees or not? While the technical aspects of MEPR engineering can be difficult, an engineer’s ability to listen, get work done, check their own work, and collaborate well can be the difference between success and failure.

At first, we tried to judge these soft characteristics through an interview with the applicant, and by calling their references. However, we found the process time intensive and expensive. We provided overnight lodging and meals and spent a good part of a work day with them. We called references and asked questions such as, “What advice would you give me on how to manage this person, if hired?” After the time and expense, we just wanted to hire the person so we could get back to business as usual.

Enter Berke Assessments. After some expensive mistakes, we started using a non-technical assessment by Berke Assessments which is designed to handle initial screenings. The one-hour, online assessment instantly generates a surprisingly-detailed description of the candidate with a green/yellow/red stoplight rating for likely success in our office, and provides questions to ask about any possible issues. To evaluate the test, I asked current employees to take the test, and then I read the test reports. Compared to other assessments we’ve tried, these were very accurate.

Different jobs require different personalities. For example, someone who is overly optimistic may be good for sales, but engineers need to question their assumptions and not blithely assume everything will work out regardless. Seller-doers probably need to be in the middle of the optimism range to be successful. Berke compares the applicant to determine if they’re a good fit for your firm. The test benefits the applicant as much as it does the firm.

The final summary from the assessment test is a simple green icon (or red or yellow depending on overall score):

If a candidate gets a green “high” rating, we conduct an interview to dig deeper and learn more. For example, one of our tested characteristics has to do with “structure” and how much the applicant likes it.

The structure job target is “medium.” People with medium structure typically like having the right answer, but they also want to make sure they understand the big picture. This candidate scored somewhat above the structure target. This means:

  • The candidate may be more concerned with procedures and accuracy and a little less so with the overall outcomes than necessary.
  • The candidate may become anxious if the expectations and/or rules change in a work situation.

The report also includes an interview guide with suggested interview questions customized to each candidate. We never ask all Berke’s suggested interview questions, but the report is a good starting point for our interview process.

At a recent management conference, other AEC leaders most mentioned that culture match was a critical issue for acquisition success. Since using Berke Assessments in the screening process, it’s occurred to me that they could also be used for mergers as well as hiring, even if you can’t do the follow-up interviews until afterward. Acquisitions are often expensive, so I was surprised to learn that due diligence did not include any type of testing for culture fit except for interviews, and informal meetings with firm leaders. I think it might be worthwhile to read existing staff assessments, as well, or do some additional tests without violating confidentiality.

Finding and hiring good engineers is critically important to our success, and also difficult to accomplish. We are fortunate to have found a good assessment tool that helps us do just that.

Matt Dwyer is president of Dwyer Engineering. Contact him at

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About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.