Why do employers test recruits?

Tracys Landing, MD
Best answers
I'm a CPC and currently looking for a new job. Almost every place I put in my application requires a long coding exam. Does this happen regularly? I always thought that the fact that we have credentials, would cover this. These tests are not easy, and they seem to ask real tricky questions.

What are your thoughts on this.
Catherine Du Toit CPC
Doylestown, PA
You will find that just about every company will require a coding test. When applying for a job, expect this to be part of the process.....sorry.

If you happen to have kept your Coding Edge from June, 2006, I authored an article on this very practice. One of things I mentioned was that those coding assessments should be valid and reliable.

You mention that "tricky" questions are asked; indeed, some questions on the pre-employment exams are not appropriate and may not even have an accurate answer key--so always keep that in mind.

What's discouraging with the vast majority I have taken in the past is the tendency to put questions on them that are outdated, have no recognized coding reference (e.g., is a matter of opinion) or largely contain obscure information. I also find employers rarely update or alter these--they stay the same year in and year out. That certainly is not reflective of our coding manuals and guidelines and should not stand on our assessments either!

As for why this is done, there are certainly practical reasons behind it. However, all purpose of the exam is usually undone by its lack of validity and reliability. In my own opinion, the long assessments are neither necessary nor reflective of job duty, simply some manager's supposed need to objectify coding skill.

Good luck to you and just keep trying with them. Sooner or later you'll encounter one that makes sense and represents your skill level.
Thanks so much Kevin for this explenation. I really appreciate this.

The main reason I'm a bit worried is because I'm visiually impaired and not a good test taker. But, of course i'll just keep trying.

By the way, tomorrow I have an interciew at our local hospital for a coding position and hence another coding test. So, wish me good luck.

Thanks again.
Bear in mind that credentials are simply letters behind your name if there is no knowledge present to back it up. Most employers who give assessment tests don't use the results as the sole criteria for a job offer. Generally it's used simply as gauge to see exactly where your coding skills and knowlege are. There are many applicants who will say that they have a vast knowledge of this or that specialty, but more often than not, coding assessment test show otherwise. I have taken many coding assesment tests where I have given some incorrect answers...but I was still made a job offer. That's because I was honest in the beginning about what my skills were, and as I said before the assessment test was used simply as gauge to see exactly what I was familiar with. I say all that to say, just relax, do your best, don't stress about the things you don't know and I'm sure it will work out for you!

I certainly respect the intent of your message. I do, however, see one problem.

Both you and many of the employers make the statement that the tests "gauge to see exactly" (emphasis inserted) a coder's skill level. These tests vastly lack the credibility, validity, reliability and construction necessary to demonstrate a skill level exactly--sometimes even remotely. In truth, most of the assessments I've seen aren't capable of surveying more than the coder(s) who created them; in most cases those coders--like the rest of us--make mistakes on the questions or answers. The assessments usually do not provide the information I would find available in a full chart, making them (again) unreliable to appropriately gauge a level of coding aptitude.

While those exams may not be the sole decision-maker, they do have a tendency to make/break a deal and that is quite sad considering the overall quality of assessments at-large in this industry.

No offense, but I honestly believe that something has to be done about the rampant expectation(s) for coders to submit to these things. You can tell by discussing coding with someone what his/her level of expertise is currently. Give me a half-hour with a coder and I can probably more accurately gauge his/her station than any of those assessments. What's reprehensible is that our leaders and managers would rather go the impersonal route (exam) than personally shouldering the responsibility of holding a discourse with someone.

But, we like to say those tests have a purpose for capturing coders application of skill, when in truth they do nothing but waste time, create confusion and eliminate qualified coders from the pool of candidates.
Just to clarify (and somewhat defend myself :) )...I'm not an employer, I'm an employee. I'm just a humble coder :) . I've just seen a lot of people come through my office who have "schmoozed" their way through the interview and fast-talked themselves into jobs that they can't handle, nor are they qualified for. A disservice is then done to both the employer and employee because they have "bitten off more than they can chew" so to speak. I can somewhat see where you're coming from as well. For example, In reading my resume, it's clear what specialities I have and have not had experience with. Hence, it is somewhat redundant (I think anyway) to test me extensively on (for example) cardiology coding...I've had no experience with it so there's only so much I'm going to know about it. But that, as you've said, doesn't mean that I'm not a capable coder and undeserving of a chance. All I was saying was, I think a lot of companies (or at least mine has) have had candidates who can talk a good game, but when it comes to actually doing the job, they come up short, so I can see how some employers may believe testing is beneficial. That's all. I'm not necessarily for applicant testing nor against it.
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No, I completely understand what you meant when you said that people often claim something for which they have no experience. A skilled manager (who him/herself should be properly versed in coding) should be capable of creating a dialogue with candidates that extracts the information needed to evaluate their skill level.

Since you used the example of cardiology, (although I am not a manager, or recruiter) let's say I could tell from your Resume you'd had little experience, but you verbally "schmooze" that you have; I could pretty easily gauge what you do know by bringing up current topics or open ended questions: "Kandis, what do you know about Medicare's payment for venous/arterial occlusive devices?" That'd tell me more than a lot of tests could ever expound.

My message was really meant as a call to arms for coders. This is a hot button topic with me because when I was a consultant, I spent a lot of my time taking those things--seeing some pretty big name companies out there with pretty shabby looking assessments. The basic premise is that these are misused, lack the quality required to hone anything meaningful out of them and frustrate coders who must sit through a piece-meal exam.

You brought up a very good point in that you saw those exams just as the employers see them, a screening device. Didn't mean to create a "defensive" environment, just sort of highlight the assumed benefits of these assessments. I want coders to know the truth behind what I saw, which was inadequate testing practices. That should be encouraging, to know everyone is subject to them and to me (and many of us) that seems improper.

Forgive me for putting you on the defense!:eek:
Point taken. I definitely understand both sides of the argument. I guess they (the tests I mean) wouldn't be so bad if they weren't so lengthy. If it means anything to you, I recently took three separate assesment tests (three separate companies), one was some 30 pages long,and with one of them clear instruction was not given, and full documentation was not provided, so like I said, I see where you're coming from. Sad to say, I don't have the clout to do anything to change it...it is what it is, so to speak.
Credentials are just letters behind your name. I must admit that those 3 letters did not just appear behind our names, we worked darn hard to obtain them. I wrote a test the other day at a local hospital for the position of outpatient coding spcecialst. That test was really well prepared and applied to the codes used in outpatient coding. But really, some of these recruiting agencies' tests are confusing and without backup info.

Oh well, I'm glad we could talk about this topic and see what people think.

Thanks for all the interesting replies.