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Online Employment Career Assessments

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch November 16, 2020

Many job seekers are reporting that companies are requiring some type of online assessment as part of their overall application. This was common pre-pandemic; however, during COVID, the use of pre-assessments has increased. We anticipate that this will become the new norm and trainees, especially those looking for non-academic jobs, should expect to take an assessment when applying for many different roles.

According to the Harvard Business Review, even back in 2015, 76% of organizations with more than 100 employees relied on assessment tools for external hiring. Companies are using assessments to help them identify people with traits and skills required for particular jobs; organizations feel that not only do these assessments help reduce the time and cost of screening candidates, they also help mitigate conscious or unconscious bias within recruiters and hiring managers.

Most companies use traditional self-report questionnaires, but some employers are now offering “gamified” tests that you need to complete via an app or a website that often has points and badges which add to the feel that you are just playing a game. Even if it seems fun and trivial, employers are often taking these results very seriously.

Types of Assessments – What is Being Evaluated

Employers evaluate many traits through your job search documents and your interview, but now they are also doing so through online assessments. Typically, here is what is being evaluated:

Designed to assess raw reasoning power through objectively correct answers, these assessments can measure anything from IQ to specific skills and abilities. The most common types measure verbal, numerical, quantitative, critical thinking, as well as abstract and logical thinking. In most cases, you don’t need to score in the top 1% of candidate, but you do need to meet a basic baseline to continue on.

Another type of assessment in this category is a situational judgment test (SJT). These generally don’t have objectively correct answers and focus more on a candidate’s practical reasoning performance. Content tends to be more tailored for a job at hand and so it will be important to think carefully about the culture of the company and type of role to which you are applying when answering these questions.

Personality/Work Ethic
Most companies want employees who are reliable and trustworthy as well as ambitious to a certain degree. Personality assessments often help determine who might be a good cultural fit with the organization and a specific role. Remember though that what is deemed a “good” profile can vary widely depending on the type of work and department within an organization. Each department likely has their own desired profile for success.

Emotional Intelligence
EI is often linked to overall job performance and leadership potential. Often EI is assessed through a face-to-face interview, but increasingly companies are using psychological tests to gauge interpersonal tendencies.

How to Prepare

Practice helps boost performance on almost any kind of test because it helps to reduce your anxiety and it helps improve your mindset regarding test-taking strategies. Practice is only helpful though if you are able to do so with a similar type of assessment that you will be getting. Ask your network of contacts or the recruiter what you might anticipate. Some companies even provide practice problems so you have a bit of insight into they types of questions you will get. Assume the assessment will be timed and if necessary, practice under those same time constraints.

Don’t try to scam the test
Firstly, well-designed tests often have anti-cheating features that help detect anomalous responses; however, you also will want a job that is truly a good fit for you. New hires who have misrepresented themselves will be quickly found out once onboard. So, do your best to excel but also be genuine.

Research key competencies
You will never be able to know exactly what the company is trying to measure with these assessments, but it can be helpful to research key qualities, skills, and values (resilience, global mindset, technically savvy) that the organization might be seeking as these competencies are often linked with their assessment tools.

Some resources to help:

How to Interpret Results
Companies will often send you an overview of how you fared during their online assessment, but these can be hard to interpret because they will often say vague sentences such as, “In the quantitative reasoning section, compared to other participants, your completion of the test was relatively fast. You tended to be highly accurate meaning you answered more tasks correctly as compared to other participants.”

Candidates might move on in the application process if they meet the baseline criteria for each dimension being assessed. However, the exact qualification and how highly the company is weighting that in their overall decision, is almost impossible to ascertain.  You might get seemingly positive results from an online assessment but not be moved on to an interview.

Human resources and hiring managers are likely the only ones who know the exact parameters being evaluated. Much like university admissions, the way hiring criteria and the way hiring decisions are made is not often publicized.


Adaptability is a Learned Skill

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch November 9, 2020

We have always lived in a world full of uncertainty, but this moment feels especially ripe with unknowns, doubts, and fears. This particular moment in time can feel quite overwhelming to many, which is why it is so important to continue to work to cultivate adaptability in ourselves. According to Sue Motulsky, Associate Professor at Lesely University, “Adaptability is often seen as a personality trait.” However, in a Washington Post article, Motulsky encourages us to think of adaptability as a skill that can be learned, even if in a trial by fire. She points to how people quickly adapted and worked online at the start of the pandemic.

In many ways, we are living through a period of acute discomfort and we are all adapting. We are all strengthening this skill every day.  Adaptability, by definition, comes as a result of challenging circumstances where one’s status quo is disturbed. How can we continue to strengthen our own adaptability during difficult times?

Firstly, it is important to understand your particular relationship with stress. What are your own responses to stressful triggers? We often need to reflect and assess to fully appreciate how stress is impacting us personally. Some people experience psychosomatic symptoms and get headaches, stomach aches, etc.  Some people throw themselves into work, or food, or TV.  When it comes to crisis or change though, many people have automatic negative thoughts such as “I can’t work from home well because I need more structure.” When a thought like this presents itself, look at it logically and try to think of counterpoints and examples that question the validity of that statement. It can be hard to notice these as automatic negative thoughts, so pay close attention to your inner voice and corresponding feelings.

To help adapt to unpredictable moments, embrace the mindset that change can foster improvement and set small goals for yourself.  Planning an entire project from A to Z doesn’t allow much room for adapting and iterating, so focus on the first step or two only. Part of taking small steps for big tasks/problems also means being able to differentiate between things that are outside of our control.

Lastly, reflecting on positive occurrences and feeling gratitude for them can also help build one’s adaptability.  If you still feel you are struggling with honing your adaptability and resilience, we encourage you to watch our videos on resilience and also take part in our new upcoming webinar series on the mental health and well being of biomedical researchers.


Evolution of the Office – What’s Next?

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch November 30, 2020

Even before the coronavirus struck, the reign of the office as a permanent fixture in modern professional life had begun to look a bit shaky. According to Catherine Nixey’s article, Death of the Office, she contends “a combination of rising rents, the digital revolution and increased demands for flexible working meant its population was slowly emigrating to a different milieu.”  Most scientists will still need to go into labs to run experiments, but many administrators who have made the transition to full-time remote work completely seamlessly find themselves asking, “Is the office now completely antiquated?”

In the 20th century, factory designers turned their attention to offices. Sure, the moving parts were human but to optimize efficiency, many of the same principles were applied and so the open-plan office was born. Offices have long provoked strong sentiments. Poet John Betjeman wished for bombs to fall and “blow to smithereens/Those air-conditioned, bright canteens.” Despite the lack of aesthetics, research shows that office space can have profound effects on one’s physical and mental health and that offices might be more unpleasant for women. Air temperature tends to be set to suit the metabolic rates for a 154-pound, 40-year-old man leaving many women to freeze.

The most revolutionary aspect of the office wasn’t really focused so much on the building and space as just how much time we spent in them AND commuting to them. During the pandemic, many have found luxurious relief and freedom from their daily commute. Likewise, parents have found that they can no longer hide or keep up the pretense that their children don’t exist as they pop into Zoom meetings or can be heard crying during a staff call. Emily Oster, Professor of Economics at Brown and author of “Cribsheet” notes that parents often tried to keep a false pretense of not being distracted by personal obligations even going as far as “pretending they are themselves ill so that they can care for a sick infant lest people think they are prioritizing parenting.”

With the digital revolution risking redundancy, offices felt their power slipping away and many companies tried to up their game by bringing in ping-pong tables and snack bars in an attempt to keep workers perpetually in their hold.

With all of that said, humans need social encounters and work is often better when collaborating. Offices often filled this need and brought with it an artifice of order and productivity. It may be too early to say what will happen to the office permanently, but it could be the start of another revolution.


Message from OITE Director, Dr. Milgram

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch November 4, 2020

Dear All,

I know this is a long message, but it is an important one. I am writing to encourage all of you to pause for a moment to consider your plans for stress management, health and wellness as we enter the cold winter months. With the exception of those of you on the Arizona campus, we are all going to see much colder days and we are all facing fewer daylight hours. This will make it harder for us to be outside to exercise and to enjoy nature. It will also make it harder to safely see friends and to connect with those who support us. I appreciate we all see the 2020 election through our own lenses; however, it is safe to say we are all living through a divisive period, and that takes a toll as well. We wake up each day worrying about the news; about our friends, families, and communities; and many of us face the holidays far away from the people we wish to celebrate with. My wife and I never imagined being away from our son and extended family for such a long time and I know this is the same for many of you, especially our international fellows and those of you with family who are far away. So many hard things to deal with – and that can make it hard to find the good and to enjoy the sweet moments of life. While I worry about your research progress and career progression, your mental health and well-being comes firstRemember, to do well, we have to be well. 

Please pause to consider the tight spot we are in and make a plan for taking care of yourself over this winter. This includes having strategies for taking care of yourself physically (e.g., getting enough sleep, exercise, healthy food), mentally (e.g., monitoring negative self-talk, developing positive affirmations, being open to new learning), emotionally (e.g., recognizing and managing your emotions, staying connected with supportive people, building community with others), and spiritually (e.g., connecting to what brings greater meaning and purpose to your life). I have linked some OITE Career Blog posts on corresponding subjects in the hopes that reading will inspire new insights for you. There are hundreds more posts on topics related both to career and wellness, so don’t forget about this valuable online resource.  

Also, please be a wellness ambassador and talk with your colleagues about this topic and join OITE or other NIH wellness activities together. Check your email regularly to see what OITE wellness events are happening each week. Come talk with others at Wellness Wednesday, pick a time to go to Mindfulness Meditation each week, and attend the Journaling for Career Development and Personal Growth twice a month. Participate in the weekly Resilience Discussion Groups and recommend them to others. Sign up for workshops in the two new seminar series: “Becoming a Resilient Scientist” and “Mental Health and Wellbeing of Biomedical Researchers.” Check out wellness offerings across the NIH, such as R & W’s virtual fitness classes, NIH Wellness Toolkits, and EAP programs. 

Be a leader and think about things you can do individually in your research group to promote and support wellness. Suggest starting your data meetings with a brief check-in about how people are doing; encourage everyone to share wellness strategies that work for them; include research articles on wellness in your journal clubs; share your favorite meditation, exercise or yoga apps; create a list of helpful online resources and websites; or organize a monthly wellness challenge in your lab. Be creative – the ideas are endless! When I went home in mid-march, I imagined returning to campus in the spring, then I hoped for the summer, and now I am working hard to wrap my head around a Covid winter. I know many of you are working to make the same adjustments and we are here to support you as you do that. I look forward to the day when I can walk across campus and chat with you, when we can debate and laugh together in a workshop, and when we can meet in my office and not via Zoom. Until then, I hope to see you on Zoom because we will get through this together.

With deep appreciation for each and every one of you,

Dr. Sharon Milgram


Teaching at a Community College 101

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch November 23, 2020

Post written by guest blogger Ana M. Ribeiro, Special Programs Coordinator within OITE. 

What researchers need to know when applying for a faculty position at a Community College

Teaching at a Community College is a potential career choice for academics in the biological sciences who want to use their research skills and background knowledge to educate the next generation of college students. There are multiple aspects you should consider when applying to teach at a Community College, most importantly, you need to be passionate about teaching, and using this job as a steppingstone until you get your next research position might not be the best solution for you, the faculty administrators or the students. In Community Colleges, teaching always comes first and the hiring committees expect the same from anyone they choose to become faculty members in their institution. Before you consider applying to teach at a Community College, ask yourself some questions that can help you consider whether or not this might be the right career path for you and, if that’s the case, how can you become a competitive candidate.

Can being a researcher help me build a better application for a faculty position?

Although in academia there are certain achievements that can help you thrive as a researcher like number of publications, where you publish or what’s your h-index; when applying to teach at a Community College these metrics are less important. Your research experience, however, will give you an advantage during the selection process if you can describe how being a scientist can make you a better educator. Although having a PhD doesn’t necessarily help you teach, it will help you become a better generalist, someone who is able to make connections, to solve problems fast and to adjust their teaching material to the different students’ needs. In addition, being able to understand and maintain equipment used for classes and research projects is easier to do when you’ve used it in the past. Having extra experience from your research background helps you be a versatile critical thinker and problem-solver. And who’s better at solving problems on the spot than scientists? But remember, to teach at a Community College you’ll have to be able to take off your ‘scientist hat’ and put on a ‘teacher hat’ – even though you understand the concepts you’ll be teaching in all its complexity, you’ll have to translate it into a language that can be understood by everyone, including students who have no background knowledge in the area you’re teaching. Using your expertise and your passion for science to your advantage as an educator will engage your students and ultimately help them thrive, whether they use that knowledge professionally in the future or not.

What makes a good application for a faculty position at a Community College?

To teach at a Community College you’ll need to have a master’s degree plus 18 credit hours or a PhD in the field you’ll be teaching. Besides your academic qualifications, and particularly for permanent faculty positions, expressing a desire to teach, to connect and listen to your student’s goals, being enthusiastic about the idea of improving yourself professionally over time to promote your student’s success, and explaining why teaching at a Community College is part of your mission will give you a competitive edge. As opposed to four-year institutions, Community Colleges are extremely diverse, not only in terms of race or socioeconomic status, but also regarding motivations to become a student there. As an applicant, it is essential that you do your homework by learning about the College you’ll be applying to, it’s demographics, and to be prepared to explain not only that you can work with this diverse population, but how you’ll thrive in this environment. If you’re not sure if this is the right population of students to work with, consider investing some energy in diversity trainings before applying; this will help you understand whether or not you’ll honor the commitment of serving your students with the respect, empathy and dedication they deserve.

               When applying, avoid explaining to the recruiters what you want to get out of the job for yourself. Instead, focus on the reasons why you want to join this institution and what you can do for the students as a professor and the other faculty members as their colleague. If you make yourself seen and a valuable asset to the department chairs by emailing them shortly before the semester starts (even if you weren’t selected for the position), they may think of you as the faculty member they need in an emergency hiring situation.

What will my responsibilities be as a Community College professor?

               If you’re wondering how can your time in the lab doing experiments and writing manuscripts or detailing in an education or policy office help you become a professor, the sky is the limit if you’re enthusiastic and well aware that you have to keep on improving professionally. As an educator, your teaching job won’t be just teaching. In fact, being a Community College faculty member means that you’ll combine multiple skills developed in your past (or current) career path to fulfill your responsibilities successfully. Communicating science in a confident and engaging but simplified manner, dealing with the challenges of finding new ways of presenting the material (from in-person to online format, for example) and  keeping your material scientifically accurate and up to date (as well as exciting for the students) for example by reading scientific journals, attending conferences and inviting speakers, are ways of ensuring your inner scientist can help you be an engaging professor. Additionally, you may be responsible for supervising student’s research and you’ll probably have to advise students as well as to serve in multiple committees. As a Community College professor, you’ll be coordinating multiple tasks concomitantly, including serving the students and the university but also developing your own professional aspirations, which means you’ll need to be extremely organized and manage your time well.

As a final note, if you’re thinking about applying to teach at a Community College, you have the right to seek support from your employers in order to accomplish your professional goals. Be honest about what those goals are from the moment you apply and, if you join the institution, ask for help from more experienced faculty members whenever you need it. Always remember that your students’ success depends entirely on yours.

This text is based on a panel discussion with faculty members entitled ‘Teaching at a Community College 101’ (, recorded in the context of the NIH 2020 Community College Day. A big thank you to Drs. Nadene Houser-Archield, Margaret (Maggie) Emblom-Callahan, Lori M. Kelman and Suman Mukherjee.