Each year in the U.S. alone, companies hire more than 15 million temporary employees through staffing agencies. The second largest sector for staffing agencies is for clerical and administrative office workers, which hires more than 4 million employees annually.
These employees fill vital roles in organizations, working full-time on a limited basis to fill in for a permanent employee who is ill or on leave or to help a company with a temporary work overload.
Knowing that the individuals you hire from a staffing agency are unequivocally ready and able to perform their clerical or administrative functions immediately is extremely important. You can’t afford to hire workers who will need extensive training, only to have them leave employment when their temporary contract is up.
An effective and inexpensive means of assuring those you hire from a staffing agency have the necessary skills to perform the job is to administer skills assessment tests. You can assess the critical skills for any position before you make a hire.
The first step is to determine which skills to assess.
Here are the five most important ones to look for in clerical and administrative employees:
Reading Comprehension. Most tasks for clerical and administrative office jobs involve written communication. Clerical and administrative employees serve as a conduit for information, which involves receiving, processing and sending accurate information in various formats though various media. These employees spend much of their day reading e-mails, memos, reports or other documents. They need to read written instructions to perform a particular task, such as ordering supplies, or to read a report to provide an overview to their manager. Strong reading comprehension and speed are critical for success.
Writing. Equally important is writing. Many office-related tasks — e-mails, memos and instructions — require writing. Clerical and administrative workers may be asked to order supplies, which means they must be able to write a clear explanation of what they need with specific instructions for delivery location and time. They might also be asked to write an executive summary of a manager’s report. Whatever the writing task, tone, brevity, clarity, and precision are key.
Typing Speed and Accuracy. Office workers use computers and, to do so efficiently, the must be able to type. Typing skills can be easily assessed with a typing test that records the applicants’ speed and error rate.
Word Processing. Beyond typing speed and accuracy, office workers need to know how to use the layout and typography features of word processing software to format documents according to the company’s style and brand. They should also be able to create fillable forms and modify existing templates for communications where the format is fixed but the information changes, such as a monthly report.
Spreadsheets. Many of the tasks clerical and administrative employees perform involve spreadsheets. They might need to create a new spreadsheet to perform an important function, such as tracking customer contacts, or maintain or update information in an existing spreadsheet, such as adding monthly sales for each sales representative. The office worker must be prepared to do both of these important spreadsheet tasks, and more.
Although some companies have their own testing programs and create their own tests, developing tests is usually expensive and time consuming. Utilizing the services of a company like eSkill, which specializes in skills assessments, is far more cost effective.
Dr. Spector is a professor who has spent a career teaching and doing research about the human side of organizations. He has taught both industrial-organizational (I-O) psychology and business at the bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral levels.