When Resumes Aren’t Enough: Prove To Employers That You Know Your Stuff With Smarterer

Smarterer is packed with questions provided by users that test skills in technology-related subjects. The scores could eventually be used by employers to assess applicants.

Say you’re an employer and you’re thumbing through the fresh stack of resumes. You spot some candidates that look pretty strong, have an impressively diverse skill set. But then, how can you be sure that he’s proficient with Excel, or she really has “extensive experience with Photoshop?” The answer: get Smarterer.

No, I’m not channeling my inner four-year-old. Smarterer is a company that has created a test that evaluates a wide set of skills: Microsoft Word, Powerpoint, Excel, even Google Search, to name a few. More than just programs, it tests general knowledge in areas like financial accounting, basic math, and English for business. To my surprise there’s even a test for Facebook. I thought you couldn’t use Facebook at work.

With colorful icons and different skill levels, the website has a distinct game-like feel that makes you want to just take the tests even if you’re not looking for a job (I am merely “Familiar” with Excel. Hey it’s been a while since I was crunching numbers in the lab). The site even has leaderboards, and I can definitely see employers trawling those leaderboards for Excel and JavaScript mavens.

The really interesting part of Smarterer, in my opinion, is that the tests are user-generated. Not only can you take the tests, but you can submit questions of your own for others to answer. The tests also adapt to the user’s skill level. If you pick off the easier questions quickly, it ramps up the difficulty level. The setup is smart in that way, making sure everyone gets challenged.

But it’s a bit of a black box the way your score (that your job might depend on!) is calculated. Smarterer says only that it’s “based on the algorithms used to score chess masters.” They do tell you though that you can improve your score simply by submitting questions of your own. And how much your score improves is based on how other people answer your questions. That sounds kind of tricky to me. I understand the website benefits from getting more questions, but a person’s score shouldn’t be rewarded if the questions aren’t good ones. And how do you differentiate between a bad question and a question that’s just really hard?

One kind of annoying part about the website is the big blue bar that counts down the time while you’re trying frantically to answer the questions quickly and impress the company who’s receiving your resume tomorrow. It’s a bit unnerving. But maybe that’s by design. How well do you work under pressure?

In just 7 months the number of questions answered on Smarterer has climbed from a handful to over 10 million.

Online expertise assessment systems such as Smarterer’s could prove vital to linking applicant to employer in the near future. Because of people like Salman Khan, creator of the Khan Academy, and Google X founder Sebastian Thrun, creator of Udacity, it’s no longer obvious that university educations only come from attending universities. The Khan Academy’s library of more than 3,200 videos provides anyone with a computer access to a learning tool for everything from physics to finance to history. And a separate skills section allows people to use what they’ve learned. Udacity is a more hands-on tool, a sequence of exercises that force the student to stick with the problem until she gets it right. Right now Udacity offers introductory courses for statistics, physics, and computer science. They also offer intermediate and advanced classes, such as Artificial Intelligence: Programming A Robotic Car.

And by the way, both Khan and Udacity are free.

But neither are accredited, and that could be a problem. With our current model of education, you ain’t got nuthin’ if you don’t have a degree – a degree that more than likely cost you tens of thousands of dollars. But what if you’re one of the 23,000 people who graduated from Udacity’s artificial intelligence course last year, a course comprised of the same exact curriculum that Thrun was simultaneously teaching at Stanford? What if you were the top student? Does that count for anything as far as companies are concerned as they put your resume in a pile with the rest?

It certainly matters to True Ventures, Google Ventures and others who recently raised $1.75 million in venture funding for Smarterer. That brings the total money raised to $3 million since the company was founded in October 2010. Clearly Smarterer is onto something. And with 10 million questions answered already and 100,000 more being answered every day, its users think so too.

[image credits: HRinmotion and Smarterer]
images: HRinmotion and Smarterer

Peter Murray was born in Boston in 1973. He earned a PhD in neuroscience at the University of Maryland, Baltimore studying gene expression in the neocortex. Following his dissertation work he spent three years as a post-doctoral fellow at the same university studying brain mechanisms of pain and motor control. He completed a collection of short stories in 2010 and has been writing for Singula...

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