I’m a fan of the 10,000 hours rule of mastery, but that many hours of practice won’t always correlate to world-class proficiency. If you drive two hours a day for 15 years, you will have put in your 10,000 hours and then some, but you probably won’t be Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Similarly, if you spend most of your waking hours facing a screen, that doesn’t mean you’re tech savvy. I found this out the hard way. Like most employers, at my companies we previously bought the myth about the tech-savvy millennial and figured anyone under 30 would know how to take a screengrab, lock a PDF, or cleanse metadata out of a Word doc. At least 50 percent of the time, that was not the case. That’s why I favor running a “tech competency” interview as an adjunct to the usual candidate interview. I implemented this practice as part of the hiring process within all of my companies. Modern businesses, especially those in professional services such as law, consulting, accounting and, to some degree, medicine, must require relevant tech competency among its professionals and staff. What’s In the Tech Quiz? The tech competency portion of the interview we run includes about a dozen basic functions that any new hire would be expected to know how to execute. These aren’t “gotcha” questions designed to weed out people who aren’t clever. The tasks we identify are relevant to the particular role, occur daily and meet the bare limits of tech competence in our experience. For instance, most professionals perform certain tasks on a regular basis. Those regular tasks form the basis for the quiz. Here’s a sample from one of the timed tech quizzes we give to a lawyer:
- Run a compare of two versions of a document.
- Take a screengrab.
- Join a videoconference with working audio/video.
- Share a document via videoconference.
- View and remove metadata from a document.
- Comment via PDF and secure a PDF.
- Rip a PDF and convert to editable format.
- Create an Excel spreadsheet template for a basic project.
- Find key information about a mock query via web search.
These tasks aren’t hard, but if you were never asked to do them and never shown how to do them, then they are likely beyond your grasp. From what we’ve seen, law schools are not doing a great job preparing their students for the real world of day-to-day work—but neither are schools overall. A recent survey from the Educational Testing Service found that 16- to 34-year-olds in the U.S. were dead last in what the service calls “problem-solving in technology-rich environments.” Another survey from Change the Equation found that 58 percent of millennials haven’t mastered tech skills that help to increase workplace productivity. This isn’t a knock on any generation. We’ve found every generation has its share of tech incompetence. But it’s not just schools that are to blame. We have interviewed people who have worked at “Big Law” or the “Big 4” who couldn’t manage all of these tasks either. Apparently, in such places assistants do that kind of work. Why This Is Important Some might argue that schools and large firms aren’t negligent, they just don’t consider these tasks important. Since you could learn most of these skills in a week anyway, what’s the big deal? We could turn that question around too: If those skills are fairly easy to require, why don’t more people take the time to do so? For me, knowing such skills displays a level of resourcefulness and self-sufficiency that says something about a person’s work ethic. How resourceful is someone to figure something out on their own? A resourceful, self-sufficient, clever professional will somehow always find a way. A person who is not will simply give up or lose their cool. There is no excuse to not have at least some advanced tech competency skills. That’s why, even if you consider yourself tech savvy, give some thought to how much of your tech time is consumption versus creation and work toward changing that ratio. For business owners, consider a tech competency quiz as an essential step in your hiring process; the results will speak volumes about the candidate you are about to consider hiring. Monica Zent is an experienced entrepreneur, investor, businesswoman, and trusted legal advisor to leading global brands, over a period that spans decades. Her most recent venture is founder & CEO of Foxwordy Inc., the digital collaboration platform for the legal industry. She is also founder of ZentLaw, one of the nation’s top alternative law firms. Zent is an investor in real estate and startups, and dedicates her time and talent to various charitable causes. She is a diversity and inclusion advocate, inspiring all people to pursue their dreams. When she’s not running companies, Zent runs distance as an endurance athlete. @MonicaZent