Online exams are bringing positive results for some recruiters, says Virginia Matthews

Now the country's largest private sector recruiter with 1,200 graduates appointed each year from around 10,000 applicants, Deloitte - which has recently overhauled its entire graduate recruitment process - believes that online numerical and verbal reasoning tests are vital predictors of a candidate's long-term strength.

Says Sally Whitman, senior manager, graduate recruitment: "Our research so far shows that the online tests provide not only an indication of ability, but may also point to likely performance in all-important professional chartered accountancy qualifications."

Deloitte believes that it has substantially enhanced the speed and efficiency of its entire graduate recruitment process by replacing its former paper-based psychometric test with more sophisticated online verbal and numerical reasoning tests.

The fully automated tests - provided by the assessment specialist PSL - are designed to reduce the chances of making "expensive mistakes" in its hiring policy.

The PSL tests assess a candidate's ability to understand and interpret complex, verbally presented descriptions and to analyse financial data. More sophisticated than paper-based equivalents, the huge library of available questions is fully randomised to reduce the problem of cheating.

The chances of any two candidates receiving the same test are several million to one, but each question has roughly the same level of difficulty so that scores can be compared on a like-for-like basis.

"Doing the online test at home was far more relaxed than going to someone's office and it meant that I was able to choose a time when I was really in the mood for it," says Deloitte associate Naomi Barlow, an English graduate with two years experience teaching English in Japan.

"Although I found the verbal reasoning fairly straightforward and the numeracy test a big challenge, colleagues who are stronger in numeracy than literacy had the opposite experience."

Barlow, who works in a specialist team advising Japanese ex-patriats on tax issues, has recently passed the tax element of her Association of Tax Technicians (ATT) exams and will sit the law and accounts exams next year.

In the past, potential recruits to Deloitte's 21 service lines in tax, audit, consulting and corporate finance businesses would complete a 90-minute test in a Deloitte office before automatically being interviewed by a line manager.

Today, the online reasoning tests take 70 minutes to complete and can be completed at home, in the candidate's own time. Rather than completing the test and being interviewed at the same time, the firm now uses the tests to help select those applicants it wishes to interview.

Approximately 60 per cent of applicants are now sifted out through pre-selection and the remaining 40 per cent are invited to complete the online tests.

From these, around 30 per cent of people are rejected and the remainder are invited in for a first interview. Interviewees are expected to demonstrate 11 competencies including commercial awareness, problem-solving and judgement skills, says Deloitte, which adds that it is always on the look out for "all-rounders".

Those who impress are invited in for a final assessment day and an interview with one of the firm's partners. "By integrating these tests into our graduate selection process, and ensuring that managers only see those candidates who have already passed them, we have saved thousands of hours of interview time," says Whitman. "The market for talented graduates is very competitive and we need to ensure our selection process is fast and efficient. PSL's online tests help us to concentrate on those candidates who have got what it takes to be successful."