Problem: Unsuccessful hires

Solution: Software that tests computer and clerical skills

Payoff: More-appropriate hires, time saved on training

Exaggerating on a résumé is nothing new. By now most employers know what "proficient in Spanish" really means. But for the many white lies that prove harmless, there are others that cause headaches after people are hired--especially when it comes time to perform database management and other critical tasks.

Lori Jacobson, manager of training and client service for Scott-Levin, in Newtown, Pa., knows about headaches. The $20-million-plus pharmaceutical consulting firm is always hiring. So it's not unusual for Jacobson to find herself with a gaggle of new employees to train. At one point, in an attempt to sort out levels of skill, Jacobson devised a list of computer terms and functions. Then she started asking new hires to check off the ones they knew. She spent hours going through the checklists by hand and sorting people into groups, only to realize later that the questionnaire had yielded inaccurate results. "A lot of people fudged on the test or simply couldn't articulate what it was they did or didn't know how to do," says Jacobson.

Frustrated, Jacobson scrapped the checklist and turned to a computer-based test she had taken herself at a previous job. The software, Prove It! (from Know It All Inc. in Philadelphia, 800-935-6694; the most popular package is Core Prove It!, $1,999, but individual tests are available starting at $149) forces users to demonstrate their computer and clerical abilities rather than just talk about them. Now Jacobson has every person who applies for an administrative or marketing job at Scott-Levin take a crack at it.

Prove It! tests applicants' knowledge of everything from the Microsoft Windows operating system to word-processing programs. (Core Prove It! comes with 50 tests of clerical and computing skills.) When the test is over, the program automatically calculates the user's score and saves it in a central database.

Jacobson estimates the software saves her about $550 per person in unnecessary training. But, by far, the biggest saving has come in the cost of recruiting and training replacements. Every unsuccessful hire means a loss of approximately $5,000. Since implementing Prove It! in July 1995, Jacobson hasn't had to replace a single new hire.

The downside? Well, the software isn't entirely a crowd-pleaser. "You should see the look on people's faces when I tell them they have to take a test," says Jacobson.