Recruitment Exams vs Competitive Exams - How to Approach Them?

June 12, 2020 Navneet Kumar

In the rat race, it is so hard to catch a breath. From struggling to clear entrance examinations to get into a prestigious university for further studies or toiling hard day and night to eke out a place on the recommended list of candidates in a recruitment exam, there is quite a lot that makes for a bitter experience for graduates. It is challenging for graduates to decide whether they want to pursue higher studies or get into a job of their liking. In such a situation, various factors have to be taken into consideration such as finances, grades, scope etc. Ultimately, it is an individual’s choice, but it is better to be well informed about all the related aspects mentioned above before making that choice.

For both jobs and admissions, one needs to appear for a specific type of exam to have one’s fitness measured. For getting a job, one needs to look for recruitment exams, and for getting into colleges for further education, one needs to appear for competitive exams (there are also some exceptions like GATE and UPSC, where one can get a job through these competitive exams). The kind of preparation required for competitive exams is quite different from that needed for recruitment exams. Let’s look at various aspects of competitive exams and recruitment exams like what they are and how they should be approached, followed by some practical tips based on my experience of preparing for both of them.

What are recruitment exams?

Recruitment exams are tools for testing and screening the right candidates from a pool of thousands or even lakhs. They are used to gauge talent.
The characteristics of the recruitment exams are as follows:

  • They are mainly conducted to hire people for a job opening.
  • They can be conducted anytime, depending on the hiring schedule of the company.
  • They are generally of a shorter span like 30-45 minutes.
  • They are not just evaluating but also carry marketing and branding influence for candidates as they want the best talent and hence, the candidate experience is also important.

There are four components of recruitment exams:

  1. Cognitive Ability Assessments – These test the learning potential of a candidate which is an inherent quality. It evaluates a person’s ability to think and solve problems. It is also called intelligence or the g factor and refers to the capacity to reason, plan, and solve problems.
  • These are used by (more than 80%) recruiters while hiring engineering graduates, for varied roles like software engineer, analyst, customer service executive etc.

2. Technical Assessments – These test the technical knowledge (i.e. respective domain like Civil Engineering, Computer Fundamentals etc.) and skills which are acquired by a candidate over time.

  • These are again used frequently by recruiters (more than 60%) while hiring engineering graduates, for example, for varied roles like software engineer, analyst, web developer etc.

3. English Communication Assessments – These assess whether a candidate has the required English language proficiency to communicate in a professional context.

  • More than 70% of the employers assess English communication through English comprehension or Written English Assessment as per the requirement of the job role. English is now the global language of business used to communicate among business partners from various nations in the world.

4. Behaviour and Personality Assessments – These assess whether a candidate is a correct fit for the organization/role in terms of personality and behaviour.

  • This is a high growth area when it comes to assessments being conducted for graduate hiring. Currently, more than 15% recruiters use these, and the numbers are growing by the day.

How should the student approach recruitment exams?

Fig1: Employability Snapshot (This is based on data of 400+ clients of Aon's Assessment Solutions)

As seen above, even post-training, approximately 53% of the graduates are not able to portray themselves as readily employable. Instead of considering it to be lack of potential, the issue must be explored further with a more solution-focussed approach.

Here are a few points to remember should you ever be demotivated while preparing for recruitment exams:

  • Analyze which among the above-mentioned skills are your strength and weakness and then plan your preparations accordingly.
  • Do not choose a domain only because it is hotly pursued currently (i.e. much in demand); for example, computer science engineering; most graduates are willing to work in this field so that they can earn a handsome amount of money, not because it is their area of interest.
  • Approach assessments systematically- first attempt those questions which you feel are easy to solve. This only not helps in solving more problems but also can boost your confidence during the exam.
  • Practice more and more. Have a fair idea of the test before the D-day, and remember that persistent effort is the key.
  • Hiring evaluation is not just about bagging a job but also about you evaluating the company and your fit with it. It’s not just about being the best of all but about being yourself and figuring out if this is the right job to be in and the right environment for growth.
  • Having a reference from someone already working in the organization can play a crucial part in bagging the job. For example, someone you may know, like a college alumnus may already be working in the organisation you want to work for, and they might help you in getting an interview.

What are competitive exams?

Competitive exams are centrally held, i.e. all over the country or state, like the GATE and CAT exams, and millions of aspirants attend them every year. The main aim of these exams is to sort out meritorious candidates from a larger pool. It is an assessment where candidates are ranked according to the scores they obtain in the examinations. Success ratio in a competitive exam is minimal; for example, in GATE, out of 2 lakh candidates, only 300-400 get a job in PSUs, and in UPSC the success ratio is less than even 1%.

  • A competitive exam can be either for admission in a college/school/university, or for placement in a job in a government funded organisation or for both. For example, GATE is an exam which can be taken for both the purposes mentioned.
  • It is usually conducted once or twice a year.
  • The duration of the exam is usually around 2-3 hours.

There are generally three components of competitive exams:

  1. Cognitive Abilities and Language Skills
  2. Technical/Subject-matter Knowledge
  3. Current Affairs and General knowledge

How should the student approach competitive exams?

A combination of hard work and smart work is required to crack any exam. Hard work means putting in a lot of effort, while smart work is operating efficiently in a planned manner. Effective learning matters more than just the hours put in.

  • Analysing previous year papers, diligently sticking to a fixed schedule, and effectively managing time are keys to preparing well.
  • Having a positive mindset/attitude, confidence, zeal, ability to handle pressure is very crucial – again practice helps a lot here!
  • Making a habit of taking short notes of various chapters/topics; will be painful initially but will help immensely later on while revising.
  • Treat exams like a crush. Dedication in your pursuit will lead you to your goal.
  • Long term preparation rather than short term cramming.

Everyone has heard the story of the tortoise and the hare. In the original story, the hare procrastinated because he thought that he was fast enough to win the race even without putting in the required effort. In other words, he was over-confident and careless. Hence, the tortoise won the race. The moral of the story was slow but steady wins the race.  Wait, there was a twist. The hare though disappointed was determined. He convinced the tortoise for another race and this time he didn’t procrastinate and won the race by a mile. Hence, the moral of the story was “fast and consistent wins the race”. There’s more. After losing the race, the tortoise invited the hare for another race, but on a different slightly route. During the race, both came across a river, and the finishing line was on the other side of the river. The tortoise quickly swam to the other side and won the race. So, why did the tortoise win finally? He won because instead of emulating others’ strength, his focus was on his own strength, and he acted according to it.

Neither the hare nor the tortoise gave up after a failure. The hare worked harder and realised his mistakes and put in more effort. On the other hand, the tortoise analysed his strength and used it to win the race. Identify your skills, analyse your strengths and work harder to achieve your goal!


About the Author

Navneet Kumar

Navneet is a part of Assessment Content, Design and Analytics team at Aon’s Assessments Solutions, in India. He has done his B.Tech in Civil engineering from IIT (BHU) Varanasi. He is an ardent reader. He has qualified exams like GATE, CAT, JEE etc. He has significant interests in doing social work which impacts society.

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