The #1 predictor of job candidate success is a Work Sample Test. It’s better than interviews and cognitive ability and comically better than a candidate’s experience or references.
Depending on the job, Work Sample Tests can be virtually anything. There are lots of different jobs, which require other traits and skills. Almost anything related to the role’s day-to-day activities could be considered a work sample test.
So, for this post, I’ll briefly go over some of the different ways different organizations perform their various work sample tests prior to employee hiring and onboarding. My goal is that these brief case studies will inspire you to come up with your own.
Let’s get started.
Use A Consulting Project As An Audition.
In 2021 On Deck, a fast-growing start-up building a community for top talent acquired Lean Hire. Lean Hire made it easy for small, growing companies to connect with potential future employees and have them do a consulting project.
The idea behind Lean Hire is pretty simple. Hiring, particularly for leadership positions at small companies, is fraught with risks for both the company and the applicant. Lean Hire matched candidates with companies for short-term consulting projects so both parties could get to know each other better before making a full-time commitment.
Once you understand the concept of a work tryout, you start seeing them all over the place.
- Automattic, the company behind WordPress and lauded for its pioneering support for remote work, conducts “Auditions.” 1
- New, fresh out of residency MDs pursue fellowships at hospitals where they’d like to work.
- Leading banks and consulting firms conduct “Leadership Rotations” or “Management Training Programs” for new grads. At the end of the program, not all participants are asked to return.
- Law firms hire summer interns. Not all of them receive offers to return after graduation (and not all new lawyers accept the offer).
Have The Candidate Do A Sales Pitch On The Recruiter Screen
This is one I’ve done personally and has been successful. Here’s how it worked:
- Before opening the job requisition, I worked with the recruiting team to help them understand the components of a good discovery sales call. The goal was to get them to the point where they 1) understood the components and 2) could easily recognize them.
- Recruiters posted the job, and candidates applied.
- The recruiter/sourcer determined which candidates they’d like to invite to a phone screen.
- During the 30-minute phone screen, the recruiter told the candidate that they’d allow 10 minutes to role-play a sales discovery call where they (the candidate) would be the product they were selling.
- After the discovery call, the recruiter noted which components the candidates covered. Eventually, we got to the point where we determined that there were five components we wanted to see. So the recruiters would make notes like “candidate got three of the five components, didn’t summarize or set-up another contact point.”
- Recruiters would pass any candidates who got three or more of the discovery call components on to me.
If you’re conducting candidate phone screens, then you’re likely new to talent acquisition and probably pretty ambitious and eager to learn so you can advance your career. The surprising thing about this approach was how much the recruiters enjoyed it. They appreciated that they had direction, a rubric that gave them autonomy and taught them how to determine sales skill fundamentals objectively.
Screen For Consciousness And Attention To Detail At Job Application
Before I cared too much about my ability to evaluate talent, I interviewed candidates for a project manager position.
One of them went on and on about how detail-oriented they were, which is an excellent trait for project managers. The only problem was that their resume had three apparent errors.
At the time, I wasn’t confident enough to tell the hiring manager that I didn’t want to hire this person. I went with the flow, we hired them, and it didn’t work out. At all.
Looking back, I wish that I had been more assertive. But the experience made me realize that there was probably a better way to screen this person out earlier by screening candidates for attention to detail during the application process.
Years later, I came across a job posting from a growing and respected SaaS company called Fleetio. Fleetio, as it happens, screens for attention to detail well before the interview stage. I’m not going to spoil it for you, but check out this posting to see how they do it.
Using Play As A Work Sample Test
My friend Sharon, a renowned data scientist, is a big fan of using situational play to see how someone approaches a problem.
One example of play that can tell you a lot about someone’s skills? Online escape rooms from Team Building Hub.
While it’s not always practical to do with candidates, observing yourself and your team interact in a virtual escape room experience will tell you a lot about your collective soft skills. For example:
- Are you all communicating in a way that’s consistent with your values?
- Is there someone who is leading well above their current pay grade?
- Is your team a collection of individuals or acting as a true team?
Another benefit of game-style work sample tests is that they can be done as a group. When evaluating job candidates with a work sample test you have to look at them individually. But by watching a team play a virtual escape room with Team Building Hub you observe how the team comes together and can get a better understanding of the collective’s strengths and weaknesses.
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I hope these use cases help you implement Work Sample Tests in your work, and frankly, I’d love to hear from you if there’s something you do to evaluate a candidate’s ability to do the job.
Thank you for reading! If you’d like to make hiring your superpower (and you should) subscribe to my newsletter, Lying to Ourselves. People seem to really dig it.
Ben Kettle is the founder of Great Growth, where he provides strategic growth consulting for early stage companies. He also writes about creating data driven, inclusive hiring cultures at Lying to Ourselves. Prior to founding Great Growth he held sales and product leadership positions at companies ranging from seed stage to billions in revenue. In his free time he chases his young daughters around and occasionally races his bicycle.