Here’s a scenario that sounds all too familiar:
A growing company CEO was looking to hire a new accounting clerk. Recently, she had been experiencing a relatively high degree of turnover (for a smaller business even 2-3 staff changes are tough). She was losing confidence in her hiring ability. The CEO hired an HR consultant to help with the process, who in turn suggested testing (in this case, the Hogan Assessment). The CEO and two other senior staff interviewed the final candidates and shared their impressions.
Unfortunately, there was more confusion than clarity. Two of the candidates scored low on the Hogan test but did well in the interviews. The third candidate scored high on the Hogan but was awkward during the interview. Despite all the efforts, the interview process still felt uncertain and subjective.
Robin Thieme, CEO of Kensington Business Solutions, experienced hiring new staff as a significant barrier to growth in her own financial services firm -- and with many of her clients. After much reading and attention to process, Robin significantly improved the quality and retention of new employees through “working interviews.”
Rather than the Q&A format of a traditional interview, the working interview simulates the actual work involved in the position.
Best Practices in Designing a Working Interview
Working interviews are a series of tasks that would be typical for that job position. In executing these tasks, the candidate gets to experience the company, and the CEO / staff can observe how well the candidate performs. Tasks should be designed to include the following:
- Test for culture fit. Create tasks that test for certain core values which are critical and uncompromising for the company, such as non-disclosure of client info, compliance procedures, attention to detail, or client-first focus.
- Include working sessions with team members. Test in a non-threatening but realistic way. View how the candidate interacts or “gets along” with your other team members.
- Look at communication abilities in different formats as they apply to the position. For example, if the job will be performed remotely, test use of remote tools and communication in chat, verbal, and written form. If the company consistently uses certain project management or software tools, have exercises that include those. If the new hire will communicate with customers, have the candidate write an email to a fictional client.
- Develop process checklists. In a working interview, the output or speed is often less important than the process. Did the candidate ask questions? How thorough was he/she in responding (bare minimum or too much detail)? How curious is he/she about the work? Problem-solving approach? How willing was he/she to learn new software and procedures? How flexible was the style? Develop a checklist upfront to reduce personality or style bias.
Best Practices in Conducting a Working Interview
Since a working interview will demand time and effort for both the employer and the candidate, it is important to set clear expectations on the process, timing and expectations:
- Reiterate the position compensation. Be clear on what the pay will be and any growth paths upfront. Some companies offer one salary to start, with an increase after the training/ onboarding process (usually 2-3 months) and the successful completion of performance milestones.
- State company benefits. Benefits can include the usual healthcare, paid leave, 401K, etc. as well as working with a great group of colleagues, training, flexible work schedule, virtual workplace, and casual work attire.
- Communicate the working interview timing and stipend (if provided). Robin believes in providing a small stipend to compensate the candidate for his/her time and to demonstrate a serious commitment to the hiring process.
Here’s sample language you can email to the candidate:
The working interview consists of time meeting with various team members in person as well as some virtual meetings and assignments. It is intended to simulate, on a small scale, the work environment and assignments.
I would like to conduct the working interview with you and one or two other candidates during the week of <date>.
The schedule will be as follows:
- Day 1: Skype/Video Interview with <your business> team member for 1 - 1.5 hours; Assignments delegated
- Day 2: Phone follow up with a <your business> team member for 30 minutes; Assignments delegated with due date of current and following day
- Day 3: Phone follow up with a <your business> team member for 15 - 30 minutes; All assignments delegated due
The process between Day 1 – Day3 will require approximately 3 - 6 hours.
All phone discussions and web meetings will take place between the hours of 10 am - 3:00 pm. A stipend of $x is provided to all candidates participating in the process assuming that a reasonable effort is made during the three-day period of time.
After the working interview, let all candidates know when and how you will communicate the hiring decision.
With clear upfront preparation, the working interview alleviates uncertainty and stress for the job candidate and the employer. Traditional interviews often just look at the surface of style, personality, and interpersonal communication skills. Working interviews help any company thoughtfully look at a new candidate through the lens of the work to be performed.
And the process is often highly valued by the candidate. Here’s a sample response:
I think I've commented in other places how much I've enjoyed this process! I think it went very smoothly, which is pretty amazing in itself, given that a lot of the assigned tasks were using programs I'd never used before. The ease in which I could communicate with any team member and ask questions about the tasks made it super accessible. I really enjoyed meeting some of the team members, and truly appreciate the time they took out to speak with me! They made me feel so welcome! It is very obvious that the energy you put into your onboarding process and the beliefs you instill in your company go hand in hand and are a huge part of what makes you stand out from other financial/consulting firms. I have no recommendations for improvements, and I don't think I have any other questions.