Testing that a candidate can actually do the work required is not only common, it’s smart. But how far can you push it?
The administrator who claims advanced Excel skills but struggles to apply a formula. The manager with a decade of experience who can’t handle a deadline. The graduate content writer who makes grammatical errors.
Making these kinds of hiring mistakes happens. Interviewing and knowing how to polish a resume are different skills than those required for doing the job itself. The recruiter’s task is, of course, to sort out the chaff from the grain — through research, interviews and reference checks.
Another tool is getting the candidate to prove their aptitude with a work test or ‘job audition’. Also known as a skills test or case study, the audition involves asking a candidate to spend time completing a task they would have to do once hired. A marketer might have to come up with a product launch strategy. An editor might have to fix up a draft. An HR professional might have to propose a mediation approach to a workplace issue.
A useful innovation
Many job seekers see auditions as intimidating and time-consuming. They fear companies will reject their applications and steal their ideas or work.
But for recruiters job auditions can be key to getting the right person in the right job. In fact, 54 per cent of recruiters see auditions as one of the “most useful interviewing innovations”, according to LinkedIn’s 2018 Global Recruiting Trends Report. The report surveyed 9,000 respondents from 39 countries.
Research supports their opinions. In 1998, Frank Schmidt and John Hunter drew together 85 years of studies on 19 recruitment techniques. The job audition — or ‘work sample test’ — could predict nearly a third of a candidate’s performance. When the audition is combined with a general mental ability (GMA) test, this increases to 63 per cent. A GMA test plus an integrity test is the highest performing duo, with a mean performance prediction rate of 65 per cent.
At the other end of the scale is the unstructured interview, which, on average, predicts just 14 per cent of performance. Even less revealing is a reference check, at seven per cent.
“I’m a firm believer in case studies,” says Sung Ho Lee, a regional director at Michael Page. “They get good results, because they ensure the interview process is thorough. Over the past few years, our clients have been requesting them more and more.”
Alice Clark, founder and director of Oomf Recruitment, agrees. “Job auditions can be useful when convincing our clients of the suitability of a candidate. This is especially true for highly specialised roles… when candidates don’t necessarily tick all the boxes on paper, but are super keen and competent.”
She recalls recruiting a designer for a packaging branding agency. “His experience was more corporate, but we felt he would be a great fit. So we suggested he work on a self-initiated project in the packaging design space. The project was the clincher, as it demonstrated his initiative, creativity and suitability.”
For Kay Reynoldson, founder and director at SustainHealth Recruitment, the job audition — usually in the form of a SWOT-style business plan — is now a typical part of a ‘multi stage’ approach to filling senior leadership roles.
“This robust process has helped our leadership team weed out unsuitable applicants early, those who, for example, are not committed, don’t align with our company values or who don’t have the right critical thinking skills.”
A fair and appropriate job audition
To be effective, job auditions should be fair, appropriate and targeted. That begins with setting boundaries.
How much time should you ask of a candidate? It depends on the job. Breeanna Noske, marketing and brand specialist for Entree Recruitment, says that when auditioning for an administration role, her agency incorporates testing into the interview. “Typically we try to keep the interview and assessment process to two to 2.5 hours, with one to 1.5 hours for testing and tasks.”
But, for a senior role, an audition could take days, says Jeannette Lang, general manager, VIC, SA and TAS, HR Partners.
“I’ve seen a mid-senior candidate asked to deliver a learning and development strategy, which took three hours to prepare and up to an hour to present. I’ve asked a C-Suite candidate to deliver a 100 day plan, which took days to prepare and two or three hours to present. I think both are acceptable.”
Lee says to create a level playing field, a company should consider the candidates’ other commitments. “A candidate who’s not in a job has the time to create a Steve Jobs-esque presentation, whereas one who’s in a role must fit the audition in around a heavy workload. Everyone should get the same amount of time.”
What about financial compensation?
For most job auditions, financial compensation doesn’t factor in. However, if a candidate is asked to devote extensive time to a task, then it should be offered – especially if the company stands to gain, says Dr Neil Schultz, general manager and director at Schward Recruit.
“For skills testing lasting no more than a few hours, we wouldn’t expect payment, but we also wouldn’t expect the employer to benefit significantly,” he says. “If, however, the employer were keen on a longer ‘audition’ and this involved working within the company in a productive manner, we would have the candidate placed on a short term contract or in a temp position to ensure payment for their services, proper protection and ethical treatment.”
What about ideas theft?
Then there’s the risk that a company might steal a candidate’s ideas, without giving him or her the job.
Graham Wynn, director at Superior People Recruitment, says this is why he doesn’t like job auditions. “Using someone’s ideas isn’t illegal, but I think it’s unethical – and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. Most clients won’t use an entire strategy outright, but it places a seed in their minds – a seed that, as a human being, is impossible to ignore.
“Once we had a candidate go for a marketing manager role. He gave a magnificent three hour presentation and got the job. Two weeks later the company realised it couldn’t afford to execute his plan, so they let him go! Three months later, when they had enough money, they started rolling out the plan, bit by bit, but without him.”
Jacqui Whiteman, COO at Davidson, says if a company intends to use a candidate’s ideas, it should be ‘open and upfront’.
“Right from the start, it’s only fair and right to ask a candidate for permission and, if he or she isn’t happy about it, we need to respect that. That permission should never be a consideration in judging their suitability for the role.”
Beware the template
One thing’s for sure, when completing a job audition, a candidate should check – and double check – his or her work.
Wynn recalls, “We once had a candidate go for a national management job. His presentation was beautiful, but he put the wrong company name on it! And it wasn’t just the wrong name, but the wrong industry, too. Suffice to say he didn’t get the job.”
Stay up to date with the latest recruitment and retention strategies with AHRI’s short course, Attracting and retaining talent, designed to help you ace the talent management process.