I’ve found this to be an effective way of evaluating potential hires compared to just interviewing in a question/answer format: Put them to work for a few hours (or even days/weeks/months as contractors) and see how well they perform.
Having someone do the job as a short-term temporary contractor before hiring them is one of my favorite ways of testing them for the job. However, sometimes this isn’t practical. In those cases, having the candidate work on a short test assignment for a few hours can be very telling.
For example, when interviewing a software programmer, set them up on a computer and give them a programming assignment representative of the type of work they would do on the job. Give them reasonable freedom as you’d give an actual employee. If they need to research references / solutions on the Web, let them. If they want to call a friend for consulting help, that’s fine. If they ask for your or their “coworkers” for help within reason, that’s okay too.
Hiring a journalist? Give them a reporting, writing, and/or editing assignment. Hiring a web site producer? Have them build a mini-web site or edit a copy of an existing site. Hiring a designer, have them design a logo for a business or product. (This will help determine how well they can relate their design skills to the business aspects.)
While this is a simulation, the more realistic you can make it, the better.
For information worker type jobs, coming up with a realistic assignment is easier than one for a management or executive leadership position candidate. Another challenge with this is that a manager and leader’s job requires significantly more interaction with others. That means this simulation will consume a fair amount of your and your team’s time. However, remember that manager and executive leaders are very important hires, so the time spent in finding the best possible hire is totally worth it.
Some factors to consider in your evaluation. How resourceful is the person? Do they communicate with the customers? How do they interact with the customers? Do they get the job done? Do they seek help beyond their own resources? Do they become a drain on others’ productivity? How is the quality of their work? What’s their balance of being a team player and contributing individually? How is their planning? How is their presentation? Do they document their solution? How well do they explain their solution?
I admit this is too time consuming to do for everyone who applies for the job. You do need to filter the list down to between three to five candidates for this working interview. There are a couple of ways you can do this. For contract-to-potentially-hire positions, you can rely on a trusted vendor to do the filtering for you according to your guidelines. For others, you do need to review their resumes, see who has recommended them, do phone interviews and give them tests. Computerized tests are a good way to save you and your team some time during the initial screening, provided you present the test in a way that is not demeaning to the candidate. The time/money invested in setting up an automated online test is worth it. The test needs to be respectfully presented as a part of the standard process and should not feel like an entrance exam or impersonal screening.
So next time you have a position to fill, consider using a working-interview.
Here are two related articles written by others:
Pair Programming: In interviews by Mark Needham
Don’t just interview new developers. Audition them! by Chris Pitts
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