Working Interview: What it means and how it works.

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November 13, 2019Hiring

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A resume can tell you many great things about a candidate, but it can’t tell you everything. Beyond the phone and in-person interview, some employers need to see more to figure out whether a person is able to perform the necessary tasks for the role before they make a sound hiring decision.

Asking candidates to come in for a "working interview" is an easy way to assess an applicant’s knowledge or skill set. Depending on the role and industry, these interviews can last hours or even days.

For businesses, they can see how a candidate performs the job duties as they would in the actual role. For candidates, it might even be a great way for them to assess whether or not they like the work and the position.

But according to the Department of Labor, doing the actual work is considered short-term work.

Let’s say a restaurant owner asks a chef candidate to prepare a certain dish which took them a full day to prep, cook and then plate. In the eyes of the law, this is considered trial employment and the candidate should be paid at least minimum wage for their time and effort -- regardless of whether they get the job.

No such thing as a free lunch

The same applies here. When a consultant meets with a prospect, they don't give out free advice.

Every candidate who comes in complete new employment paperwork -- the same you’d ask any temporary employee. This doesn't necessarily mean the person has the job; it just means you’re following the letter of the law and adding them to the payroll for the working interview period. Depending on the number of candidates, this can easily eat up significant time and energy to manage the process.

If you’re a hiring manager or employer faced with the decision whether or not to do a working interview, here are a couple alternatives consider before doing one or not:

Have candidates complete a pre-employment skills test.

While you’re not asking them to perform the exact job duty, candidates can prove their competency an assessment and you can understand their knowledge by how they solve problems or answer the questions.

Computer or written tests can give you an idea of how much they actually know and how candidates would handle certain situations -- and you don't have to pay them for the time. And, some good rules of thumb:

  • Be certain tests are job-related and are an accurate predictor of performance
  • Administer the same tests under the same conditions for all candidates
  • Be thoughtful about the time commitment you ask for
  • Don’t rely on these tests when making decisions about candidates; use them as one component of your overall candidate selection process

Ask to see a portfolio.

If you want to see people in action without asking too much of them (particularly at early stages in your process), consider asking for samples of existing work. In some positions, this might be obvious, like looking through a creative director’s portfolio or asking for writing samples from a copywriter. It’s not uncommon these days for a front-end developer to have samples of past projects on-hand.

In the end

Finding great talent is hard, figuring out who’s the best is harder. While a working interview might seem like a great opportunity to observe candidates’ skills and see if they’re a good fit for the company, hiring teams should tread lightly because they don’t come without big risks for a business.

Veronica Feldmeier avatarVeronica Feldmeier