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Use Shadow Interviews to Show Candidates a Day on the Job

Amanda Price
5 min read

What’s a shadow interview, and when does it happen?

A shadow interview consists of a candidate following an employee around as the employee carries out his everyday job responsibilities. It usually happens as the last stage in the interview process.

You can either use it in conjunction with a sit-down interview or use it in place of one.

A job description can go a long way towards giving a candidate a sense of whether he’s cut out for a job. However, a better way to assess this is by having your prospective employee participate in a shadow interview.

These days, no interview process is complete without one.

In this article, you’ll find out everything you need to know about shadow interviews, including advantages of shadow interviewing and how to conduct one to get maximum bang for your buck. You'll also learn whether you have to pay your candidate.

Read on and get the inside scoop!

What are three advantages of job shadowing?

Here are three compelling reasons to give shadow interviews a whirl:

1. Candidates get to try before they buy

For the applicant, a shadow interview is “try before you buy” time.

It offers him a vivid, experiential glimpse into what the job is like that’s a thousand times more meaningful than anything he could get in a sit-down interview.

That’s because sit-down interviews are so abstract—a shadow interview (or working interview) plunges your candidate into the actual working environment of the job he’s applying for.

So much more useful information can be gleaned by doing this!

He can feel the team's dynamics firsthand and gets to ask questions directly based on what he sees. The applicant also receives a tantalizing taste of the responsibilities, work environment, and culture of your company—all incredibly valuable information that’ll help make his decision easier.

And if what he sees isn’t to his liking, it’s an excellent opportunity for him to self-select out of the interview process. This saves time and money for him and for you!

2. See another side of the candidate

By doing a shadow interview, you get to see another side to the candidate—one you’re not able to observe during a stiff and staid formal sit down interview. This is the time to identify red flags and to uncover any possible personality clashes between the applicant and coworkers.

You’ll be able to check if the candidate fits in with your company’s culture—an essential consideration for any employee you're considering making a part of your team.

See if he’s genuinely excited by his future work environment. This could help you gauge whether he has a passion for the job.

3. Helps you make sound hiring decisions

A job interview usually begins with a cover letter and a resume followed by a round or two interviews. For many employers, this might not be sufficient to make a good hiring decision.

That’s where the shadow interview comes in!

Many interview processes have extended from a simple face-to-face into a longer interview cycle. For many companies who want to make sure their hiring decisions are sound, a shadow interview is now a part of this more protracted process.

Won’t shadow interviews scare off prospective candidates?

While a few prospective candidates might be scared off by the idea of shadowing someone in their existing role, the vast majority of them will love getting the opportunity to see up close what the job is like.

This means that for most candidates, a shadow interview done right is a win/win for them and for you!

What do you want to gain from making shadow interviewing an integral part of your hiring process?

For example, is it to help ensure your prospective candidate will be satisfied with the job, so he'll stick around longer? A significant reason employees quit is because they felt like they weren’t given a realistic preview of the job before they accepted it.

So, if this is your rationale, it’s an excellent one!

It could be you want to avoid making a costly hiring decision or see how your prospective employee fits in with other team members. Just make sure you know what these reasons are, so you can maximize your shadow interview's effectiveness.

Is it for internal or external candidates?

Figure out if your shadow interview process is going to be for external or internal candidates. That's because the needs are different, and the way you do them should be too.   

If it's for internal candidates, you need to be discreet about your shadow interviews. Not everyone in your company wants the fact that they're pursuing a promotion to be public knowledge.

External candidates will need to be screened for security and privacy issues. 

How to conduct a shadow interview

A shadow interview can be anywhere from a few hours to a few days.

To conduct a shadow interview, make sure you or one of your employees evaluates how well the candidate understands the day-to-day duties involved in the position. Have the applicant listen in on phone calls, watch how paperwork is done, and observe other essential job functions.

This is a time for a candidate to show you what he can do, too, so have him jump in and start doing some work. If he needs extensive training to safely do a job, have him talk about accomplishing specific tasks.

Look for gaps in knowledge and skills that might make him not a good fit for your company. Gauge his level of enthusiasm, and see if he seems to have the necessary problem-solving abilities that will render him an indispensable asset to your organization.

What kind of questions should you ask during a shadow interview?

Try to base the questions you ask candidates during a working interview on the skills that are being demonstrated as he’s being interviewed. 

This will make your questions more relevant.

You can also ask questions like these:

  • How did you do things at your old job?
  • What do you wish had been different about your past employer? 
  • What did you like most about a previous employer's work culture?
  • What excites you the most about our company?
  • What are the three most crucial skills you would bring to our company?
  • How do you think these skills would help our company carry out its mission?
  • What's the very first thing you would do after becoming a member of our team?
  • Tell me something about yourself that isn’t on your resume.
  • What are your most significant weaknesses?
  • What are your greatest strengths?
  • Tell me about a difficult job situation and how you overcame it.
  • How do you want to improve yourself in the next year? 
  • Do you have to pay your shadow interview candidate?

While shadow interviews can help you make sound hiring decisions, you’ll have to pay your candidate if he does any work.

Legally, a shadow interview where a candidate does tasks is considered to be trial employment. That means you must pay the candidate at least the minimum wage.

He’ll also have to complete a W-4 and I-9. Depending on the circumstances, he might be able to file an unemployment claim if he gets injured.

If he’s there just to observe, you won’t have to go through any of this.

Minimize adverse impacts to your workflow 

If you're not careful, having someone who doesn't know the procedures can cause significant disruption to your business. That's why you need to assign someone to work closely with your candidate.

This will minimize the chances that your shadow recruit will throw a monkey wrench into your office’s productivity.

Be clear with expectations

Be very upfront with the applicant that it's a working interview with absolutely no job promises.

This way, there won’t be any misunderstanding.  

Tell them how long you expect the shadow interview to last and when they can be expected to be notified about a hiring decision.

Looking for more insights on how to source and hire the best talent? 

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