Don’t tell them… show them: Job Previews and other Assessment Options
Ever walk through an office space on the way to an interview and see the glistening hallways, large modern bouquets on the reception desk and hushed, state-of-the-art conference rooms? Someone brings in croissants and fruit on glass platters, asks if you want a cappuccino. The interviewers are in dark suits, have slick business cards and gleaming attaché cases. Everyone is amiable but professional. Smiles and handshakes abound.
“Wow,” you think. “I would love to work here.”
It may be a bit of a letdown on your first day to be escorted past the beautiful reception area, past the sleek conference rooms and through a side door, into the area where the employees actually do their work. White and gray walls, printers and fax machines. People are yelling directions at co-workers down the hall, phones are ringing off the hook, and a very stressed-looking person in jeans comes at you with a stack of paper to fill out before dashing into a meeting where the door is closed and blinds are drawn.
Not quite what you expected.
While giving a good impression of your company is a high priority when someone is interviewing for a job with you, an interview really doesn’t create an accurate picture of what the workday will be like. It also doesn’t give you any idea of how your interviewee will fit in to the work environment as candidates are also usually showing you their best, most accommodating side of themselves to get the job.
So, how can employers reveal what’s behind the curtain in order to try to avoid some unpleasant surprises once a candidate becomes an employee?
Beyond a recruiting process that accurately represents your brand and culture, a job preview or trial period may do the trick. Both are ways for candidates to see what a few hours on the job is really like as well as good methods for the company to use in assessing how the candidate may do in a job situation. To ensure that this “on-the-job” sneak-peek doesn’t put you afoul of labor laws or open you up for liability, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Pre-hire, keep it preview-only. Whether the position the candidate is trying for is manning phones in a call center, entering data or cooking in a kitchen, it is important to note that during this “audition”, there should be no work done that benefits the company. In other words, a candidate can’t take actual calls in a call center but can take several “fake” calls in a simulated environment to see how he or she handle different situations in real time. Data entry ability can be assessed in a test format if it’s not data that can later be used. Otherwise, you will probably owe wages for any time “worked” – before they are even hired.
Most realistic job previews consist solely of observation, with the company’s interviewer using the opportunity to gauge the candidate’s interaction and communication style with the people they meet and assess engagement: Did the candidate keep checking their phone during the observation period? What questions did they ask? When asked, what takeaways did the candidate seize? Was the candidate able to describe key points or priorities that should have been evident in their observation or discussions with others? Here’s your chance to confirm if they are paying attention to what matters to the organization.
- Keep the cooks out of the fully-operational kitchen… until you do your due diligence. Before doing a “trial run” or “preview” with a candidate for a kitchen or other role in a risk-filled environment (warehouse, garage, hospital), check with your Workers’ Compensation carrier and risk management team to assess any potential liability issues. Recreating the environment in a controlled way may be an option if the real thing poses too many problems.
- Go Temp before Perm. Hiring someone on a temporary basis is a great way to see how they pan out before making a permanent offer. It is important to set expectations up front. Once they pass the interview process, for example, you can extend a temporary offer for a designated period of time (less than 90 days is recommended) at a lower (but in most cases, not less than minimum) wage while you assess performance and fit. The benefit of this method is that you can ask these employees to do actual work once they are ready to roll. Be sure to stick to agreed-upon timeframes for hiring decisions and follow all applicable federal, state, and local labor laws.
- Let them listen in. Job-shadowing can be a great way that for candidates to experience the work environment in certain industries before signing an offer letter. They could listen in on calls, walk the floor with employees, or attend part of a regularly-held meeting. Don’t forget that these job hopefuls may become privy to some privileged internal information in the process. Check with your legal resources to see if a non-disclosure agreement or liability release is necessary before making it a part of the pre-hire process.
And finally, be honest. Even if a job preview-type activity isn’t in the cards, it’s always important to be honest with candidates about the work environment and job they are interviewing for. Is it high energy? Low energy? What is the dress code? What are the “official” hours and what hours are expected? Is it a position that many have found challenging in the past? What about the candidate’s work history could help them be successful in the job where others have struggled?
I once interviewed for a position with the hiring manager, and while we were talking, the phone constantly rang, people popped in and out of her office every few minutes, and an intercom boomed frequent messages throughout the cavernous warehouse-style space. She described the job and shared with me, among other things, that while the hours in the office were fairly standard, frequent travel was expected with very little notice. I appreciated both the interview location and specific details she shared as they gave me a very real taste of what the job would be like daily and while it wasn’t for me, another candidate may have found the organized chaos and spontaneous travel exhilarating.
Fit – a combination of the right experience and personalities coming together – is one of the most important factors in a long-term employment relationship. Whatever employers can do to assess this ahead of time – and help candidates assess their interest themselves – can save time and money in the long run.
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