Why Interview Job Candidates When You Could Be Auditioning Them?

A growing school of thought says that traditional job interviews are not the best predictor of job ability. Is the job audition a worthy alternative?

In this age of metrics, data analytics and ROI, no element of the recruitment process escapes scrutiny. Having already put job descriptions, CV screening and onboarding under the Talent Unlimited microscope, our steely gaze now turns to the keystone of most selection strategies: the job interview.

Such a review has been a long time coming. The evidence is mounting against the fairness and effectiveness of interviews as an indicator of future job performance. In response we see ever more measures introduced to eliminate unconscious bias, with artificial intelligence touted as the great blind arbiter of skills and skills alone.

But still the argument remains that job interviews are only truly good at identifying good interviewees. The qualities that shine out at interview – likability, ease, confidence, verbal dexterity – are certainly useful in some jobs, but does that apply to your vacancy? Be honest: how charming does your back-end developer really need to be?

Hence the rise in recent years of the job audition. The idea is simple. Rather than ask candidates what they will do in the role (spoiler alert: you aren’t guaranteed an honest answer), see them in situ instead. Watch them performing in a real-world context and discover for yourself whether they’re up to the job, how well they work with your team and whether there’s a good culture fit.

Auditions are a smart way for employers to de-risk this precarious stage of the selection process. In terms of results, there are some very compelling stories out there:

  1. Web development company Automattic achieved microscopic turnover rates of 2% after introducing ‘tryouts’ (read the full fascinating tale here).
  2. In the three years after job auditions were adopted at social media platform Mogul, precisely zero employees quit the company.

One of the big attractions of job auditions is the way they benefit employers and candidates equally. Compared to the staged and cagy interview setup, auditions offer both sides a far more realistic assessment of future fit. You get to see skills and temperament in action, while your candidates can experience your daily work, plunge into your culture and even meet prospective coworkers. What could possibly go wrong?

Getting job auditions right

At this point we should note ethical objections some have raised against job auditions. Chief among them: Are auditions exploitative? Our answer is that they’re no more exploitative than the employer behind them. It’s for you to choose how you structure your audition – how long it lasts, the type of work undertaken on it, whether candidates are paid for their time etc.

For our part, we have three core beliefs about fair job auditions:

1. Always pay for real work
If you’re asking candidates to contribute to live projects alongside your team, you need to pay them for their time. No one should be expected to act as an unpaid consultant during the recruitment process.

2. Consider dummy work instead
There are many ways you can mimic the actual work of your company. You could canvas suggestions for a new project or recreate an existing one. Ask web developers to build a landing page or sales candidates to edit an old pitch document. It doesn’t have to be real to be relevant.

3. Make it rewarding for candidates
It should always be a two-way audition – candidates trying you out as much as vice versa. They should be able to use the experience to make an informed decision of their own. Give them the opportunity by being open, accommodating and genuine at all times.

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