Projects, Assessments & Homework in Recruiting

Interview Assignments and Pre-employment Assessments: Best Practices

The current unemployment rate in Silicon Valley is under three percent, and companies are scrambling to find excellent applicants for their openings. Given the difficulty in finding great candidates, there is an increasing reliance on screening tools, specifically the Interview Assignment and the Pre-employment Assessment. Both add value to the hiring process, but used improperly; they can chase ideal candidates away. Read on for our recommendations on how to use these tools to your best advantage.

The Rise of the Interview Assignment

The practice of assigning a mock work project to a candidate in the interview process was once limited to technical positions such as programmers and engineers. It has now expanded to include executive and professional positions, including marketing, accounting, and finance. Recent examples include creating a 30-60-90 day plan, setting up a complex spreadsheet with pivot tables in Excel, and doing an in-depth marketing analysis of a website.

Making Interview Assignments Fair

It’s easy to understand the appeal of an interview assignment. After all, who wouldn’t want the opportunity to see a candidate’s work product firsthand? Unfortunately, “homework” projects are often assigned in a way that takes unfair advantage of a candidate’s time and interest in the hiring company.

In an ideal world, every candidate would be brutally honest concerning experience, skills, strengths, and weaknesses, and each hiring manager would know how to identify the perfect fit. Since that isn’t realistic, and these assignments are unlikely to go away any time soon, I offer the following guidelines for making them fair.

Offer compensation if the assignment involves real data

First, dummy data should be used for any assignment that involves significant creative effort or analytical work. If real company data is used, we recommend providing the candidate with an NDA and compensation for the time taken to complete the assignment (such as through a freelance or consulting contract).

Narrow the scope of the assignment to one or two hours

Second, take a hard look at the time required for the assignment. Asking for a one-hour investment is perfectly reasonable. Asking for delivery of a complete learning module is a completely unreasonable request unless properly compensated. If you discover that your interview assignments are quite large in scope, consider opening a dialogue with the candidate, describing the situation, and ask what scope of work he or she can deliver with no more than an hour or two of work.

Pre-employment assessment: blessing or curse?

Unlike the interview assignment--a recent development--pre-employment assessments have been utilized for many years. Now primarily given online, these evaluations of skills, personality, and cognitive abilities are widely used across industries and in businesses of all sizes. They help screen out candidates who would not be a good match for the hiring company due to poor skills or a personality mismatch with the organizational culture.

Despite the frequency of their use (or perhaps because of it!), pre-employment assessments are greatly disliked by certain job seekers. Certainly, some people hate tests of any kind, but many of the objections to these assessments fall into two categories, each of which is a potential obstacle to the hiring process.

Problem #1: They’re used at the wrong time in the process

Assessments may yield valuable information for potential employers, but they’re often provided before an initial interview. Therefore, it’s not surprising; some candidates refuse to take them altogether. It’s more appropriate to ask candidates to take assessments after there’s been phone or in-person contact, and your company has shown that these individuals are worthy of your time.

Problem #2: They take too long

Extensive assessments have been known to take several hours, sometimes stretched over multiple days. In other cases, the hiring company expects the applicant to complete the assessment within 24 hours. In both scenarios, excellent candidates can become disengaged from the screening process and end up pursuing opportunities that involve less up-front effort on their part. In other words, an assessment practice that is longer or more burdensome than necessary can deter qualified applicants from proceeding through the selection process.

An awareness of the potential pitfalls in interview assignments and pre-employment assessments can help organizations review their practices to make sure they are utilized effectively. Another valuable resource is a trusted executive recruiter--an outside specialist who conducts thorough applicant screening through a combination of in-depth interviews and thorough reference checks.

I welcome your questions and comments about interview assignments, pre-employment assessments, or any other aspects of the recruiting process. Contact me today!


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  • Thanks for sharing your info. I really appreciate your efforts and I will be waiting for your further write ups thank you once again.

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