Posted on Interviews. 17 July, 2017
Choosing which job candidate to hire is one of the most important decisions a business can make, and the job interview is the foundation of the hiring process. Traditionally, job interviews have consisted of a company employee, or a panel of employees from the company, meeting and engaging in a dialog with a job candidate in order to determine if they are a good fit for the position in question.
While this traditional format provides a good opportunity for a focused verbal exchange of information between the candidate and company, it does have its limitations in its ability to help you choose the best candidate for the job. No matter how good an interviewer’s communication skills and intuition may be, traditional interview formats typically lack the ability to effectively evaluate a candidate’s skills directly. Many times, candidates have all the right qualifications on paper, and can communicate their qualifications well verbally, but still fail once hired.
To reduce the possibility of a poor hiring decision, some companies are turning to an interview format known as the “working interview.” Let’s examine both the benefits and challenges of conducting working interviews in order to help you determine if working interviews are appropriate for your unique hiring needs.
What is a Working Interview
For some job positions and/or employers, it’s simply not enough to conduct an interview in which a job candidate is asked only verbal questions. In this case, verbal interviews may be followed by a working interview in which the job candidate is invited to spend from a few hours to as much as an entire day at the company performing duties of the job for which they are being evaluated.
This “try-before-you-buy” approach is growing in popularity, because it requires a job candidate to actually demonstrate their skills and expertise in their field to the employer before they are hired. While this type of interview may not be suitable for executives and employees where judgment and other intangible skills are required, working interviews are especially appropriate for scientific and technical positions.
While a job candidate is on their best behavior during a verbal interview, their demeanor can change dramatically during a real‐time stressful and/or challenging situation in a working interview. The working interview allows the company to better evaluate how the candidate’s real personality fits with the team that they would be a part of if hired.
Another benefit of a working interview is that it allows the potential employee to get a better feel for your company and the job they are interviewing for, enabling them to ascertain whether your company and the position in question are right for them. Many hiring disappointments result from the gap between the job candidate’s perception of the job and what it actually entails. Working interviews can help to assure that candidates have a realistic idea of the position they are interviewing for, thus improving the chances of the candidate who accepts your offer actually staying in the position long term.
Conducting a Working Interview
To conduct a working interview that will be beneficial to both you and your candidate, consider the following:
Schedule Appropriately. A working interview can last anywhere from a few hours to a full day – anything more than a day is probably getting beyond what could fittingly be called an interview. It is best to schedule the interview for no longer than what is required to effectively evaluate the candidate’s skills. Most working interviews will last from 3-6 hours. Also give some thought as to when to schedule the interview. If you are evaluating a candidate for a technical position, for example, you’ll want them to come in during the best time for your team to evaluate their technical skills.
Start the Interview with a Brief Meeting. Reinforce the fact that this is an interview and they have not been offered the position. Provide the candidate with a brief overview of the company and its values, along with any relevant policies. Let the candidate know the general itinerary for the day, and who they will be working with and meeting. Provide guidelines to the candidate about which tasks they should perform and which they should avoid during the course of their interview.
Plan to Supervise the Candidate. Having an untrained candidate come in for a working interview can be a significant disruption for your business unless you are prepared. Make sure that the candidate has a supervisor or mentor assigned to be with them at all times to give them direction and answer any questions. This person should also be there to minimize any negative impact on your customers or productivity, and to keep an eye on the candidate’s safety.
Make Sure the Working Interview is a 2-Way Street. In addition to providing you with a chance to evaluate the skills and fit of the candidate, you’ll want to make sure that the working interview provides the candidate a good opportunity to evaluate whether your company and the job are a good fit for them as well. Make sure you don’t completely immerse your candidate in tasks – give them sufficient opportunities to meet co-workers and ask questions.
Be Mindful of Protected Information. All of the legal cautions that apply during a formal verbal interview are equally applicable during a working interview. As such, it is important to educate your team about “protected information” (religion, age, national origin, ethnicity, height, weight, marital status, disability, gender, financial status and sexual preference) and train them on what they can and cannot ask the candidate during the interview.
Provide Closure. Always inform the candidate about the next step in the hiring process before they leave the working interview. Follow up with the candidate within a few business days to inform them about your decision – either make the candidate a job offer or let them know that they are no longer being considered for the position.
In addition to not asking the candidate any questions about protected information, there are a number of other significant legal issues that are important to be aware of when conducting working interviews:
Candidates Must be Paid for Their Time in a Working Interview. Unless you invite the candidate in to simply observe, they will need to be paid for their time. In the eyes of the government, a working interview is actually a trial employment period. Except in very rare cases, state and federal laws require someone doing actual work for your company to be compensated at no less than minimum wage. Be sure to agree on the wage the candidate will be paid during the working interview ahead of time.
A candidate in a working interview does not qualify as an independent contractor, and so they must fill out employment documents, such as W-4 and I-9, and you must pay them through your payroll system with applicable withholding for payroll taxes. Be sure to give the candidate a check for the hours worked at the end of their interview.
Employment Eligibility. As a candidate in a working interview is considered an employee by law, you’ll need to verify their eligibility to work in the US prior to the interview.
You Must Have Liability Insurance and Workers Compensation. Complying with the IRS, DOL and the Fair Labor Standards Act by paying the candidate at least minimum wage through your payroll system will also cover them under your workers compensation policy if an injury occurs during the working interview.
Make Agreements Ahead of Time and Put Them in Writing. To protect yourself legally, work with your employment attorney to draft a document that outlines the working interview process and details the pay rate, the length of the interview, and the temporary status of the candidate during the interview. Be sure to have the candidate sign this document before the interview to acknowledge their agreement. This will support your case that the candidate wasn’t a full-time employee if they file for unemployment benefits after the interview.
Even if you know you want to hire the person in the first hour of the working interview, have them finish out their working interview. Keep distinct lines between the interview process and official employment. If you decide to hire them as a regular employee, you’ll need to provide them with an offer letter with updated terms before they begin working their first official shift.
Have the Candidate Sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement. During the course of the day, the applicant may have access to confidential and proprietary company information. Including a non-disclosure agreement can help to protect your company’s assets.
Avoid Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Violations. Make sure the candidate does not have access to protected medical records during the working interview. In the event the candidate will be working with patient information once hired, it is best to create a “mock” patient for the interview.
The Astrix Guarantee
One of the benefits of working with a quality staffing agency like Astrix to source job candidates is that we take care of much of the legal issues for you when you want to do a working interview. We verify eligibility to work, provide professional references, payroll services and workers compensation for all our candidates.
In addition, Astrix carefully evaluates all candidates before offering them to you as potential employees. We are confident enough in the work we do to vet our candidates that we offer you a special guarantee for working interviews: If you do a working interview with one of our candidates and decide not to hire them, we will not bill you for the time the candidate spent at your business for the interview.
Working interviews provide a good opportunity for an employer and a prospective candidate to evaluate one another to see if there is a good fit. However, while a working interview can be a great tool for helping a company hire the right people and reduce turnover, it can also put your business at risk if the proper procedures to assure legal compliance are not followed. Working with a quality staffing company like Astrix that offers a guarantee is an excellent way to leverage a working interview’s ability to help you make better hiring decisions, while avoiding most of the hassles and drawbacks that are associated with this unique interview format.
About the Author
|Jamie Basler has over eighteen years experience in Staffing, Account Management and Recruiting Management. Jamie has worked with Astrix for the past six years with a focus on recruitment for a diverse portfolio of companies in a broad range of industries including medical device, pharmaceutical, contract research, food and beverage, environmental and chemical. Prior to Astrix, Jamie’s experience included Corporate Recruiting for the American Red Cross and Staffing Agency Management.|
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