Job Auditions and Your Next Hire

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Emily Heaslip, content writer at Vervoe

It sometimes happens in hiring. You meet a great candidate. They have incredible experience and training on their CV. They speak confidently on the phone screen. They charm you in the interview. Their reference gives you a glowing report on their capabilities.

Then they start the role. They can’t complete the tasks required of them. What went wrong?

The traditional recruiting process – screen CVs, interview candidates, check references, make an offer – results in as much as 80% of employee turnover. These processes simply don’t predict job performance.

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There’s an alternative step that traditional hiring is missing: job auditions. According to LinkedIn research, 54% of recruiters see auditions as one of the “most useful interviewing innovations”. This is because beyond confirming the skill set of candidates, recruiters and hiring managers can better predict how a potential employee will perform.

Compared to an unstructured interview, which predicts just 14% of performance, or a reference check that predicts only 7% of performance, job auditions as a standalone method can predict more than 30% of performance. Here’s what job auditions are all about, and how to add a job audition to your hiring process.

What is a job audition?

A job audition is a simulation or trial of the role for which a candidate has applied. Also known as a work test, skills assessment, or case study, a job audition will let you assess lots of candidates based on real-world scenarios.

Traditionally, a job audition can take one of a few forms. Some organizations supply a case study to the candidate, which they are then required to present. Employers may also hold an event to trial multiple candidates in one location. Less common are trials where candidates attend the workplace for anything from one day to several weeks.

The aim is to replicate as closely as possible the actual role the candidate will be hired for. For example, a marketer may be asked to present a strategy proposal. A UX designer might be asked to review a user flow within a product. A sales representative might be asked to pitch a product to a panel.

The concept is akin to an actor auditioning for a role. No matter an actor’s experience or training, the casting crew and producer are focussed solely on the piece they are trying to create. Job auditions can do the same for any role. No matter what’s on a candidate’s resume, each role and organization will have its own requirements when it comes to performing the role.

Why use job auditions for hiring

Job auditions provide important information about how a candidate will perform the roles and responsibilities of an open position. Businesses that give candidates job auditions make better hiring decisions. In turn, this can lower employee turnover, improve productivity, increase employee engagement, and impact a company’s overall profitability.

The gaps in traditional hiring

Typically, recruiters rely on three things to make a hiring decision: a CV, an interview, and a reference check. But, these three indicators really tell you very little about what a candidate is capable of.

CVs

Unfortunately, nearly 50% of candidates lie on their CVs. One CareerBuilder survey found that an overwhelming number of people embellish skills, pad out their previous responsibilities, or even upgrade their prior job titles. CV writing is a skill in its own right, not a measure of any specific skills relevant to your job. Unfortunately, HR technology has made it easy for anyone to list traits and keywords to be picked up by an applicant tracking system.

Interviewing

Interviewing, whether in-person or via video, doesn’t predict job performance. As more companies shift toward remote recruiting,  live video interviews via Zoom simply replicate the same questions you’ve always asked in person. These questions won’t help you determine who will perform strongly on the job. It just eliminates travel time and physical proximity.

Reference Checks

Reference checks are nearly always positive, and that’s not surprising. Why would a candidate put you in touch with someone who would provide a bad review? As a result, reference checks have become largely performative. Reference checks can be very effective in designing a great onboarding process. But, as a recruiting tool, references actually provide very little new information.

Rather than relying on a coordinated CV, a well-rehearsed interview that focuses on stories and hypothetical situations, or a pre-screened reference check, job auditions hone in on relevant skills.

Job auditions add context

Too often, hiring happens in a vacuum. We make somewhat arbitrary decisions about a person’s competency with no context taken into account. There is no such thing as a “good graphic designer”. Rather, there is a good graphic designer in your particular context. That context might be unique to your company, or it might be broadly applicable to companies in your industry or of a similar size, for example.

It’s easy to associate competence with job titles in a generic sense. However, since someone’s performance depends on the context in which they operate, all notions of competence should take context into account. It’s important to think of what it takes to be successful in that role at your company.

To avoid hiring in a context-vacuum, divide the required skills into two components:

  • The first is the skills that are specific to the role itself and would likely be required in any context. In other words, what does the person in the role need to achieve?
  • The second component is the skills that are unique to your context. In other words, how do you expect the person to approach their role? This can include cultural aspects, attitude, behaviour and so on.

Then, come up with a way to test candidates for those skills. A generic “graphic designer test” only addresses the first component. In order to identify someone who will excel in a role in your context, the job audition takes into account both components. It must be context-dependent because competence is dependent on context.

Job auditions improve diversity

Recruitment is based on a mentality of keeping people out. Too many applications, too little time. So naturally, we put barriers up. CV screening, for instance, is a process that favours the privileged. There are all kinds of hidden, unconscious biases that prevent great, qualified candidates from reaching the later stages. We are in danger of sending the wrong message to the people we want to bring in, which is counterintuitive. Candidates who attended “the best schools” – and especially men – find it easier to get interviews. Women of colour from lower-income backgrounds have the hardest time.

Screening based on hidden biases may have been a necessary evil once upon a time, but that is no longer the case. With the help of technology, we can align the way we approach prospective team members to feel more like the way we approach prospective customers. We can host job auditions at scale and give every candidate a great experience — and the good news is that it’s not difficult to do.

By replacing screening with job auditions, we can interact with candidates in a more productive way. Instead of worrying about where they went to school, we’ll focus on what they love doing and how well they can do it.

Job auditions are a two-way assessment

Job auditions help both candidates and employers make an informed decision. In one sense recruiters are able to ask candidates to prove their skill set and de-risk the hiring process. On the other hand, the process allows candidates to find out if they like the type of work they will be doing, and the way that they are asked to do it.

A job audition can help eliminate candidates who aren’t interested in the role. By simulating your actual work environment, you’re likely to complete the hiring process with a pool of engaged and enthusiastic candidates.

Job auditions predict performance

The best way to predict whether someone will be a strong performer is to ask them to do a job audition. The combination of technical tests, role-play scenarios and exercises that mimic what the successful candidate will be required to do on the job tells you more than any traditional hiring practice.

The most important thing about job auditions is that they test job-related skills. Some companies focus on auditions that are task-related, such as creating a well-designed sales deck or cleaning up a spreadsheet. Others focus on niche skills, like a coding language or an editing test. Work with the hiring team to design questions and tasks that square with their expectations for the new hire.

Companies that already use job auditions

These companies have already successfully integrated job auditions into their hiring processes.

Automattic

Automattic is the global remote company that brought WordPress to life. Automattic focusses on outputs as a measurement of success. While they used traditional hiring processes at first, early on Automattic switched to job auditions as their key assessment. Every final candidate works for the company for several weeks on a paid contract basis. They perform the key aspects of the role they’re applying for with the team they would be working with.

Mogul

Mogul is a women-only social media company. It allows candidates to spend a day working at the company, instead of a final interview. Using this “trial run” method alongside their recruitment process gives both parties a better understanding of fit. This technique has given them an impressive record: three years with zero employee turnover.

Menlo Innovations

Menlo Innovations builds custom-designed software, aiming to “end human suffering” as it relates to technology. Conducting mass auditions several times a year, Menlo Innovations uses a process that mimics the way their company operates. Working in pairs, each potential new hire shares a single computer to complete a given task. Once the two-hour audition is complete, supervisors collaborate and discuss their findings. This allows them to complete the screening and hiring process in a matter of hours, instead of weeks.

When to use job auditions in recruiting

There are two decisions you must make around using job auditions: what roles are best suited for a skill test, and when in the hiring process to offer a job audition.

First, there are roles where job auditions are already common. Sales roles, for instance, may require a pitch as part of the process. Developers are increasingly being assessed for performance based on code tests. And designers are frequently asked to take home sample assessments based on the organization’s requirements.

Job auditions can be applied to almost any role. They can be used to assess both technical and soft skills when created appropriately. The key to applying auditions to any job is to thoroughly understand the requirement of the role, as well as the unique needs of your organization.

Understanding the role goes beyond a job title. Talent teams need to actively work with hiring managers to determine the skills, traits and day-to-day tasks that are required of the new employee. From there, an ideal candidate profile can be built to base auditions on.

Once you have the ideal profile, take your job audition online. This reduces the burden on recruiters, removes bias, and reduces costs.

This brings us to the second decision: when in the recruiting and hiring process should you use a job audition? Most experts agree that skills tests should come early in the hiring process.

“Many service companies, including retailers, call centers, and security firms, can reduce costs and make better hires by using short, web-based tests as the first screening step. Such tests efficiently weed out the least-suitable applicants, leaving a smaller, better-qualified pool to undergo the more costly personalized aspects of the process.”

– Harvard Business Review

The major benefit of online job auditions lies in their scalability. The issue many recruiters face is that the volume of candidates makes it impossible to carefully consider each person’s ability. Job auditions can be used early in the process to screen candidates in. Smart algorithms and AI tools score results quickly and remove human bias from the equation. After seeing how each applicant performs the job, you can move the best candidates forward based on their skills for the role, without bias.

How online job auditions work

Job audition platforms identify the best candidates and deliver huge efficiency gains. Companies can provide you with a library of content and question formats to make it easy to create and deploy job auditions to hundreds of candidates at once.

Job auditions usually use a combination of multiple-choice, open-ended questions, and pre-recorded video responses to immerse a candidate in a simulation of the role.

Our work with over 8,000 customers shows that there are some key best practices in setting up and running your job audition. These tips can help with candidate engagement and lead to high rates of completion.

  • Include a minimum of six questions; somewhere in the eight to ten range is best.
  • Start with a text-based response in the first question, rather than a video or immersive question.
  • To retain a candidate over the entire experience, start with easier questions and build up to more difficult ones later in the audition.
  • Try to minimize the use of timers to account for technical difficulties and give the candidate the best chance of success.

We also suggest that video responses not be timed; there are too many technical issues that can result from a candidate trying to film a one-way video interview. If you do wish to set a time limit, make sure it’s at a minimum of five minutes.

Top tips for using job auditions

While the concept of traditional job auditions is appealing, the method is neither easy to execute nor scale. With a large number of available candidates and the growing need for remote processes, taking job auditions online makes the process more feasible.

Using an immersive assessment platform is one such solution. Using a customizable skills assessment, employers can create a set of tasks completely reflective of the working situation.

Use auditions early in the process

The major benefit of online job auditions lies in their scalability. Where traditional job auditions generally take place after an initial pre-employment screening and interview process, an online assessment means that job auditions become part of your top-of-funnel strategy. After seeing how each applicant performs the job, you can surface the best candidates based on their skills for the role, without bias.

Job auditions accurately and efficiently test candidates’ fit for your job, engage candidates, and significantly improve your employer branding. Taking them online earlier reduces the burden on recruiters, removes bias and reduces costs

Create auditions based on the role

Great job auditions are created with close coordination between a recruiter and a hiring team. “The recruitment team should sit down with the manager and work out what they want to test and how they are going to score the candidates’ results,” one expert said.

While many platforms offer drag-and-drop questions, make sure that you are curating your content around the specific role, context, and goals that the hiring team has for each specific role.

For example, if you’re hiring a marketing coordinator, there are some off-the shelf assessments that could determine whether someone has fundamental marketing skills. But as mentioned before, the true power in job auditions is contextualising the audition to your particular organization. Consider including questions that are based on projects that the team has actually worked on, or problems that you’re hoping the candidate will solve, from a brief given by their direct report.

Another thing to pay attention to is the format of each question you are asking. While an actor auditioning for a role is expecting lights and camera, video as a component of your job audition is not always appropriate.

For customer-facing roles such as sales, recording a video pitch could be useful in determining whether someone can deliver on their skills. However, video is likely less appropriate for roles in a call centre or customer service, where audio might be more appropriate.

Pay attention to candidate experience

On the whole, candidates like job auditions. Companies that use Vervoe’s assessments experience a 97% candidate completion rate, which is among the highest engagement rates in the industry. Job auditions offer a break from the repetition of the stale interview experience.

However, the key thing to remember is the job audition process must be transparent. If you’re asking candidates to submit work, make sure you elucidate if/how the work will be used, what rights the candidate retains to their work, and your company’s stance on compensating for anything produced by the candidate during their job audition.

BrewDog, a brewery founded in Scotland, faced intense backlash after job candidates said they were asked to create marketing concepts through “‘fake’ job interviews.” Candidates claimed on Reddit and Twitter that the company pumped them for campaign ideas, social media posts, and other marketing strategies over a period of months, only to later be turned down for the job.

The lesson here is to be clear with your candidates what the job audition entails. Be completely transparent about if and how you will compensate for work provided in the audition. Tell candidates where in the hiring process they stand, and when they can expect to move to the next step (or not). To create the best candidate experience, help each individual understand why you’re using this format – remind them that it’s a two-way assessment – and keep the audition reasonably short.

Create a consistent assessment method

Job auditions – especially those processed or assessed with an AI tool – create an even playing field for evaluating candidates. A job audition asks each interviewee to go through the exact same questions in the exact same way. That makes it easy to see the person who’s truly the most qualified — not just the person with the strongest handshake or best first impression. In the process, you’ll not only find the best new hire but also reduce unconscious human bias in your recruiting pipeline.

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