Your goal as a hiring manager is to choose the candidate most likely to succeed in your role. But how do you know who that is? Resumes and traditional interviews are poor predictors of success on the job,1 and relying on them alone leaves the door open to unintentional bias. Our team recommends using a variety of skills-based assessments throughout the hiring process to ensure a fair, inclusive, and competency-based approach.
Work sample tests are one of the most reliable ways to gather measurable data about candidates’ competencies and working styles and validate what they say about themselves. They also uncover valuable insights about candidates who may present less confidently in interviews but would be highly competent and successful in the role.
“78 percent of HR professionals say the quality of their organization’s hires has improved due to their use of assessments.”— SHRM
What Are Work Sample Tests in Hiring?
Work sample tests, also called skills tests or performance tasks, involve giving candidates a small sample of relevant work to do, creating an environment like the actual job. They provide a more objective way to assess candidates’ skills when used as part of a complete competency-driven interview process that evaluates candidates in different contexts and with increasing rigor throughout your search, including:
- The supplemental information form. This serves as a “blind” first interview asking candidates to share job-relevant experience and illustrate their competency in key areas.
- Structured interviews. These delve more deeply into the competencies outlined in the supplemental form to understand the candidate’s role in creating impact, who they worked with to achieve results, and how they measured impact.
- Work sample tests. These allow you to assess candidates’ competencies in real-world context.
How you design a work sample will vary from position to position. Find advice on developing an assessment for a senior-level executive here. General guidelines include:
- Before assigning a skills test, ensure you have narrowed your candidate pool to two or three finalists. Using them earlier in the process creates a barrier for candidates who are not yet invested with you.
- Decide what you want to learn and make sure your test is relevant and accurately measures the skills needed to succeed in the job.
- Ask candidates to accomplish a task that mimics real work so you can observe their approach to an actual scenario. This should not be work that will be used by your team or a client.
- Give candidates clear instructions, any needed resources, and adequate time. We recommend no more than two hours of work with a week to complete.
- Invite candidates to discuss the work in their next interview.
- Develop a fair and consistent method to evaluate candidates’ responses.
The Benefits of Skills-Based Assessments in Hiring
Better Quality Hires and More Diverse Teams
Interviews favor candidates who are good at talking about work, while skills-based assessments favor candidates who are good at working. Including both in your process reduces the potential for bias toward candidates with easy confidence or familiar credentials, invites candidates from various backgrounds to showcase their skills, and leads to better quality hires and more diverse teams.2
“Being around people who are different from us makes us more creative, more diligent and harder-working.”— Katherine W. Phillips, Senior Vice Dean, Columbia Business School and advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace.
More Accurate at Predicting Success on the Job
Extensive research shows that work sample testing is a more accurate predictor of success than the interview itself.3 A skills test allows you to see a candidate’s cognitive style, how they solve problems with a given set of resources, whether they understand the context of the position in your organization, and how they organize their thinking.
“I’ve seen work sample tests change the hiring decision many times. Many clients go into the final interviews with their candidate pick in mind. But after reviewing and discussing the sample work, they choose a different candidate.”— Staffing Advisors Vice President of Client Engagement Aileen Hedden
Builds Commitment and Trust With Candidates
Candidates appreciate the opportunity to visualize themselves in the position and think about how their skills align and whether the work is something they want to do. They also want to demonstrate their strengths and increase their chances of getting hired.4 And for candidates drawn from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds, skills tests send a powerful signal that you evaluate candidates consistently and fairly.
Improves Your Onboarding and Training
Skills assessments will reveal each candidate’s strengths and weaknesses in the context of your specific job and organization. This insight can be invaluable in structuring onboarding and training to give them the support they need to succeed in the role, leading to a better employee experience and long-term retention.
“I’ve seen cases where two candidates were closely matched, but one had an advantage with more experience on their resume. After the work sample, the client realized that experience didn’t translate into the skills and working style they were looking for. Having a deeper understanding of each candidate’s skills and the support they will need can inform your selection and the offer.”— Staffing Advisors Project Director Lilly Khan
Saves Time and Resources
While developing work sample tests requires effort for your hiring team, these assessments save time and resources in the long run by helping you avoid hiring the wrong person or investing more time in candidates who are not a good fit for the role. The additional information you gain helps you more clearly identify the tradeoffs you would make with one candidate over the other.
For more details on creating and evaluating work sample tests, along with examples from real clients in different functional areas, download SA Perspectives: Work Sample Testing and share with your team.
Read our Employer Guide to Interviewing for a step-by-step guide on how to develop a well-planned interview sequence that reduces the potential for bias and error and more reliably predicts success on the job than any other hiring practice, including what to discuss, how to assess cultural add, how to structure the first and second interviews, work sample testing, and more.