Human Resources Blog - Spark Hire

9 Creative Hiring Tests You Need to Know About

Hiring can cost a pretty penny; hiring mistakes can cost even more. In fact, a bad hire can cost companies upwards of $50,000, according to a 2013 CareerBuilder study — that’s a lot of pennies. It’s not enough to base hiring decisions off of an interview alone. A candidate who looks good on paper and aces the interview may turn out to be a bad fit for your company.

To reveal the talent behind the interviewee, companies should test their candidates before fully committing. You wouldn’t buy a new car without test-driving it first, right? So why invest in a job candidate before having them prove their skills?

If you really want to put your job candidates to the test, check out these nine creative hiring tests successful professionals have used or experienced during the hiring process:

1. Pre-Hire Project

I am a big believer in the “pre-hire project.” Basically, this is a small project related to the main function of the job a candidate is interviewing for. This is easy to imagine for writing or graphic design type roles, but it goes far beyond that in its application.

For example, if you are hiring an outside sales person, you would have them develop a strategy for how they would approach the market if they were hired. They will then present their approach to you in the next interview so you can discuss the various strategies and really dig into the true goals of the position.

Pre-hire projects give candidates a chance to demonstrate their expertise. It also creates a great opportunity for conversation that is focused around the opportunities and challenges in the role. It goes beyond finding someone who is great at answering interview questions, and digs into how they actually get the job done.

Rikka Brandon

Rikka Brandon, Recruiting & Hiring Expert

2. Role Play

Our CEO, David Niu, will often role play with a candidate during a job interview based on a previous job. We’ve recently hired a few new PR positions. David’s philosophy is that pitching the company to news outlets is largely a sales job — so he asks candidates to sell him on something. I’ve heard him do role playing with candidates who were formerly salesmen or who worked on political campaigns.

With me, he found out that I worked part-time at Guitar Center, so he asked me to sell him a guitar for his daughter. He had me stand up in a conference room and act just like I would while I was working at the store. He asked a barrage questions, and was skeptical when I tried to sell him on a more expensive guitar.

In the end, he left the imaginary Guitar Center without buying a guitar. I left the interview figuring I had blown it because I didn’t close the sale. But, I got the job.

Neal McNamara

Neal McNamara, Communication Manager, TINYpulse

3. Telling Questions

We have a couple of clients who use really interesting hiring tests to question interviewees on key skills. For instance, test creative thinking for design or development type roles by asking, “Give me five alternative uses for a paper clip.”

We’ve heard lots of great answers from the more logical, “use it to reset my iPhone” to “wear it as a pirate earring.” The key is to think outside the box and not be afraid to be a little unorthodox with your answers. It’s a great way of testing how a candidate reacts under pressure.

Steve Thompson

Steve Thompson, Forward Role

4. Storytelling

I like to tell people about the time I caught the same fish two years in a row. I go through an elaborate story about reeling the fish in, how it fought with me for hours and, when I finally caught it, I knew it was the same fish from last year, that I lost just before it got in the boat.

Then I finish the story there and wait. I wait for them to speak. I figure that the people who are listening, and always at the ready, are going to ask, “how do you know it was the same fish?” If they don’t ask that, I don’t usually hire them.

Idan Shpizear

Idan Shpizear, 911 Restoration

5. “Hack” a Solution

As a company engaged in leading-edge IT, Linode has desperately sought qualified, open-source (Linux OS) candidates to fill multiple roles on our teams. And we’ve taken that one step further by sponsoring a competition among Linux developers: Linux Challenge 9, where participants “hack” a solution for a posed problem. Winners get rewarded with swag and — most likely — job offers. Linode gets a true indication of a candidate’s skill set.

Vincent Palochko

Vincent Palochko, Linode

6. Write Your Own Job Description

Last year, while interviewing for a role, I was asked to create a job description from scratch. The only information I was given was the title of the role and the name of the organization (a well-known small nonprofit). This was a great task that probably elicited a number of responses, all indicative of the candidate they were and were not looking for.

They needed someone who was resourceful and took initiative — someone who was not afraid to take a very blank slate, and do some research on their own to create something from nothing. While completing the assignment, it was really important for me to nail their ‘voice’ and ‘style’ to be able to successfully complete this task.

I thought this was a really smart way to evaluate my fit for their vacancy from a variety of different lens, and for the right person the task could even be perceived as a fun challenge.

Samantha Simmons

Samantha Simmons, Senior Manager, Executive Search, Koya Partners

7. Create a Curriculum

As a job seeker I was once asked to create a ‘curriculum’ for the company. Before attending the first interview, I had some homework to complete. Given the topics ahead of time, I had to create a working curriculum for the company. This included designing how their departments should function, how many employees should be in each department, how many team leaders were needed, hours of work, rate of pay, etc.

This took me hours to complete, but it forced me to learn about the business in a different way, and from an insider’s point of view. I believe they were looking for accuracy, business knowledge, ability to follow direction, attention to detail, and creativity.

Kaitlyn Annaert

Kaitlyn Annaert, HR Manager,

8. Challenge

In a recent job hiring process, I took a unique creative test designed to evaluate both my editing skills as a content marketing writer/editor and check if I have basic visual skills in the form of editing a PowerPoint or SlideShare presentation.

The hiring manager gave me an existing presentation file that consisted of 40 slides and instructed me to cut it down to 30 slides, moving the superfluous slides to the end of the presentation. She also asked me to record my total editing time on the task, as well as insert comments/sticky notes to explain what I had edited out and why.

Derek Handova

Derek Handova, Content Marketing Writer

9. Assessment Test

During the interview process, we ask our candidates to write a 200-300 word article on digital marketing topics that they should have researched prior to the interview. This shows whether or not the candidate did their homework. Additionally, it tests the potential employees ability to respond under pressure.

We typically give them thirty minutes to write the paper. Since working fast is an integral part of working at our up-tempo digital agency, this test shows whether or not the candidate can succeed under a tight timeline.

I can’t even begin to explain how much this “test” has helped our hiring process. People can give the most amazing interview and make you believe they are an ideal candidate. This simple test automatically weeds out unqualified candidates and separates the pretenders versus the contenders.

Jason Parks

Jason Parks, The Media Captain


The Art of Scheduling Interviews


What ways do you test your job candidates before hiring them? Share your tips and tricks in the comments!

Josh Tolan

Josh Tolan is the Founder and CEO of Spark Hire, a video interviewing platform used by 5,000+ customers in over 100 countries.