Stats in this post were updated February 2020
Hiring can cost a pretty penny. In the world of a tight hiring market, you’ll find mistakes cost even more. In fact, the average cost of a bad hire is in the neighborhood of $15,000, according to a 2017 study by CareerBuilder. Unfortunately, despite the efforts of hiring pros everywhere, ill-fitting hires are brought into companies at an intimidating rate. Two in three CareerBuilder respondents say they’ve accepted a job and later realized it wasn’t the best fit. Half of these workers quit within just six months of starting the role.
With budgets and overall company success at risk, you need an innovative hiring strategy in place. In reality, it’s not enough for hiring managers to base decisions off of an interview alone. This is because a candidate who looks exceptional on paper and effectively showcases their personality in an interview may turn out to be a bad fit for your company.
To ensure you’re catching the real talent behind the interviewee, companies must test their professionals before fully committing to onboarding them into the organization. You wouldn’t buy a new car without the experience of a test drive first, right? So why invest in a job candidate before having them prove their skills align with your workplace needs?
If you really want to put your job candidates to the test, check out these creative hiring tests successful professionals have used or experienced during the hiring process:
1. Pre-Hire Project
I am a big believer in an interactive “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 salesperson, 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 helps create opportunities for a conversation that is focused on 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.
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 salespeople 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 lenses, and for the right person, the task could even be perceived as a fun challenge.
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 directions, attention to detail, and creativity.
Kaitlyn Annaert, former HR Manager, Voices.com
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, Freelance Journalist
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 employee’s 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.