Job Simulations: The Secret to Uncovering the REAL Candidate!

At this point you might be excited about having found a great candidate and keen to offer them a job. You might also be finding that the process is taking a while and distracting you from daily tasks. Either way, you may be tempted to rush into making a job offer. Don’t!

While Structured Interviews are great at identifying patterns and trends, you’ve basically been playing a game with the candidate. They’ve presented the best version of themselves, as you have your company. You need hard facts, not rhetoric. Job Simulations and Work Culture Assessments are a great way to get these.

Job Simulations Provide Important Insights

Just as you don’t hire a footballer without seeing them kick a ball, you shouldn’t give someone a job without seeing how they perform tasks in the form of a Job Simulation.

The duration of a Job Simulation is crucial. If they’re too long, they become hard to do, especially if a candidate is working and needs to take time off.

Ideally, Job Simulations should be prepared in advance and be short enough for candidates to be able to complete them immediately after a first or second interview.

It’s advantageous for candidates to do the simulation in the workplace because they’re able to interact with potential colleagues. This helps establish relationships and see whether there’s a good cultural fit.

If you allow the candidate to complete the simulation virtually at home, try to have a reviewer present online with them. This helps make sure that the candidate doesn’t get assistance or take too long.

The people who design, conduct and review the Job Simulations usually should be high-performing staff and possibly line managers.

To design a Job Simulation for a role, take the top two or three most important tasks from the Great Performance Profile. For a customer services executive, the two important competencies might be:

  1. Demonstrating warmth and empathy for customers.
  2. Carrying out professional yet familiar written communication with customers.

To test these, I might print off a couple of customer emails and ask how they would respond. I’d give them 30 minutes to respond to each email. Afterwards, I check them for spelling and tone.

If I was recruiting an accountant, I’d use the Great Performance Profile to identify that they need to be:

  1. Highly accurate and detailed oriented.
  2. Able to report how numbers are driven by activity.

A quick test might involve giving them a set of accounts in Excel and asking them to put together a dashboard showing the organisation’s health, including ratios of critical drivers. You might then present hypothetical scenarios, such as: “We think we’ve reconciled £1,000 on American Express incorrectly – can you track it down?” (You need to know the answer of course!)

When recruiting IT developers, you could get them to meet a team of fellow developers and discuss coding patterns. The candidate could review a section of code and do some basic programming. You get to see whether they can do what they claimed in the interview. (While I appreciate that there are code-testing solutions available online, code is unique like handwriting, so it’s important to see if they can adapt to your style).

Job Simulations can also employ role play. This can be valuable in customer service or sales. We were once recruiting sales people who were conformists and could easily be trained. There was one candidate who gave an outstandingly brilliant interview. I would have hired him on the interview alone, but I knew that a role play would still be valuable. The exercise was conducted by a sales manager, who explained what a sales call involved and asked if the candidate had any questions. The candidate said that he didn’t, so the manager asked him to sell to him in the format he’d just explained. You don’t expect perfection by any stretch of the imagination, but the candidate was shockingly bad, not at all doing what the sales manager had asked for.

The manager suggested trying again the next day, giving the candidate the chance to take feedback on board. The candidate said, “No, not necessary, I’ll do it again now.” He performed just as badly. The role play had shown that his current level of performance was poor and that he would be hard to train. Despite the great interview, it was now clear that he couldn’t proceed further in the recruitment process.

When reviewing results, remember that you’re only looking for the Minimum Acceptable Standard here – candidates are working under pressure in an unfamiliar environment and are unlikely to deliver their best performance. You’re simply checking the validity of what they said they can do, not testing for high performance (though if you do get that, then all the better!).

If the Job Simulations takes a long time, it might be prudent to pay the candidate for their time.

Job Simulations versus assessment Centres

For the avoidance of any confusion, I want to make clear that Job Simulations are very different to assessment centres.

Assessment centres are typically used for the mass hiring of applicants who are broadly similar (e.g. graduate recruitment). They are often pressured, competitive, stressful environments, and sometimes cause candidates to react differently to how they normally would.

Such centres are used by large, fast-growing businesses. As this article is aimed at SMEs, I won’t dwell on these further.

Work Culture Assessments Measure Cultural Fit

What people say and do when they let their guard down is often a reflection of their true selves. Work Culture Assessments try to capture this. Candidates are given a tour of the work environment and introduced to staff. This gives everyone (including the candidate) the chance to check for cultural fit and to ask questions.

If you’re recruiting a manager, after meeting them for the first time their potential new team should feel excited about the possibility of working for them.

Another way to assess cultural fit is for a few team members (preferably not those involved in the interview process) to take the candidate to lunch or to some other social setting. It’s helpful to see how people are when they relax in an informal environment. I’m usually more interested in observing behaviour than what’s being discussed. I remember one candidate treating a waiter like a servant – it was unacceptable and not at all what we expected from his charming interview manner.

The Work Culture Assessment is a mutual way for candidates to assess their cultural fit. Keep selling the organisation and job vacancy to the candidate. Remember, Great Performers always have other options. They aren’t just joining you for a wage or to do a job; they want the collegial atmosphere that team work provides.

A few words of warning:

  • Mention to current employees that you may be introducing a potential new member of staff. This will give them time to prepare, or at the very least look excited! Otherwise I’ve seen employees respond as if it is an unnecessary interruption and they just want to get on with their job.
  • Only introduce people who have a good chance of getting the job, otherwise your team may get tired of meeting so many people and think you’re being indecisive.
  • Be careful about employees not wanting to hire someone. They’re not running the business and may be considering their own interests rather than seeing the big picture. As with interviews, you have the final veto, not them.
  • Don’t ignore your gut instinct. If it’s hard to make a detailed logical argument, your gut reaction – the result of years of experience ¬– may be telling you something just as valid.

Work Culture Assessments when used alongside Structured Interviews and Job Simulations are a valuable addition to the recruitment process.

Temporary-to-Permanent Job Simulations

A longer kind of Job Simulations and Work Culture Assessment is a temporary-to-permanent assignment. If the candidate isn’t currently employed, they may consider paid temporary work with you. This helps the candidate and employer make a more informed decision about the longer term. I recommend keeping the temporary employment period fairly short, otherwise the candidate may continue looking for employment elsewhere.

<div class="grey-callout"><h2>Key Takeaways</h2><p><ul><li>Job Simulations and Work Culture Assessments are a great opportunity to see how a candidate will behave in your workplace.</li><li>It’s straightforward to identify key tasks for simulations or role plays. Job Simulations can confirm that a candidate is a Great Performer or uncover areas of concern. Either way, you have more information on which to make your decision.</li><li>Work Culture Assessments help you and the candidate ensure that there’s a good cultural fit. Take this seriously: often, employees are fired not for failing to carry out tasks, but because of how they behave.</li></ul></p></div>

Advertise a Job

Text to go here

We literally wrote the book on...

The secrets of great recruitment

The Secrets of Great Recruitment is a top-seller. It is easy to read and wastes no time in giving powerful actionable strategies you can use straight away.

Book cover for The Secrets of Great Recruitment
Try our Job Audit

Text to go here

Geoff Newman has dedicated his entire career to recruitment. He has consulted for many well-known international brands, and worked with over 20,000 growing businesses. He has helped fill over 100,000 jobs.

Related Articles

No items found.
FREE access to our Great Recruitment Newsletter. New strategies every week.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
We literally wrote the book on...

The secrets of great recruitment

The Secrets of Great Recruitment is a top-seller. It is easy to read and wastes no time in giving powerful actionable strategies you can use straight away.

Book cover for The Secrets of Great Recruitment