Putting Candidates to the Test: Serious Challenges For a Serious Business

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After being in business as long as I have, I’ve learned that if you put job candidates to the test, the best ones will rise to the challenge.

I learned this after many years of dealing with great hires and not-so-great hires, like the one who locked herself in the building’s only bathroom after I had to fire her. Or the extremely fast and efficient pressroom worker who, on his break time, was studying how to grow hallucinogenic mushrooms.

You have to be careful who you hire.

Resumes can contain all sorts of lies. Evidence of a college degree doesn’t mean a person actually studied or even showed up for lectures most of the time.

Getting tough on candidates

People can learn the right way to answer interview questions and frame their experience in eloquent ways. What they can’t fake is a true test of ability.

When I’m hiring, I’m intentionally tough on candidates. I do whatever it takes to be sure, because the wrong hiring decision will cost me time and money. (I once had an interview that lasted six hours, knees to knees.)

There may be certain candidates and certain positions for which extra fact-finding will be unnecessary.

In some cases, you may personally know the candidate and be familiar with their track record, or they may have incredible references that trump everything else. But most candidates will be an unknown quantity. You should find out as much as you can about them before inviting them to join you.

I make the hiring process a challenge because the job will be a challenge. Once the employee is hired, I’m going to throw them into the deep end as fast as I can.

I need to find out whether they can swim, but also how fast and how far. That’s why I’ve built in some tests and challenges in my hiring process to give me more data to work with and help me make that important decision.

Challenging candidates — even before the interview

If a candidate applies for a job and looks promising, I’ll send them a Pre-Employment Questionnaire (PEQ) to complete. The PEQ asks open-ended questions that allow the candidate to show their true selves in what they write.

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Then, for certain positions, I give top candidates the challenge of an assignment. This gives them a chance to stand out and prove themselves. It also shows me who is serious about wanting the position, and who is just casually fishing for leads.

So if you want to hire a writer, give candidates a project or two to prove their writing ability. (I asked candidates to complete a press release and write a video script before I made my final hiring decision.) If you’re hiring a bookkeeper, test the math skills of all top candidates.

Making them think on their feet

Customer support? Test their phone skills as well as their writing ability, because they’ll most likely be responding to customer emails. A programmer? Give them an assignment to complete. Then measure the results.

When they get to the interview stage, I also want to find out if they can think on their feet. I might throw in a question that tests their logic and to see if they’re attempting to think, like “Why are manhole covers round?” or “How many gas stations in the U.S.?” (Yes, I know that these questions have fallen out of favor. But I think they still have value, especially if the candidate won’t even attempt to think of an answer.)

If the interview goes well, I ask the candidate to complete an online employment assessment. Then I call the candidate’s references and order a background check and drug screen.

Last but certainly not least: Throughout my hiring process, I pray people into my companies and I pray for wisdom in those I hire. (My turnover is very low, so I believe that God is helping me to make the right hiring decisions.)

Hiring people is serious business. So make your hiring process a serious challenge — you’ll see the best candidates rise to the top.

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