When the pool of talent is narrowed down to the final two candidates, it’s time for the interview team to come up with homework assignments. An important predictor of how a candidate will adapt to your organization’s environment is to see an example of his or her thought processes, analytical skills, and problem-solving, up close and personal.
Effective homework assignments are projects of reasonable size and scope that involve one of the most critical accomplishments the candidate will have to perform once on board. The candidate should be given all the support he or she needs to adequately answer the question or complete the assignment. The candidate should then return to the interview panel and present results and conclusions, and lead a question and answer discussion based on the homework. No matter what functional area, homework should entail questioning, analysis, research, and a panel discussion with some form of presentation.
While homework assignments are “out there” in the hiring world, some candidates may object to doing what they perceive as unpaid work.
Most top 5% talent, because of their self-motivated nature, will be intrigued and embrace the challenge. But if they’ve had previous encounters with unscrupulous employers who actually do assign homework and go on to use candidate ideas (even though they did not hire the candidate) you’ll need to reassure them that you aren’t asking them to come up with the “right answer.” Instead, you are looking for a concrete example of their approach to problems, their analytical and presentation skills, and their ability to synthesize information.
The scope of homework should be appropriate; that is, you shouldn’t ask candidates to dedicate forty hours on nights and weekends to solving your most pressing problem as “homework.” Make it clear at the outset that the homework is not going to be as deep as the actual job, and that you aren’t looking so much for their answer as for deep insight into their thought and action processes.
Every key position you plan on hiring should require a homework assignment. Some examples include, a sales presentation for all sales people, for financial positions consider giving them last year's and this year's budget and ask for their input, marketing positions ask for them to review your marketing programs or PR agreements, IT positions depending on the level can include coding examples all the way up to the capital spending on IT projects. The goal is to put them in the job before they come on board.
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I welcome your thoughts and comments.