In June I commented on an NY Times interview with a small business owner about giving prospective employees job tryouts (essentially paid internships) before bringing them on full-time. Recently, another article appeared covering most of the same ground, though in a bit more detail as to the logistics of the process, especially if the person looking for the job is currently employed.

As is the norm of reporting in this area, the author does not refer to pre-employment screens that are much more valid than, “the traditional hiring process — résumés, interviews, references…” This gives the false impression that your only choices for evaluating candidates are methods with relatively low predictive accuracy or hiring them for a month first. This is, of course, untrue. There are job simulations that can be purchased or even developed for far less than hiring someone for a month, even as a contractor.

Of course, the presumption is that any pre-employment test or screen can be “faked” and that a month on the job gives a person a chance to show their true colors. I would argue that the validity of a job tryout is not that much higher than a well designed half-day (or so) simulation. This is because simulations can be objectively scored by trained raters. Unless an employer is going to make a decision based on objective data (e.g., sales), all types of bias would be introduced into a job tryout. Don’t think so? Then why is there so much accuracy problems with performance appraisal/evaluation?

The article quotes employers saying that they learn a lot about a person’s work habits and personality (e.g., are they abrasive) during the tryout. All true, but it doesn’t take a week or more to do that.

The business case for using an assessment instead of a job tryout is pretty straightforward:

Cost of meaningful assessment (even a simulation) for 7 people (one example described in the article): <$7,000
Cost of job tryout: $25/hr x 100 hours x 7 =$17,500 (this does not account for any loss of productivity, and it’s an added cost as in the article they indicate that an equivalent worker is given paid vacation during the tryout)

I’ll grant you that a multi-day tryout is potentially more valid than a ½ day assessment. But that is only true if there is an objective evaluation process during the trial period. Even with that, I would doubt that it is 250% more valid.

The article strikes me as another example of tech startups trying to reinvent the wheel when it comes to hiring. Google did this for a long time with their ridiculous brain teasers. I get it—you’re smart and your ideas and innovations are going to change the world. But, just like apps and hardware are built on pre-established research in electronics and computer science, there are well founded principles in the science of hiring employees as well. Use them!

What are your creative ideas for evaluating candidates?

For more information on legal pre-employment testing, skill assessments, and Assessment Centers, please contact Warren at 310 670-4175 or