Job Auditions: Wonderful or Wicked?

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By Jas Singh

Nowadays, everyone likes a trial. The leap of faith seems to have been replaced by a more careful approach to how things are likely to pan out. It’s human nature not to want to get hurt by making the wrong decisions. We trial cars, gyms, pets, hairstyles and couples now even often trial living together before taking the plunge for real. The whole ‘try before you buy’ approach seems to reduce risk and put us more in control. Or does it?

A lot of companies have adopted a relatively new approach to their hiring in the form of job auditions (see here for an interesting example). Simply put, hiring managers allow potential new hires to actually work for them on a trial basis – anything from completing a simple isolated piece of work to a comprehensive 2-4 week trial (paid of course). The idea is to use this audition to make a more informed decision – to recruit full time or shake hands and part ways.

It sounds like a good plan and is becoming more and more popular. But just like everything in life, there are pros and cons to this approach.

Here’s a few.

The Advantages

The obvious and main advantage of job auditions are that they allow us to view the candidate actually in the job before committing. Even with the best assessment techniques, no interview situation can exactly replicate the environment of the actual job. Think of all the sales people who professed to being great cold callers in an interview but who end up hesitating to pick up the phone. Or the self-proclaimed ultra-fast trouble shooter who actually struggled under the pressure. All of these decisions can be prevented by a few hours of observing someone on the job.

Another equally important plus of job auditions is that they also allow candidates themselves to assess. Often candidates are competent, have the ability to be top performers, but lack motivation. They can leave quickly for new opportunities simply because the job was not what they expected in an interview. Trialling the job first can give them a better idea of what they are in for.

For some candidates, job auditions can also give the impression of increased professionalism around the approach to hiring. If “auditions” are managed in the right way, it can give the impression that the company cares massively about hiring the right people – perhaps the ultimate job attraction in itself. And what’s more by paying candidates for any work it shows they value other peoples time.

The Disadvantages

When the subject of job auditions has come up at leadership seminars I have attended, the biggest objection that comes up from its cynics is the fact that they are just impractical. An ideological dream against the harsh reality of a cut-throat and pressurized working world. On paper, its a strong argument.

For a start, people in current jobs – especially those working for competitors won’t or can’t take part. Another factor is that some might see it as uncommitted – that it is too easy for companies to “back-out”, maybe once the candidate has put in much effort and disclosed personal information. For high profile or sensitive roles there are also issues – can you really trial a new CMO if there is another one already doing the same job that you are looking to replace?

Aside from impracticality, sometimes the role can be such that auditions just simply won’t work. Hiring someone who is looking to totally rebuild your brand or position your company for a successful IPO is not something that can be done in a few weeks. Although an audition might help you find the next great actor, they don’t really work for finding the next great novelist. Some things just take time.

And perhaps the biggest issue of all, used unethically, job auditions can be abused by employers. I’ve known of management teams getting candidates to complete important work or address short-term issues with no serious intention to hire permanently. Unforgivable.

Conclusion

Job auditions can be an important tool in any hiring managers artillery.

However they must be used correctly and are not suitable for all hiring situations. Otherwise they can be as destructive as they can be useful.

Only you can decide.

Will you audition for your next vacancy?

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