Job trials: Definition, benefits and tips for success

Last updated:
May 6, 2021
December 23, 2021
min read
Brendan McConnell
Table of contents

Finding the ultimate candidate for your team can be difficult. A phone screen and an interview will only get you so far in understanding a candidate’s true potential (or lack thereof). Interviews are easy to prepare for and a candidate may have practiced their perfect answers in advance. Enter, the job trial.

Many companies choose to hold a job trial with a candidate that they are almost certain on offering to join the team. They want to avoid the all-too-common phenomenon of hiring someone who interviewed well but doesn’t fit the skill level required or team dynamic.

Having a candidate stay for a month or two then leaving because the job wasn’t what they expected will cost the company and the individual time and money. We want to help you dodge this bullet.

What is a job trial?

A job trial, or trial day, is when a candidate comes into the office to meet their prospective team and complete an assigned challenge. This usually occurs after a phone screening or interview.

Trial days are intended as an intensive day (or half day) designed to delve deeper into a candidate’s skills, experience, and cultural fit, all while giving them a real taste of what it’s like to work at your company. They can be both paid and unpaid.

3 immediate benefits of trial days

1. Verification of skill and cultural fit.

The first reason companies hold a test day is to see how well the candidate fits in with the culture and the team.

It is extremely important that any candidate on a trial gets along with their potential team and adds to the company culture in a positive way. As companies grow, each new person should bring a new element to the table.

These elements should be a positive addition that helps mold the company in a brighter way. Initially, the work trial allows the company to see how well the candidate fits in with the company’s culture and team.

2. Insights into the candidates’ decision-making skills.

Holding a job trial allows the team to understand the candidates thought process as they perform a task.

During a work trial, certain decision-making skills can be uncovered– these can be both desirable or/and undesirable for the role. Typically during a job trial, candidates are asked to carry out an assignment/challenge in the office.

Whether they can complete the task or not isn’t always what’s important. Employers are often looking for certain capacities that lie outside of the task, in the approach to the problem.

3. Gives the employer and candidate a genuine experience of working together.

A trial day allows both parties to understand each other whether the position is a suitable fit in general. This work trial may have allowed you to dodge a bullet. Imagine hiring someone that wasn’t happy with the work environment or the team. That would have been a waste of everyone’s time.

After a candidate has killed it during the first one or two interviews, it’s time to put everything they’ve said in the interviews to the test. But conducting a trial that does just that, is not always as straightforward as it may seem.

Make sure you’re really getting to the bottom of your candidates’ by following these tricks of the trade to run a smooth and effective work trial.

Is a trial day right for my company?

The short answer? It depends… and on quite a few things.

1. Seniority of the position

While corporates may have extensive resources to run graduate program trials, other companies may struggle to justify the time and resources a trial day costs for entry-level positions.

Senior positions are better suited in general as a work trial will allow for the employer and candidate to dive into the details of the position or project.

2. Skillset of candidates

For some skill sets it may be absolutely crucial for candidates to complete an assignment to verify skills.

Some companies may allow the candidate to complete the challenge at home, however, for some skill sets you may want to verify the work in person.

3. Active vs passive candidates

Simply put, passive candidates will be unlikely to attend a trial day if they are currently working.

4. Team resources

If you do not have the time to dedicate to running regular trials, that will negatively impact the quality of the work trial.

A bad job trial could easily dissuade candidates from joining your team. S

ome companies choose to run trial periods instead, however, these cannot eliminate the risk of poor hires and require a longer time investment (up to a month).

How to organize an effective job trial

If you’ve decided that a job trial is a feasible candidate qualification step for you, you might wonder what it takes to run a good one. Coordination is key.

For anyone involved in the process, you have to make sure that all decision-making employees are going to be available for the duration of the trial day. The more the merrier! If you run it well, this will give your team the opportunity to get to know the candidate in depth.

make your trial day easier with scheduler
Make it easy to schedule your trial day with scheduling technology.

Step 1: Invite your candidates

First things first, let your candidates know they’ve made it to the next round and that they’ve been invited to the trial day!

Coordinate with each candidate which day is best for them to come in without it overlapping with other candidates. Let them know what to expect when it comes to the task, team meetings, and schedule.

Step 2: Inform your team

Inform your team about the candidates that are coming in for a trial day. Schedule it into the company calendar so that even employees who are not involved with the trial are aware that someone is coming to the office. This will give everyone the heads up to put their best foot forward.

Make sure to track the candidate process through your ATS allowing, both HR and the department employers to be on the same page.  You may want to consider adding evaluations or interview scorecards to team members involved in the work trial.

Step 3: Meet with your hiring manager to develop a challenge

The challenge or task is a central element of a trial day. You have to think of what the challenge should be and why. What specific skills are you looking for? Is it appropriate for a junior or senior position? These are things you need to consider when developing a challenging for the specific vacancy.

All candidates that are in the running for the same job position should all have the same challenge. When you’re planning the trial make a checklist of characteristics a candidate should have in order to be the right fit for the position. These will be the skills each candidate should demonstrate in the completion of the task.

For example, if you’re looking for a front-end web designer, have the candidate create a landing page under pressure. The designer could also go through the current website and describe what they would change and what would they make better.

Of course, make sure you have all the tools, programs, and equipment necessary for a candidate to complete the task.

Step 4: Confirm with your candidate

Before a candidate comes into the office, just check up with them the day before. Confirm that they are still coming in, that they are still interested, and are as excited for the trial day as you are!

It would be big let down for a candidate not to show up because they didn’t hear from you the day before just reassuring that everything is a go for tomorrow.

Step 5: Fill in the small details

On the day of the job trial, make sure you are wearing something that is in line with how most people dress in the office with an extra touch of business class.

The candidate is most likely dressing up for this trial day so you should too!  Make sure you have a workspace ready for them as well to help ease them in.

Step 6: Welcome your candidate

When they arrive in the office make them feel comfortable and excited about the company giving them the confidence they need to shine through this trial. Everyone always appreciates if you offer them something to drink, it eases up the tension they are experiencing.  

Make sure to take them around the office and introduce them to the team.

Step 7: Assign the candidate their challenge

The moment everyone has been waiting for! The task or challenge is at hand. Make sure your candidate has a solid brief and understands what they need to do. Additionally, let them know who to ask should they have any questions as they work.

Remember, it’s not always important that they complete the task. What is important is their thought process, are they able to figure things out on their own, and what tools are they using to accomplish this. An important thing to notice is how they work. Depending on the type of office space it is crucial to be aware of their typical working conditions and if they can work well in yours.

For example, at an open office space where people are next to each other, it could be important that they’re able to work well with noise. These are some things to look out for. When the challenge is done, it’s time to go through their work with them. Ask them questions and ask them why they did certain things, allowing you to understand how their mind works.

Step 8: Meet the team

Lastly, while the candidate is at the office have them eat lunch with the team or meet a few team members! See how well they fit in with everyone in the community and culture at work. Some things generally to look out for:

  • Are they engaging with the team? Asking questions or sharing more about themselves?
  • Are there any unusual behaviors that might cause trouble later on? Are they on their phone a lot?
  • How do they seem to respond to the team? Is there a nice flow of conversation?

It is okay for someone to be an introvert, but if someone is on their phone and not even trying to get to know their potential future colleagues that could be a red flag.

Step 9: Evaluate the candidate

Finally, it is time to make the decision!

Create a set standard for the evaluation so that everyone is evaluated equally. In Recruitee, you can request evaluations from the team members involved in the work trial. Once requested, the evaluations will be compiled centrally on the candidate record, allowing managers to make an informed decision.

Work trials can be a great way to deep dive into your candidates’ experience, skill, and personality in a practical environment. When run consistently and with the candidate experience in mind, they can be a great tool to improve your quality of hire.

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