Job trials: Definition, benefits and tips for success

Last updated:
March 29, 2022
March 29, 2022
min read
Brendan McConnell
job trial
Table of contents

Finding the ultimate candidate for your team can be difficult. Likewise, landing a job with clear scaling opportunities and core values that match your own can be just as tricky. Especially when it’s for a highly ranked position and/or you have less experience than the organization desires. 

A phone screen and an interview will only get you so far. This applies to both the candidate and the organization.  Just as this interview - or even a series of them - won’t give you, as a candidate, a truely comprehensive feeling for what it’s like to work at a particular Interviews are easy to prepare for and a candidate may have practiced their perfect answers in advance. That doesn’t then offer a clear idea of how the candidate will work in reality. They may be saying what you want to hear. 

From the eyes of the candidate, they are unlikely to pick up company culture, expectations, and the overall feeling of what it’s like to work in the organization from an interview alone. Companies may have poor interview techniques and strategies or even have unintentional bias.  

So, how do you avoid this for both parties? 

Enter, the job trial.

Many companies choose to hold a job trial with a candidate that they are almost certain of offering a role to and joining 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. 

That makes complete sense for the company. But, what about the candidate? Are job trials a sign that you’ve done something wrong during your interview? Should you even accept a job trial as a candidate? Or, are they, in fact, a blessing in disguise?

Having a candidate stay for a month or two but then leaving your company because the job wasn’t what they expected is all too common. A quick-leaver will cost the company and the individual time and money. We want to help you both dodge this bullet.

And let’s not forget that, during interviews, both members are on ‘best behavior’. Candidates have likely done their due diligence, researched the company and its ethos, and rehearsed their answers to interview questions in advance. On a wider scale, it’s not breaking news that a group of people’s behavior can change when an ‘outsider’ is inside their environment. Whether that’s for the better or for the worse, a candidate doesn’t often get to see the ‘real-life’ mode of a company until they’re officially onboarded. That’s what causes a quick-leaver. 

So, is it possible that we are all looking at job trials in the wrong way? Is it true that job trials are only offered when a company doesn’t feel the candidate is completely ‘good’ enough to be offered the position with a long-term, permanent contract there and then? No. It’s a total myth.

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.

Work trial advantages - 3 immediate benefits for companies

1. Verification of skill and cultural fit

The first reason companies hold a job trial day is to see how seemlessly and well the candidate fits in with the company 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 processes 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 or 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. For companies, it prevents hiring someone that wasn’t happy with the work environment or the team. For candidates, it avoids feeling that dread and sense of unfulfilment. That would have been a waste of everyone’s time.

After a candidate has killed it during the first 1 or 2 interviews, it’s time to put everything they’ve said in the interviews to the test. They’ve proved they can talk the talk. A job trial allows them to walk the walk. But conducting a trial that does just that, isn’t 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? And get ready for frustration, here. It depends. It’s not as black and white as a ‘yes’ or ‘no’, because each company is different, and so is their hiring process. So, it truly does depend… and on quite a few things.

The good news, though, is that we’ve listed the variables to help you, as a company, make the right decision.

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. Take the world of teaching, for example. You need to know whether a new teacher in your school can stand up in front of the class, speak clearly, and deliver on all those pedagogical strategies they have claimed they use in their interview. 

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 don’t 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. 

Some companies choose to run trial periods instead, however, these cannot 100% eliminate the risk of poor hires and require a longer time investment (up to a month). It’s all about weighing up your priorities and how desperate you are for the position to be filled. 

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. The main quality you’ll need? Coordination. Without it, things can unravel and go south. And fast. 

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.

So, how do you organize a job trial day for your candidates? Every company will put its stamp on it, and they may adjust the process to suit their working environment. But, as a whole, they follow this order. 

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 a work trial day!

Be prepared for them to rush to Google, asking it questions like ‘does getting a job trial day mean I’ve got the job?’ and ‘is it a good sign that I got a job trial day?’ 

To make the hiring process that much better and show empathy to your candidate, you could even implement a strategy to set their mind straight. Explain, when letting them know that they’ve got to the next step in the hiring process, that they were impressive in the interview, and you’d love to see them in action before progressing to the next phase. This reassurance and explanation will help defog the candidate’s concerns and allows them to put their all into the trial day without wondering whether a job trial is a good, bad, or normal thing to have to take part in.

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. 

Attaching a PDF document to an email outlining what they can expect will go down brilliantly, and it shows consideration on your part as a company. 

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. Plus, you’ll get no shocked faces when someone new enters the working environment. 

You can even share the same schedule you sent to your candidate with your team, so everyone’s on the same page. This also allows your team to check in with the candidate and acts as a conversation starter if needed. 

Make sure to track the candidate process through your ATS which allows 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. The more specific information you can share, the better your outcome. 

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 decide on the nature of the challenge, and make sure you can provide a reason for it. There’s little point in making the trial task surround a situation or duty that would never happen when the candidate becomes an employee. 

The reason for your task needs to be abundantly clear. 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 challenge for a specific vacancy.

If you’re struggling to come up with a challenge, try working backward. First, take a look at the job description you created for this vacancy. Note down the key skills that cropped up, and order them in importance. Now, consider how you can assess those skills. 

Say, for example, you’re hiring for a customer service position in a claims department. Your job description highlights skills like:

  1. The ability to work well under pressure
  2. The in-depth knowledge of sales psychology and technique
  3. Good team-work skills

Based on these 3 core skills, you’ll need to create a task that helps assess all of them. Perhaps a group task where the candidate works with a few members of the team to sell something ‘unsellable’.  

Let’s take a look at another example. Say you’re looking for a front-end web designer. The job trial exercise could 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.

All candidates that are in the running for the same job position should all have the same challenge. Again, 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.

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 a big letdown for a candidate not to show up because they didn’t hear from you the day before. The world is a busy place, and you can’t expect every candidate to remember - though some will. It’s better practice to just reassure that everything is good to 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!  There’s nothing worse than feeling totally overdressed. So, if you’re a ‘jeans and t-shirt’ company, it’s best to tell your candidate this. If not, ensure you’re dressed the way you expect your employees and team members to dress, too. 

You’ll need to ensure you have a workspace ready for your candidate as well to help ease them in. Rushing around trying to find equipment or a quiet room for the assessment can make your candidate’s nerves skyrocket. And let’s not forget: all the while you are interviewing and assessing them, they are also assessing you and the company.

Step 6: Welcome your candidate

When your candidate arrives in the office, go the extra mile to make them feel comfortable and excited about the company. This will give them the confidence they need to shine through this trial. Everyone always appreciates if you offer them something to drink and a quick check-in in terms of how they’re feeling. It eases any tension they are experiencing.  

Make sure to take them on a tour around the office and introduce them to the team. You’ll have already prepped your team for this, so they’ll likely have thought of topics to cover and will offer a welcoming smile. 

It’s really crucial that your candidate has the chance to meet the team during this tour. A job trial helps you as a company reduce any bad hires. But it does the same for your candidate. They need to be able to feel the company’s culture, and a lot of that comes directly from the members of your team. 

Step 7: Assign the candidate their challenge

The moment everyone has been waiting for. The task or challenge is at hand. Drum roll, please!

Make sure your candidate has a solid and well-crafted brief. It’s best to provide this in both written and verbal format, and ensure you check that the candidate 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? What tools are they using to accomplish this? Are they demonstrating the key skills that are required to excel at this position?

 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 adapt well and thrive in yours.

For example, in 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 complete, 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. Most of the time, the candidate’s process offers more insight than whether the task was a success or not. 

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. While they’ll have met one or two team members during their tour, this is the stage where they can chat more openly and assess whether they gel with the rest of your employees. 

Some things generally to look out for when a candidate is meeting the team on a job trial are:

  • 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 steady 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. 

That said, it’s best to consider any sort of social challenges the candidate has. Social anxiety, especially in extremes, can get the best of a person when they’re under high-pressure situations. While this shouldn’t change an outcome, it’s something you do need to take into account when introducing your candidate to your team. 

Step 9: Evaluate the candidate

Finally, it’s time to make the decision!

Create a set standard for the evaluation so that everyone is evaluated equally. This helps to eliminate any hiring bias that you and your team might not even be aware of

An ATS can help to streamline this method and save you valuable time. Collecting resources manually is a dull task, and it can be infuriating to keep track of. When using 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 without the heavy admin time.

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

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