Some employers want to see a candidate in action before formally hiring them. They’ll invite the candidate to spend a day or so at the workplace, shadowing a seasoned employee, or doing some of the tasks of the job. This is known as a working interview. Skill assessment involves setting up a scenario and asking the candidate to complete certain tasks on their own that will not result in a net gain to your organization. But employers may wonder whether or not they have to pay for working interviews and skill assessments.
Candidates must be paid at least minimum wage for working interviews, but don’t need to be paid for skills assessments as long as they involve no work that will be useful to your organization.
During a working interview, you ask the candidate to work alongside a high-performing employee or complete tasks that are a benefit for your organization. The employee or you can then evaluate the candidate’s skill within a real-life working environment. The downside to a working interview is the need to have the candidate complete an I-9 and W-4, as the candidate’s working time must be compensated.
An alternative to the working interview would be to contact a temporary agency and inquire if they would hire the candidate for a single day. The person would then be the employee of the temporary agency and no employee-employer relationship would be created between your company and the candidate. If you anticipate a lot of working interviews, this might be a good option to explore. You will, however, pay a premium for this service.
In contrast, skills testing involves setting up a scenario separate from the work done in your organization that tests whether the candidate has the skills required to do the job. It does not require compensation. For example, you could provide a candidate with old payroll information, assign them a task with that information to do at home, and then assess their work for accuracy. This would be an acceptable unpaid skills test. Other common skills testing includes writing samples, cognitive skills assessments, or other small tasks associated with the type of work the candidate would perform if hired.
When using skills assessments, you generally want to make sure that the amount of time it will take to complete the exercise is reasonable – around an hour or so, not a full day. Also, typically only finalists for the position should be asked to complete such exercises.
Whatever kind of testing you decide to do, there are some general guidelines you should keep in mind. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recommends the following best practices for testing and selection:
- Ensure that employment tests and selection procedures are job-related and appropriate for your purposes. For example, a proofreading test might be appropriate for an editing position or an administrative assistant job, but it would not be a valid test for an automobile mechanic or an electrician. While a test vendor’s documentation supporting the validity of a test may be helpful if you find your company in litigation, you as the employer are ultimately responsible for ensuring that your tests are non-discriminatory, both in intention and effect.
- Assess whether your selection procedures unintentionally screen out a protected group – for example people of a certain race or sex. If so, determine whether there is an equally effective alternative selection procedure that has less adverse impact and, if there is one, adopt the alternative procedure.
- Keep your tests and procedures up-to-date relative to the specific positions. Job duties change over time, and as they change, so should your employment tests and selection procedures. There’s no sense testing for skills if a job no longer requires those skills. Tests and selection procedures should be predictive of success in the job.
- Make sure whoever develops the tests, purchases them from a vendor, administers the tests, and assesses their results understands the effectiveness, appropriateness, and limitations of the test. Tests can a useful management tool, but managers who use them need to know what they’re doing.