Updated: Dec 12, 2022
What Work Samples are and why you should use them in recruitment processes
Research has time and time again shown that the best way to asses a candidate is through multiple assessment methods. A combination of different forms of assessment methods with will give you the highest probability of hiring the right candidate. Some forms of assessment methods are quite straight forward, such as structured interviews, behavioural interviews, and personality assessments, but there are others which are a bit harder to understand.
One that consistently shows up in research as being one of the best predicators of whether or not somebody fits the job is a knowledge exam or ability test or "work sample". A work sample is quite simply an example of your skills in a work-related environment. In this blog, we will dig in a bit deeper in work samples, their advantages and disadvantages.
Two types of work samples
In general, there are two types of work samples. The first type focusses on the developmental potential of candidates and in how far they are fit to learn the job at hand. This type of test is often part of the recruitment process for a traineeship or apprenticeship, after which the hired candidate first goes through a trial period where he/she learns the job at hand. Here you can think of examples such as military fitness tests, where potential cadets get tested for their physical and mental condition, or even an auditioning for a role within the music or theatre industry. In both cases potential candidates are not being tested for their current experience or skill but are mostly assessed for their potential to develop.
The second type is a more general work sample and are focussed on testing the prior experience and skillset of the candidate for the job at hand. These are more common and widespread throughout companies. Examples include, a coding work sample for a software engineering job, a use case regarding market expansion for a business development role, a logical puzzle for an analyst position, the list of different roles and work samples can go on and on.
Although the distinction is interesting, it is often so that the two categories are intertwined in the same process: both the present skillset and prior experience as well as the development potential are addressed.
The first and foremost advantage of work samples is that the result gives an indication on how well a candidate would perform at the job. This is one of the most crucial assessments within a recruitment process. It has been proven that this work samples are crucial to assess whether a candidate possesses the right skills or the ability to train for the right skills. According to Robertson and Downs (1989), and Roth, Bobko and McFarland (2005), work samples increase the accuracy by which recruitment processes can predict whether somebody is fit for the job or fit for learning the job. This alone should be enough of an argument to start using work samples, but there are more arguments which make the case for work samples.
The second argument for work samples is that it provides validation within the recruitment process. This is not only true for the company, that, of course, needs the validation whether a candidate is truly a good fit for the role, but also for the candidates themselves to get a better understanding of the role, responsibilities, tasks, and their own fit for the role. The work sample exemplifies the competence of the candidate for the company while it also clarifies some aspects of the role for the candidate.
The third advantage of work samples is that the results can be assessed by other members of the team, overcoming subjective opinions or individual biases of the interviewers. The work sample can give an objective answer to one of the most important questions of whether the candidate has the necessary skills to work within the company. Read more about the six most common recruitment biases here.
Contributing to CSR and Inclusion
Corporate Social Responsibility is a quite encompassing field, but basically boils down to that companies should behave socially responsible with regards to people, society, and our environment. Recruitment is also a part of CSR and work samples can contribute to the sense that they are not biased towards ethnicity or gender. Therefore, work samples should be utilized by companies that aim to be an equal opportunity employer as these are a step closer to unbiased recruitment.
In recruitment it is difficult to measure how well one candidate would fit versus another. Quantifiable results therefore make it easier to choose with whom to proceed, but also to whom to decline. Quantifiable results allow for informed decisions rather than just trusting your instincts and basing your judgement on individual interviews. According to Gilliland (1995), applicants that receive work samples perceive them as a very fair part of the recruitment process. Therefore, feedback based upon work samples is also perceived as such.
Measuring Recruitment Process
The advantage of quantifiable results is also that it allows for measuring the performance of the different stages of your recruitment process. Again, these results are not based upon the individual impressions of the interviewers, and the results are therefore quite reliable. The results of the measurement can give an indication about the required standards for the role, if you are attracting the right candidates, and about how well your interviewers are filtering out candidates who are not fit for the role. For example, if most candidates easily pass the interviews, but seem to keep dropping off at the work sample, then this might say something about the required standards of the role which perhaps require adjustment or the quality of your interviewers who perhaps must be more attentive.
High Return On Investment
This argument is more applicable to more specific functions which require more specific skills than less specific functions requiring fewer specific skills. The idea is that, although it takes time, money and effort to develop these work samples, it produces clear data by which decisions can be made, saving more time, money and effort on multiple interviews, meetings and other methods which aim to achieve the same results. It is also important to highlight that work samples save you from hiring the wrong candidates, which could end up being the costliest mistake that you can make, in terms of time, money and effort.
Now let’s turn to the disadvantages of work samples, most of which I have briefly highlighted above.
Time & Effort
The first disadvantage is quite obvious in that it takes time and effort into developing a proper work sample. Time and effort are often not a resource of abundance within a company, especially not when a new position opens up. Most departments would like to see their new employee up and running as soon as possible. Therefore, time and effort should both be minimal, and work sample require both time and effort to create and tailor according to your recruitment profile.
The argument that often follows behind time and effort is the argument of cost. This is not surprising as both time and effort cost money, in one way or another. Keeping costs low to create operational value should be one of the main objectives of a financial sustainable company. Still, here I would argue it is a matter of perspective. Hiring an employee is an investment. The better you have assessed who the right candidate is, the more sustainable your relationship will be with your future employee. So, whether we are talking time, effort, or money, we would argue that the benefits outweigh the costs, and, we, as Peops Relations, can make them cost-effective.
Work samples have grown out to be a necessary part of every recruitment process. Work samples give an indication on how skilled candidates are, validate the candidate’s competences as well as the candidate’s perception of the role, overcome biases, lead to more inclusive hiring, and have a high return on investment. There is really no good reason not to include work samples in your hiring process, they are vital for a successful process. The only reasons to not include work samples are time, effort and cost, however, we would argue that it is more expensive, and a waste of time and effort, to search aimlessly without any result, or even worse: to hire the wrong candidate. Read more about considerations of work samples here or get in touch with us if you need help setting up your own work samples and overcoming excessive expenses.