Stop Interviewing and Start Auditioning

by Sirius People

Estimated Reading Time: minutes

Top football teams don’t recruit players by how well they SAY they can play. They watch them play and then decide whether to recruit them.

So why don't we take this approach when hiring in the corporate world?

Every person you hire plays a role in the advancement and progression of your company. A single bad hire impacts the whole team and others will need to pick up the slack. Projects become delayed, and your workforce motivation and productivity inevitably decreases.

Over time this can be detrimental to your team and the company’s success.


Flaws of traditional interviews

According to Ron Friedman, a psychologist and author of The Best Place to Work.


“...interviews are a disastrous tool for gauging potential. For one thing, it’s because 80% of people lie during interviews. That means the information you’re collecting in an interview is suspect at best.”


And even if the lies were absent in an interview, the nature of in-person interviews leave room for preferential treatment to occur. As much as hiring managers attempt to be as impartial in a job interview, there will always be some level of unconscious or confirmation bias.

Friedman goes on to say that,


“We automatically jump to all kinds of erroneous assumptions about a candidate from their appearance. Studies show we view good-looking people as more competent. We perceive tall candidates as having greater leadership potential. And we assume deep-voiced candidates are more trustworthy.

[None of these evaluations are necessarily accurate, of course] But here's the thing, they affect the questions we ask during interviewers. And the way a question is phrased can make all the difference.

For example, if a hiring manager views you as being extroverted, they might say,"Tell me about your experience leading groups." But if they think you're shy or reserved, they might ask, "Are you comfortable leading groups?"


Despite both questions being aimed to gauge an interviewee’s potential, the difference in wording based on impression subtly shapes the responses of the interviewer and subsequently our perception of them.

You also have a limited ability to assess soft skills and weaknesses when conducting in-person interviews. For example, it is nearly impossible to accurately assess grit or a candidate’s ability to learn just by having a conversation with them - both of which are desirable traits for any job position.

Benefits to auditioning

An audition is where candidates are asked to perform a task or assessment that mimics a task they would typically carry out in the job they applied for. It provides a better point of comparison between candidates and limits the potential to be influenced by a candidate’s appearance, charisma, past engagements, etc.

Auditions provide a more realistic prediction of future performance as you can assess the candidate’s problem-solving skills in action, as well as their collaborative and communication attributes.

Due to the higher accuracy of results gained from an audition when compared with a traditional interview, auditions reduce the likelihood of hiring errors and unnecessary recruitment costs. It also has the potential to improve the retention rate in your company as candidates who undergo an audition will have a better understanding of your company culture and what it is like to work there before signing a contract.

Auditions in action

To put things into perspective for you, here are some case studies of auditions in action. It’s important to note that these examples are quite intensive. Auditions can be short and simple and still very effective.


Weebly Case Study

According to Weebly’s CEO and co-founder David Rusenko, “being a good interviewee doesn’t mean you’ll be a good employee.”

Recognising the inability to “learn about a person from a one-sheet résumé”, Weebly conducts paid one-week trials as part of their hiring process. The cost of the audition is calculated in accordance with the market value of the candidate’s work.

Rusenko describes the trial week as “intense” and job applicants are given a “standard project to work on based on their area of expertise”.

The outcome of the auditions leads to 75 per cent of candidates receiving job offers. To ensure flexibility in the trial week, Weebly provides the ability for candidates to sign up to an alternative schedule should they not be able to come in for the entirety of the trial week.


Automattic Case Study

Matt Mullenweg, the founder of Automattic, focuses on tryouts rather than interviews.

After screening candidates based on the résumés received and after an initial interview is conducted via online chat, final candidates are required to


“work with [Automattic] for three to eight weeks on a contract basis. Candidates do real tasks alongside the people they would actually be working with if they had the job. They can work at night or on weekends, so they don’t have to leave their current jobs; most spend 10 to 20 hours a week working with Automattic, although that’s flexible.”


The payment structure is fixed at $25 per hour regardless of the candidate’s qualifications or applied job position. To ensure success in the recruitment process, Automattic integrates its potential candidates together with the team they would be working with should they be employed.


“If you’re applying to work in customer support, you’ll be talking directly to customers. If you’re an engineer, you’ll be writing real code. If you’re a designer, you’ll design.”


The outcome of the tryouts results in around 40% of people being hired. According to Mullenweg, the success of the audition process of hiring resulted in 101 people being hired in 2013 and only 2 employees being terminated for low performance/quality.

How to incorporate auditions at your company?

Here are some ways you can incorporate auditions at your company:

  • Start small - It is wise to start with simple assessments to understand if auditions are effective for your company with minimal cost or disruption to existing processes.
  • Identify 1 or 2 critical traits/skills - Define the perfect candidate for the role and create a test to assess these critical traits and/or skills. Use past hiring data to inform your decision.
  • Actual work simulations - Creating candidate assessments that mimic actual work scenarios expected of a hired employee will give you the best hiring ROI.  A work trial, presentation, or short assignment are examples of tests that will demonstrate a candidate’s ability in a real-life situation. 
  • Pay candidates for their work - Ensure that auditions or complex assessments are paid to ensure candidates don’t feel exploited. A fair payment will also reflect the importance of the job to the company and will increase the desire for candidates to perform at their best. 
  • Structuring auditions - If you intend on conducting longer trials such as a week trial as practised by Automattic, it is important to have a good structure that includes lots of feedback for candidates throughout the audition process.

Simple examples of auditions you could implement today

  • Technical skills - Incorporate a technical/whiteboard interview or have the candidate edit code live.
  • Persuasive selling - Give the candidate a sample prospect scenario and have them describe their approach and pitch to you. 
  • Collaboration - Provide the candidate with a process scenario that is problematic and have them provide recommendations. The candidate should identify areas for improvement around communication or relationship building unprompted.
  • Research/writing skills - Give the candidate a day to complete a research/report task ahead of the interview. 
  • Communication - Have the candidate present to you on a topic. 
  • Expertise - Have the candidate assess a current project or piece of work and prepare recommendations.


Emerging innovative interview/assessment tools

Fortunately, there are several innovative interview and assessment tools that can help facilitate your recruitment process.


Soft skills pre-interview assessments

To assist in assessing a candidate’s soft skills, you can utilise platforms such as Koru or Indeed Assessments. Koru engages applicants with a 20-minute online survey driven by predictive analysis and Artificial Intelligence to assess performance fit and rank applicants.

Koru focuses on the following job competencies when testing the soft skills of a candidate: “Grit, Rigor, Impact, Teamwork, Polish, Curiosity and Ownership.”

Indeed Assessments offers a library of pre-built job assessment tools with the option to build your own custom assessment.

The range of assessments includes “skill tests, work samples, job simulations, phone interviews, and video interviews.” as well as cognitive and psychometric tests, language tests, programming tests, computer skills tests, customer service skills test, medical tests, and many more.


Conduct coding interviews using Skype

Microsoft has added a preview function to Skype which allows users to conduct remote technical and coding interviews without having to switch between windows. The built-in code editor supports 7 popular programming languages: C, C++, C#, Java, JavaScript, Python, and Ruby.

As of now, this feature is only available on Skype’s web version in Google Chrome or Microsoft Edge.


Virtual Reality

Businesses now have the opportunity to immerse applicants in a 3D environment to test their response to simulated situations.

For example, Lloyds Bank in the UK uses VR as part of a day-long assessment for the final round of their Emerging Leadership Program. According to Arbi Rai, the Senior Recruitment Manager of Lloyds Banking Group,


“Using virtual reality to assess candidates has helped us predict real-life behaviour more accurately. By revealing authentic ability rather than practised responses, it’s leading us to better hiring decisions.”


Is the traditional interview dead?

The short answer is no; they aren’t.

An in-person interview still remains an integral part of getting to know a candidate and should still be part of your recruitment process.

When conducting in-person interviews, you must bear in mind that a candidate who interviews well is just that. They’re a good interviewer with no reflection of their actual ability to perform tasks related to the job at hand. An effective hiring process will incorporate multiple interview rounds (and ideally auditions) that contribute to the building of an accurate assessment of all job applicants.

Incorporating auditions into your company’s recruitment process does not need to be complex with the beginning steps starting out small. Slight adjustments in the way you recruit employees will enable you to identify real potential in candidates and ensure that you hire the best person for the job.

To learn more about how you can improve your company’s recruitment process, download the 24 step checklist to hiring your next superstar today.


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