Airlines Do It and You Should Too: Understanding the Importance of Job Simulations in Your Screening Plan

Imagine this: Just as you are boarding your flight home from a business trip, you hear the following announcement over the intercom:

Welcome aboard Alpha Airlines. John Smith will be our captain today. Captain Smith holds advanced degrees in aviation and engineering, has more than 10 years of experience in the airline industry and was the top performing candidate after several rounds of interviews. Although no one at Alpha Airlines has seen Captain Smith fly a plane, we are confident that the Captain Smith’s credentials make him an exceptional pilot. Now sit back, relax and enjoy your flight.

What do you do next? Do you sit down and buckle your safety belt or immediately exit the plane and demand a refund? My guess is the latter.

No one would feel comfortable with an airline if it hired pilots based solely on their performance in an interview. For this reason (as well as safety), airlines insist candidates prove they can fly a plane first using flight simulators before hiring them.

Contrast this with how most small businesses hire talent. They start by reviewing and ranking resumes as a means to move applicants to the next round. Then employers assess the remaining candidates using an ad-hoc interviewing process where applicants describe, rather than demonstrate, abilities and skills. Using this approach, small business owners never see if an applicant can execute the core functions of the position. Basically, they never learn if the candidate can fly the plane.

To deal with this problem, use job simulations. A job simulation is a tryout. Organizations create exercises that mimic the job functions and then use the candidate’s performance during those exercises to judge fit for the position.

According to hiring metrics, simulations function as the highest predictor of job performance. These job-related exercises provide a realistic snapshot of the candidate’s capabilities and help job seekers get a clear understanding of the day-to-day activities in that role.

Before adding exercises to your business’ screening plan, here are a few key tips to make sure that your simulations are successful.

Tip #1: Benchmark your Rock Star

When it comes to any step in your recruitment plan, it is important to begin with the end in mind. This means taking the time to benchmark your ideal candidate before doing anything else. Through benchmarking, you develop a set of behaviors based on the characteristics of an ideal new hire and use those behaviors to evaluate job applicants.

For example, we recently recruited for a receptionist position.  After the initial phone interviews, we sent homework to our top candidates.  Assignment 2 tested for three key behaviors – (1) attention to detail; (2) “tasks completed on time”; and (3) striving for continuous improvement (one of our core values). Email hr@inprimelegal.com your resume, cover letter, and references. In the subject line, please write your last name with a comma, followed by your first name, a hyphen and then the position title.

Assignment 2 – Your supervisor delegates to you the task of assembling a welcome box for a new client. Describe how you would process that task. What information is important to know? What questions might you have for your supervisor? How would you define success?

One candidate answered with the benefits of providing a welcome box and what he might include in the box (“a concise page detailing what a client can expect from us next”, “contact information for our employees”).  But he never once discussed how he would process the task.  He never answered the question.   He made assumptions.  And he never referenced the key words “deadline” or “timeliness.”  In contrast, another candidate actually described how she would process the task.  “I would first begin by reaching out to my supervisor for clarification . . . I would ask . . . if there is a standard for the welcome boxes used today . . .  I would identify the client information and timeline allotted for the task . . . .”  Through her response, she described the key behaviors we sought – attention to detail (she actually answered the questions asked), deadline-focused, and continuous improvement.  She ended her response with:  “Finally, I would assess the current welcome box and see if there are any suggestions I could share to enhance the box when presenting it to my supervisor.”  We don’t hire robots; we hire real people who help our business improve with valuable insights.  And no, the latter candidate is not for hire (anymore)!

For job-related simulations, failing to benchmark means you won’t know which exercises make the most sense for your business. But once you have created your ideal candidate profile, you can be more intentional about implementing the right simulations for your needs. (For more on this, see our previous post on benchmarking ideal candidates here.)

Tip #2: K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid)

Looking for a great way to deter good candidates? Make your job simulations overly burdensome and frustrating. Remember that ideal candidates are interviewing your business, too. So it’s important applicants have a positive perception of the assessment process. Make sure your exercises are simple, easy to implement, and as fair as possible.

For example, here at InPrime Legal, we use an exercise in our job posting to test for attention to detail when hiring paralegals. In the job announcement, we include these instructions: “[i]n the email subject line, please write only your last name, followed by a comma and a space and then your first name, followed by a hyphen and then the position title.”

We purposely bury these instructions in the middle of a paragraph toward the end of the job posting. If a candidate does not follow the instructions, then we know the candidate is not detail-oriented, and he does not advance in our recruitment process. If the candidate follows the submission requirements, then we have met our goal of identifying a detail-oriented candidate without creating additional work.

Tip #3: Streamline the Process

To gain the highest value from job simulations, organize and systemize your assessment strategy. Conduct a job analysis to determine the key job functions that you would like to simulate. Then identify assessments that accurately measure an applicant’s performance in those areas. Finally, develop testing procedures that are repeatable, reliable and as automated as possible. Consider using plug-and-play templates and applications to accomplish this goal.

For example, we send our candidate homework by email.  We use a boilerplate introduction and then we provide for an insertion for the position-specific homework:

Instructions:  After receiving an application and assuming the candidate passed the initial application evaluation, send the candidate an email with the homework below.  Use the first part of the email for all open positions.  Based on the position sought, customize the email by copying and pasting the corresponding assignments in the appropriate section of the email.

CANDIDATE HOMEWORK:

Subject Line: InPrime Legal; [POSITION TITLE] Position

Dear [INSERT]:

{We are excited you have expressed interest in the [POSITION TITLE] position.} OR ALTERNATIVELY, {We enjoyed connecting with you by phone about the [POSITION TITLE] position.}  Hiring statistics show tests, exercises and simulations where the applicant must demonstrate (and simply not tell you about) job skills are the strongest indicators of the likelihood of success for a position.  And, it is important to us the applicant selected is not only a culture fit, but has the talent, energy and experience required for the position.  Accordingly, please complete the assignments below.  All completed assignments should be submitted by email to hr@inprimelegal.com.  In the email subject line, please write only your last name, followed by a comma and a space and then your first name, followed by a hyphen and then the position title.  All assignments should be submitted in a single email, at least 48 hours before the scheduled interview.

[INSERT ASSIGNMENTS FROM BELOW, DEPENDING ON POSITION]

If you have not already, please send us your resume, a writing sample and at least three references.  We look forward to connecting with you!

Mariana
Firm Administrator

With this plug-and-play form, it takes our Firm Administrator less than 1 minute to send out the homework.  Feel free to use a version of the above for your recruitment process.

Tip #4: Create a M.V.P. (Minimum Value Product)

The MVP doctrine centers on testing, evaluating, making improvements and then testing again. Creators do just enough to accomplish the objective (e.g., test for a job skill). Then, they measure the results, learn from the testing and improve the product for the next round.

You should apply this approach to any exercise or simulation you create to screen candidates. Do not expect to get it perfect the first time. Instead, implement the simulation, measure the outcome, and then improve the exercises based on your results. As you continue to use this screening method, your process will improve over time.  But if you don’t start, then your masterful recruitment plan will die on a long list of tasks waiting to get perfect.

Think your business should update its screening process by adding a job simulation? Then check out our free candidate homework form to help you create your job-related exercises. And if you need help with this resource or to avoid any legal “fun-busters,” contact us at (770) 285-7785 or by email at office@inprimelegal.com to schedule a no-obligation consultation.