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Finding the fit between your applicants and your jobs through

It's a tight labor market. It seems tougher than ever to recruit, hire and retain good workers. And employers of all sizes in all industries are finding it harder than ever to assess applicants' capabilities. Have you ever wished that you could more precisely gauge the competence of job applicants? Have you ever had people apply who have shined in interviews but fell on their face when presented with the actual job responsibilities? And have you ever wished there was a way to design an applicant screening process that gets at the true needs of your enterprise, the real job tasks? Consider the following example.

A Working Interview

Bob Raddison was at his wits end trying to fill a stock clerk position at the franchise arts and crafts store he manages. Ads in the employment section in the local newspaper and "help wanted" signs at the store yielded few viable applicants. One person who was hired lasted only two days. That was before Raddison met Roberta Haynes, an employment specialist with a local employment service.

Haynes took the time to examine how the stock clerk job was done and made a proposal to Raddison. She knew of a young man, Michael Johnson, who was interested in arts and crafts and who she was sure could manage the tasks associated with the stock clerk job. But due to a communication disability he would not perform well if he participated in the store's standard interview process, which included a series of oral questions. Haynes proposed a "working interview", a process where the applicant would be given a chance to actually perform sample tasks associated with the job instead of the traditional face to face oral interview. Such an interview was arranged and when Raddison saw that Johnson could do many of the job tasks, he hired him.

Getting more from the hiring process

Raddison was so struck by the effectiveness of this process that he asked Haynes to help him adapt this interview process for other applicants. In an area where many applicants speak limited English, this process became a boon to the store and to the franchise. It was not long before Raddison and other store managers in the area franchise began using the working interview as the standard method of gauging the capabilities of job applicants for certain positions. The encounter with Haynes and her employment agency added significant value to the franchise's human resource practices. Raddison was pleased to encounter an employment agency that was willing to go the extra mile on his store's behalf. It is no surprise, then, that he and other managers turned to Haynes for more applicants. But even when she was not able to refer anyone, they were still able to hire other applicants in a more effective way. Turnover decreased and the new hires were far more productive, according to Raddison.

How it works

Although variability will occur based on job requirements, the business operations, and the characteristics of particular applicants, the working interview that the arts and crafts store used has several basic components, outlined below.

  • Identify several critical tasks of the job, and organize them to be presented in a logical sequence to the applicant.

  • Arrange for a convenient time for the working interview to take place that will not disrupt the normal operation of the business or enterprise.

  • Prompt the applicant through the tasks, one by one. This is done in much the same way that any new task might be presented in a training situation, except that the process in abbreviated - typically with fewer tasks and in a shorter time frame.

  • Allow the applicant several chances to perform the task if he or she does not get it right the first time. Often this helps determine if the applicant can be taught to master the task, which can be just as important in a hiring decision as the demonstration of current mastery. This also helps identify ways in which future communication to the employee might be most effective.

  • Finish after allowing time for the applicant to communicate questions and for you to provide feedback about the performance. The ultimate decision to hire/not hire can be made on the spot or after some time to consider what the applicant can offer the operation.

When to use working interviews

Working interviews might be useful in situations where one or more of the following circumstances exist:

  • the applicant has limited English;

  • the applicant has a communication disability;

  • the applicant has limited work experience and would therefore have difficulty describing what he or she can do;

  • when you just want to get a handle on the applicant=s ability to do the job; and/or

  • when skills for a particular job, for example keyboarding, might be better assessed by having the applicant perform samples of the tasks.

Who can help

Many employment services that assist applicants with disabilities have the ability to provide the kind of adaptive help that Haynes provided to the arts and crafts franchise stores. These services have a range of experience in making adaptations in hiring, training and supervisory practices that can often be adapted for general use. And such services are present in virtually every community in the country. There are many ways to make contact with them, but one source for these contacts includes state vocational rehabilitation agencies. These agencies can provide the names of community employment services in your area. These can be typically found in the yellow pages under "rehabilitation agencies." Another contact is the Association of Persons in Supported Employment (APSE) that maintains a current directory of its national members, many of whom would be able to offer the kind of assistance that Haynes provided.

There is always more than one way to get the job done. And there are many ways to find out who can really get your jobs done. The working interview is but one example. It represents a potentially helpful way of altering a standard process to gauge the ability of job applicants. In this tight labor market no employer can afford to overlook any tools that may provide a hiring advantage.

Richard Luecking is President of TransCen, Inc., an organization specializing in human resource issues that affect all aspects of disability in the workplace. TransCen is a partner in the National Supported Employment Consortium.