Hiring via Paid Tryouts
August 24, 2014 2:30 PM   Subscribe

I've been reading about the practice of finding the right candidates by using auditions, tryouts, trial work periods, etc. (See for example this.)

For some types of work, such trial periods can be relatively simple -- basic customer service, teaching, jobs with "hard" skills (car mechanic, Java programmer), etc. But what about cases where the outputs require several weeks of work, or where becoming familiar with the organization or the local market takes a substantial amount of time?

Would paid tryouts ever work for hiring a CEO, a head of HR, a conference planner?

I'm thinking it's better for all concerned if "test drives" are as short as possible. Could an effective 5-day audition be set up for a CEO, etc? Is the 3-6 month probationary period that is so common the only option?

Thanks for your thoughts!
posted by woodman to Work & Money (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
That makes no sense. CEOs are responsible for big picture issues. Their vision for the company, along with their leadership traits, is what's important. I don't see what you could learn about a CEO's personality/skills in a 5 day tryout that you couldn't learn in a months-long hiring process.
posted by acidic at 2:42 PM on August 24, 2014

The "hire by tryout" for a CEO is being a senior VP.
posted by GuyZero at 2:54 PM on August 24, 2014 [6 favorites]

Yeah - its not uncommon for someone to come into a big firm as a COO or CFO with a tacit "if this works out you'll be CEO in 18 months"
posted by JPD at 2:59 PM on August 24, 2014

I doubt many CEO-level candidates would be willing to do a multi-day tryout, simply because roles at that level are so high-profile. And anyway, the work they'd be able to do during that time would tell you so little about how they'd actually be as a CEO, where success is dependent on relationship-building and long-term development of strategy.

I hire for positions that way more skills than could ever be tested at a tryout, but we still have candidates complete a practicum testing their proficiency in the core skillset. For someone like a conference planner, you could give them a difficult conference-planning problem and have them tell you what they would do to fix it.
posted by lunasol at 4:52 PM on August 24, 2014

Consultancy gigs sometimes work out that way, getting someone to come in a tackle a difficult specific project and then seeing how they fit with the company.
posted by viggorlijah at 7:42 PM on August 24, 2014

It doesn't actually work this way in teaching (in my experience). Whether you're doing K-12 teaching or college/university teaching, there's no real way to implement a trial period; replacing someone mid-year or mid-semester is a total pain in the butt.

There's student teaching for K-12, but that doesn't begin to weed out all the possible fit issues between a teacher and a school. When you're talking college/university, there's usually a teaching demo (in my experience, anywhere between 20 minutes and a full class period, either to the hiring committee or someone's class that you get shoved into, and otherwise, that's it and hope for the best.
posted by joycehealy at 7:44 PM on August 24, 2014

Response by poster: OK, CEO is a loaded term, or perhaps just a bad example (though I note that Mullenweg, the head of a very successful tech company with 225 employees, says he uses this system for all his hires, including the CFO -- article & comments are a good read).

Maybe the head of a small- to medium-size non-profit? In that case, management skills & cultural fit will both be critical, & there are so many cases where interviews, resumes, & the like have not matched the post-hire reality, even when the selection process took months.

The equivalent of a teaching demo is exactly what I'm after, simply translated to other arenas.

I may be looking for something that doesn't exist, but if there were interesting ideas to be had, AskMeFi seemed as good a place as any to seek them out :-)
posted by woodman at 8:44 PM on August 24, 2014

6 month trial hire periods seem okay. A single week seems like a very short evaluation period. Especially for management, where your first order of business is building relationships and understanding the business. The management advisors I know recommend being extremely conservative in the first 90 days.

For line staff, this is called temp-to-hire, and only works well if the duties are similar between companies. Because Wordpress is open source, Mullenweg is able to pull potential candidates from a pool of people already familiar with the product, and the engineering practices surrounding it.

The dark side of this all is that it's very tempting to skip on the actual hiring bit, and just build a farm of hourly contractors. And temp agencies make it very expensive to actually make good on the hiring bit as well.
posted by pwnguin at 9:46 PM on August 24, 2014

I think you'd risk losing out on top candidates who wouldn't be willing to do this. Especially if they are currently employed and would have to quit their current position for a tryout.
posted by emd3737 at 5:11 AM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

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