10 Tips for employers looking to make a great application task and hire the right person
A great job application task is your ticket to hiring the best person for the job. But as it takes a bit of extra time and effort, lots of employers simply ignore this step and jump straight to interviews.
But it’s much easier to make the wrong hiring decision this way. A good job application task will underpin all of your hiring decisions and reveal your most skilled candidates. Without one the odds of you hiring the most skilled candidate are left to chance.
But what makes a great job application task?
1 – Start at your job description
Some companies swear by personality tests, some love to role-play a problem or do some rubber ducking. But in my opinion, a great application task is made from the day-to-day responsibilities of the role itself.
Say you’re looking for a customer service person and one of their main jobs is to help your clients get used to your website with a demo call.
The best way to see if they would be great at the job would be to test their skills with a mock demo call.
2 – Set some limits
Saying that, it’s easy to keep adding more of the role responsibilities to the task. Before you know it, it would take your candidates a full working day to prove themselves.
A good application task should take no more than a few hours to complete. That is, unless you’re happy to pay your candidates for their time.
It’s always good to have a lower limit in mind too. Seeing 30 minutes of someone’s best is more telling than seeing 10.
Remember, starting tasks from scratch might not be representative of day-to-day tasks for your role. If your team is often working on established projects, they might spend much of their time extending or adapting. If this is the case, then consider making a base template as a starting point for the task to build upon.
3 – Add a deadline
It’s easy to create a great task and send it out with no deadline, but this could mess with your schedule.
We’d recommend giving your candidates a couple of days to do the task – and an extra day if you’re dishing it out on a Friday.
4 – Don’t try to trick them
Another easy mistake to make is to trick your candidates.
Sometimes we think that the best way to see someone’s worth is to put them in a tough situation and see if they can get out of it. But that’s not what a typical work day is like.
In a work environment we’d be trained and have the help of our managers and team members. We wouldn’t be given a massive data set with no values or instructions.
So please, explain everything you want your candidates to do and give them definitions for any industry jargon they need to know. Set them up to succeed and see what they manage to do.
5 – Give guidance
If you’re hiring for a junior role, you probably don’t expect them to be making strategic decisions from day 1. They’ll be working under the supervision and guidance of someone more senior. Your task should reflect this and point them in the right direction.
So be open to questions and concerns from your candidates. The ability and confidence to ask good questions is a valuable skill.
You want to find out how well they would work in your team, not how well they work on their own in an extremely stressful situation.
In your task instructions, be sure to include a line about where your candidates can go if they have any questions.
6 – Dish it out
When we send out tasks, we send them out to as many people as possible.
This is because when you only send the task to your top 5 you can be sorely disappointed. The last thing that you want to do is have to reject all 5 and start from scratch.
When you send your task to your top 25 candidates, you get to see if your task actually works. If you end up rejecting or accepting all 25, you have a problem.
But hopefully after getting the tasks back, you’re left with 10 or so really strong applicants ready for interviews.
7 – Come back to the job description
I would always recommend coming back to your job description before you review everyone’s work. It might sound unnecessary, but it’s easy to forget about every skill you’re looking for.
You might notice a typo in the first sentence of the task, but when you’re hiring for a developer role is that really make or break?
8 – Review them strategically
When it comes to reviewing your 25 – or let’s face it, probably only 20 have come back to you – it’s a good idea to bring up everyone’s CVs and cover letters alongside their tasks.
This gives you the chance to contextualise their experience with their skills, formulate a picture of the person behind the documents and make an informed decision. And that’s what a great task-focused hiring process is all about!
9 – Give good feedback
Now that your candidates have put in the hours to apply to your role, do your task and wait for you to review it they really deserve some good feedback!
A few lines to everyone you reject at this stage is just polite. Give them a good old fashioned compliment sandwich (compliment – critique – compliment) and let them down lightly. Some of them might have been hunting for a job for a few months!
10 – Bring it up
Now that you’ve got your rejections out of the way, don’t forget about your tasks as soon as you schedule your interviews!
Asking your applicants how they approached your task and what they thought is a great way to see how they work and approach problems.