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Audition Day: It’s like taking job candidates for a test drive


My company has been growing since late 2016. I've used everything I was taught at business school and then some things I've learnt along the way. But here's a lesson they don't teach at business schools, and I call it Audition Day.

The year before last, I hired two candidates who I thought would be right for the job, only to discover – three months and dozens of wasted hours of training later – that I had made a bad decision. I had a zero % success rate and a 100% staff turnover.

Having learned what not to do, I now have a different approach to hiring people.

Hiring someone is a daunting task. After sifting through dozens of CVs I found myself wondering if I was making the right choice between the candidates on my short list. I'm usually left with two or three to choose from. But which one?

Here's where the Audition Day saves a fortune in time and money.

I call each candidate on the short list in for a full day, to work for me on real projects, together with the team in which they'll be placed. They get paid for the day. It's a mini contract with no obligation. I choose one or more tasks representative of the candidates' deliverables that they can complete in a day. Then I introduce everyone, and make sure the candidate has everything they need, and understands what they're required to deliver by end of day, and I leave them to it. I check in on them during the day, but I give them enough time alone with the team to ask the kinds of questions they want to ask without the boss listening in.

At the end of the audition round, I'm left with a sense of the quality of work each candidate on the short list is capable of delivering, and the team has a sense of each of them as a potential team mate. Everyone has a say.

I developed this idea from Ricardo Semler, author of Maverick! and former CEO of Semco, who has some great ideas around hiring people and how to treat your staff. Whereas most organisations view hiring as a top-down process, Semler sees it as a process that necessarily involves everyone immediately above and below the potential employee's level in the organisation. Not only does the manager have a say in the selection process, but subordinates get to interview their potential new leader. This concept is not new, but very few organisations incorporate this into their hiring process.

The Lean Startup by Eric Ries suggests that before embarking on expensive R&D for new projects, one should adopt a more agile approach where the viabiliy of the idea is tested long before finalisation. The Lean Startup methodology suggests that organisations that have wasted large R&D budgets on developing products that the market doesn't want should have discovered what would have worked long before reaching the end of a wasted project. He suggests that the information was always available, and that unsuccessful project leaders could have discovered this vital information early had they constructed a Minimum Viable Product (the MVP) and tested this in the hands of the target customer.

This is the same philosophy that informed Audition Day. Rather than hiring somebody based on an interview of a few hours, when, let's face it, anyone can sell anyone anything by bandying about terms that the audience is looking to hear, the hirer should – before committing to onerous and binding contracts of employment –  give the candidate a chance to prove that they're capable of delivering what they say they can do.

Does it work? So far, we've had a 100% success rate and 0% staff turnover since running Audition Days. Where the selection process boils down to at least two that meet the criteria, Audition Days help us decide on the best fit in terms of personality and skill.

If you've made the wrong choice in hiring someone, or found yourself pouring over CVs wondering who is going to be your next hire, whether they'll fit in, or if they'll deliver what you're looking for, try holding an Audition Day. It's like taking your staff for a test drive.​

Adam Rabinowitz is the CEO and chief imaginator of an IT company specialising in Real time data, Imagin8. He also lectures on USB-ED's Customised Programmes.

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