The Homework section of career.place is your chance to pose challenges to your candidates and see their solutions before you begin to interact with them. This allows you to ensure that only the most qualified candidates are moving on in the selection process.
The Homework section is designed to be extremely flexible – it is designed for any question or problem you might want to pose to candidates where you would want to receive an open-ended written response. Here are some general tips about writing questions for the Homework section:
Set Expectations Appropriately
Be clear about what you are expecting from candidates. If you are only looking for a few paragraphs as a writing sample, communicate that, so the candidate knows not to overwrite. Conversely, if you are expecting a lengthy response to your question, communicate that as well, so the candidate knows to budget time appropriately. Letting candidates know about the expectations of what you are asking and a realistic time estimate for completion allows them to budget time more effectively when applying to your position and helps ensure you get a steady flow of quality candidates.
Define Expectations Before Candidates Respond
Set expectations for your hiring team by taking time to define what the best and worst answers are to your Homework questions before asking candidates to respond. You establish that there will be a range of responses and that your question will be able to distinguish those likely to be high performers from those who will not make the cut.
Additionally, this helps calibrate and train your raters. By providing a common frame of reference of what constitutes a good vs. bad answer, you help keep everyone evaluating the responses to your questions on the same page. In turn, this helps ensure that the raters are evaluating the candidates’ responses consistently and reliably, which reduces unconscious bias and leads to a more defensible process.
Work samples are a common type of question asked in the Homework section. These are exactly what they sound like – samples of work that might be performed on the job. Work sample questions are popular because they tend to be highly predictive of success on the job. They allow you to judge the quality of the candidates’ work relative to the specific standards you set for your company and team. Here are some tips to construct high-quality work sample questions:
Provide the Candidates with Everything They Need
It is your responsibility to provide the candidate with everything s/he needs to complete the required work sample. For example, if the work sample requires the candidate to complete some advanced data analysis and interpretation, you cannot require the analysis be conducted in some expensive and proprietary program – this is potentially biasing against individuals who cannot afford the program and may even encourage software piracy.
However, it is reasonable to assume the candidates have access to freely available tools and software. For example, if a calculator is required, you do not need to provide this, as nearly all modern computer devices have a calculator as part of the software package.
Don’t Ask the Candidates to Do Real Work
Asking candidates to complete a sample of work that is representative of the sort of work done on the job is fantastic and will provide you with excellent data about the candidates’ abilities. However, it is inappropriate to ask the candidates to complete actual work that contributes to your company’s bottom line. Not only are there ethics concerns in asking candidates to do real work for you for free, but this may expose you to legal risk regarding unfair labor practices. As such, it is best to focus on representative work samples that are not directly related to the work performed at your company.
Another very common type of homework question is the situational interview. These sorts of questions ask candidates about either past situations or hypothetical future situations to gauge how they would react/behave in these scenarios. These are powerful questions to ask, as they can provide rich information about how your candidates will behave in a variety of situations they might encounter at work. Here are some tips to construct these situational interview questions:
Tie the Interview Questions to Work Behavior
Whether you ask about past behavior or pose the question as a hypothetical scenario, it is generally advisable to tie the questions into common situations faced at work. This allows you to gather information about how the candidate will behave in the workplace in circumstances similar to what they will routinely face. Make sure to rate the candidates’ responses according to the sorts of behavior you want to see in your workplace; the response most similar to your ideal behavior should be rated the highest. This helps ensure you advance the candidates who would best fit with your organization.
Tying the interview questions you ask into actual job requirements/work scenarios also helps to reduce any legal risk with making hiring decisions. If there ends up being any adverse impact against any protected group as a result of the interview questions, it is imperative that you demonstrate the job-relatedness of your interview question. By keeping all your questions job-related from the outside, you not only gather better data on the candidates, but reduce your legal risk as well.
Ask Questions Where You Expect a Range of Responses
Not only does it take time for the candidates to construct responses to your questions, but it also takes time to evaluate their responses. As such, it is important to focus your questions on situations that will provide the most variability in responses. Situational questions with limited options for how to respond, or where there is a very clear “correct” response, do not provide you with much information; if everyone responds the same, how are you to distinguish which candidates should move on in the process? Make sure your questions have a range of acceptable behaviors and elicit varied responses from the candidates; this helps you make the most of your investment in the candidates.