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Should You Use a Job Simulation in Hiring?

October 14, 2014

Every organization – large or small, public or private, profitable or not – can share in the pain of trying to hire new talent into the organization. Talk with any hiring manager who has been at it for awhile, and they will have an exemplar story of the one bad hire who snuck through their process. Hiring is difficult, no doubt about it. We often have to wonder if the polished professional individual sitting across us in the interview will be the same person who shows up to work 6 months, 1 year, or 5 years down the road. People will often say the best predictor of future performance is an individual’s past performance (on a similar type of job). I can now hear the collective masses retorting, “How the heck am I supposed to know how they performed at their old job, and furthermore, what if they have never done this new job?”

Those are some valid questions. Short of hiring people for a probationary period, a practice that is difficult to accomplish in a lot of industries, the solution may be as simple as implementing a pre-employment assessment known as a Job Simulation. The goal is to simulate the future work environment in the selection procedure. Job simulations can take on a variety of different looks. When hiring for a managerial role, you could ask the individual to conduct a role-play or an in-basket, which allow you to simulate the future work environment to understand how and individual may respond. If you are hiring for entry-level manufacturing job, one could design a hands-on simulation that is reflective of the major job tasks to determine if the individual will be successful in that role. By simulating the work environment you can accomplish several goals:

  1. From the company perspective you can determine if the individual has the necessary knowledge, skills, and abilities to do the job.

  2. From a candidate perspective, he/she can get a realistic preview of the role and determine if it is a good fit for them. As the hiring managers I alluded to earlier will tell you, its better that individuals discover they are not a good fit in the selection process, rather than after 2 months on the job.

There are additional benefits, beyond the realistic preview of the role, which simulations offer. They can offer additional prediction, beyond online test batteries or interviews. Candidates may enjoy the experience of a simulation more than these more traditional selection tests. That is, in general candidates enjoy being able to show their skills, rather than talk or write about their skills. This has the potential to reduce legal challenges against the company’s selection procedure.

If you’re currently thinking, “Hey, this sounds like the silver bullet of hiring,” I would temper your expectations. Simulations tend to be strong predictors of future performance, but that does not make them perfect predictors of performance. Consider the NFL Combine, individuals are tested across a variety of skills that they will be expected to perform on the job. Yet, every year there are still draft busts. Every year there are also players making the league minimum, in terms of salary, who outperform those who are making millions of dollars per year. However, take away the combine, and the ability to review past performance in college, and you can bet that the number of busts will increase exponentially.

So should you use a job simulation in your hiring process? Maybe it’s best to ask this question in simpler format. Does your company like to make important decisions with accurate and predictive information? If so, then consider exploring the use of a job simulation in your hiring process.

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Steven Jarrett, Ph.D. Steven Jarrett, Ph.D. is a Senior Consultant at PSI. He has extensive experience developing, implementing, and validating legally defensible selection solutions for organizations. Steven has worked in a variety of industries including manufacturing, retail, healthcare and education.