Find out how candidates would deal with the work they'd be doing.
You've got a job opening... again.
The last two hires didn't work out so well. Their resumes had all the necessary qualifications; and in the interview they gave all the right answers. They were both pleasant and appeared capable. You really believed that each of them would turn out to be a fabulous employee. But when it came time to actually do the job, they were both disasters.
The first one had no clue how to prioritize her activities and she ran around like a chicken with its head cut off, trying to meet deadlines and failing miserably.
The second wasn't much better. He could organize his day but couldn't solve a problem to save his life. He was constantly at the door asking you to make decisions and tell him what to do.
You can't go through this again. You've now learned the hard way that what an employee says that he or she can do or will do is often very different from what he or she actually does do.
So you've got to find a way to assess how an employee will actually perform when faced with the reality of daily tasks.
What do you do? You use an Inbox or In-Tray Assessment.
Candidates can tell you just about anything to get the job you are offering. In an interview, the person sitting in front of you is ideal. Well. maybe they tend to be "perfectionists who really want to do the job right", or they are "a bit too over-zealous at times." They assure you however, that they have "made great strides toward overcoming these weaknesses."
Seriously though, if you want to find out how a person will perform, have them show you.
With an Inbox Assessment, you give candidates a real taste of "a day in the life of the role" and then evaluate them on how well they handled or managed the variety of directions, demands, requests, and questions that crossed their desk.
You're looking to see how well they:
Essentially, an in-tray exercise is a simulation. You are simulating the types of things a successful candidate would encounter in his or her in-tray on a daily basis. Various types of correspondence, including faxes, emails, and memos, are given to the candidate, who is then required to sift through the information and decide what to do with each item — and then describe why they chose that course of action.
Examples might include:
Inbox/In-Tray Assessments are applicable to a wide range of positions and levels of authority. For administrative employees, the emphasis might be more on how the items in their inbox are prioritized. For customer service positions, you might want to evaluate how well the person deals with conflict and manages people's expectations. In management positions, the items presented will require actions and responses. And for professionals, these assessments may focus on their execution of professional skills, and on their ability to deal with clients in a way that reflects well on the company.
The trickiest part of using these assessments is deciding what types of item to include in the simulation. You want the items to be varied and have a moderate degree of difficulty attached, yet not be so extreme that they are not relevant.
A good place to start looking for items is with actual issues that have come up in the last six-month period. Look at job- and project-specific tasks as well as general items that pop up in organizations.
Before you can ask someone to decide what to do with a bunch of competing tasks, you need to give them sufficient background information. Look at the items you intend to use, and then provide as much information as the person will need to make the best decision he or she can.
Things that might be useful are:
Other detailed information can be included in the item description itself.
For a fair evaluation, you need to have a "correct" answer figured out. There will always be room for interpretation with an exercise like this; however, there should be an objective standard against which you judge the candidate's performance.
When you have a final draft of your simulation exercise, have one or two people in your department complete it. Compare their answers to each other's and to yours. Talk about the items where you disagree and make adjustments where necessary. Perhaps you need to provide more details to prevent incorrect assumptions or you need to be more specific with your directions?
These Inbox/In-Tray Assessments can also be used for development and training. Use them to coach team members on how to prioritize and solve problems by having people complete the simulation and then share their answers. The differences in priorities and actions will provide lots of fuel for discussion. In the end, the team will have a much better appreciation of how other people perceive situations. This has the potential to improve team communication and reduce team conflict.
For more about assessing candidates and other aspects of the recruitment process, take our Bite-Sized Training™ session on Recruiting Skills.
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