Do audition-style interviews really work (and why you should consider them)
Your candidate can talk the talk, but can they walk it? That’s the question audition-style interviews are intended to answer. But do they work?

Senior internal recruiter at CitiPower and Powercor, Sandra Lim, founder of Inventium business management consultancy, Dr. Amantha Imber, and Hender Consulting executive consultant, Bernie Dyer, take us ‘backstage’ to find out.

So, what are audition-style interviews?

Similar to how actors audition by reading the lines they may perform in the role, candidates “audition” during interviews by completing the kinds of tasks they may tackle in a typical day.

Imber gives the example of an innovation consultant whose main task is to facilitate workshops. “They would be given a tool, background on that tool, and they present a workshop (to explain that tool),” she says. “It’s a predictor of how they will actually do in the role.”

Lim points to the role of a media advisor, who from day one will be writing and distributing media releases to journalists. “If the critical skills include writing media releases and translating technical jargon into something that people will understand, we provide a highly technical brief as part of the interview process to see how the candidate thinks on the spot and how they write for media.”

How do they benefit recruiters?

Essentially, audition-style interviews safeguard against those candidates who might otherwise bluff their way through an interview. They’re particularly important for roles that have to hit the ground running, have an element of risk attached, or upon which the work of other employees depends.

Imber says they are increasingly common, but more in the US than in Australia and New Zealand.

She says they force jobseekers to take a different approach. “It’s really honing the skills required to do the job as opposed to reflecting on different stories or even making up stories to answer the typical questions you are going to get,” she says.

“It comes down to being good at the job you are going for.”

Dyer says scenario-based interviews are useful for assessing both technical and soft skills. “The assessment isn’t about right or wrong answers, but aims to explore how they’ve analysed the scenario, their problem-solving approach, critical thinking and presentation style,” she says.

What about candidates?

With one US survey by Classes and Careers revealing that some employers make snap judgments based on non-verbal cues, others being put off by not enough eye contact, and some even blackballing candidates because of a weak handshake, it’s not hard to see how good candidates might be relieved to have the opportunity to demonstrate their actual skills, as opposed to their grip strength.

“Whether favourable or unfavourable, we fall victim to confirmation bias,” says Imber. “We pay more attention to information that supports what we believe.

“Unstructured interviews have low predictive power.”

Lim agrees. “With any interview style you need to build in meaningful measuring systems, and all aspects of the interview process need to be related to and scored against the skills required for the role.”

How should you design an audition-style interview?

Designing a good audition-style interview should be collaboration between the hiring manager and their internal recruitment team, says Lim. The hiring manager knows what skills the candidate needs, but she warns that they often will not know how to accurately and consistently measure them.

“The recruitment team should sit down with the manager and work out what they want to test and how they are going to score the candidates’ results,” she says. “Whenever possible, the test should be tailored for the specific role you’re recruiting for and should involve a training and recruitment specialist.

“There are some off the shelf options, but a personalised approach is always going to be better. In my opinion if you’re going to do it, you should do it right – or not at all.”

Are there any potential pitfalls?

Audition-style interviews – if not conducted correctly – can cause more problems than they solve, says Lim. If you want them to be meaningful, she says they should never be sprung on candidates, and should be simulations of everyday work, not one in a hundred year crisis events.

“Surprising a candidate with a test is never a good idea, because won’t get an accurate reflection of how they will behave in the role,” she says. “Generally speaking, even the most dynamic roles follow a reasonably predictable routine, so any unexpected test is unlikely to tell you much.

“Even if they do well in the test, you run the risk of destroying their trust in your organisation before they even start. And in the worst case scenario, you might throw off the entire interview by making your candidates’ so nervous that they aren’t at their best for the rest of the process.”

Adapted from an article first published by Careers with SEEK, News Corp Australia, by Melanie Burgess