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Setting Up An Effective Working Interview

If conducting a working interview sounds like a good option for your company, there are some important preparatory steps you should take. Unlike a traditional interview, this process requires an established best practices approach that should be drafted in advance. Aspects to cover include:

Timeline and tasks

Depending on the nature of the open position, you’ll need to decide how long the working interview will last. For less complex positions, it may be possible to observe the candidate for just a few hours to make your decision. For example, if the position involves simple tasks with a customer service element, you may worry less about task ability and just focus on their interaction with the public. This process isn’t likely to take more than one shift.

For more technical positions that involve a variety of unexpected challenges and demand quick problem-solving abilities, you may need a few days to get a complete picture of the candidate’s potential. This is especially true when hiring for critical positions that require coordination with other team members.

Onboarding paperwork

Although this process is considered an interview, applicants will be performing actual work activities for your company. It may be tempting to try to classify them as interns or volunteers, but this has the potential of being flagged as noncompliance by the Department of Labor and the IRS. To protect the business from potential penalties, it’s best practice to classify the applicant as an employee on paper.


Labor laws require payment for work performed, so it’s important to have an established payment structure for your working interview. Compensation must meet minimum wage requirements and any overtime laws that apply to the shifts worked by the applicant. Your company will also be responsible for required workers’ compensation insurance coverage and tax withholding during the interview process.

Classifying the candidate as an independent contractor may seem like a convenient way to get around some of these requirements, but there are very strict rules governing who can be considered an independent contractor. Misclassification can result in IRS and Department of Labor penalties. Classifying a candidate as a temporary employee requires the same level of investment as a full-time employee.

Manufactured crisis

The point of a working interview is to see how a candidate handles the pressures of daily expectations and their problem-solving abilities when complications arise. However, it’s possible to have an applicant work several shifts without a high-pressure situation occurring. This can leave you with a gap in information.

To prepare for this, come up with a few hypothetical or past challenges that can be used to expose the candidate to a realistic high-pressure scenario they might face on the job. Ideally, you want this to be an actionable opportunity. If this isn’t possible, you can revert to the traditional interview process but take note of how the applicant presents in a workplace setting.

Conducting the working interview

Once the groundwork is laid, you’re ready to set up and conduct your working interviews. Although this is still an interview process, much of the information you gather will be from observation of the candidate in a working environment. Since you’ll be essentially shadowing the applicant, many observations will come naturally. Following these working interview tips can help ensure you get the most out of your time with them:

  • Introduce them to coworkers and management relevant to the position and see how they interact with one another. This can show you how harmoniously they’ll fit in with your team.

  • If the interview is scheduled over multiple shifts, see how quickly they pick up your company’s policies and daily procedures. These might include clocking in or out, managing breaks, dress code adherence and other rules that are universal to your employees.

  • When handling a difficult task that requires an autonomous decision, probe a candidate on why they chose that option. This can help you determine what kind of problem-solver they are.

  • Pay special attention to times when the candidate struggles. Do they ask questions for guidance or do they improvise? Are their actions appropriate for the position?

  • Include tasks that the applicant can do independently and see how they work without supervision.

  • Remember that a working interview isn’t a perfect representation of the employment experience due to the additional pressure of being monitored so closely. If the applicant makes a mistake, find out why to see if they provide an authentic assessment and show accountability. Then, ask them how they’d prevent that mistake in the future to assess their ability to learn from a teachable moment.

Make your assessment

Once the working interviews are over, you should have a pretty good idea of which candidates fit in best with the team and have the skills needed for the position. Then, decide who displays the skills you most value and prepare a job offer for your chosen candidate.

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