Job try-out — Would you marry before dating first?

Recruiting the right team will be your most important job as a founder. After months of bootstrapping with your co-founders, might come the time where someone crazy enough will give you money so you can work further on your product and start serious marketing. It means you need to go out there and seduce the best people you can find to join your company. But here is the trick, a Resume and a series of interviews won’t guarantee the person you hire is the right one.

In 10 years recruiting for myself and other employers, I have actually made more wrong than good hiring decisions. At the beginning of my first startup, I felt flattered when someone wanted to join my business accepting a below the market salary. I would then hire anyone who had some sort of relevant experience and wanted to work for us. Later, I became more stringent interviewing more candidates, using an objective score sheet and checking references. This was still not good enough. I realised I knew within the first 2–3 weeks of the person resuming work with us if she was going to be a good fit (at least in the mid term).

This is when we came up with the idea of “dating before marrying” largely inspired by Wordpress unorthodox way of hiring. We thought if we were given the opportunity to work on a small project for sometimes with a candidate, we would figure out if she would survive and make an impact at our startup.

We now ask candidates we have selected after interviews to work on a specific project on the side of their current job. The job typically takes between 6–8 hours a week for a duration of 2–3 weeks. Irrespective of their experience, we pay $25 an hour and track everything on Upwork. The payment is important as it shows we are not asking them to do free work and taking advantage.

This job try-out is a great opportunity for both the candidate and us to see if a collaboration will be fruitful. Candidates will get to know more about our startup and culture. We will see if the candidate fits culturally and has the impact we expect.

During the try-out, we give candidates real work. Marketers will build a marketing campaign. Designer will design.

Some applicants are very happy to go through the interview process and discuss a job offer but decline the job try-out. We hear: “I am too busy with my current job”. We translate that by “I can’t be bothered” or “I have got serious time management issues”. Either way, that’s a clear red flag for us. Since we started, 40% of the candidates doing a job try-out are hired.

Key benefits of the job try-out:

  • Avoid the trauma of hiring someone and having to fire soon after
  • You hire people you would have rejected otherwise. They will prove to be some of your best hires (hire out of the box)
  • It helps candidates who are undecided between your job and other offers
  • It shows the applicant interest to join you and work the extra mile
  • It shows the applicant confidence in its own ability

Joss Leufrancois is the founder & CEO of crowdsourced recruiting platform for startups, Visage. He has worked for 10 years recruiting in Europe, the US, South America, Asia and the Middle-East.

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