Make Job Shadows Part of the Hiring Process

Finding the right employee for the right job positions an organization to have an appreciating asset. Great employees become more valuable with time. So the true cost of not finding the best aligned individuals through effective employment screening tactics is difficult to quantify, though no less damaging to an employer’s potential.

Sometimes you think you find the right employee and he accepts the position, but then never quite assimilates into the culture. Or, maybe he misunderstood how significantly the organization’s work environment would impact his ability to perform and then quits three months later. How can you prevent these hiring misses?

We use job shadows internally during the final stage of our hiring process. The job shadow is our last interview stage before an employment offer is extended. During the shadow, the two final job candidates are invited to the office separately to spend time shadowing potential peers in a similar job role. Candidates are encouraged to dress casually (as our dress code permits) so they are more likely to feel comfortable.

During this experience, interviewees have a chance to see the applications and tools individuals in the role use on a daily basis. Existing employees are trained to ask candidates questions related to company culture fit and working environment preferences during this stage. These more informal interview experiences paint the picture of what the job is really like and encourage candidates to self-select out of the process if the reality of the position is poorly aligned with their interests and abilities.

However, we are in the minority. In 2017 we surveyed over 70 employers and found that over 76 percent of respondents did not include a job shadowing experience as a part of the hiring process. While a carefully structured interviewing process enables an organization to vet top talent, the job shadow allows candidates to “try before they buy.”

Employers have an opportunity to include job shadows in their hiring processes in order to improve candidate job fit. Here are five compelling insights you stand to gain by adding these experiences to the mix.

Alignment With Physical Working Environment

“You mean this is where you work every day?” Whether a candidate mutters this statement with incredulous enthusiasm or dismay could make or break the work relationship. With the increasing popularity of telecommuting and “hot desking” — where employees don’t always have a dedicated personal space in the office — alignment between a candidate’s work style and an organization’s facilities is critical for success.

With the exception of remote-work-only positions, an effective job shadow invites the candidate to experience the actual area in which work is performed. Existing staff members conducting the shadow should look for body language cues that may hint at whether the individual is comfortable in her surroundings. Additionally, here are a couple of questions that can probe for potential alignment:

  • Describe your preferred work style — including the physical environment.
  • What, in your experience, motivates your best, most successful performance? Can you give us an example of this motivation in action in the workplace?

The Ability to Process Information and Convey Understanding

When sharing what a “day in the life of” looks like for a role during a job shadow, existing employees need to strike a balance between making the candidate drink from the firehose and boring her with a slow-paced recap of how to log in to the company intranet. Once you hit the sweet spot and plan a session full of important hands-on job highlights, you’ll want to assess whether she observed details effectively and is willing to seek additional answers based on what she just processed about the job. Test her engagement with these key questions:

  • Tell me about the pace of your past work environments? Were they slow or fast?
  • Can you describe any work scenarios you’ve experienced that are similar to what you’ve seen during this job shadow?
  • What key things have you observed and learned during the job shadow?

The Likelihood of Hidden Red Flags

While anyone can train to interview well, the job shadow has the potential to lure the candidate into a state where he may be more comfortable letting his guard down and showing his true self. This is an opportunity to spot red flags as well as discover any potential personality clashes between the candidate and his eventual work peers.

Use the following questions to field test any minor concerns that may have arisen about the candidate earlier in the selection process:

  • What are your biggest work environment pet peeves?
  • Share some past situations in which you exemplified one or more of our own corporate values.

Helpful Hints for More Personalized Onboarding

There’s no question that a final stage job shadow is still a tool for employers to evaluate the suitability of a candidate for a role; however, it is also an opportunity for organizations to woo future employees. A great way to make a positive impression is to notice the “little things” and then use them to better customize the eventual employee onboarding experience.

For example, make note of a candidate’s preference for Sprite rather than Coke during the job shadow so that you can have a cold Sprite and a welcome note waiting for him on his first day. Or, if he commented on his affinity for G2 roller ball pens, then surprise him with his own pack when you extend the employment offer.

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Ask these questions for insight into thoughtful onboarding:

  • What do you wish had been different about your previous job or employer?
  • What did you like most about a previous employer’s corporate culture?

A Means to Improve the Hiring Process

Lastly, recognize the job shadow stage as a means to conduct a “lessons learned” session about your ability to properly set expectations about job opportunities. While it is likely that stakeholders at this stage will be reiterating job details to the candidate, the candidate may make comments that suggest your team needs to do a more thorough job of explaining the role requirements earlier in the hiring process. Ask these questions to gauge any necessary action steps for improvement:

  • Based on what you’ve learned, do you see yourself enjoying this position? Why?
  • What has surprised you about the company, role, and/or interview process?

The goal of a great job shadow is to reduce buyer’s remorse on both sides. Employers want the extra reassurance that the candidate will fit into the corporate culture, and interviewees look for a glimpse of the employer’s inner workings before accepting an offer.

 

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Jessica Stephenson

Jessica Stephenson, SHRM-CP, PHR, is vice president of marketing and talent for ExactHire. With a background in both marketing and human resources, Stephenson passionately works at the intersection of content marketing and HR technology. Outside of work, she volunteers with her local SHRM chapter and the annual HR Indiana Conference, spends time with her family, explores new recipes to satisfy her inner “foodie,” and loves being outdoors. 

ExactHire is a software firm that helps small- and medium-sized organizations automate and improve the hiring process. Its Web-based software solutions focus on applicant tracking, employee onboarding, online reference checking, and employee assessments.