Employers Need to Understand Working Interviews, Or Else!

Working interviewI was talking to a job seeker this week who said she had done an unpaid working interview for a day with a local business, then never heard back from them.

She wondered if this was legal?  Good question!  The answer is probably not.

While working interviews can be a good tool in the hiring process, most of the time they must be paid, and must be done right.

Try before you buy:

A working interview is an opportunity to have an applicant prove their job skills to you.

Having them perform the duties of the job alongside their supervisor and future co-workers is also an opportunity to ensure that they are a good fit for the organization.

Just keep in mind that this is a small glimpse into their talent and personality, as they haven’t officially joined your organization yet.

There are no freebies with working interviews:

You must pay someone for their time if they perform actual work as an employee.

  • Agree in advance on the wage, which must be at least equal to minimum wage
  •  They must fill out employment documents, such as a W-4 and I-9 and you will pay all appropriate payroll taxes on them
  • They do not qualify as independent contractors
  • Depending on the circumstances, you can be liable for an unemployment claim or even an L&I claim should they get injured while there

Sometimes there are freebies:

An exception to paying for a working interview is when you have someone come to your business just to observe.

This can be a great tool if you have an environment or position that is particularly challenging.  For instance, call center work can be very demanding and is not for everyone.

One way to minimize turnover and reduce the costs of a revolving door could be to have prospective candidates observe the environment and the job to see if it’s something they really would want to do.

If no work is performed by them and no training is given them, you would not need to pay them.

Recognize the disruptions of a working interview:

Having someone who is untrained, and perhaps even a poor fit, come in for a working interview can actually be a disruption in your business.

Make sure that you are prepared to have someone work with them to give them direction, and to catch any balls that fall, to minimize any negative impact on your customers or productivity.

Make sure a working interview is a 2-way street:

Obviously, you want to see the skills and fit of the candidate during the working interview, but this is also their opportunity to be sure your company and your job are a good fit for them as well.

Be sure to give the candidate sufficient opportunities to ask questions, meet co-workers, and get the feel of a typical day on the job.  Don’t bury them so deep under tasks that at the end of the day they come up for air for the very first time.

Set expectations up front:

Be very clear with your applicant that it is a working interview and that there is no promise of a job.

Tell them how long you expect the working interview to last, and when they will be notified about a hiring decision.  Give yourself the opportunity to reflect on the interview and talk with others before you make a decision and notify the candidate.

Document everything:

Since you’re dealing with issues surrounding work and compensation, it’s best to put the information in writing.

After the fact, you don’t want a letter from L&I inquiring why someone didn’t receive their paycheck.  Also, during the course of the day, the applicant may have access to confidential and proprietary company information.  Including a non-disclosure agreement can protect your company’s assets as well.

The wrap-up:

Working interviews, planned and executed with thought, can be a great tool in filling jobs with excellent candidates and reducing turnover due to poor fit. Just make sure you do it by the book!

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