Q: As part of an interview, we'd like to bring in a candidate to spend the day shadowing one of our team members. May we do that?
A: Allowing a candidate to see the ins and outs of a day on the job during the interview process can sound appealing, but before you bring them on-site, you’ll want to consider all your options.Shadowing an employee for a day would be considered a “working interview” and would need to be compensated. This time must be paid as you would for other employees—you can’t classify these employees as independent contractors. You can, however, pay minimum wage for the time worked. At the bare minimum, you would need to have the person complete a Form W-4 and Form I-9 to do this work. Should you decide to go this route, we recommend that you have a check prepared for them to take with them at the end of the day.
There are several risks to consider if you decide to do a working interview:
- The candidate could be injured during that time and you would be liable for a workers compensation claim. If the employee wasn’t reported and paid correctly, your workers’ compensation carrier may not cover the claim.
- Candidates completing working interviews could file for unemployment if you do not hire them for additional work after the working interview. Unemployment tax is tied to the prospect’s wages during the preceding year, not to the employer. That said, the shorter period the person is employed by you the less they will draw from your unemployment account.
If it is essential that you observe the candidate in your office under regular working conditions, you can contact a temporary agency and inquire if they would hire the candidate for a single day. The person would then be the employee of the temporary agency and no employee-employer relationship would be created between your company and the candidate. If you anticipate a lot of working interviews, this might be a good option to explore. You will, however, pay a premium for this service.
Another option is making a skills test part of the interview. The difference between working interviews and skills testing is the environment in which they are done. During a working interview, you ask the candidate to work alongside an employee. In contrast, skills testing involves setting up a scenario and asking the candidate to complete certain tasks on their own. This skills testing method isn’t considered work and will grant you an inside look at the candidate's skills and personality.
You can also ask an applicant to complete a skills test exercise at home. You will generally want to make sure that the amount of time it will take to complete the exercise will be reasonable, e.g. around an hour or so, not a full day. Typically only finalists for the position should be asked to complete such exercises.
Whatever kind of testing you decide to do, there are some general guidelines you should keep in mind.
Be certain that the tests are:
- Job-related and an accurate predictor of performance in the position
- Administered under the same conditions for all applicants for the same position
- Accommodating for people with disabilities, either by modifying the test or testing conditions or eliminating the testing requirement
- Not the sole basis for making decisions about candidates
- Only one component of your overall selection process
Keep in mind that a skills test should not create a product that the company then uses. Doing so would make the applicant’s test work that should be compensated.
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