October 1, 2011

Homework is Good

How a candidate responds to homework is a telling indicator of future performance.

I LOVE to give homework.

I give candidates homework in order to predict the future and see whether a candidate will be a good fit in our team.  Giving homework yields so much valuable information I’m amazed everyone doesn’t do it.

The first thing homework tests is attitude.  Is the candidate “can-do?”  Is he hungry for this job?

Several years ago I was interviewing candidates to be National Sales Director for VietnamWorks.   I had narrowed the field to two candidates.  They had comparable experiences and backgrounds.  I asked both of them to write a telesales cold-call opening statement as well as analyze the strengths and weaknesses of our current sales organization.  I figured the homework would take 2-3 hours and I gave each a two day deadline.

The first candidate got a pained look on his face.  “Erm…I’m really busy this week so I won’t be able to do it.  How about the end of next week?”

The second candidate looked thoughtful.  “I’m traveling this week, but I yes I can commit to sending it to you in two days.”

The second candidate submitted an insightful deliverable before the deadline.  I never received the first candidate’s homework.

Which candidate do you think I hired?

Yep, the second.  He’s still here three years later, and he’s awesome.

The second thing homework tests is the candidate’s work quality, care and ability.

After receiving the homework you will know in two seconds how much time the candidate spent on it.  Structured properly, the homework also will tell you volumes about things like the candidate’s attention to detail, his creativity, his ability to think critically and how he communicates an idea.

I’ve received homework that looked like it was done in five minutes or less — sloppy, trite, poorly thought-out.  And I’ve received homework that was obviously the product of a focused mind and several hours of work.  Information like this tends to make choosing between candidates pretty easy.

I love homework.  LOVE.