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.

  • I totally agree. There are times I am deciding between 2 candidates and one is lesser “qualified” in experience. The homework will help me see if the person has potential.

    • Chris

      Hi William,

      Hey, great to hear from you!

      I’ve had a similar experience. I’ve sometimes received higher-quality homework from the candidate who interviewed less well, but I ended up hiring that person based on the strength of the homework.

  • Maia

    Hehe.. I’d be hired for sure. I like this writing of yours, anh.

  • Phuong Nguyen

    Dear Chris,
    I myself like doing homework, but it originated from my terribly bad habit during school days.
    At that time, I wanted to be a good student, but I was not studious. No matter how much homework, I tried to finish all, but if it was my self -finding one, nothing would happen.
    I was not a talent in doing homework in a short time with a good result, I need more time than others to do it. So I think I have to increase my speed to catch up with them in case we are under a pressure of time.
    Thank you for your story, I loved it.

    Phuong Nguyen,

    • Chris

      Thanks for the comment, Phuong. Are you sure you are not good at homework? Your English is excellent!

  • Vu Quynh Nga (Anna Quynh)

    Dear Chris,

    I was invited to have an interview with FPT Software, in HR Dept about 1,5 years ago. I’d just graduated from university, didn’t have much experience. I was given a “homework” by my Manager and finally managed to do it. I realized that homework not only challenged my ability but my responsibility, my attitude as well, just tried my best to do it. I knew there’s also another candidate at that time who have much more experience than me but I was selected. Now I’ve learned the importance of giving homework to candidate.

    Thanks for this sharing.

    • Chris

      Hi Nga,

      Thanks for your comment.

      Yes, homework is a GREAT test of commitment and attitude, not to mention work product. Good on ya for beating out that other candidate!


      PS – We met at HR Day last week, right?

  • Vu Quynh Nga (Anna Quynh)

    Dear Chris,

    You have a good memory, we met at HR Day last week.
    I’ve learned about Vietnamworks a long time ago, really interested in your true stories here.