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Projects Are The New Job Interviews

The best way to evaluate job candidates? Give them a job.
COLLABORATORS Michael Schrage
Projects are the new resume: hiring strategies
photo by noir imp

"Serious Play"

“Resumes are dead. Interviews are largely ineffectual. LinkedIn is good. Portfolios are useful,” writes Michael Schrage, a research fellow at MIT Sloan School’s Center for Digital Business. “But projects are the real future of hiring.”

Schrage, writing for his HBR.org blog, calls this marriage of job application and project an “appliject” or a “projeclication.” Whichever. His point is that “serious firms will increasingly ask serious candidates to do serious work in order to get a serious job offer.”

Schrage observes that “world-class talent will engage in bespoke, real-world projects testing their abilities to deliver real value on their own and with others. Forget the ‘What’s Your Greatest Weakness?’ interrogatory genre; the real question will be how well candidates can rise to the ‘appliject’ challenge and help redesign a social media campaign, document a tricky bit of software, edit a keynote presentation, produce a webinar, or peer-review a CAD layout for a contract Chinese manufacturer.

“Exploitive? Perhaps. But most organizations have learned the hard way that no amount of interviewing, reference checking, and/or psychological testing is a substitute for actually working with a candidate on a real project. I know advertising agencies that have an ironclad, inviolable rule that they will only hire creatives who have successfully done freelance work with an account team.”

Schrage adds: “Ethically, the most interesting behavior I’ve observed is that firms exploring ‘projeclication’ hires aren’t asking for free labor. They’re paying below-market rates for their candidate’s insights and efforts. If I were a twentysomething coder or a fortysomething marketer, I’d undeniably have mixed feelings about giving my best efforts for discount compensation. That said, it’s worth something to know what it’s like to really work with one’s prospective colleagues on a real project as opposed to the all-too-misleading charade of iterative interviews….

“Ultimately, the reason why I’m confident that ‘projects are the new job interviews’ is not simply because I’m observing a nascent trend, but because this appears to be a more efficient and effective mechanism for companies and candidates to gain the true measure of each other. Designing great ‘applijects’ will be a craft and art. The most successful users will quickly be copied. Why? Because the brightest and most talented people typically like having real-world opportunities to shine and succeed.

“Should your next hire come from a great set of interviews and references?” Schrage asks. “Or from knocking your socks off on a project?”

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THE PLUS

Schrage has been writing about innovation for years. His big idea, which he describes in various ways: Discovery trumps planning.

Whether he’s advocating for experimentation as strategy, the uses of simulation, or—as on this page—the notion that the best path forward is often simply to take the first step, he’s good at provoking leaders to rethink the limits of conventional managerial control. We recommend Schrage’s early book, Serious Play.

Comments

  1. I’m a fan of Schrage’s work, but I have to say this is an idea with very limited application. Of course, this doesn’t work where candidates already have full-time jobs. But more to the point, I fear this approach is designed to attract those candidates most desperate for a job.

  2. I think the application is huge, real and happening right now. Huge companies are increasingly dependent on contractors–often knowledge workers. Contractors who contribute real value are often offered real jobs. And why not? They auditioned well for the part.

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