Arlington Sports Conditioning - Pete Leibman

Faster. Stronger. Fitter.

The #1 Way to Avoid Making a Bad Hire

Every hiring decision comes with some risk. As an executive recruiter, my goal is to help clients decrease their chances of a bad hire and to increase their chances of a great hire. There is no better way to accomplish this objective than to ask finalist candidates to complete an exercise that I now refer to as a Stronger Simulation. This is a carefully designed activity that mimics the primary responsibilities of the role that you are trying to fill.

You can only learn so much about candidates through a traditional interview(s). If you fail to include a well-designed job simulation in your interview process, you will be wrong more often than you should be. In this article, you will learn how to use Stronger Simulations to make better hiring decisions.

A Quick Story

After my first book was published in 2012, I wanted to turn it into an online video course as well. Unsure how to handle the video production and editing, I decided to hire a video production expert for help with the project.

Getting referrals from colleagues and friends was not that difficult. Within a few days, I had a list of people that could help me. After weeding out several who quoted a fee well outside of my budget, I was left with three contractors who were more affordable and who each had comparable credentials.

Rather than take a guess on who to hire, I figured the best way to evaluate these individuals would be to ask each of them to create a small work sample just for me. So, I sent each person a 60-second video clip and asked him/her to do some basic editing. Nothing fancy. I told them they didn’t need to spend more than 30 minutes on this “project.”

By the end of the week, all three of the contractors had turned in their assignment. The difference in the quality of their work was striking. One of the work samples was far superior to the other two. That individual had also taken the initiative to add some simple, but impressive elements to the video that I had not even asked for. All of this made my decision easy. He was the one that I hired, and the final product turned out even better than I had hoped.

The benefits of Stronger Simulations

Whether you are hiring someone on a contract basis or as a full-time employee, there is no foolproof way to know how someone will perform in a job until you actually hire him.

A well-designed job simulation provides many benefits during an interview process. First of all, it reduces an employer’s risk by providing a more accurate preview of what someone would really be like to work with.

Secondly, it helps an employer determine how interested someone is in a position. Candidates are unlikely to go through a job simulation unless they are truly interested in your opportunity.

Thirdly, it levels the playing field for candidates who are not as adept at interviewing. Without a job simulation activity, viable candidates could unfortunately be screened-out because of poor interviewing skills.

Lastly, a well-designed job simulation makes the employer and the role appear more compelling. It sends a powerful message to candidates that your company takes recruiting seriously and that your company is selective with who it hires.

Guidelines for designing a Stronger Simulation

All job simulations are not created equal. Here are some tips for a Stronger Simulation:

  • Save job simulations for finalists. Given the time and effort required on both sides, it’s not practical to have more than a few people complete a job simulation. You could also turn candidates off by introducing this exercise too early. Save it for the end of your interview process- once both sides feel like there could be a strong fit.
  • Be consistent: Make sure that all finalists go through the same process. If finalists don’t participate in the same simulation, how can you accurately compare them against each other?
  • Be reasonable with your expectations. Consider paying a candidate for their time if you expect him to spend more than 1-2 hours to prepare for the simulation. Otherwise, the candidate might think that you are just trying to get some free work.
  • Provide ample time to prepare. Give the candidate a week or so to prepare, including at least one weekend. This is especially important when the candidate is currently working full-time.
  • Keep the simulation internal. Even if the candidate is applying for a client-facing role, it’s usually not appropriate to have a candidate interact with your customers or prospects during the interview process. If you want to evaluate how a candidate would interact with other people, use your current employees.
  • Consider the mandate for the role. Your simulation should mimic the role’s key responsibilities as closely as possible. Think about what this person will actually be expected to do. In addition, factor in whether this person will primarily work on their own or with other people. Ultimately, your simulation could be a take-home project, a business plan presentation, a role-playing exercise, a team-based activity, or some combination.

Provide clear directions for your Stronger Simulation

Have someone on your hiring team discuss the activity in advance (and in-person or by phone) with the candidate. Emphasize that the activity is designed to help both sides see what it might be like to work together. It’s not just for the employer’s benefit.

Follow-up that discussion with an email that reiterates your expectations. Be sure to answer the following questions for the candidate:

  • How much time do you expect the candidate to spend preparing for the simulation?
  • Will you provide any additional information on your company or industry?
  • Will candidates be expected to do any of their own research on your company or industry?
  • What deliverables, if any, do you expect the candidate to prepare for the simulation?
  • Who will attend and participate in the simulation?
  • What will the format be for the simulation? How formal will it be?

What to look for during a Stronger Simulation

The job simulation is not about finding a candidate who has the “right” answers. It’s about seeing your finalists in action, so you can get a better sense of how each of them works.

There is only so much insight that can be gleaned from a traditional interview(s). A well-designed simulation provides a much more accurate preview of someone’s style, personality, and ability. Here are some questions to ask yourself during and after the simulation:

  • How well-prepared was the candidate for this activity?
  • How much creativity did this candidate demonstrate during this activity?
  • How open was the candidate to feedback and other ideas?
  • How quickly was the candidate able to think on his/her feet?
  • How well could you see this candidate working with your company/team the next few years?

Final Thought

It can be tempting for an employer to think it holds all the power during the interview process, especially during a job simulation. In reality, top candidates have plenty of other options on where to work, and they are interviewing and evaluating your company, too.

While your company should assess candidates at each step of your interview process, your company should also recruit candidates at each step of your interview process. Assume that any finalist has other companies courting him/her as well.

During and at the end of any job simulation, reiterate for the candidate why your company and role is compelling. In addition, encourage candidates to ask you questions as well, so that you can address any unresolved issues or potential concerns that they might have about your opportunity.

P.S. Looking for more help with your company’s executive recruiting efforts?

Download my free eBook below, or contact me directly to schedule a call.

About the author: As the Founder of Stronger Talent, Pete Leibman recruits exceptional leaders for innovative sports, fitness, and wellness companies. Throughout his career, Pete has helped clients recruit exceptional leaders at the Board, C-Suite, Senior Vice President, Vice President, General Manager, Managing Director, and Director levels. Pete’s work has been featured on Fox News, CBS Radio, and, and he is the author of two books and over 250 articles on career management, peak performance, and executive recruiting.

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