Test Driving the Job: 3 Reasons Why Trial Employment Makes Sense (And 1 Reason It Doesn't)

A few months ago, a job seeker told me that she wished she could show a potential employer what she was capable of during the interview process. The job seeker stated that employers should allow candidates (who are qualified, pre-screened, and in the final running for the position) to perform the actual job for a week or so to better determine if there is a mutual match.

I commented that I thought it was a great idea, but was skeptical that this would be a realistic or feasible option for many employers (or gainfully employed job seekers). I thought there may be legal, insurance or time investment issues from the vantage point of the employer that may make managing this process more trouble than it's worth.

To my surprise, less than a week later, a friend who I will call Sara, told me that she had been offered this exact opportunity, and would be allowed to test drive a position (with pay) for 4 days. My conversations with both job seekers contributed to the viewpoints shared below.


Trial employment can be beneficial for several reasons.

#1 It gives the job seeker a realistic view of the position.

Sometimes, recruiters romanticize jobs. It may not be intentional false advertisement, but rather misrepresentation due to lacking a true and accurate day-to-day understanding of the position. Before I was a Regional Recruiter for Hot Topic, my only understanding of the Retail Store Manager role came from my interactions with store managers as a customer/shopper. After shadowing a Store Manager for just one week during as part of the training in my Recruiter role, my view of the job (and ability to accurately convey it to candidates) changed dramatically.

#2 It allows the employer to assess the candidate's true abilities.

Work ethic, personality traits, social graces, communication, personal habits, and temperament are soft skills that cannot be measured through a resume review or even two hours of pre-employment interviews. Allowing a final candidate 40 hours of actual work time provides a valuable window to both the job seeker and employer.  Both parties are able to assess the true cultural fit and ability to perform the duties of the role.

#3 Both parties can enter the final employment agreement more confidently.

How often does a person propose marriage after 3-4 dates? Not very often, right? After dating, people typically enter a relationship and give themselves time to experience life together before committing to something "exclusive." The same idea seems to ring true for those employers who allow trial employment before making a final hiring decision.

After the trial period, Sara agreed to take the position. She was grateful for the comprehensive and much more realistic picture of workload and expectations that she was exposed to during the trial week.


The primary drawback from an employer's perspective is managing the time and resources needed to successfully administer a trial employment program. Ramp up time in a new job, or the learning curve, can often be up to 6 months for a new employee. For many positions, it is not feasible to get someone up to speed on internal processes so quickly that the trial period allows the candidate to perform masterfully while having their performance critiqued. In certain skilled labor fields, however, final candidates may be able to literally hit the ground running, as was Sara's case as a Child Care Provider. Nurses, plumbers, attorneys, engineers, scientists, builders, architects, professors, and recruiters for example, would likely be able to quickly contribute and show what they can do, even during a 40 hour trial period.

The Reality of the Hiring Process: Even with a Test Drive, One Can Still End Up With a Lemon

As in the actual car buying process, first impressions aren't everything. After taking a car for a spin, a consumer may change his mind about making the investment. The same can be said for trial employment.

Within 3 weeks, Sara decided the cut in pay was not worth the micro-managing she was subjected to from a manager (who happened to be out of the office during her trial week). I suppose this goes to show that hiring, in an of itself, is never foolproof. Human beings are complex and multifaceted and an employer cannot possibly test an employee's potential reaction to every possible challenge that could occur on the job.


What advantages or disadvantages do you see with allowing a candidate to test drive the job? Have you ever had the opportunity to test drive a job?


Photo 1: Source  Photo 2: Source

For More on the Topic:

Vocation Vacations

5 Ways to Test Drive a New Career Without Changing Jobs

Trial By Hire

How 90 Day Trials Hurt Employers and Job Seekers

Test Drive Your Dream Job [Book]

Employers' Perspective - Test Drive the Candidate


Maisha Cannon is a Senior Recruiter and Researcher committed to introducing employers to talent that will enhance and grow their businesses. Over the span of her 15 year career in Human Resources, Maisha has filled over 1,000 positions, and has coached hundreds of candidates on resume writing, interviewing skills, and career planning. She spends her free time blogging, engrossed in social media, and singing along to the thousands of songs in her iPod.

Views: 4550

Comment by Randall Scasny on July 21, 2012 at 10:08am

The idea sounds great on paper but gives me a bad taste in my mouth.

As was suggested in your article, for some jobs getting up to speed and fully performing can't be done in 4 days. I recall being in a 3-month training program for my first professional job just to go out and service customers; the entire program lasted 1 year.

Next, the idea just supports the ill-begotten, employer mentality of "I'll get rid of you if I don''t like you." I've worked in a place like this. I didn't realize it when I was interviewing. But once I saw some employee turnover, I started counting: 30 employes went through the company in 2.5 years for a company size of 15 people. Committing to and investing in employees (i.e., training) reaps long term financial benefits to a company.

This trial approach supports the unfortunate trend that the employer-employee relationship is simply a profit/loss relationship on the annual balance sheet. When the relationship deteriorates to this primal level, it's the end of the social contract that is implicit in all human and work relationships and ultimately causing instability and, ultimately, adversely affects profits. In the past a company was part of the community. The employer drew its employees from the community so both had a vested interest in mutual success. This is happening in some places. For example, in northern Wisconsin in the US, a shipbuilder set up shop and teamed with the local community college and the both created a training program for marine building technicians. So, the company has a steady local source of qualified people for the length of its contract with the government--20 years! This is the way to do it.

But the idea has some merit. I recall interviewing for an editorial job and only receiving silence after the interview. So, on my own, I took a section of the magazine I was given at the interview, and edited it and sent a report how I would improve the magazine. I got a job offer 48 hours later.

Randall Scasny


Comment by Maisha Cannon on July 23, 2012 at 1:21am

Hi Randall,

Thanks for your thoughtful reply. You raise a pivotal point about companies of the past being an integral part of the communities they supported. You're right in that companies who leveraged key strategic partnerships to foster training and development within their core communities (as with the shipbuilder in N. Wisconsin) were primed for longevity and success. It's a shame that our modern workplace has become so transactional and more focused on the "bottom line" ($) versus investing in employees. Great story about how you landed the editorial job after a seemingly unsuccessful interview. Thanks again for sharing. ~M~


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