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There are many things to consider in finding the right candidate. I’m always shocked by how so many accomplished executives, business owners and managers shudder at the thought of recruiting; these are people that have faced challenge after challenge, and have found enormous success, but you ask them to think through their next hiring decision and they start sweating!

I think there are a number of reasons why hiring and recruiting feels like a daunting task for some. One such reason is the subjective nature of selecting the right candidate. Everyone arrives at this process with their own biases, concerns and filters; and they’re all slightly different.

But, there is a way to remove quite a bit of subjectivity from the process and get all decision makers working in the same direction:

Create a Candidate Assignment

Somewhere between writing the job description and speaking to candidates, sit down with the hiring team, recruiter or HR professional (or all) and work up an assignment that can be given to all serious, favorable candidates. What are some of the benefits of having your candidates complete an assignment?

  • It gives the candidate a window into your business – How things work, what drives the team, what challenges you may be up against.
  • Only committed candidates will complete an assignment.
  • You get to see the candidates’ ideas and their quality of work, before you commit.
  • You get to see your business from the perspective of an “outsider.”
  • And as I previously stated, it will hopefully allow the decision makers to more easily come together on a particular candidate.

It may be difficult to imagine what kind of assignment you would ask a candidate, who has limited to no exposure to your company, to complete. Depending on your industry, the services your company provides and the nature of the role, you may be able to make the assignment pretty specific. However, in the interest of confidentiality or other constraints, it might be best to keep things more general. You’ll have to identify your goal; what do you most want to know from your candidates?

Brainstorming Ideas

  • 30/60/90-Day PlanAsk the candidate to put together a plan of what they think their first 30, 60 or 90 days will look like in this role. What will their goals be? How will they execute? This assignment will tell you a lot about a candidate’s motivators, their understanding of the position and their ability to assemble the pieces in order to get the work done.
  • Navigating Challenges – Present a challenge within the company (or within your industry) and have the candidate present on how he/she would navigate this challenge. This assignment allows the candidate to demonstrate their creativity and industry knowledge, which may be very important in some cases.
  • Business Strategy – Assemble a basic business strategy for “ABC Company,” that will lead the organization into next x years of business and growth. This assignment works well for sales leadership and roles where there are P&L responsibilities.

Whether you go more specific, or keep things general, you’ll have an opportunity to see a candidate in action. If presentation skills are required for a particular role, you may request that candidates create slides and present to the hiring team. If your company does a lot of business through web meetings and conference calls, you may want to have the candidate present on that platform. These are all ways that you can test their expertise and fit.


You may be thinking that this sounds time consuming, and yes, it may add time to the process. As I mentioned in another recent post, if you are in need of a quick hiring process, then you’ve probably waited too long to start.

But, what if I told you that a candidate assignment could actually speed things up? If your team hems and haws over selecting a candidate; if you usually bring candidates in for multiple rounds of interviews before you feel comfortable making a decision, then the assignment might actually eliminate some of these steps!

The assignment should come after all members of the hiring team have met the candidate and at least some number agree that this candidate should progress to the next stage. Ideally, that would be after the first interview. Without getting too much into process, because that’s a blog post for another day, your process and assignment timing for a particular candidate might look something like this:

  1. Initial screening – Usually over the phone, with a recruiter or HR representative.
  2. If the candidate is passive, sometimes a follow-up screening or phone interview happens here, in order to confirm the candidate’s interest and discuss the role in more detail.
  3. In-person interview
  4. Provide details of the assignment
  5. Assignment presentation/discussion and follow-up interview – This is where the candidate shares his or her work on the assignment and you have an opportunity to ask questions about what they’ve presented, as well as any additional questions you have in order to determine their fit.
  6. Wrap-up discussions with hiring team, reference checks, etc.
  7. From here, there’s a good chance that you have enough information to make a decision – You’ve asked them all of your questions and you’ve seen an example of their work. If you are happy with what you heard and saw, then you may be ready to put together an offer and start negotiating. Pretty quick, huh?


What are your thoughts on incorporating an assignment into the hiring process? There may be a variation of what I’ve listed here that would work better for your organization. Either way, I hope I’ve given you some good ideas and some additional tools to work with.