In-person conversational interviews are notoriously ineffective for determining whether a new hire will be a good fit.  In many instances, a second interview is needed to more completely assess whether a particular candidate is well suited to an open position.  Work simulations, sometimes also known as case interviews, provide candidates with a real-life business problem similar to one that might be faced on the job.

Make it Real

Many experts suggest using real rather than fictional problems for work simulations, since real problems are always more complicated and difficult than anything you could make up.  For instance, if you are evaluating a marketing manager’s strategic thinking ability, perhaps you could have a candidate develop a potential launch plan for a product you rolled out last year.  On the other hand, if you need to test whether a bank administrator knows how to use your accounting software, you could ask him to complete an assignment using that tool.  If the position you’re hiring for isn’t your own, it’s smart to enlist the help of people currently doing the job in question in order to put together the most appropriate simulation.

Look at Process

While you should certainly be interested in the solution the candidate derives for your simulated problem, you should also pay attention to the process by which he arrived there.  Did he ask for a suitable amount of background information?  Were his questions pertinent and thoughtful?  Did he proceed through the right channels and call on the appropriate resources?  If relevant, did he develop a realistic timeline and budget?  Figure out how you will evaluate success on the simulation in advance (e.g. a rating scale from 1-5 on certain attributes, a checklist of completed steps).

Make Sure It’s Worth It

Work simulations are advantageous in that they showcase a variety of the competencies you’re looking for, and help candidates to understand exactly what the job entails.  However, they do take much more time and effort on behalf of the team leader, so you’ll want to make sure you reserve this type of interview for candidates who are under serious consideration.

Alexandra Levit is a Partner at PeopleResults and is passionate about helping people and organizations succeed in the evolving workplace. You can reach her at or on Twitter @alevit.