Projects Are the New Job Interview

Posted May 31, 2012 by Marcy Twete in Career Moves

The process of job applications is changing significantly. In this job market, employers are increasingly realizing that making a hiring decision based on resumes, cover letters, and interviewing skills might not be enough to determine the success of a candidate pool. MIT research fellow Michael Schrage wrote the article “Projects Are the New Job Interviews” in Harvard Business Review and proclaims that employers everywhere are beginning to see that “the brightest and most talented people typically like having real-world opportunities to shine and succeed.” And those who are lazy enough not to complete the project assigned to them will quickly be weeded out of the application and interview process.

Here are just a few of the “Project Based” interview and application assignments I’ve personally heard of or been a part of in the last few years.

  • A small nonprofit organization lost its Chief Operations Officer who had been with the organization over a decade. Replacing this position could have meant hiring someone to immediately duplicate her the former COO’s work, but the organization sought out someone who could radically change operations and take the organization into the future. To facilitate this hire, as a part of the interview process, candidates were asked to develop a 1-year strategic planning process that would help the organization grow and increase staff participation in strategic planning. The project allowed candidates not to hand the organization a strategic plan, but to give the organization a clue as to how that candidate might present the road map and manage the process.
  • A world-renowned marketing and advertising firm requires all candidates to complete a hiring test, one that will take approximately 3 hours to complete. The test includes common industry knowledge questions like, “Name the hosts of the Today Show” as well as in-depth questions about how you might handle a PR pitch or branding problem with a client. Finally, the test provides a set of facts and figures and asks the candidate to write a full press release for the client portrayed. By giving candidates an opportunity to showcase both knowledge and writing skills, the company can feel more comfortable that the hire will excel in their position.
  • A consulting firm working with nonprofit organizations asked its candidates for a consulting position to write three “position papers” illustrating recommendations for a fictitious client in their portfolio. This process allowed the company to see the candidates’ industry knowledge as well as a real world application of what they might provide to a client.

Over the course of time, we’ll see more of these types of interviews and less of the traditional 1-2 interview with the boss types. Be prepared, and be willing to show that your real-world experience means more to a company than any answer to the “What are your strengths?” questions.

About the Author

Marcy Twete

Marcy Twete is a career fundraiser turned corporate responsibility executive, a career and networking expert and the author of the book "You Know Everybody! A Career Girl’s Guide to Building a Network That Works."