Projects Are the New Job Interviews

Resumes are dead. Interviews are largely ineffectual. Linked-In is good. Portfolios are useful. But projects are the real future of hiring, especially knowledge working hiring. No matter how wonderful your references or how well you do on those too-clever-by-half Microsoft/Google brainteasers, serious firms will increasingly ask serious candidates to do serious work in order to get a serious job offer. Call them "projeclications" or "applijects." World-class talent will engage in bespoke real-world projects testing their abilities to deliver real value on their own and with others. Forget the "What's Your Greatest Weakness?" interrogatory genre; the real question will be how well candidates can rise to the "appliject" challenge and help redesign a social media campaign, document a tricky bit of software, edit a Keynote presentation, produce a webinar or peer review a CAD layout for a contract Chinese manufacturer. Exploitive? Perhaps. But most organizations have learned the hard way that no amount of interviewing, reference checking and/or psychological testing is a substitute for actually working with a candidate on a real project. I know advertising agencies that have an iron-clad, inviolable rule that they will only hire creatives who have successfully done freelance work with an account team. Similarly, a fast-growing Web 2.0 "software as a service" company doesn't waste its time asking coding candidates trick "Python" questions during job interviews; they have potential hires participate in at least two "code reviews" to see what kinds of contributors, collaborators and critics they might be. Yes, candidates must sign NDAs. Yes, sometimes these sessions effectively pit a couple or three candidates against each other. But there's nothing fake or artificial about the value they're expected to offer. These organizations treat hiring as part of their on-boarding process. Hiring becomes more holistic rather than "over the wall." More importantly, everyone in the enterprise now "gets" that people only get hired if and only if they deliver something above and beyond a decent track record and social graph. Ethically, the most interesting behavior I've observed is that firms exploring "projeclication" hires aren't asking for free labor. They're paying below-market rates for their candidate's insights and efforts. If I were a 20-something coder or a forty-something marketer, I'd undeniably have mixed feelings about giving my best efforts for discount compensation. That said, it's worth something to know what it's like to really work with one's colleagues on a real project as opposed to the all-too-misleading charade of iterative interviews. To my mind, this approach is an order of magnitude more ethical than the "free" and unpaid internship infrastructure that has gotten so out of control in so many industries. But just as many organizations have grown more skillful conducting Skyped interviews and using web-based quizzes and questionnaires as qualifying screens for candidates, my bet is we'll soon see new genres of project-based hiring shape enterprise human capital portfolios. Facebook and Linked-In are obvious venues for "app-sourced" — that's "app" as in applicant, not application— business project design. Increasingly, project leaders will design milestones and metrics that make incorporating job candidates into the process more seamless and natural. College graduates, MBAs and older job candidates will learn how to sniff out which "applijects" are genuine invitations to success and which ones are sleazy bids for cheap labor. In the same way job candidates learn how to interview well, they'll get the skills to "appliject" well because they understand how to optimize their influence and impact within the constraints of the project design. Ultimately, the reason why I'm confident that "projects are the new job interviews" is not simply because I'm observing a nascent trend but because this appears to be a more efficient and effective mechanism for companies and candidates to gain the true measure of each other. Designing great applijects and projeclications will be a craft and art. The most successful utilizers will quickly be copied. Why? Because the brightest and most talented people typically like having real-world opportunities to shine and succeed. Should your next hire come from a great set of interviews and references? Or from knocking your socks off on a project?
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