It's not uncommon in some industries for companies to give a potential new hire a specific assignment during the job application process to help them decide who should get the job. These can range from designing a logo to coming up with a social media strategy.
Here’s an overview of what these jobseekers should know going in:
What assignments are typical?The modern job application process usually involves multiple stages. Not all companies announce that there will be an assignment as part of the selection process in the job ad, with applicants only finding out when they get invited to the interview or in a briefing.
“Sometimes there is talk of an applicant day or an assessment centre, which conceals a series of exercises and conversations, ” explains Johannes Staerk, who prepares people for assessment centres.
Typical assignments include developing concepts or investigating case studies in a subject area relevant to the position, which the applicant then has to present in a presentation.
Role-playing a sales pitch or employee talk may also be required.
“Sometimes companies also test very specific skills, for example translators have to edit a sample text in a given period of time or computer scientists have to analyse a source code, ” says Katharina Hain from Hays, a personnel service provider.
How can you prepare?
The best way to prepare is to put yourself in the shoes of the employer: What would I want to know from someone applying for this position and how would I test their skills? This can help you understand what the purpose of the assignment is.
Apart from that, it’s also important to read any instructions or guidelines very carefully. “We tend to believe that in providing as much information as possible, we are making ourselves look competent and knowledgeable, whereas it’s actually about selecting what’s really relevant and editing it down to the essentials, ” says Hain.
If the assignment is unclear, you can always ask for more details. Experience reports from other applicants, which can often be found online, can also be informative.
What should you consider when completing the assignment?It’s important to observe the time limit given, according to Hain.
In addition to a candidate’s knowledge-based competencies, companies also check their time management skills.
Presenting the results in an appealing and engaging manner is just as important. Applicants should check in advance which options are available to them while also remaining flexible, recommends Staerk.
Sometimes a simple outline on a flipchart is enough, whereas in other cases, a PowerPoint presentation might be required.
If taking part in an online application process, it can make sense to send the presentation in advance.
What do companies actually check with these assignments?The assignments are less about pure technical competence, as this should be evident from the CV and other certificates and references.
Above all, it’s soft skills that are decisive: the ability to work in a team, leadership skills or an applicant’s analytical or creative way of thinking.
“There’s not necessarily one single correct answer to these tasks, as the employer is more interested in how the applicant got to the result they did, ” says Staerk.
This allows companies to better compare applicants, who often have very different backgrounds, says Hain. At the same time, the applicant also has the opportunity to see whether the requirements of the position really meet their expectations. – dpa/Victoria Vosseberg