The big debate: are work trial days invaluable or ineffective?

In a bid to stand out to job candidates and gauge their fit within an organisation, some employers have added trial days to the recruitment process. But how effective is this practice at ensuring quality hires and what is the impact on potential hires? Two talent leaders share their views

Work trials have become a hot topic in the UK. While much of the recent debate has centred on concerns about minimum wage requirements, the efficacy of work trial schemes is coming under the microscope as employers increasingly emphasise their employer branding and seek greater assurance that they’re making the right hire in a challenging talent market.

If done carefully, trial days can provide a candidate with a unique in-office experience at their potential next-employer. But there are several factors employers must consider if they’re to benefit from observing prospective employees in action. While some candidates may thrive in these scenarios, for others, especially those in current employment, trial days will be a significant burden.

So, are work trial days really worth the trouble? Two talent experts have their say.

Trial days add a valuable layer of inclusivity to the recruitment process

Isabel Podda 
Global chief operating officer, Infinite Global 

Without doubt one of the best tools employers can use to evaluate entry level candidates are trial days which, although require time and consideration, if done well have multiple benefits. The most important outcome is matching the right candidate to the right job.

Firstly, trial days ensure candidates know what they are signing up for. They really show candidates what to expect of the job and the team if they join. Secondly, you get a chance to test your candidates on their skill and their suitability for the work, seeing how they respond under pressure and how they interact with the team. 

Employers need to sell the dream. Trial days give you a chance to showcase the opportunity you’re offering

It also helps create a more level playing field in that process, eliminating a certain element of bias. Some demographics receive a lot more support in terms of interview training and as such often perform better in interviews. These candidates will show more of their true selves during the course of the day as the ‘interview veil’ drops and it gives others who may not have interviewed to the same level a chance to shine. Not everyone interviews brilliantly but that doesn’t mean they don’t make incredible team members. We once had a candidate who struggled at an interview, but we felt had something special so we invited them to come in. The result was an incredible hire we otherwise would have lost out on.

Finally, as prospective employers we need to ‘sell the dream’ and, in an increasingly competitive market, trial days give you a chance to really showcase the opportunity you are offering and what the candidate might achieve by being part of the team. 

The candidate’s perception and viewpoint of this is critical in achieving a successful outcome. We ask for feedback from our candidates and all have been incredibly supportive of this part of the interview process. They tell me that the benefits for them are getting a proper taste for the office working culture and meeting team members outside of the formal interview process, with the opportunity to ask questions in a more relaxed environment. Trial days provide real insight into what the working day might look like, making the first day less daunting while showing the investment we were making in our graduate programme.

We will continue to use trial days as a key element of our recruitment process, and I would highly encourage those not doing so to reconsider.

Trial days create unnecessary stress and inconvenience for candidates

Adi Holmes 
Head of talent, Jelli Group 

While employee trial days may seem like a good way to observe future employees in a natural setting, there are certainly arguments against incorporating them into the hiring process. On the surface, you might think they offer a promising glimpse into a candidate’s potential fit within a company, as well as helping to assess skills and cultural alignment. However, they also come with significant risks.

New individuals are at a marked disadvantage on employee trial days. They are unfamiliar with existing teams, the company culture and expectations, so it is unfair to expect them to perform at the same level as experienced employees. Additionally, during a trial day candidates may not experience the typical work environment and conditions they would encounter in their regular day-to-day work. This can lead to a skewed perception of the role and the company.

Can a mere 8-hour period reveal a candidate’s potential? Many qualities and skills will remain hidden

For candidates who are already in employment, participating in an employee trial day means taking time off from their current job. This absence may result in a loss of productivity and potentially a loss of trust from their current employer, if the employee’s absence leads to suspicion that they are seeking employment elsewhere. Additional time-consuming steps in the hiring process may also lead to highly skilled people dropping out, leaving a smaller pool of talent to choose from. 

Also, let’s face it, a job search and interview process is already stressful for candidates. Adding another layer to this can increase anxiety and may even affect performance on the trial day, as many individuals perform differently under the pressure of assessment and evaluation. This can lead to candidates not showing their true potential and can result in further anxiety and also missed opportunities for the company if they deem the trial to have been unsuccessful.

In addition to all of this, can a mere 8-hour period truly reveal the extent of a candidate’s potential? So many qualities and skills will still remain hidden, including adaptability, resilience and long-term performance. Relying solely on a one-day trial may risk overlooking a candidate’s true capabilities.

Instead, there are many more inclusive and effective alternatives that employers can use, such as extending the final interview to include an opportunity to stay and meet the team, informal coffee with key team members and stakeholders, tours around the office, company presentations, and so on. All of these are much more relaxed and likely to bring out the true personality of the individual and the business.