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Advice for Employers and Recruiters

Is experiential recruiting effective for early career hiring?

Anita Jobb AvatarAnita Jobb
January 8, 2024

Experiential recruiting is, quite simply, providing the candidate and employer with the experience of working together, usually in a very limited manner, usually before the candidate receives and certainly before the candidate accepts the employer’s offer of employment.

According to AS Viable Solutions, “If you think of experiential hiring from the candidate’s perspective, it looks and feels a lot like an interview, networking event, and class project combined into one. We often compare it to our increasingly popular academic product, work-integrated experiential learning.” There are many variations for how this may be accomplished, but by way of example, an employer may provide all finalists with a project and then hire the candidate who performs the project the best.

As stated by AS Viable Solutions, “Experiential hiring helps employers better attract, train, select, and retain top talent. From the employer’s perspective, experiential hiring is a unique and engaging way to recruit and assess talent before making more expensive, full-time commitments.”

Although many (most?) employers have not even investigated experiential recruiting let alone used it, those of us who are immersed in the early career space can see that it is starting to reshape the way a rapidly growing number of employers assess and engage potential hires. We recently asked four leaders for their insights on this immersive hiring strategy.

Assess Skills with Short-Term Projects

In short, experiential recruiting involves giving candidates short-term projects or assignments to assess their skills before deciding which one to hire permanently for a role. In this sense, they’re similar to internships but with a much shorter duration, often just a few days or even a single day. You could also think of them as more active forms of the job fair. 

Something like a “hackathon or “codefest” would be an example of experiential recruiting. In this format, a team collaborates to solve an engineering or coding problem, giving employers a chance to see not just their technical skills in action but also how they function as part of a team. Other forms of experiential recruiting include working interviews, test assignments, or “temp-to-hire” arrangements. 

One important thing to note about experiential recruiting: If the candidate is doing work for your company, then they need to be paid for it. Large social events like hackathons are the possible exception to this—there is usually a prize available for the top performers, but it may be free products, a trip to a conference, or another non-monetary form of compensation. Because of this, I tend to find experiential recruiting most cost-effective for critical roles that involve a high degree of skill. The cost and time commitment of experiential recruiting are worth the investment in these cases because it will lose you even more time, and likely cost even more in the long run, if you don’t hire the right person for the role. 

From a candidate’s perspective, experiential recruiting opportunities can be an opportunity to break through the so-called “paper ceiling” for those who have the skills for the role but no degree, or a degree in the wrong field. Similarly, they can be a way for recent graduates or other early-career professionals to prove their suitability for the role despite a lack of professional experience on their resume.

Rob Boyle, Marketing Operations Director, Airswift

Offer a Real-Work Setting Talent Assessment

Experiential recruiting means tapping into the best pool of talent in a real-life (or rather, real-work) setting.

The idea involves throwing the candidates into deep water and having them perform the practical tasks they would face every day in the position. Tasks, projects, or simulations designed by recruiters mirror the challenges and responsibilities of the job. It’s like an interview, mock exam, and class project combined.

The real-world scenarios allow hiring teams to test if candidates prove themselves in the role or fail. Experiential recruiting, besides testing hard skills, checks a person’s ability to act under pressure, make decisions, solve problems, and think strategically. The goal is to gain a deeper understanding of a candidate’s potential that goes beyond what can be assessed through resumes and standard interviews.

Nina Pączka, Community Manager, Resume Now

Engage Candidates Beyond Traditional Methods

Experiential recruiting involves engaging with candidates through non-traditional hiring processes like events, hackathons, workshops, and more. It’s far better than traditional recruitment, which favors those with great on-paper experience and interview skills that often don’t translate to the job.

With experiential recruitment, you get to know candidates on a deeper level so you can determine if there’s a cultural fit, which is a far stronger indicator of long-term engagement, retention, and other metrics that matter. When you start looking at those factors that matter most, you build diverse teams and reduce hiring bias, which only limits potential on both sides of the recruitment process.

Robert Kaskel, Chief People Officer, Checkr

Predict Performance with Hands-On Evaluation

Recruiting based on experiential factors represents a crucial evolution in attracting top talent. Rather than focusing solely on credentials, we assess how well a candidate’s actual experience equips them to excel in a role. This enables identifying those with the ideal skills, mindset, and track record to thrive on teams, resolve dynamic challenges, and create meaningful impact.

Our process emphasizes assessing hands-on abilities via work simulations, extensive reference checks from managers and end-users of past work, and multi-phase interviews focused on practical problems. This provides a rich evaluation of on-the-job excellence. Ultimately, this filters to those fired up to bring their A-game each day. 

With this approach, we transform recruitment from theoretical screening to predicting how candidates will perform when it counts.

Lou Reverchuk, Co-Founder and CEO, EchoGlobal

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