Work the Working Interview

Fort McCoy community members participate in a job fair at Fort McCoy, Wis.
Fort McCoy community members participate in a job fair at McCoy's Community Center at Fort McCoy, Wis., Aug. 14, 2018. (Scott T. Sturkol/U.S. Army photo)

Get ready for what may be the future of job interviewing: the working interview. Commonly used in the food service industry, where a chef may demonstrate cooking skills and techniques for a potential employer, this interviewing method is now being used in many other fields. Learn what to expect so you can prepare and excel when you're called for a working interview.

How the Working Interview Helps Employers Evaluate You

The working interview is an opportunity for the employer to watch a potential job candidate "do the activities and functions of a job -- live," says Stephen Morel, president and CEO of Pro Staff. "[The employer] gets a good look at what's beyond the resume."

Just like in a traditional job interview, the candidate meets the company's major players. What makes the working interview unique is that the candidate is often at the company for the entire day and assigned a project he must complete successfully by day's end. The result of this project and the way the candidate handles the meetings -- not to mention the overall stress of the day -- helps the employer decide whether this is the person to hire.

Morel says in the last five years, more companies have embraced the concept. "It helps employers evaluate soft skills, like commitment, loyalty and work ethic, plus it shows attitude and abilities in real time," he explains. Employers can also evaluate whether a candidate's personality will be a good fit with the staff.

Show Your Stuff

For job seekers, the working interview is a chance to see "if this is the type of company they want to work for as well as to find out about its culture," says Mattie Deed, a senior career counselor at the Allston/Brighton Resource Center, part of the Massachusetts One-Stop Career Centers operated by the city of Boston with support from Harvard University. "The employer gets to see your work and how well you perform under pressure. This is show-and-tell time."

C-level executive candidates most likely will not have to go through a working interview, says Morel. As for the rest of us, prepare to dazzle the employer for the day.

A chef may need to work in an unfamiliar kitchen for the day, and customer service representatives commonly answer phones at a potential employer's facility. Candidates for creative jobs, such as copywriters and editors, may be required to write a web page or news article. A technical writer could be asked to write part of an instruction manual, and an executive assistant might answer phones, compose memos, send faxes, produce spreadsheets and demonstrate other administrative skills.

Ace the Working Interview

A working interview can be exhausting. You must have energy, stamina and endurance while demonstrating unstoppable grace under pressure. Showing your enthusiasm for the job may be as simple as smiling, sitting forward in your chair and telling the employer that you appreciate the chance to show them what you do best -- and then proving it.

When it comes to the working interview, the advice remains the same as with any other interview. "Practice, practice, practice," advises Deed. "Record your voice on a tape recorder. Watch your body language in a mirror. Practice interviewing with a friend."

This back-to-basics advice also includes researching the company and knowing the industry. "Preparation minimizes the feelings of nervousness," Deed says.

As always, the employer is evaluating how well you interview, how you dress, your body language and the way you interact with staff, along with myriad other characteristics such as your enthusiasm, flexibility and sense of humor.

By the end of the day, the job seeker may begin to lose focus or, worse, get too comfortable. Don't make that mistake, warns Deed. "Don't let your guard down," she says. "Don't go in there expecting that these people are your friends."

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