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What Are Work Samples?

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The term "work samples" can have two meanings. The first refers to examples of work from previous employers presented to a potential employer during a job interview. For example, a journalist often includes published articles, while a designer chooses a brochure or advertisement. The second meaning, which is used most often in human resources, refers to an informal test given to interview candidates to determine if they meet criteria and have skills conveyed in the job application.

Human Resources Responsibilities

Justification for conducting a work sample must be made by the interview requester and should be based on the requirements of the position description. The interviewer should specify the skills sought, how he will evaluate the work sample to determine those skills and how the work sample will support that evaluation. It should also be determined if all candidates will receive a work sample or if it will be second interviewees or only finalists. A sample of the instructions and the time allotted to each candidate should be determined as well.

Conducting the Test

Work samples should be simulations of an actual part of the posted job. For a journalist, it might be a simulated interview. For a salesperson, it might be a call or creating a sales action plan. Interviewers should create an atmosphere that is both comfortable for the prospective employee and representative of the job. Instructions should be easy to understand. Interviewees should have ample time and opportunity to ask questions and clarify instructions before beginning.

Preparing for Work Sample

It is most likely the interviewee will know he is required to complete a work sample or job simulation. Because the environment and the job are new, and possibly unpredictable, the interviewee should concentrate on her skill set. After all, a potential employer is looking for a demonstration of that skill set, not whether the applicant understands the organization's business processes.

Evaluating Work Sample

The interviewer will perform an analysis of the simulation and, depending on the type of work sample completed, determine where the interviewee ranks against competitors. The analysis might be based on number of errors committed, if the work sample is focused on specific, observable skills (such as assembly line work). It might be based on more subjective critical analysis, based on the content and caliber of a written article, for example. No matter what, an interviewee should contact the interviewer to determine how his work was received. Good? Bad? Why? Regardless of outcome, finding out how you did guarantees that you gain value from the experience.


Tom Tennant began writing professionally in 1994 and has served as a journalist and editor for a number of weekly and daily newspapers, as well as several trade publications including "Corporate Meetings & Incentives" magazine and "Healthcare Traveler" magazine. He works as a content marketing team leader for a well-known software company. Tennant graduated from Ohio University with a bachelor's degree in communication.

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