The “Audition” is at-will employment

Jeff Atwood has an involved article that basically makes two assertions:

  1. You should hire the best and the brightest, and that means looking at a geographically diverse talent pool and allowing them to work remotely.
  2. You should hire people via “audition,” which is to say giving them a project that takes a few days to a week or so and paying them to do consultant work on that project.

I may or may not do a separate post on contention #1, which I disagree with, but for now, let’s talk about #2.

It is clearly the case that interviews do not do a very good job of screening for quality candidates.  You may eliminate some people who are grossly unqualified to work for you in an interview round, and you can screen out people who have some big communication problems, but probably not a lot else.  But the concept of consultant-to-hire is just fundamentally flawed.

People do not have time to do your days-to-weeks consultancy project.  They are doing a job search.  They are quite possibly also holding down their current job.  If you try to make them give you several days worth of their time, they will quite rightly prefer other companies to you — and if you’re trying to hire the best and the brightest, there are other companies who will be interested in hiring them with much lower hurdles than you created.

Also: people do not want to do consultant-to-hire.  They just don’t.  It might be irrational — it might be truly the best way to find a good fit — but candidates want their prospective employers to be excited about them, to want them on staff without a proving period.

But here’s the quasi-good news.  You don’t actually need a consultancy period, at least here in California.  It’s an at-will employment state, and your standard employment contract also probably includes some language about a 30, 60, or 90 day probation period.  You can hire people on full-time, and then after a week, or two weeks, or a month, fire them if they aren’t coming up to speed.  That’s your “audition” period.

People don’t do this.  Why not?  Basically, I think, because it’s emotionally draining to fire people.  It’s hard to bring someone into your office and fire them, and every manager I’ve ever met has dreaded it.  But, you know what?  Suck it up.  You want to be the tough guy who demands results and makes people prove themselves?  Then fire them if they don’t.  The whole “audition” concept is about coddling the feelings of the employer, not about getting the best employee.  If you believe what you’re saying, hire fast and fire fast.


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