The "Test Drive" is a common method in car buying. The assumption is that buyers reduce their risk of disappointment in a new or used car purchase by trying out the vehicle before laying out huge sums of money for a vehicle, where liquidation costs for an error of selection are high.
The same concept of the "test drive" can apply to hiring employees. The "Paid" test drive is a particular valuable method that I have used many times with success. Sometimes the results of the test drive are awesome and I find a rockstar, and sometimes, the results are 'whew', I dodged a bullet on that one. I have used this 'paid test drive' process for years and it works great! "Paid" Test drives are valuable to the hiring process.
This month in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) appears an article on using the 'test drive' as a hiring strategy. The article is worth the read; http://blogs.hbr.org/2014/01/hire-by-auditions-not-resumes/
Thinking about this further, I think there are at least three mantras that guide my hiring process: 'Hire slow, fail fast, and fire fast.' These mantras are followed by wise CEOs to avoid many pains in hiring the wrong person, to reduce the investment cost of identifying top talent, and reduce the cost of retaining under-performing talent. The 'paid test' drive is an effective tool that can be employed to make sure that the 'right person' shows up at your firm on the day they are your official full time employees.
(1) hire slow means doing the upfront work to capture great talent the first time, ensuring an objective hiring process, getting a sufficiently large pool of talent, stress-testing the talent pool with exercises, homework, psychometric tests, and other screening tools, and most importantly behaviorally interviewing talent; past behavior and performance are the best predictors of future success.
(2) Fail fast, fail cheap, and fail often are mantras that are important in hiring. The cost of a poor hire is so great and many companies believe only in faith, hope, and charity hiring models. First you have faith they are the right ones, then you hope they are the right ones, then you know they are the wrong ones and you do them and your firm false charity keeping them employed long after they should have exited your firm. Failing fast, failing cheap, and failing often means setting up the conditions for success and allowing employees to rise to the occasion to test their metal, show their capability and creativity, and show-up as the employees you need. The short-term 'paid try-out' as a 1009 contractor, apprentice or trainee are excellent ways to get this started, and anywhere from one week to 2 months is plenty of time to determine success; I personally like the 2 week paid try-out where they work on meaningful projects that simulate what real-life work experience would be at your firm on the worst week of the year; and like Mullenweg pointed out, don't expect success just because you are paying the candidates for the try out; about 25-23% of the candidates will exceed your expectations, and you will want to hire them, and the others.... well.... let's get to our next lesson;
(3) fire fast! Speed is the currency of business and you cannot short-circuit the mantra of hiring slow, so a prudent executive will place into action a plan that allows a degree of 'burn-in' testing before hiring that we call the 'paid' test drive.
So next time you are looking at uncertainty with a candidate for employment, consider how a mutually beneficial paid test drive might make the decision and experience meaningful for candidate and employer.