Nobody wants to hire the wrong person for a role. At OfferZen, we run simulation days to ensure we truly hire the best person for the job. Here’s how we set up our sim days to be efficient and effective, with some tips — and a template! — to help you run your own.
What is a sim day?
A sim day is one of the last steps in your hiring process before sending the offer. It simulates what it would be like to actually work with the candidate on real projects.
At OfferZen, a sim day typically consists of the candidate completing tasks that tie into an overarching mission (for example, ‘design a New Year’s advertising campaign’), and then presenting their completed task for feedback at the end of the day.
They get help from different team members throughout the day, and meet other members of the wider team for coffee or lunch!
Why is a sim day important?
In our experience, doing real work with a candidate on a sim day is by far the best way to determine if they can actually do the job. ‘Real work’ means that you’ll have an activity (e.g. the candidate interacts with a customer on a call) or artefact (e.g. the candidate presents a solution to the rest of the team) to assess at the end of the day.
On a sim day, you get the chance to go beyond the surface and dig deep into the candidate’s skills, personality, and behaviour in a real-time setting.
Your hiring team can directly assess their ability, as well as the process in which they arrive at solutions.
Although other assessment methods should still form part of your hiring process, sim days have an advantage over them. With traditional methods such as a take-home assessment or interviews, you’re assessing candidates in a vacuum. A sim day enables the candidate to ask questions and get feedback as they progress, just like in a real work setting, and allows them to demonstrate abilities such as teamwork and collaboration. This will help your team decide whether they’re a good fit for the current team and company culture.
For the candidate, a sim day is an excellent opportunity to meet more team members and improve the candidate experience. It gives them a compelling taste of what it would be like to work at the company, and decide if it’s an opportunity they truly want.
Based on surveys we’ve run with current OfferZen employees, 67% of our hires in the past year have listed the sim day as their favourite part of the hiring process.
Designing the sim day
Ultimately, you should design an overarching mission for the day that will get you and your team really excited about the candidate joining the team. You should tangibly be able to see the value they could add to your team.
Here’s an example of an OfferZen sim day mission for a designer role: Ideate and design a New Years’ advertisement campaign for developers wanting to find a job.
When designing the tasks you’ll give the candidate on the sim day, be careful not to make it about ‘a day in the life’ of the role.
Rather, design a task that will help you determine if the candidate meets each of the most important competencies on your scorecard. Read our guide on how to put together a scorecard here!
For example, for the designer role, a competency and related sim day task might look as follows:
- Scorecard competency: Exceptional verbal and written communication skills.
- Sim day task: Ask them to present their design concepts as slides to the team.
More pro tips for a sim day
- Design a sim day that is appropriate for the seniority of the role. Less junior roles typically need less people involved, whereas a senior role might require more team members.
- Be careful not to overwhelm the candidate with the number of people present. Make sure every person absolutely has to be there.
- If take-home tasks are part of your hiring process, connect the two so that the homework task can act as preparation for the sim day.
- Tackle any red flags and other issues head on.
- Make note if the candidate has any gaps in their skills or learning. If you hire them, this can be used to develop their training and growth plan!
- Candidates dedicate a significant amount of time to attend a sim day. A good way to thank them is by sending the candidate a gift, or arranging coffee or lunch as part of the day. This goes a long way to create a lasting positive impression of your company.
How long should a sim day be?
At OfferZen, we used to run sim days for the full length of a day — we’ve now shortened this to a half-day. While a full day might still be necessary to assess your most senior roles, 4 to 5 hours is sufficient time to run sim days for the majority of roles in our experience.
A full day runs the risk of exhausting the candidate and your team. It’s also costly as a business to dedicate a whole day of your team’s time to it. However, we’ve found it crucial to keep sim days as part of our hiring process to make the final hiring decision.
A shortened sim day means you have to carefully define which skills you test throughout your hiring process.
Instead of putting too much weight on testing everything on the sim day, we reserve it for testing the key skills for the role. This helps make the sim day more focused and efficient.
A checklist for preparing your sim day
Here are the most important tasks that should be part of your checklist when setting up a sim day, whether you’re running it in-person or remotely.
Be sure to clarify roles and responsibilities for these tasks within your hiring team when you first decide to hire for this role. If you are running your own process, ensure that you appoint someone to coordinate all of these tasks.
1 week before:
- Assign an internal owner of the sim day.
- Design the sim day tasks, and get feedback from your team.
- Schedule all the relevant meetings — including a team lunch or coffee!
- Send all prep to the candidate (you can use our template!).
- Arrange access to all tools and systems the candidate will be using.
- Make the necessary travel arrangements such as flights, if needed for an in-person sim day.
2-3 days before
- Send your team members any prep they need to do for the sim day.
- Send the candidate any formal documentation that needs to be signed, such as NDAs.
- Arrange delivery of a small gift for the candidate to thank them for their time.
1 day before
- Check if the candidate has any questions and is ready for the sim day!
- If you’re running an in-person sim day, check that all equipment such as their laptop and monitor is set-up and charged.
On the day
- Order lunch/coffee & cake for the candidate at least 30 minutes in advance.
- Double-check that there are no technical issues and the candidate can log onto everything they need.
- Send copies of the scorecard to your hiring team.
After the day
- Arrange any next steps with the candidate, such as doing reference checks.
- Get feedback from your hiring team on the sim day, and have everyone score the candidate on their performance (see below!).
Evaluating a sim day
It’s the big moment: time to decide if you’re going to make the leap and hire this candidate!
This step is critically important — don’t be tempted to simply have a chat about your thoughts from the day with your team. Work through your scorecard line by line to see if the person is a good fit for the role.
Go through each of the role’s competencies and determine to what extent the candidate demonstrated this quality during the course of the sim day. Against each competency put a tick (demonstrated it clearly), a question mark (demonstrated it to a point) or a cross (did not demonstrate it or demonstrated a lack of it)
Once you have gone through all the competencies, go back to each of the question marks. Think about what else you need to know or see to be comfortable that this person has this competency.
If you have any crosses (i.e. the person demonstrated that they did not have this competency), then you need to very seriously consider if the candidate is the right person for the role.
If you created a really strong scorecard with each of the competencies you listed as a requirement for the role, and you feel that the candidate is not demonstrating a particular quality, you need to have a strong argument for why they are still the right person for the role.
Use the following additional heuristics to help you make the call:
Checklist for when to hire
- When it is for strengths, not lack of weakness.
- You feel that the candidate can do the job better (or at least as well as) anyone else on the team.
- You would be happy to have the candidate on your team when playing a board game.
- You were excited that the candidate was coming for a simulation day.
- You can “go to war” with this person at your side, being able to depend on them to execute high-stakes tasks.
- Having this person in your team will maintain or raise the average calibre in your team.
Checklist for when not to hire
- If you find yourself deliberating at length and are trying to find reasons to hire someone.
- If you’re 50/50 on someone. You should feel fairly confident in hiring them, rather than feeling uneasy.
Regardless of the outcome, you should always have a debrief session with the candidate to check how they are feeling, any questions they have, and give them your overall feedback of the day.
If you reject a candidate after a sim day, it’s best to have a detailed email or phone call to share the context of your decision.
Ultimately, adding a sim day to your hiring process will give you the best chance of determining whether you’re making a great hiring decision. We hope this guide helps you on your way to designing an awesome sim day for your next role!
- The Ultimate Developer Hiring Guide. This guide covers every aspect of the tech hiring process, from sending the first message, to interviewing and onboarding developers.
- How to Create a Scorecard for a New Role
- 3 Tips to Write an Effective Job Spec
- Tech Hiring 101: Writing the First Message to a Candidate
- How Absa Africa Hires Developers: A Look Into Group Assessment Days
Thanks to OfferZen team members Sharon Mwamanda and Deborah Watt, who contributed to this article.