I think a “try before you buy” arrangement is a great way for companies to assess a candidate’s capability and for a candidate to prove his/her value and decide whether the job is a good fit. In a try before you buy arrangement the candidate begins working for the employer before an agreement is reached.
Benefits to candidate
- Proof: Allows the candidate to concretely prove how much they can contribute to the company. Resumes and job interviews are only so effective – proof is much more telling. I think this is especially important for someone changing career paths – their background might not do their independent and natural skill-set justice.
- Culture: Allows the candidate to see if they like the team and company culture.
- Work: Allows the candidate to see if they will enjoy their role
Potential downsides to candidate
- Time: Time spent working for free could be spent on other opportunities. This would be especially frustrating if he/she does not get hired. Employer could offer small payment for work completed to compensate.
- Reputation: Candidate may seem desperate. To avoid this, read some of my logistical recommendations below.
- Abuse/Commitment: Candidate may be at risk of being taken advantage of (used for free work). Avoid this by making sure it’s a reputable company, that they’re serious about hiring someone full-time and that you meet the description of someone that they would actually consider hiring.
Benefits to employer
- Proof: I can’t think of a better way to assess a candidate’s capabilities than to have him/her do the job.
- Dedication: Employer can be confident that the candidate is truly dedicated to the company and passionate about the opportunity if they’re willing start adding value to the company before a formal agreement is reached.
- Culture: Employer can determine whether the candidate is a good cultural fit.
Potential downsides to employer
- Turnover: Allocating time and giving responsibility to someone who doesn’t end up joining the company can be time consuming.
- Poaching: By waiting to sign the employee, the candidate could accept a role with a different company before the company can sign him/her.
To make sure the arrangement is mutually beneficial, I offer the following recommendations:
- Don’t make it a full-time commitment. It’s unreasonable to ask the candidate to drop everything else he/she is working on. Hours should be flexible if the candidate has a full-time job.
- Discuss what an agreement might look like should the trial period go well. You don’t want to get into a situation where it’s time to come to reach an employment offer and the two sides can’t agree the terms.
- Lay out the conditions of the trial period ahead of time – ie. duration, expectations, etc.
- Have regular performance reviews.
- Make sure employer and candidate truly believe it will be a good fit. Do a bit of resume and job interview stuff ahead of time.
I think working for free is a great way for a candidate to prove how much value he/she can add and I can’t think of a better way for an employer to assess a candidate. I hope and think that we will see this type of arrangement happen more and more.