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5 Smart Tips for Tackling a Challenge-Based Interview

Miriam Salpeter

Just when you thought you've heard it all when it comes to interviews, you need to start preparing for another type of evaluation. "Challenge-based interviews" are a trend among human resources professionals, according to Elli Sharef, co-founder of HireArt (www.hireart.com), a jobs marketplace that uses online challenge-based interviews to vet applicants.

What's a challenge-based interview? Typically, this refers to an interview where the employer requests the candidate to do a task similar to what they would need to do in their job. The goal is to see the candidate in action. For example, Sharef explains, "If a business is hiring an engineer, they may present a coding challenge to candidates, if they're hiring a social media manager, they may ask candidates to create compelling tweets. If it's an admin position, they may ask candidates to create a flight schedule and hunt down the best fares." She notes that employers using HireArt.com use video or text-based responses to evaluate candidates' abilities.

How prevalent are these types of interviews? HireArt has worked with about 100 companies, including Cisco and Airbnb. Candidates in a variety of fields should not be surprised to be asked to demonstrate their skills via a specific task.

So how should candidates prepare for this type of interview?

1. Do your research. An important practice for anyone preparing to interview, research can be especially important to perform well in a challenge-based interview. While you won't know what task you'll be asked to complete, you should try to anticipate the type of information the employer will want you to know. Your best source is the job description itself. Expect the challenge to be based on the types of skills the employer needs the successful applicant to demonstrate.

2. Focus on the output. During a challenge-based interview, employers will evaluate the professional deliverables you create. Sharef advises, "If the output of the challenge is a PowerPoint page, make sure it's formatted correctly. If you're asked to draft an email, use the correct protocols in the subject line and signature. Always watch your typos as they can easily make you seem sloppy." Employers who turn to this type of interview are looking for more than just a final product; they hope they can find the person who can get the job done better than anyone else. If that's you--your challenge is to make sure the employer knows it.

3. Show that you care. "Challenges are a way for an employer to determine if you're truly passionate about the company's mission," Sharef notes. She explains that one challenge asked candidates to role-play as if they were pitching a company to an investor. If candidates didn't seem enthusiastic, or came off as lackluster, they weren't likely to land an opportunity. On the other hand, those who demonstrated energy and enthusiasm in the video impressed employers with their interest. Sharef advises, "Show that you are not just good at what you do but that you enjoy it, too."

4. Don't waste everyone's time. Only do challenge-based interviews for companies you really care about. Use tools such as Glassdoor.com and LinkedIn to research organizations before you apply for the job to decide if the company would be a good fit for you. Make sure you have the necessary skills and expertise the employers require, otherwise you'll potentially be facing a challenge you're unprepared to complete as part of the interview.

5. Go the extra mile. Challenge-based interviews offer you a way to significantly distinguish yourself from other candidates. Companies who agree to this type of process offer candidates an opportunity to take that chance and run with it. Sharef says, "Find some way to stand out from the crowd. Think about what the rest of the applicants will be doing and, if you're really passionate about the job, try to go above and beyond. For example, we recently had a challenge in which candidates were asked to talk about how they would improve a specific product. One candidate stood out by doing significant amounts of research on the company and sending a thoughtful follow-up letter via snail mail to the employer."

As with all interviews, the more you know about the organization and the connections between what you offer and what they want, the more likely you are to perform well and win the job.

Miriam Salpeter is a job search and social media consultant, career coach, author, speaker, resume writer, and owner of Keppie Careers. She is author of Social Networking for Career Success and 100 Conversations for Career Success.

Miriam teaches job seekers and entrepreneurs how to incorporate social media tools along with traditional strategies to reach their goals.

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