Skip navigation

 Michael Schrage, a research fellow at MIT Sloan School’s Center for Digital Business, is the author of Serious Play and the forthcoming Getting Beyond Ideas.

Thursday May 10, 20

Resumes are dead. Interviews are largely ineffectual. Linked-In is good. Portfolios are useful.

But projects are the real future of hiring, especially knowledge working hiring. No matter how wonderful your references or how well you do on those too-clever-by-half Microsoft/Google brainteasers, serious firms will increasingly ask serious candidates to do serious work in order to get a serious job offer. Call them “projeclications” or “applijects.”

World-class talent will engage in bespoke real-world projects testing their abilities to deliver real value on their own and with others. Forget the “What’s Your Greatest Weakness?” interrogatory genre; the real question will be how well candidates can rise to the “appliject” challenge and help redesign a social media campaign, document a tricky bit of software, edit a Keynote presentation, produce a webinar or peer review a CAD layout for a contract Chinese manufacturer.

Exploitive? Perhaps. But most organizations have learned the hard way that no amount of interviewing, reference checking and/or psychological testing is a substitute for actually working with a candidate on a real project.

I know advertising agencies that have an iron-clad, inviolable rule that they will only hire creatives who have successfully done freelance work with an account team. Similarly, a fast-growing Web 2.0 “software as a service” company doesn’t waste its time asking coding candidates trick “Python” questions during job interviews; they have potential hires participate in at least two “code reviews” to see what kinds of contributors, collaborators and critics they might be.

Yes, candidates must sign NDAs. Yes, sometimes these sessions effectively pit a couple or three candidates against each other. But there’s nothing fake or artificial about the value they’re expected to offer. These organizations treat hiring as part of their on-boarding process. Hiring becomes more holistic rather than “over the wall.”

More importantly, everyone in the enterprise now “gets” that people only get hired if and only if they deliver something above and beyond a decent track record and social graph. Ethically, the most interesting behavior I’ve observed is that firms exploring “projeclication” hires aren’t asking for free labor. They’re paying below-market rates for their candidate’s insights and efforts.

If I were a 20-something coder or a forty-something marketer, I’d undeniably have mixed feelings about giving my best efforts for discount compensation. That said, it’s worth something to know what it’s like to really work with one’s colleagues on a real project as opposed to the all-too-misleading charade of iterative interviews.

To my mind, this approach is an order of magnitude more ethical than the “free” and unpaid internship infrastructure that has gotten so out of control in so many industries. But just as many organizations have grown more skillful conducting Skyped interviews and using web-based quizzes and questionnaires as qualifying screens for candidates, my bet is we’ll soon see new genres of project-based hiring shape enterprise human capital portfolios.

Facebook and Linked-In are obvious venues for “app-sourced” — that’s “app” as in applicant, not application— business project design. Increasingly, project leaders will design milestones and metrics that make incorporating job candidates into the process more seamless and natural. College graduates, MBAs and older job candidates will learn how to sniff out which “applijects” are genuine invitations to success and which ones are sleazy bids for cheap labor. In the same way job candidates learn how to interview well, they’ll get the skills to “appliject” well because they understand how to optimize their influence and impact within the constraints of the project design.

Ultimately, the reason why I’m confident that “projects are the new job interviews” is not simply because I’m observing a nascent trend but because this appears to be a more efficient and effective mechanism for companies and candidates to gain the true measure of each other. Designing great applijects and projeclications will be a craft and art. The most successful utilizers will quickly be copied.

 Why? Because the brightest and most talented people typically like having real-world opportunities to shine and succeed. Should your next hire come from a great set of interviews and references? Or from knocking your socks off on a project?



  1. This is why UCFs College of Business recently changed its approach to internships from a traditional “hours worked” model into a project based “work experience” model. It gives the employer an opportunity to evaluate the student’s work and the student something tangible that they can highlight on their resume. Even if the opportunity doesn’t result in a hire, the student gets something valuable from the experience; an academic experience and a tangible accomplishment. It also puts a responsibility on the employer to come up with something real and meaningful for the student to accomplish. As you note, there are some cheap folks out there who see student labor as a free way to staff administrative and clerical positions. Excellent post!

  2. I like this idea. Job interviews can be so awkward and unnatural. Isn’t how a person is able to perform the tasks expected of them a better guage of how they will do in the job, rather than how they answer questions they have been asked 100 times? And this process gives introverts, who frequently turn out to be top performers, a fighting chance. Thanks for the thought-provoking post!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: