Skip ahead to:
- Step 1: Brainstorm key tasks for this role
- Step 2: Identify skills required to succeed in each task
- Step 3: Reframe key tasks into challenging problems
- Step 4: Create review guides to assess answers objectively
Effective sift questions aim to assess candidates on the core, day-to-day problems one would face in the role for which you're hiring. We also refer to these as work sample questions. They should be part of the core make-up of your sift and interview assessments.
Step 1: Brainstorm key tasks for this role
Schedule a meeting with 1-2 people closest to the role, brainstorm the key tasks you expect the successful candidate to demonstrate for this role. This will help strengthen all your assessment stages if you have a set of key tasks you can focus on, as candidates will be assessed more consistently and objectively if you adhere to the same guiding rule, and will ultimately be your best predictor of candidates doing the actual job.
Task: Collaborate with your colleagues to define what success looks like in the first 6 and 12 months of this role. Together, write a list of key tasks you expect them to achieve.
A Product Manager is expected to complete these key tasks on a day-to-day basis:
- Understanding principles of product development (If your team has tight resources, these principles might operate differently)
- Prioritising tasks across a team with tight deadlines
- Developing short and long term product strategies
- Collaborating cross-functionally
- Identifying and interpreting key metrics
Step 2: Identify skills required to succeed in each task
With this set of core tasks in mind, write another list defining the skills, values and behaviorus you expect them to demonstrate. Be sparing, select 6-8 so that your expectations of candidates are fair and realistic.
- 🛠 Technical skills are specific requirements for a particular role, over another
- 🗣 Communication skills: the skills your team members need to have to be able to work together and to work effectively
- 🌟 Values: the characteristics your team has that shapes your organisation's culture
Task: Prioritising tasks across a team with tight deadlines Skills: prioritisation, teamwork, organisation, communication
Task: Understanding principles of product development Skills: product passion, growth mindset, data analysis, prioritisation
Step 3: Reframe key tasks into challenging problems
Using the tasks and skills you've outlined, brainstorm challenging problems in which they would need to excel in these tasks and demonstrate these skills. Reframe these problems into questions. This will vary depending on the role, here are some examples across sectors:
- Sales: write a convincing email to a lead that has gone cold
- Developer: re-structure a sample of code for better team use
- HR Lead: write an email to a member of staff about an issue around pay
- Content: write engaging copy to promote a premium feature on the website
For a strong assessment, your sift question should: - ask the candidate to do something, not describe doing it. Depending on the role, this might be more applicable at interview stage. For example, you can role-play a design task with a UX Designer in an interview, or get a Sales Manager to pitch your organisation's product back to your team.
focus on the candidate's ability, not a defined past experience. Ask "How would you...", rather than "When have you..." or "Tell us about a time when...".
define a specific scenario that doesn't require a candidate to have specific knowledge of your organisation's internal processes.
describe a realistic and reasonable scenario - you're not looking for a unicorn! The task should also be achievable within a reasonable timeframe, so candidates with less time e.g. single mothers, aren't unfairly disadvantaged when trying to apply.
Following our example for the Product Manager role:
- The dev team has been working towards the big release of a new tool. The planned release date is end of day tomorrow, but there are a number of bugs in it. What would you do?
Skills tested: organisation, prioritisation, attention to detail, communication
- How would you go about designing a ride-sharing app for people with a visual impairment? (note: we're interested in the process and your approach, not features)
Skills tested: data analysis, product passion, organisation, prioritisation
Step 4: Create review guides to assess answers objectively
Define what a poor, average and great answer would like for each of these problems. You can label these as 1 star, 3 star and 5 stars answers, so they better correlate with the scoring bar reviewers use when assessing answers.