How to Hire for Chat and Email Writing Skills
Illustration by Lisa Engler

When it comes to hiring the best possible talent for your team, creating a more in-depth hiring process can be the difference between a stellar CSAT and a disappointed customer. Integrating customer service projects into your interview process can be a great way to uncover hidden talent that otherwise wouldn't shine through during a typical interview process. 

Beyond that, it allows you to see how individuals perform in the role itself instead of asking hypothetical questions. However, there are also drawbacks to including job interview assignments. In this blog post, we'll break down both.

The benefits of projects when hiring in customer service

While you may be able to find the best candidate for your team using traditional interview methods, the extra edge provided by interview projects and assignments could be the difference between good and great. Here are a few specific benefits that projects can add.

1. Weed out “good interviewers”

Candidates can train themselves to be excellent interviewers, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to success in the support queue. While you can ask for specific examples and anecdotes, when you ask candidates to complete a project or assignment during their interview process, they can show you proof of their good work in practice. 

2. Differentiate between closely matched candidates

Any hiring manager knows how difficult it can be to decide between two applicants who closely match each other. In these cases, a project can act as somewhat of a tiebreaker. Even when two candidates are very similar in experience and interview style, you can find the candidate that matches your support team's style and needs more closely when you have a project to review.

3. Provide deeper opportunities of expression for your candidates

When reviewing a candidate's projects or assignments, you can have more candid conversations and get to know them better than you would normally. You get the opportunity to understand the intrinsic motivations that a candidate has outside of the direct world of support, and you get to know them better as a human being.

4. Understand their philosophies around support

Reviewing a project can give you deeper insight into how someone actually interacts as a support agent, which may reveal how they think about support as a whole. Understanding how they feel about constructive insights from customers, handling angry responses, and even offering refunds can give you more of an understanding into whether they would fit in with the rest of your team.

The pitfalls of interview projects

It can seem like interview projects are a magic fix for common interview problems, but there are still issues teams need to think through before implementing them. For all the benefits, there are also considerations to take into account to ensure that you are implementing this process well.

1. You must pay them for their time

Depending on the depth and length of the project or assignment you give to your candidates, you should offer compensation for their time and effort. This is especially true if you could use their work for your support team — like creating a case study or answering an actual ticket in your queue.

2. Consider the impact on diversity and equity

Time is not an equal resource for all folks. Candidates who are single parents or working multiple jobs, for instance, will not be able to complete your projects in as timely a manner as those with fewer commitments. Consider offering more time to complete the project or limiting the amount of time a project takes to work against the time inequity created by a project.

3. Understand that people may pause the interview process

Some candidates may decline to participate in a customer support job interview project if offered. There are plenty of reasons someone may refuse beyond the ones already listed. Consider these options and the potential for losing out on excellent candidates before building out the project into your interview process.

4. Account for the spread in the interview timeline

Adding an assignment will expand your timeline, especially if you are accounting for issues to compensate for equity and inclusion. If you decide to move forward with including a project in your interview process, start your hiring process slightly earlier to make up for the time you may lose. This way you can avoid rushing individuals through the interview process and still include the project if it feels important to your team.

Key elements of an effective hiring project

The core components of your hiring project will change depending on the type of position you are hiring for. For instance, you'd ask for a different kind of assignment from a person working in support operations than from someone on the front line of your support team. That said, there are a few key elements that are integral to the success of any project. When developing a project, make sure that it:

  • Tests for skills that they will need in the role.

  • Introduces fundamental concepts of the product to gauge familiarity and excitement.

  • Opens opportunities for conversation and questions from the interviewer.

  • Has flexibility to account for neurodivergence, time availability, etc. 

Include these elements in every interview project you create, no matter what role you design it for.

5 example project ideas for customer service roles

There are several ways to implement support projects during the interview process, ranging from in-depth involvement in the queue to some light demonstrative work. Here are a few examples you may want to consider.

1. Hire them contractually for a few days

Some companies choose to have the last step of the interview be working in the support queue for a day or two. The candidate is paid an hourly rate for a limited number of hours as the contract goes. This has two benefits: First, the company can see how the candidate performs in the role. Second, the candidate can see what the day-to-day work looks like and whether it will fit their needs.

During this time, the candidate has access to all base-level support tools and works alongside the rest of the team. At the end of the week(s), both the company and the team member make a mutual decision about whether they want to continue working together or not.

2. Have them write a help center article

A lower-stakes project you can enact during the interview process asks the candidate to write a help center article. If you don’t want to add the pressure of learning your product and writing in detail about it, some companies ask candidates to write about a process that most people would be familiar with, such as:

  • Making a drink.

  • Making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

  • Preparing toast.

  • Playing a card game that they enjoy.

  • Putting gas in a car.

  • Something else that is simple and they feel comfortable describing.

This project allows the candidate to share something they care about and explain their thinking process through writing documentation. It also allows you to see their writing style and how they respond to constructive insights and questions.

3. Offer a test

If you are hiring for a technical role, you can ask technical questions in a test to screen for potential candidates' aptitude. This test may be working with your product's API if you have one or solving questions in specific programming languages they would be working within in their day-to-day.

Tests are a great option, because they can be taken home and they generally take less time than some of the other options on this list. They can also be custom built to align with any particular skills you are trying to hire for. 

4. Create sample support requests

During the interview process, rather than adding an external project that candidates complete on their own time, some companies choose to create sample support requests that potential employees answer during the interview.

These should cover all of the different channels your team currently offers and include the types of inquiries they would be working on regularly. For instance, if you provide chat, social, and email, you should include examples from those channels. Look at the conversations you currently have in each channel, and create examples that indicate the regular types of inquiries.

5. Ask them to prepare a presentation

For more proactive, customer-facing roles, presentations are often a large part of candidates' work. A typical interview project is creating a presentation showing their delivery and information organization skills. 

For instance, if your new team member will be working in a customer success-adjacent role, they may be tasked with creating a kick-off call presentation. If you want to see how they do with presenting, ask them to create a presentation on a topic similar to the ones listed in the "write a help center article" project. 

This project gives you an excellent opportunity to see how they respond to questions on the fly, ask about their preparation process, and see how polished they are when presenting.

Interviewing is a science

As you move forward in your interviewing journey, remember to test and iterate on your processes constantly. Whether you are just starting to offer interview projects for candidates or have been doing so already, begin by identifying what you are trying to improve. 

Once you understand what needs to be improved, you'll be able to make informed decisions on the processes that need to shift or be added. Different types of projects will provide different insights into your potential candidates.

Always make shifts with equity, inclusion, and the end experience of your candidates in mind. Whatever you put in place during the interview process will set the stage for their experiences after they are hired.

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