Work Samples and Simulations 

What better way to assess an applicants job potential than to actually have them complete a portion of the work they will be doing? In addition to more traditional testing methods (e.g., cognitive tests, personality questionnaires, etc.), many organizations include work samples or simulations in their decision-making processes. 

Such exercises are carefully constructed to simulate on-the-job situations. This type of exercise can range from something as simple as having the candidate design and deliver a presentation (to assess presentation skills for a training position) to having candidates complete an elaborate, highly structured computerized simulation (to be used to assess ones ability to operate expensive, potentially dangerous equipment).  Two common simulations are the In-Basket exercise and the Role-Play.   

In-Basket Exercises  

In-Basket exercises are typically designed to simulate the administrative tasks of a job.  In the typical In-Basket, the test taker is given background information on either the actual organization or a fictitious company and is asked to assume a specific role in the organization.  The test taker is often asked to respond to letters, memos, e-mails, requests, personnel issues, and so forth, in a given amount of time. A time limit may be imposed in order to simulate the time pressure experienced in many jobs.  In-Basket exercises are usually designed to assess the candidates ability to manage multiple tasks, prioritize and delegate work, and analyze information quickly.  In-Basket exercises may be administered via paper-and-pencil methods or via computer.  Scoring of In-Baskets varies considerably, with some more easily scored via computerized templates and others requiring careful review by a trained evaluator.  


Role-Play exercises are designed to simulate the interpersonal challenges faced when working with others. In the typical role-play, the candidate is given background information regarding the scenario and asked to play a particular role (e.g., team leader, customer service representative). During the exercise, he or she interacts directly with a trained role-player (actor).   This actor often plays the role of a subordinate, coworker, or customer and responds to the candidate according to a script. Role-Play exercises are usually designed to assess the candidates communication and interpersonal skills.  Performance may be observed by a trained evaluator, or may be videotaped and evaluated at a later time.   

Keys to the Effective Use of Simulations 

There are many advantages to an employer in using work samples and simulations (see Types of Employee Tests section for a listing).  Decisions to use a work sample or simulation should be made with these considerations in mind.  Regardless of the type of exercise used, all simulations will be most effective if they 

  • Are based on thorough and accurate job information

  • Are constructed with a consideration of guidelines for quality test development

  • Are highly structured, so that all individuals are given the same opportunities, and all are evaluated on the same basis

  • Include some type of standardized rating scale to score responses

  • Include multiple raters where appropriate and possible