For managers

The ultimate guide to running blue collar work trials

August 4, 2023
minute read

The ultimate guide to running blue collar work trials

While relevant to nearly all professions, this article is most useful for hourly staffing at blue collar industries.


Have you ever hired someone that had a perfect resume, aced the interviews, then showed up on the first day and had no idea what they were doing? Most hiring managers have at some point experienced this. Graduating with an event management diploma does not mean you can organize a successful trade show. Having a forklift certificate does not mean you can actually operate a forklift in a tight warehouse.

The traditional hiring process is insufficient

It turns out that the typical interview process is often insufficient in predicting whether someone would actually be good at doing the job. Resume screens are great for comparing prior work experience, education, or certifications, but tells you little about their expertise in required soft/hard skillsets. Screening calls and interviews give you information about how a potential employee presents themselves, their communication skills, and moderate insight into certain skills or tasks. Ultimately, these steps tell you if the candidate can “talk the talk”, but not if they can “walk the walk”.

So what do we do then?

Run a work trial.

What is a work trial?

A work trial, or job trial, is when a company brings a candidate in to work under the open role they applied for, for a fixed period of time, with the express objective of identifying the strength of the fit. The hypothesis is that:

The best way to tell if someone can do the job is to get them to do the job.

Work trials take anywhere from several weeks to several months long, and due to their fixed term nature, are generally structured as vendor-supplier contracts rather than full time employment.

When a worker starts a work trial, they’re onboarded, collaborate with the team, and are given standard tasks as if they’ve been hired. At the end of a work trial, management needs to make a decision on whether or not this candidate can success in the role, and provide an offer letter accordingly.

How to know if a work trial was a success?

The ideal work trial is one with clear, quantifiable KPIs to measure by the end of the term. For instance, if company XYZ were hiring an outbound phone sales representative and started a 1 month work trial with Betty, that metric could be [number of new customers closed]. Management would tell Betty prior to the work trial starting that her quota is

Common questions about work trials

What’s the difference between a work trial and a probation period?

The differences between a work trial and a probation period are subtle but important. It boils down to two key differences:

  1. During a probation period, a worker is hired on as an employee, and legally classify as an employee of the employer. During a work trial, a worker is classified as an independent contractor (or “Self Employed Individual” in Canada) working on a project for a fixed time period.
  2. In a probation period, the worker is hired by default, but may lose their position if requirements are not met. In a work trial, the worker is NOT hired by default, but may be offered a long term position if requirements are met.

How do these differences impact your hiring strategy? It comes down to how confident you are in a particular candidate’s qualifications. If you are extremely confident that an applicant is the right fit, hire them and put them on a probation period. If you think they have potential, but you aren’t quite sure, put them on a work trial for a couple of weeks with a strict deadline and clear metrics to meet in order to obtain an offer letter.

Legality of work trials

While unpaid trials and unpaid internships are legal in the US, any work performed in Canada that would normally be paid cannot legally be performed unpaid, including with the voluntary permission of the applicant. As a result, unpaid trials are illegal in Canada.

The easiest way to legally structure a work trial is as a contractor-client agreement, instead of an employer-employee relationship. Posting trial shifts on Airwork implicitly complies with regional work trial regulations, but if you're looking for a template contract, email us at and we'll be happy to send over a copy!

How much to pay during a work trial?

We recommend hiring managers pay applicants slightly less than or equivalent to the hourly rate the job is posted for. The benefot of paying slightly less ($1/hr - $4/hr less) is that workers have a pay bump to look forward to, and generally work harder to prove themselves. The benefit of paying the same rate as the posting is that it allows you to observe specifically how a worker behaves in under the compensation model they fall under long term.

We don't recommend paying more than the posted wage during a work trial. This demotivates applicants right as they sign the full time offer letter, as they'd be getting a pay decrease.

How long should a work trial last?

This depends a lot on what role and seniority you're hiring for. The general rule is:

A work trial should last the minimal amount of time required to gain 95% confidence in your hiring decision.

Suppose you run a traditional recruitment process with traditional interviews, and by the end of it, you're 75% confident that someone is a good fit. This would be a good time to run a work trial. After 1 week, you're 99% confident this applicant is the right fit for the role, but not yet sure if they're a good cultural fit for your specific company culture. After another week, you're now 99% confident this applicant is a good fit for both the role, the team, and the company culture.

That means your work trials should last 2 weeks.

In general, work trials for blue collar roles last between 1 day to 2 months. The simpler the role, the shorter the trial.

Skills/qualities to look for during a work trial

Work trials are a very powerful way to observe signals and qualities of a worker you otherwise would not have visibility on. By shrinking the interview process and getting started on a work trial as soon as you possible, you’ll capture significantly wider and deeper signals than if you just ran more interviews. You’ll observe qualities like:

  1. Attention to detail
  2. Problem solving
  3. Reliability
  4. Work ethic
  5. Communication skills
  6. Responsiveness
  7. Conflict resolution skills
  8. Receptiveness to feedback

All of these are signals can only be observed under real work environments, like collaborating with teammates or dealing with high pressure demands. Prior to starting a work trial, it’s helpful to think through which skills are critical for the role, and to write down the explicit expectations of this skill to be observed during the work trial.

What are some limitations to work trials?

There are two major limitations to work trials:

  1. If a candidate is still employed at their previous job, they quit to do a work trial but don't get hired, they're now out of a job. As a result, any candidate currently still employed will be hard pressed to accept a work trial.
  2. High demand professionals will often get multiple offers from multiple companies in a short period of time. Requiring the candidate to conduct a work trial when they have 4 other offers is an easy way to get them to drop out of your pipeline.

In either case, the easiest solution is to run short 1 - 2 day trials, off-hour trials in the evenings, or weekend trials. While it would be nice to always have month long trials to really get the sense of what it's like working with someone, you can often infer a lot of the same signals within 10 - 20 hours of work interaction.

Structuring a work trial

There’s quite a bit of flexibility you can have when designing a work trial, but most generally follow some variation of this structure:

  1. Design or use your existing sourcing and interviewing funnel
  2. Design the last stage of your interviewing funnel to identify:
  3. Qualities the ideal candidate would have, ie: attention to detail, punctuality, communication, problem solving, conflict resolution, multitasking
  4. At the end of this funnel, we should have N top candidates

These N candidates are the ones you should run work trials for.

Note: run these work trials concurrently, not sequentially, as by the time you're finished running the first work trial, the candidate for the second work trial will have already found a new job.

How to structure a work trial

Airwork recommends the following abstracted structure/agenda for any work trial:

  1. Company and health and safety onboarding
  2. Training on Task A
  3. Perform Task A for X days
  4. Repeat Steps 2 and 3 for all tasks you want to observe the worker to do
  5. End work trial, evaluate performance on Tasks A, B, C, etc

An alternative to this agenda is to complete all of the training upfront:

  1. Company and health and safety onboarding
  2. Training on Task A, B, C, etc
  3. Perform and observe Tasks A, B, C, etc for X days
  4. End work trial, evaluate performance on Tasks A, B, C, etc

Onboarding usually takes between 1 hour to 1 day. How long it takes to train and perform tasks greatly depend on the task being trained/performed/observed. Each can range from several hours to several weeks. The more complex the task, the longer it naturally takes to train and perform safely. This is what determines the length of your work trial.

Evaluating the applicant

You generally don't need a strict rubric for evaluating potential team members during a work trial. In fact, usually, by halfway through the trial, you'll know. Unfit candidates will very quickly surface themselves when they're put to the test, and strong candidates will stand out consistently.

However, if you are looking for a template rubric, try something like this:

For each cell, use a number between 1 - 5, representing:

  1. Very weak
  2. Weak
  3. Neutral
  4. Strong
  5. Very strong

Then, assign a weight between 0.0 and 1.0 to each metric, ie: Task 1 is highly important, so it's weighted at 1.0, while Task 2 is a "nice to have", so it's weighted at 0.25. then

Running work trials on Airwork

At Airwork, we fully believe that work trials are superior to traditional interviews, and it is our mission to spread this philosophy to promote more efficient, accurate, and equitable hiring practices to companies across the world.

That’s why we built Airwork from day one to easily run trials. To get started:

Create an account on

Create a series of work trial shifts

Browse workers from the waitlist, and book in the top applicants

After a few trial shifts, you should be able to identify the best workers based on actual on-the-job performance. For the top performers, hit the “Favorite” button on the side menu of their profile

From now on, create shifts with the Shift Type set to “Private”. This will ensure only those top workers will be able to view and book your shifts.

That's it! Congratulations, you’ve successfully run your first work trial, and whether or not you found your perfect full time hires, rest assured that you just ran a comprehensive process to obtain the maximum amount of confidence possible on your hiring decision.

Gary Lin is the Founder & CEO of Airwork. He was a Forbes 30 Under 30 Toronto recipient, a YCombinator W22 alum, a former software engineer at Facebook, Yelp, and NVIDIA, and a University of Waterloo Computer Science graduate. By the time he was 23, he had experience working at 10 different tech companies, and started his first ventured-backed startup by age 25, raising capital from the co-founder of Uber, the co-founder of LinkedIn, and the founder of Gumroad.
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