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Work Samples and Simulations

Work sample tests require applicants to perform tasks or work activities that mirror the tasks employees perform on the job. For instance, applicants for an Administrative Assistant position may be asked to transcribe an internal memo using a word processor or to accurately file a stack of paperwork. Because work samples require applicants to perform tasks identical or highly similar to tasks from the job, great care is taken in trying to mimic the work environment to the greatest extent possible. For example, applicants to the Administrative Assistant position may perform tasks at a workstation highly similar, if not identical, to that found on the job. As with job knowledge tests, work sample tests should only be used in situations where applicants are expected to possess the required competencies upon entry into the position. If training on how to perform the work activities will be provided after selection, the work sample method may not be appropriate.

In addition to work samples, which attempt to re-create specific work scenarios, performance tests can also be designed to mirror very broad aspects of the job that may draw on fundamental competencies needed to perform a wide range of job tasks. For example, the Administrative Assistant position mentioned above may require individuals to routinely find specific materials to answer various questions posed by upset or hostile customers. Rather than re-create a large number of scenarios to cover a wide array of situations, employers may design a single exercise to measure the general competencies in question (e.g., an interactive role-play between the applicant and a well-trained actor that measures applicant's problem solving, communication, and interpersonal skills). Applicant scores on work sample tests are generated by trained assessors who observe the applicant's behavior and/or by measuring task outcomes (e.g., the degree of interpersonal skills demonstrated or the number of errors made in transcribing an internal memo).


  • Validity - Tasks applicants are asked to perform are very representative of the tasks performed on the job (i.e., they have a high degree of content validity) and performance on the tests relates highly to performance on the job (i.e., a high degree of criterion-related validity)
  • Face Validity/Applicant Reactions - Applicants often perceive work samples as being very fair (i.e., a high degree of face validity)
  • Administration Method - Often individual administration only (i.e., may not be suitable for group administrations); "Hands-on" performance by the applicant in a simulated work environment
  • Subgroup Differences - Generally little or no performance differences are found between men and women or applicants of different races, although the presence of gender and/or racial differences depends on the competencies being assessed
  • Development Costs - May be costly to develop, both in terms of time and money; May require periodic updating (e.g., if the task was using a typewriter to draft a document and the organization becomes fully automated such that documents are now drafted using word processors)
  • Administration Costs - May be time consuming and expensive to administer; Requires individuals to observe, and sometimes rate, applicant performance
  • Utility/ROI - High return on investment if you need applicants who possess specific, critical competencies upon entry into the job; If the competencies measured by the tests can be learned on the job or are not highly critical then the return on investment will be significantly lower
  • Common Uses - Best used for positions for which the measured competencies are highly critical for successful performance on the job, there is a limited number of applicants to test, and only a small number of prospective applicants are expected to have the needed competencies


(See Section VI for a summary of each article)

Campion, J. E. (1972). Work sampling for personnel selection. Journal of Applied Psychology, 56(1), 40-44.

Gilliland, S. W. (1995). Fairness from the applicants' perspective: Reactions to employee selection procedures. International Journal of Selection and Assessment, 3(1), 11-19.

Lance, C. E., Johnson, C. D., Douthitt, S. S., Bennett, W., & Harville, D. L. (2000). Good news: Work sample administrators' global performance judgments are (about) as valid as we've suspected. Human Performance, 13(3), 253-277.

Robertson, I. T. & Kandola, R. S. (1982). Work sample tests: Validity, adverse impact and applicant reaction. Journal of Occupational Psychology, 55(3), 171-183.

Schmidt, F. L. & Hunter, J. E. (1998). The validity and utility of selection methods in personnel psychology: Practical and theoretical implications of 85 years of research findings. Psychological Bulletin, 124(2), 262-274.

The Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) website contains information on Work Samples and Situations.

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