At DigitalMoon Learning Studios, a Norwalk, Conn., company that conducts Macintosh training, prospective trainers and salespeople need more than good interviewing skills and glowing references. "We're hiring people for their ability to get up in front of six people they don't know and present material," says CEO David Knise. So before the company makes a final hiring decision, Knise puts candidates on the hot seat by requiring them to demonstrate their skills.

Knise asks job candidates to make an hour-long presentation to his seven-member staff on any topic other than computers. "Because we're computer people, we'd focus too much on whether what they say is right or wrong, and not on their ability to teach," he explains. A report on the solar system was given a thumbs-up, as was a presentation on the instruments in an orchestra. Attempts to teach Italian, in-line skating, and math were deemed unsuccessful.

"We see how applicants organize their thoughts, if they've given themselves enough time to cover the material, and if they have overall command of a classroom," says Knise. He also notes how candidates react to disruptive participants and whether they appear to be focusing on him during their talk. "The more confident people don't play to me as much," he says. The success of this auditioning strategy can be seen in the high marks DigitalMoon's trainers generally receive on written evaluations from customers.

Knise's approach focuses on job candidates' presentation skills, but you can also develop auditioning techniques to test other types of skills. For example, Sean McEwen, chairman and CEO of TriTech Software Systems, a San Diego-based company that produces dispatching systems and software for the public safety industry, needs to assess the abilities of technical writers before hiring them. But he has never put much stock in writing samples because he knows that candidates will simply supply one or two of their best efforts. So McEwen gives an assignment to prospects who want a job writing manuals at his company. Go home tonight, he tells recruits, and write a manual about hand washing. "It's something so basic; it's something we all know how to do," explains McEwen. "And we're all experts on judging the quality of the manual. I could give it to the person who answers the phones, and she'd have a valid opinion of it."

McEwen must be doing something right. TriTech Software Systems has grown so quickly that it made the 1998 Inc. 500 list of fastest-growing privately held U.S. businesses. In 1993, 10 years after its founding, the company had sales of more than $1 million. By 1999, sales were expected to grow to $19 million.