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A work sample is defined as:

A well-defined work activity involving tasks, materials, and tools which are identical or similar to those in an actual job or cluster of jobs. It is used to assess an individual’s vocational aptitude, worker characteristics, and vocational interests (Task Force#7, Vocational Evaluation Project). (Power, 1991, p. 123)

Basically what this means is that an evaluation is conducted, usually in a rehabilitation center, using realistic work processes to evaluate how a consumer functions on important job duties. These duties could relate to a specific job or a cluster of jobs. Rehabilitation facilities should be very familiar with the local job market and depend heavily on local job analyses to ensure that criteria tested are realistic to the local job market. This would ensure that realistic job referrals are available when having a feedback meeting with consumer and VR counselor. Guidelines to the effective use of work samples include:

  • Standardized manual to ensure that there are uniform procedures for administration, utilization, and interpretation.
  • Prior to beginning a work sample instructions should be given to the client. These instructions should be given in a standardized way to evaluate how successful the client is in receiving, understanding, and following them. If the client is unsuccessful at completing the task using these standardized instructions then the evaluator will have an opportunity to learn what type of instructions can be utilized to contribute to the success of the client in employment training situations.
  • Once the client has completed the work sample then their performance will be measured. When measuring a client’s work performance the evaluator must look at the entire picture. Not only evaluate how well the client performed the job tasks but also how well the client adapted to use of tools and/or equipment, physical stamina, ability to stay on task and maintain attention to job duties, and ability to accept criticism. These are behaviors that must be evaluated because a person may be very successful at carrying out job duties but if they are unable to stay on task or accept feedback then their success will be short lived.
  • Lastly, a feedback meeting is essential with the client and the VR counselor. It’s important that the client understand what the benefits are from having a work sample evaluation. The client can only be expected to improve or make realistic choices about job goals by having valid and reliable information about how their skills and abilities match potential jobs.

Work samples can be an important and useful tool to measuring ones success on potential employment choices. This is true when they are done appropriately by utilizing information from the labor market in the surrounding area. If work samples are comprised simply of tasks such as counting mailing labels then that does not provide realistic data because it may not reflect true job functions in that labor market. Also, ensuring that work samples are standardized so that data collected can be proven to be valid and reliable is essential in predicting a client’s success in the labor market.


Power, P. (1991). A guide to vocational assessment (2nd ed.). Texas: pro ed

Bolton, B., & Parker, R., (2008). Handbook of measurement and evaluation in rehabilitation (4th ed.). Texas: pro ed