employer told me to write 15-20 short essays before they’ll even interview me

A reader writes:

I applied for a job on a company’s website a few weeks ago. I received an email from HR at 3:30PM on Friday afternoon acknowledging my application and asking me to respond to a set of pre-screening questions. The email asked that I provide my responses within 48 hours.

Does this mean they were due on Sunday afternoon, or Tuesday afternoon?

If it helps: these questions were not Yes/No; there were 15-20 of them and they required narrative answers. (For example, one of the questions was: “Describe the biggest change management effort you’ve had to engage in to implement one of your projects. Why was it big? What was the context? What did you have to do, and what as the result?”)

I would take that at face value and interpret it as meaning Sunday afternoon.

But it’s a ridiculous request. First, it’s pretty out of line to just command you to give up their weekend, especially without having even talked to you to confirm that it’s possible on your end. And it’s incredibly inconsiderate to ask you to write out lengthy responses to complex questions that are better suited for an actual conversation in an interview.

And 15-20 of them?!

They’re asking you to spend a significant amount of your time in order to save time on their end, but this just isn’t a reasonable request at all. Maybe one or two of these questions, but absolutely not anywhere near the number they’ve asked for.

It’s reasonable and in fact smart for employers to ask candidates to provide short work samples so that they can see people’s work in action. But that should be done thoughtfully, with consideration for candidates’ time. Moreover, the time investment they ask from you should match up with the time investment they’ve made on their end. When they haven’t even interviewed you yet, they should keep the burden on you very light — like an existing work sample or an exercise that won’t take longer than half an hour.

They haven’t done that here. And not only that, but this isn’t even something like a short demonstration of your work or a test or another exercise that makes sense to have you do on your own. This is something that would normally be done via conversation in an interview, but they’re not willing to invest the time to make that happen yet … even though they’re apparently quite willing to ask you to spend your weekend writing 15-20 short essays.


{ 228 comments… read them below }

  1. Kate M*

    So Alison, assuming that you were willing to give up the job/weren’t desperate, would you do it? And if not, would you tell them why you’re withdrawing? What would that script look like?

    1. Mike C.*

      Personally, I would send them a link to this article. With any luck, they’ll register an account and comment in here. :)

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Wouldn’t do it. And I’d definitely say why I was withdrawing. I gave this sample script below: “I’d be glad to talk with you about all of these topics, but can’t realistically spend the several hours it would take to write out answers to so many questions before we’ve even had the chance to talk and determine if there’s mutual interest. If you’d like to jump on the phone, I’d be glad to but otherwise need to withdrawn from consideration.”

      1. Annoyed fundraiser*

        I had something similar happen to me recently in a fundraising job I applied to.

        Before they interviewed me, I was given 24 hours to fill out a buggy survey on big issues (think nature vs. nurture type questions about teaching children from low income backgrounds). The survey was supposed to have answers from 1 – 5 for how much you agree with the statements but the “3” option didn’t work.

        Once that was complete, they asked me for a video interview which they claimed would take “10 minutes”. It was also buggy & I couldn’t get itb to work on my computer, so I emailed HR to ask what to do. They sent me the questions they wanted answered and said I could email them the video files of me answering. There were 6 questions, all the type that this letter writer describes.

        I withdrew my application at that point.

        If they had asked me for a phone interview to answer the questions it would have been fine, but not recording video answers and lying about how much time it would take to record.

      2. stevenz*

        It’s not even several hours. It can be a lot more than that depending on the circumstances of the situation you’re describing. It could take me up to an hour to write each essay if they’re all like her example. (I am *very* particular about how I write these things. So for me it wouldn’t be feasible for me to complete that task in 48 hours, and it would be exhausting.

        The true folly of their request is, are they really going to *read* all of those? Of course not. They’re just being difficult because they can be. Not a good preview of the office culture.

        1. Emma*

          My assumption in this situation would be that they’re probably after a couple of paragraphs rather than a couple of pages – along the lines of a STAR answer you’d give in an interview.

          That said, one of the big organisations in my field does this, and it has put me off applying for roles with them on many occasions. The first time I answered ten of these things and they didn’t even bother to get back to me to let me know they wouldn’t progress my application – despite the fact that they have a fully automated online applications process which could easily be set up to send form rejection emails.

          The next time I considered applying for a role with them, they wanted me to write almost 40 such answers. I laughed at my computer, said “fuck that”, and moved on to the next advert on my list.

    3. CoveredInBees*

      Even if you’re desperate, you’d have to be facing-eviction level desperate to pursue a job so draped in red flags. In my last job hunt, I was desperate and still withdrew my application. I’ve never regretted that for a moment. If I’d taken the job, I probably would have done my best to continue job hunting or left when I couldn’t take their BS anymore, leaving me where I’d started with less mental health.

  2. UnCivilServant*

    They’re asking you to spend a significant amount of your time in order to save time on their end

    How would this even save time on their end, because they’d still have to read and evaluate the responses from who knows how many candidates. It seems like more work all around.

    1. Mel*

      It’s a screening tool. They can whittle down they’re pool significantly by spending a few minutes per candidate

      1. fposte*

        It’s going to take them quite a few minutes per candidate to read 15-20 paragraphs apiece with any consideration. My guess is that they glance at the first answer and toss the application if it doesn’t grab them, or only look if the resume grabs them.

        1. Mel*

          True. I usually ask one thought provoking question when I hire and frequently don’t get passed the 2nd sentence.

        2. UnCivilServant*

          My guess is that they glance at the first answer and toss the application if it doesn’t grab them, or only look if the resume grabs them

          That would make the whole thing even worse given the amount of effort being demanded of the applicants.

        3. Kiki*

          We usually ask about 3-4 questions, and about half of the applicants copy and paste the same answer into all the questions. So, those applicants don’t take very much time to read.

          1. Kiki*

            I’d like to add that, when I applied for my current job, I spent about 3 days responding to essay type questions (there were 4). Well worth it though — current job has a pension, great benefits, and my salary more than tripled in the past 10 years. Old job had a flat management structure, which meant that you had to fight for promotions and salary bumps, and I’m just not that good at that. So I guess those three days of my time (plus my friends doing document peer review for me) was a good investment of my time. More than four questions though, I would have been out.

            1. Sarah G.*

              Government job? I work for county government (Human Services), and all positions (even small promotions) require answers to several “supplemental questions” to several that take foreeeever to complete.

              1. Kiki*

                Yes, education. And it turns out, teachers (1) do not discriminate against women and (2) value education so my STEM BS degree/MS in VetMed still is valued though I actually do websites for them. SO much better than private engineering, where pretty much you had to have a beard to do well.

        4. Elsajeni*

          Yeah, my guess is that they’ll basically use the essay questions in lieu of phone screening — first pass is looking at resumes, second pass is looking at the essay answers of the “yes/maybe” pile. So I imagine it does save them some time — they don’t have to spend time setting up phone interviews, and they probably won’t feel obligated to spend as long on a good resume with bad essay answers as they would on a phone interview with someone who looked good on paper but is clearly a bad fit — but at the cost of being really inconsiderate to the applicant (which they may have thought about but decided they don’t care) and discouraging applicants who have other options (which I’m guessing they haven’t thought through).

            1. Purple Jello*

              Unless KimmieSue actually has the resume in her hot little hands and is waving it around.

        1. Sydney*

          Yeah this is ridiculous. It’s amazing the stupid things that employers do to candidates. Truly.

          Just read the resume and cover letter. Do a phone screen if you need to. Otherwise just interview people. You can ask questions then.

      2. Christine*

        I think they have a software package that they run the answers through and searches for particular words per question, as well as screens out responses with certain phrases, etc.

        It would be such a turn off to me for sure unless I was desperate. Maybe they are looking for desperate candidates. Hey, if they are willing to work hours on this, they have to be desperate; than they can low ball you on the salary. Also be concerned what else they think is acceptable, if they approach a prospective employee this way.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Nah, it’s really not likely to be so nefarious and premeditated. They’re just looking for ways to make things easier on themselves with zero regard for candidates, and they don’t know how to hire effectively.

    2. Leatherwings*

      Well it’s presumably faster than bringing people in and asking these questions in an interview format.
      And it probably cuts down on the number of applicants they actually consider because fewer people complete the exercise than originally apply.

      It’s still a bad idea, but that’s probably what they’re thinking.

      1. Anna*

        “Only the people who MOST want to work here will go through the process and those are the people we want!”


        1. Indie*

          Yeah, I feel like that is going to go mostly just give you people who are desperate for a job, or a new job. Which fairly or not, most of the best employees tend to already have one and might pass on this. (Sure there are exceptions where people lose their jobs due to lay offs etc, but most rockstars and your best candidates will likely already have a job)

          1. Leatherwings*

            Exactly. A former rockstar coworker of mine passed up an application like this because she was in a high-stress job and valued her time off. She was looking for something new, and I would even call her desperate for something new because of the stress. But even given that, she wasn’t willing to give up what limited free time she had to write a huge presentation prior to the interview process.

            She was a rockstar. She found another job three weeks later and the other company really missed out on an awesome candidate.

          2. Koko*

            I preach this to anyone who will listen. Playing stupid power games and making candidates jump through hoops ensures that you will drive away candidates with other options. And while it’s not a perfect correlation, candidates with more options tend to be better than candidates with fewer options.

            The big one I always cite is that nobody who is currently well-paid is even going to consider applying for a job that doesn’t list salary unless 1) they hate their current job enough to consider a pay cut if it came down to it, 2) your job opening is so sexy and desirable that they’d entertain the idea of a pay cut if it came down to it, or 3) some other external/non-performance-related factor will be separating them from their current job, like the company going under or relocating with a spouse.

            If your pay is crummy then I guess you have nothing to lose, but if you pay even standard market rate (let alone higher than market) that is an asset you need to be very clearly advertising. Not just “competitive salary” or “DOE” which only attracts people for whom salary isn’t terribly important.

            1. Colette*

              Do jobs in your field/location offen list pay ranges? In my experience, passing over applying for jobs because they don’t list a salary means you’re only looking for government jobs.

              1. Koko*

                It’s not nearly as common as it should be, but not unheard of. I work in the nonprofit world and I’d say maybe 1/3 list salary. But there’s a strong correlation between dysfunctional orgs that overwork and underpay their employees who don’t list salary range, and healthy orgs run like a proper business who treat their employees well and do list salary range.

                And in general, passing over applying for a job in any field means, “This doesn’t tempt me or seem worth my time.” If you’re unemployed or about to lose your job or just hate your job, you’ll cast a wider net. For me, I’m happily employed and making a good salary. It doesn’t matter if only 5% or even 1% of employers posted salary, because those are still the only 1% I’ll consider applying to. There’s just no incentive for me to spend time putting together an application and going through a phone interview only to find out that they pay 10% less than what I’m currently making when a pay cut is an absolute deal-breaker for me. I might see a posting on LinkedIn or another professional networking group that mildly interests me, but if I can’t figure out what it pays then I shrug and move on. That’s how a lot of happily employed people feel – not that they would never consider leaving their current job, but that they aren’t going to leave until someone makes it worth their while.

                1. Colette*

                  In my industry, the vast majority of employers don’t list salary ranges, but they don’t underpay as a rule – it’s just not the norm here. I completely agree that someone who is job hunting should only apply to jobs that offer what they need, but it’s important to recognize how to figure that out in your industry. And I’m getting off topic, so I will stop now.

              1. Stephanie*

                They mean competitive…with unemployment. Well, not even, because even states that pay not much in UI will give you at least $1000/mo.

              2. Stephanie*

                I’ll throw in “excellent benefits” as another phrase that’s become meaningless because a company will claim its health insurance is excellent, when in actuality it’s a high-decductible plan with a $5000 individual deductible or that its PTO policy is excellent when it consists of ten days sick and annual leave.

        2. Three Thousand*

          Yeah, I imagine the thinking behind this is you’ll only get serious, dedicated candidates who are willing to put in the time and effort, which reflects how serious they’ll be on the job. But in reality you’re more likely to get desperate people who think they have to put up with this or else.

          1. Christopher Tracy*

            Yup. I’m (finally) someone with options, and I would never do this. It sounds like more trouble than it’s worth.

      2. Jadelyn*

        It makes you wonder if they’ve ever heard of this nifty tool called phone interviews…

      3. irritable vowel*

        I feel like this kind of place is likely to just ask the same questions again in the in-person interview, thus making it doubly frustrating for the applicant.

        1. DaBlonde*

          I thought the exact same thing, and would be so annoyed if that were the case.
          I’d be tempted to ask for my questionnaire back so I could read it to them.

    3. Joseph*

      Yeah, really. Look at the sample question provided by OP:
      1. What was the change about?
      2. What was the context of the change?
      3. Why was it big?
      4. What did you have to do?
      5. What was the result?

      Even if you’re being extremely brief in each answer, you’re looking at a minimum of 8-10 sentences. That’s a couple minutes of reading. Then you multiply by the 15 questions and you’re easily looking at half an hour plus per candidate, maybe more.

      Shoot, in that amount of time, you could actually pick up the phone and do a quick phone screen and get a MUCH better read on the candidate than these essays.

    4. MashaKasha*

      I’m envisioning a program that scans the applicants’ essays and looks for key words. Quick and easy! Never mind the crappy end result.

      Yup, I’ve been in the corporate world too long, I know.

  3. Mel*

    I wouldn’t ask candidates to do this but how long would it actually take, an hour maybe? Unless you have a hard time articulating your thoughts.

    1. UnCivilServant*

      When composing written responses upon which potential employment could hinge, I’d give an awful lot of thought to my prose and selecting the responses. Simply because of the potential impact of a poor turn of phrase. That would be a substantial amount of time.

      1. Anna*

        I’m with you on this. If you’re concerned about getting the job, you’re going to spend a lot of time considering your responses, editing, making sure it’s exactly what you want to send in. And 15 to 20 questions will take a lot more than an hour, even if you are putting in a minimum of thought. It’s not a one line response.

      2. Leatherwings*

        +1. If I wanted the job enough to fill these out, I’m not going to put in minimal effort, I’m going to try my best and make sure my answers are strong. For 15 – 20 questions I might take 10 minutes minimum outlining, writing and editing the response. That’s at least two hours before the company has even expressed a desire to interview me – that’s way too much.

      3. Jadelyn*

        Same. I re-read and re-read and revise and revise and revise every CL I send, and doing that for 20+ essay answers would take me a full afternoon to be honest.

    2. Mike C.*

      Uh, three to four minutes a response, presuming that you have an automatic answer for each and every one? No way it would only take an hour.

      Even then, you’re not factoring the time that will be spent correcting and improving each and every one. Have you ever taken an untimed, open note exam before? They will take up each and every free moment you have.

      1. Not Karen*

        Yeah, this would take me several hours. Even without time spent thinking, correcting, and improving: Say you type at 90 wpm. This means 90 wpm * 60 min/hr = 5400 words in 1 hour, divided by 20 questions = 270 words per question. Is 270 enough words to answer complex questions like the one provided? Without stopping to think at all, constantly typing?

        1. stevenz*

          “Describe the biggest change management effort you’ve had to engage in to implement one of your projects. Why was it big? What was the context? What did you have to do, and what as the result?”)”

          What!? No way can a serious answer to a serious question be answered with non-stop typing. At least I hope not. 270 words comes to one page double spaced which isn’t a lot.

          It would take me at least a half hour to just outline the answer, and I don’t type at 90 words per minute. And what about eating? bathroom breaks? running for the Tylenol for the splitting headache? letting the dog out? No, it’s a crazy request.

          (I just looked at some of mine that I have done, which are similar in format. They run from 600 words to 760 words each. I spent hours on each one, and hours since in further refinements.)

      2. Anna*

        Side note: In college my grammar and linguistics final was take home. If we had a regular exam in class during our scheduled exam time it would have been limited to a test that could be completed in 2 hours. The take home exam took four times as long.

        So yeah. These things aren’t built for speed.

        1. KG, Ph.D.*

          I’m getting somewhat off topic here, but the most angry I’ve ever been at a professor was when we showed up to a final exam and surprise! It’s a take-home! I had specifically scheduled my studying and work schedule that week to account for a 2-hour in-class final exam, not an 8+ hour take-home exam. I’m a professor now, and with that comes a perspective and understanding of some of the stuff that annoyed me when I was a student. A surprise take-home final, though? Nope. Not even once. It’s super cruel.

          1. Victoria, Please*

            Good gosh-a-mighty!! That’s extraordinary. In my experience students ask several hundred times before the exam what it’s going to be like; how did he even get away with this?!

            1. Nighthawk*

              I adjunct on the side, and I’m always *painfully* clear about what my exams are going to be like. The time, format, and expected content are all communicated in writing ahead of time. It’s simply not fair to just tell students to “study everything”. That being said, my final exams are comprehensive, but they are suspiciously similar to the exams that were already given throughout the semester.

      3. Mel*

        I don’t know. Maybe that’s intentional. I have to write important complicated stuff as part of my job and I rarely have hours upon hours to do it. Maybe this is part of it.

        1. Leatherwings*

          Then they should incorporate it later in the interview process so candidates are sure the company is actually interested in hiring them AND that the person has a chance to ask basic questions about the job to determine their interest.

          Putting this test before the interview process has begun is inexcusable.

          1. anony*

            Actually…when I was trying to land a job at the Canadian federal government, if you were lucky, all you had to do was submit electronically your application with some yes/no questions.

            Others required in 100, 200 or once, in 500 words, or less, to answer anywhere from five to 20 questions outlining how you met the criterion outlined for the job. “Do you know MS Word? Describe in 200 words or less how you came to know Word. Do not say ” see resume.”” “Have you had experience assisting a manager? Describe in 200 words or less…”

            And that was to apply for the job.

            After that, if you made it through that screening, the next step was often the language test and after that, the one on one interviews. And you could not be in a hurry. It once took eight months from initial application to final No for a job.

            And you had to make sure to save frequently – after an hour of inactivity (typing away didn’t count as activity), the system would time out and if you had not saved, you lost it all. I used to copy/paste it into Word, work on it, copy paste my anwsers and finally submit.

            1. DaisyGrrl*

              The better ones will only have 3-5 questions like that and don’t forget, the 200 word max means maximum. As in, do not under any circumstances take more than 200 words to demonstrate how when and where you have acquired the skill.

              And honestly, if I’m reading through screening questions like that, I want to see 2-3 sentences, max. Eg. “For over two years in job x, I used MS Word to prepare and format letters for mass mailing, preparing memos, and other business documentation.” Boom. Done. (and yes, I have confirmed with several hiring managers in the Canadian federal government that this is really all they want to see)

              I fully agree that the job site sucks, though. If only it would let you save a bank of standard answers to these standard questions!

        2. Mike C.*

          But you’re paid for that. Expecting a candidate to do this is nuts.

          Even if they wanted to test this, they could ask 1-2 questions and give only a few minutes to perform it. Telling someone to use up this specific weekend without any notice is absolutely nuts.

        3. Colette*

          But they won’t know whether the candidate spent one hour or the full 48 hours, so it would be a poor way of evaluating how quickly the candidate could turn out quality work.

        4. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

          Eh…I hire technical writers and I can always tell who put time into their work and thought it through vs. who fired it off quickly without revising.

          The one example the OP gave was a fairly complex question that requires explaining the scenario and the outcome. If someone only took 3-4minutes to think about and type through an answer, it would be incredibly obvious.

        5. Charlotte Collins*

          That’s a completely different type of writing, though. (Former writing instructor here.) I could answer 15-20 questions about certain things in an hour, and you’d be so impressed with my sparkling wit and extensive knowledge that it would make your head spin. However, I’d definitely spend more time writing answers that are meant to convince someone to give me an interview. And I would spend more time editing, especially as I don’t know the preferences of the person/people who would be reading my answers.

        6. Christopher Tracy*

          That’s true, Mel. I too have one of those jobs – we’d literally get sued if we took hours upon hours to try and craft letters (because our workload would get backed up and we’d miss crucial deadlines set by state regulators).

    3. Shannon*

      This could easily take me 6-8 hours of dedicated writing. It’s not vomit on a page, it’s professional writing. That means double checking for errors and giving your answer extremely well considered thoughts. Given the sample question in the letter, these are easily 1-2 page essay questions.

    4. The Other Dawn*

      There’s no way this would take only an hour. If all of the questions look like the sample the OP sent in, it could take several hours. That one question is five parts!

    5. Snarkus Aurelius*

      Or job candidates could find someone to do all the work for them for a fee.

      As an employer, you’d never be the wiser.

      1. HR Jeanne*

        This is an excellent point. A phone interview is a much better tool at this point in the process.

    6. K.*

      No way answering 15-20 questions like the example the OP gave only takes an hour. If all of the questions are like that one, they require fairly complex responses. You can’t answer that one question in one or two sentences – you’d have to give background information on the project, explain the scope and size, and then talk about the results. That’s more than 3-4 minutes’ worth of writing, even if you write well. If writing isn’t your thing, it’s going to take even longer.

      And I have side-eyed companies that did NOT require samples or writing tests; I think companies should indeed require some proof that the person can do the job in question. But this is way, way beyond. I wouldn’t do it either.

    7. LiveAndLetDie*

      If you can finish this thing off in an hour, you either just happen to be in a serendipitous situation where you just happen to know good, thoughtful answers to all 15-20 essay questions off the top of your head, or you’re not putting much thought into the answers at all. I write for a living and I would want to dedicate more than an hour to something like this. Especially if “getting a job” is on the line.

    8. Ad Astra*

      I had a potential employer give me about 5 questions like this to answer in the course of the interview and it still took probably 45 minutes. I spent a surprising amount of time trying to remember situations that matched what the employer was asking about.

    9. Macedon*

      I mean, sure, I could do this for you in some 45min of typing and 15min of thinking. But I’m a trained writer equipped with a rainbow parade of stock phrases and brutal disregard for my fingers.

      The problem is, people like me, who could do it in a time frame that would marginally inconvenience their weekend, wouldn’t want to — because we’d know the kind of writing standard the employer accepts under a one-hour constraint: generic, automated, cheap. Outside of dire financial straits, why would I want to work for such a place?

      And if the employer expects me to spend more than an hour on them before they even pick up the phone, they’d better be paying me.

      1. Liane*

        What she said.

        This includes me having 2 or 3 go-to situations for the commonest of those “Tell me about a time when you…” interview questions.

  4. Leatherwings*

    This is ridiculous. OP, if I were you and in the position to do so, I would withdraw my application and (in a polite but firm way) let them know why – they need to know that they’re losing qualified candidates over this.

      1. Leatherwings*

        Of course they will, but that A) Doesn’t mean the best and most desirable candidates will do it and B) That it’s a good tool to use.

        If they get two or three notes from qualified candidates saying they aren’t going to do this there’s a chance they might rethink it, and that chance would be worth it to me.

        1. Mike C.*

          Yeah, you’re only going to get the most desperate candidates while those who have other options are going to enjoy their weekend instead.

      2. Anna*

        Sure, but there will be a significant number of people who aren’t in a desperate situation and know they can be a little choosier. This is not the way to get good candidates, no matter what they think. It’s a fast track to good candidates with better options self-selecting out.

      3. Jadelyn*

        I’m sure there are those who will, and that’s those people’s prerogative, but that doesn’t make it a reasonable request, and that shouldn’t stop the OP from letting the employer know the impact their process is having on at least some of their candidates.

        Put it this way – if someone silently drops from a hiring process, I have no idea why. Maybe they got another job, maybe they moved away unexpectedly, maybe they decided they don’t want this job anymore, maybe there’s a problem with the process, but if they don’t tell me, I don’t know that. The OP may be only one person who says “No, this is really unreasonable”, but they also may be the third or fourth or fifth person to say so. And if enough people protest something like that, it can build critical mass to provoke an employer to change. If I have multiple candidates say they are withdrawing rather than engaging with some specific part of our hiring process, that gives me info to take to people above me and say, look, this is obviously not working, let’s think about how else we could do this.

        TL;DR The people running the hiring process would almost certainly rather know than not know if their practices are pushing away qualified candidates.

        1. Sharon*

          I agree with this, too. It reminds me of a few years ago when I was last job hunting. I wanted to apply on the careers website of one of the largest government contractors/corporations in the USA. The site let me create a login on the first day. The next day I wanted to refine my profile but it kept giving me login fails. Clicking on the “forgot password” link did nothing. I searched all over that site and was never able to find any website help contact information. Well, I guess I’m not applying to this company! I still wonder how many possibly thousands of potential applicants had similar trouble.

      4. Koko*

        Yeah, and plenty of people were willing to plan a party and cook a multi-course meal as part of a “group interview” that someone wrote in about here once, too. Just because people will do something doesn’t make it a good idea or in the best interest of the company to ask them to do it. The company’s interest is in attracting and locking down the most qualified candidate they can afford. Alienating potential applicants with onerous demands doesn’t serve that interest.

        1. Rmric0*

          I think in that case it was sprung on the applicants who were already well into the process, so they probably felt “in for a penny.” If this is right up front you will get a way higher bounce because there is no other investment.

    1. Mel*

      Its also worth noting that many many of the best companies to work for require you to spend an inordinate amount of time during the application and interview process. I know some who use all sorts of screening tests and require multiple hours long interviews by everybody and their grandmother over weeks. They do it because they can. And I can tell you that they brush off the folks who don’t bother as (not very interested) because many many good candidates will make the sacrifice.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        In my experience, really good employers who have lengthy screening processes truly care about not losing their best candidates (because they’re employers who want to hire the best person, not an okay person), and they also are thoughtful about how the structure the process — they might ask a lot of time from you, but they’re not going to ask it before you’ve even had a chance to talk to them and confirm that you are indeed interested once you’ve learned a bit more.

        1. KHB*

          Yes. The selection process for my current job (at what I consider to be a really good employer) involved written work that required me to clear my schedule for a whole weekend. But (1) it came after the phone interview, (2) as I’ve learned since I’ve been here, they typically only require it of 3-4 candidates each time they hire, and (3) it was designed as a simulation of the fairly specialized work I’d be doing on the job, which meant that (a) it would be nearly impossible for me to hire someone else qualified to do it for me, and (b) it also gave me useful information about whether I’d enjoy the work. All in all, I consider it time well spent.

          1. Koko*

            Yes – my company is very competitive and has an inordinately lengthy hiring process. But very, very few people ever go through the whole thing. Most applicants are culled at the resume stage. Most of the remaining group are culled at the phone screen. A short-list of one to five people is asked to complete a work exercise and gets brought in for a primary round of in-person interviews with two or three people.

            From that short-list, if there’s someone we’re almost ready to make an offer to, we bring them in for a second-round of in-person interviews with several more team members. This second round is mostly a fit-check to make sure that the team gets along with the potential new hire, and also to give the candidate a greater opportunity to get a feel for the culture and what the job will be like by talking to a wider variety of people about it. We usually try to bring in the top pick for second-round and then only bring in the runner-up if the top pick falls through (which is usually because the top pick declined our offer, not because we changed our mind after the second round).

            The vast majority of people who apply never have to do more than a resume and a cover letter, and maybe a phone screen.

        2. Bibliovore*

          My present position…
          Applied in January…
          On site interview in May
          Hiring committee phone interview in June
          On site two days of interviewing, meals and job talk end of July.
          One week later…5 essay questions come in an email late day Friday.

          My immediate reaction was…hell no. Yet. I did know at that time they were down to 3 finalists.
          I did want the job.
          So I sucked it up and spent the weekend writing.
          I guess the difference is that I already spent 8 months invested.

          And yes , four years in…it is the best job,and I’ve al,oat forgiven them for the 8 months torture.

          1. JessaB*

            Yes but that’s the end of the process. I would do it too, if it was after passing all those interviews/reviews, etc. I sure wouldn’t if I’d never even talked to them.

      2. Leatherwings*

        See Jadelyn’s comment above, it’s really on point.

        I completely disagree that many of the best companies require this of people – these are companies that don’t have a great sense of people’s personal time and are often too demanding. Some of the most prestigious companies /might/ require this, but that hardly means that they’re the best to work for. Many good candidates might make the sacrifice, but I promise you that the best ones don’t.

        It’s interesting that you’re defending this practice – have you used it and truly believed that you hired the best candidates as a result? I’m wondering if the defense of the practice comes from your own hiring experience or not.

        1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

          Some of the most prestigious companies /might/ require this, but that hardly means that they’re the best to work for.

          I can think of *a lot* of companies that are known for the strenuous (or sometimes ridiculous) application process…and I have heard from a lot of people that the job is never worth it.

          1. Christopher Tracy*

            Yeah, I know a few companies in my area that are hard as hell to get into, but have terrible reputations when it comes to company culture.

      3. Jadelyn*

        There’s a difference between a long/involved hiring process, and an inconsiderate hiring process. You don’t spring a full afternoon of homework on someone before you’ve even picked up the phone to talk to them!

        1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

          + 1,000

          I require pre-work before the in-person interview, but it’s something that I discuss with candidates during the phone screen. One of more recent hires mentioned that he would be out of town, so we agreed that I would wait for him to return on Monday and then I would send him the assignment to complete.

        2. Macedon*

          That’s exactly it. It’s not a matter of effort or gumption, it’s one of courtesy — if you want more than an hour of my time (on top of the hour I spent preparing the materials for the original app, let’s remember that), then you pick up the phone and we have the basic kind of human interaction that reassures me: 1. you are not a robot set on world destruction, 2. you understand you are kind of overreaching and asking favours early in the courtship game and 3. your job is worth it on my end. I need to get at least a few basics cleared by communicating with an actual person so I can tell this gig is worth my time, moving forward — because, here’s the thing: the employer’s judging me… but I’m pretty sure I’m judging them too.

          There’re some companies that require a test before any kind of communication surfaces, but they tend to have the decency to limit that time investment to one hour or under.

        3. Elizabeth West*

          My job screening entailed an editing test before I got a phone interview with my old boss–but it wasn’t a huge thing. After my resume was screened, it arrived via email and I had a certain amount of time (I think it was a few days) to return it. It certainly wasn’t the length of fifteen essay questions!

          It took me several hours, but that was because I went a little overboard and did a format edit as well as a language edit. The phone interview wasn’t a screen–she was remote so it was the actual interview. (She told me later my edit was the best one, heh heh.)

      4. Mike C.*

        Also, many of the companies which were famous for these sorts of requirements have dropped them because they were absolutely useless.

      5. Ad Astra*

        Yes, and many of the best candidates choose not to jump through those kinds of hoops for exactly the same reason: because they can. Or, I guess, because they don’t have to. The best candidates have options just like the best companies have options.

      6. H.C.*

        Concur with AAM that lengthy application/interview process to be thorough does not equal demanding hours-long responses from the get-go before even an initial conversation about the opening, which is a major – and unnecessary – time suck on both the applicant & recruitment sides.

        And I’d wager that it’s not so much “many many good candidates” so much as many desperate candidates or many candidates who don’t know better and are willing put up with these inconsiderate processes (in the same vein as hiring managers who demand interviews at unreasonable hours or ask “how much will you sacrifice to get this job”-type questions.)

      7. CS Rep By Day, Writer By Night*

        For me this request would be a huge red flag. If they are inconsiderate of my time during the hiring process would only imagine that the same would be true if I worked there. During my last job I was looking primarily for a good fit more than anything else (because my old job was a terrible fit for someone like me, which was the source of about 75% of my misery there). This process screams NOT A GOOD FIT DO NOT PASS GO DO NOT COLLECT $200.

        I’m absolutely a rock star – I’ve always been one of the highest performers in every position I’ve had, and my boss told me I’m one of the best hires she’s made in her career. If I’m ever job hunting again, I wouldn’t even be tempted to throw my hat in the ring under the circumstances described in the OP.

  5. Katie the Fed*

    Actually, as completely awful as these questions are, if you were to answer them all, that would be an awesome interview prep for an interview at a better employer!

    1. Outside Earthling*

      Yes, I thought this too! It’s the kind of thing I might do just as part of my preparation as a job applicant. That’s more about me not being wholly confident about my verbal skills and ability to think on my feet though. I tend to err on the side of loads and loads of prep, so depending on how excited I felt about the particular role, I might not see this as a huge imposition on my time. I can see, however, that the employer who thinks this is a reasonable ask might not be great to work for. It’s a big red flag at the very least.

    2. AnotherHRPro*

      Actually about a year ago I had an interview with a Fortune 100 company and they sent a full page of questions to me in advance to respond to and email back. It was easy for me to complete as part of my interview prep has always been having a handful of ready stories that I can pull from to answer these types of behavioral questions. I was annoyed by the process, but being an HR person I was interested in seeing the interview process through but I could see many applicants being turned off by this type of process.

  6. DaisyC*

    Alison, as a job seeker would you respond to this request and let them know why you are no longer interested? Or just not respond and move on?

    1. Beth*

      OP could possibly respond, by Sunday noon, by withdrawing from the application process along with a short essay describing the biggest annoyance in job application requirements, why is it annoying, what was the context, …

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’d definitely say why — something like, “I’d be glad to talk with you about all of these topics, but can’t realistically spend the several hours it would take to write out answers to so many questions before we’ve even had the chance to talk and determine if there’s mutual interest. If you’d like to jump on the phone, I’d be glad to but otherwise need to withdrawn from consideration.”

  7. Mike C.*

    OP, please make sure to leave a review with Glassdoor.com about this. I would even say to leave the complete list of questions for others, but that’s up to you.

    1. Leatherwings*

      Also agreed. Especially with the info you gave below about them not even acknowledging that you spent the time on it.

  8. Trout 'Waver*

    This is absolutely ridiculous. Let’s say you’re the hiring manager. How would you know the person in question actually wrote the answers on their own without help?

    Also, this is just going to run off anyone who isn’t desperate.

  9. Snarkus Aurelius*

    Don’t complete this task, OP, and don’t go forward with this process for the reasons AAM stated.

    Employers should want people answering these questions in person because it’s so easy for someone else to write up something flattering on your behalf.  Plus there’s no way for this employer to know if these are truly your opinions and thoughts because they literally don’t know you.  That’s already a shady process right there!

    A work sample would be okay.  Asking you about your worth ethic, approaches to difficult tasks, etc. are more philosophical, deep-rooted questions.  An interviewer needs body language, tone of voice, and other non-verbal gestures to truly evaluate the answer.  If this employer doesn’t care about that, then you’ve got a less than stellar selection process.

    Is this a government job?  I ask because I know all about the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSA), which are a joke.  I used to spend hours and hours filling these out, and I’d never get anywhere only to be eliminated sometimes minutes or hours later.  There were also 15-20 of these questions required per job application.  Then a government expert clued me in that you have to incorporate specific key words from the job announcement and/or KSA question into your answer so that the automated screening software didn’t eliminate you.  The whole set up was Mad Libs for government jobs.

    No thanks!

      1. Snarkus Aurelius*

        Back when KSAs were around, there were consultants (ex-HR feds) you could hire (!!!!!!) to do your application for you.  For once, it wasn’t about plagiarism but rather navigating the system so you could increase your chances for an interview.

        It was less about being qualified for the job and more about whether or not you’d put forth the money and time to hire someone to do the application for you, which includes regurgitating as many keywords as non-awkwardly as possible.  

        One of the “ideal” KSA responses I read sounded like that woman in the Seinfeld dingo scene who complained to Elaine about her fiance and used the word fiance a million times.

        Thankfully lawmakers saw this for what it is and banned the KSA.  I’m shocked that it’s 2016, but the OP came across another employer who still engages in this outdated practice.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      KSAs have largely been phased out, ad even when they had them I think there were usually only 4-6. Now you just tailor your resume for specific vacancies, which isn’t a bad idea for any job.

  10. OP*

    OP here. I completed the questions and sent my answers by Sunday evening (a little over 48 hours, but who’s counting?). It took a solid 4 hours to write and revise everything. Of course, the company did not even have the courtesy to acknowledge receipt of my responses, much less grant me an interview. As one commenter suggested above, though, it was good interview prep for the future. And it has only been a little over a week, so perhaps they may still call.

      1. UnCivilServant*

        Those were meant as separate comments. 1 for “sorry to hear you wasted a weekend” and “I’m mildly disappointed that my curiousity was not satisfied.

        I did not spend a lot of time crafting that comment.

    1. Mike C.*

      Please please please let people know about this on Glassdoor, and publish the questions while you’re there.

      I promise you, it won’t take nearly as long as you spent on these questions.

      /And holy shit, they completely ghosted you after you spent all this time on them? WTF?!

      1. animaniactoo*

        I expected nothing less. But I’m cynical like that.

        I’m willing to bet that they see this as filling out the job application, not a dedicated exercise worthy of respect and response.

        1. Leatherwings*

          Yeah, this exercise was clearly demonstrative of how little consideration they give to their candidates’ time and effort.

      2. Lily Rowan*

        They haven’t ghosted yet — a week isn’t long enough to assume you’ll never hear back.

    2. Joseph*

      If you hear back from them in the future, I’d love to see an update about it – Not to be That Guy, but I’m cynically betting that if the essay questions come up at all, it’ll be pretty clear that they probably read like 2 of the answers, then straight up ignored everything else.

      That said though, the questions seem like they’ll be great interview prep (explain how you handled change at work? that’s a great answer to have in your toolkit!), so I’d just view it as you preparing for your next interview. Good luck on your search!

    3. Always Anon*

      Unfortunately, that doesn’t surprise me. Employers who do this sort of thing are lazy, and I think it’s a way for them to quickly eliminate the candidates who aren’t that serious about the position, and then to get more insight into the candidates that they were probably going to invite for an interview anyway.

      It’s one thing to narrow down the pool of applicants significantly, and ask the top 10 or so candidates to complete 5-6 questions. It’s another thing to ask what appears to be every single applicant to answer 15-20 questions. I think you are probably better off anyway. Because I suspect this practice is just the tip of the iceberg at an organization like this.

    4. Turn about*

      I was going to suggest, send them an assignment along the same lines. “What would excelling at this role look like?” “Describe the office culture.” etc etc. The sort of questions that interviewees are encouraged to ask in order to assess fit on their end ;)

    5. Anonish*

      OP, I’m so sorry to hear that. Based on your comment about it being good interview preparation would you consider posting the full list here? I find these kind of questions very useful in focusing my thinking so I’d be grateful, however I get it if you don’t want to spend your time copying all of them questions over!

      Also, Alison, hopefully that’s ok with you?

  11. Shannon*

    If this were a job where a writing sample were required, presumably the applicant would all ready have an appropriate writing sample on hand and wouldn’t have to sacrifice a weekend putting something together. Only if the stars were exactly right (I was desperate, this had potential to be my dream job at a dream company, etc) would I consider doing this.

    1. BRR*

      If not something a candidate would already have, something similar to what the position would at least write. It can’t be super helpful to have them write down interview answers. You can’t even follow up then.

  12. Cube Ninja*

    If I were being especially snarky, I’d respond with my freelance rates for professional writing. :)

  13. OP*

    I also want to add that I am not in a writing-intensive field. The most common work product for this type of role is a slide deck/oral presentation or a spreadsheet, not a memo or white paper.

    None of the questions they asked me were problematic in and of themselves, but asking them orally (over the phone or in person) would have made way more sense.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      Unless you’re desperate to find a job, I’d run far away from this company.

    2. Lily Rowan*

      Yeah, that is really ridiculous. Maybe it’s just HR, but that does not sound like a place you want to work!

    3. Christopher Tracy*

      Okay, then that’s really insane. You should find mentally moving on from this application pretty easy to do.

  14. LAP*

    As a graphic designer, I’ve encountered lots of requests for lengthy unpaid work from potential employers/clients. I used to oblige most of them, until I took a step back and realized 1. These “tests” always took a considerable amount of time and none of them ever resulted in getting a job 2. None of the employers/clients of jobs I DID get ever asked me to do those tests. They hired me on the basis of my portfolio/resume/interview/references.

    So now I won’t even waste my time with potential employers who ask for a bunch of free work. It’s unlikely to lead to me getting the job, but even if it did, it seems like the poor compensation and disrespect would probably continue.

    1. Chickaletta*

      Same here. There was one potential job a year ago where I obliged their request for an original, annual report type mock-up because I really wanted the job. It took a couple days to do. Of course, the people hiring had never hired a graphic designer before so this was their way of seeing if they liked my work or not. The hiring process started out normal but it soon spiraled into a complete mess. They were unprepared for the interview, a week later other managers were calling me who didn’t know I had been interviewed, there were promises of company growth and expansion of responsibilities for me in the near future and they were excited about my background and portfolio… and then silence. I followed up with a phone call and an email but I never heard back from them. I still check their website from time to time to make sure they haven’t ripped off the design work I did for them.

  15. Research Assistant*

    I recently passed on applying to two jobs I was very interested in because both required me to submit 1-2 letters of recommendation with the initial application. It was a long-distance job search, so I was skeptical about my ability to get an interview anyway. There was no way I was going to pester two or more of my references to write me multiple recommendations for jobs when I wasn’t at the interview stage and likely might never be. The jobs were both fairly low-level staff positions for a large university. It’s bad to waste applicants’ time and it’s even worse to ask them to waste other people’s time.

    1. Mike C.*

      I once had a job that I had already applied to and they changed the advertisement to require three letters. Who in the hell does this?!

    2. Stephanie*

      Yeah, I don’t get that for academic staff jobs. I pick up that’s normal for faculty or postdoc roles, but if it’s a staff job…why? Plus, if you’re not in the academy, the rec letters you’d get from a reference probably wouldn’t hit on everything academia is looking for in a reference.

      1. TL -*

        Academia doesn’t really read the references looking for anything other than a good reference – how much can you really say in a generic letter that is relevant to the job?
        And they do it because it’s How Things are Done and it’s academia.

      2. Artemesia*

        Academic references are not provided by the applicant. They are fairly abusive of the reference process in Academia but at least they wait until a person is a finalist to solicit references (usually a phone call with a follow up letter provided by the reference) or they wait until they are up for promotion or tenure. The candidate also does not solicit these letters but the hiring manager or committee chair does.

  16. Stephanie*

    I had an interview process like this once. The interviewer went silent, which was probably for the best.

    She sent me an email with 15-20 questions like this. It was things like OP mentioned. Basically, the questions were interview questions like “Describe a time you led a project and hit a setback and the outcome. What did you learn?” I was out of work and needed a job, so I did the questionnaire, but it took a whole afternoon because everything required at least a paragraph answer.

    So this was a science writing job for a nonprofit. After I sent her those answers, she wanted a sample paper *exactly like* the papers I would write at the job (this included citations). She also asked when I would be in this job’s city (different from mine). After that (and when I realized I’d be doing free work for this nonprofit), I emailed her suggesting we do a quick phone screen to confirm there was mutual interest before I committed to coming there or doing the writing sample. After that, she ghosted me…until I got a voicemail two weeks later asking if I was still interested. I declined.

  17. Bend & Snap*

    This is crazy pants. We regularly do email interviews with reporters that are MAYBE half that many questions, and they take awhile, but they’re worth it because the end results is (hopefully) media coverage.

    Spending this much time on a company you haven’t even talked to? No way.

  18. Viktoria*

    This is unreasonable.

    As a comparison, I went through the beginning stages of applying to be a Foreign Service Officer. Step one is taking a lenghty test. If you pass that, they send you a list of… I want to say 6 open-ended short essay questions about your skills and experience. You have a month to complete those. The next step is, I believe, a full-day or multi-day in person interview process, if you are selected. (I never ended up sending in the essay questions, but that’s a story for a different day).

    You are expected to be devoting significant time to polish and perfect those answers and use them to demonstrate how you fulfill all the desired traits for candidates that they publish online. It’s part of a time-consuming, rigorous, and prestigious multi-month application process. It’s only administered to candidates who have passed an initial barrier (the test).

    Compare these people to that process… they are disregarding your time and the amount of effort it would take to properly complete the task. Pass.

    1. LawLady*

      The Foreign Service process is also incredibly stupid, though. I started it but eventually walked away, and had quite a few friends do the same thing. We all were genuinely interested in the job, wanted the public service element, and had good grades from top schools. But we weren’t willing to jump through the hoops to get half the money and half the respect we’d get anywhere else. Most of us ended up in finance.

      1. Viktoria*

        I mean, I walked away too, so I can’t disagree. I just meant, as a point of comparison, the FSO writing portion is actually MORE reasonable/less of an imposition, and it is presumably undertaken with the participants’ full understanding of the effort involved. It’s not presented as the first step of a regular hiring process.

  19. shep*

    I remember not so long ago having graduated with a fancy-but-utterly-unmarketable master’s degree and being really desperate for a job. I would’ve still filled out this awful questionnaire, but I would’ve died a little inside with each short essay answer.

  20. Kat*

    Oh boy. I applied once to a job that required me to submit five sample tweets along with the resume and cover letter. Composing those tweets took a good 45 minutes, because I researched the company’s style and found appropriate photos to link to, and then had to run everything through Twitter to make sure the character count was okay.

    I got a phone interview, which lasted about 30 minutes. I was then given another writing sample. This time I had to come up with a marketing plan – start to finish – for a new section of a website, including ideas for videos and photos, sample Facebook and Twitter posts, ideas for using new media to promote the launch. I also had to compose five evergreen Facebook posts, five evergreen Twitter posts, five evergreen Instagram posts. And I had to answer some essay questions like, “What social media accounts do you follow and why?” “What social media accounts do you not like and why?”

    It seriously took me about eight hours to complete, all on a Saturday, because the phone interview had been Friday afternoon and they wanted my stuff by Monday morning.

    I emailed it all in on Sunday afternoon and never heard back. Even after I emailed again on Tuesday just to make sure they’d received the stuff. Zip. Nothing.

    Probably for the best though, because six months later they laid off about half the staff.

    1. Bend & Snap*

      I had to do an entire PR plan with a 24 hour turnaround once, while I was traveling on business. They didn’t hire me because it wasn’t strategic enough. Because, you know, I am a candidate and I don’t know enough about your business because I don’t work there.

      1. Rmric0*

        I feel like the best answer to that would be…

        1. Hire actual employee to write plan instead of hoping a hundred monkeys wailing on a hundred typewriters will come up with something even close.

        Bonus points if you write it on a napkin and send a phone picture of it.

    2. Camellia*

      Sounds like free work. Did you ever check their sites and posts to see if they had used any of your stuff?

  21. March*

    I had to answer these sorts of questions for a class in my final semester of university, but even though the professor made it their goal to make the class far more burdensome than it should have been, even they would only ask two or three questions per assignment. Fifteen to twenty is ridiculous.

  22. Kit*

    My current job required ~8 essay questions be answered before I could even hit send on the online application. They were all job interview questions, like “Describe a time you dealt with a difficult customer”, and it took me two days of meticulous editing to finish. I really wanted the job, or I wouldn’t have completed it. I love my job, but now that I am in a hiring position, I am frustrated that the application process followed by HR phone screens is whittling my applicant pool down to nothing. I would love to just look at some resumes.

    1. Leatherwings*

      My current job asked me to compose some writing before the interview process as well (although not as much as OPs application – mine took me 45 minutes because that was my self-imposed time limit but I easily could’ve spent a few hours on it). I also like my job, but… it explains a lot about the frustrating aspects of the organization too.

      1. Kit*

        I’m very new in my position, and my diplomatic push back hasn’t gotten me very far. Unfortunately my boss is also new to the company, so neither of us seem to get anywhere with the application issues, though we have had changes made to the job listings (the old ones barely described the positions we’re hiring for).

  23. Photoshop Til I Drop*

    It’s particularly shady that they sent this on a Friday at 3:30. They dropped a bomb in applicant’s inboxes, then ran out the door for the weekend.

    1. Leatherwings*

      Yes! “Hope you’re not at the beach or babysitting your niece and nephew this weekend, or else you’re not the candidate for us! We’ll check our inboxes on Monday for all this”

    2. OP*

      I don’t think that even crossed the HR persons’s mind, to be honest. Their email to me was riddled with typos – the type that result from blind cut-and-pasting. Also, the HR person’s LinkedIn indicates that they are fairly junior/new in their career. I really think they did this because they don’t know any better and didn’t think it through.

      The only reason I still went through with it is that I have a colleague who works there and really loves it. I had a lengthy networking call with a manager there (in a different department than the one I applied to) and he made an extremely good impression on me as well. He actually sent my resume along for a different position at the company but I never heard back about that one. I think it’s just the folks who handle hiring who are inept there.

      1. ArtsNerd*

        Thanks for chiming in, OP!

        Good to know that the actual work environment isn’t a total nightmare, but sheesh! That is a terrible way to run a hiring process.

      2. Mel*

        What’s with that? I’ve seen a lot of really inexperienced recruiters out there. in some industries it’s an entry level job which is kinda sad if you think about it.

        1. Pwyll*

          I think there’s a not insubstantial number of companies that think of in-house “recruiter” as “appointment setter” or admin and not as some kind of professional position. I can’t tell you how many companies have said some variation of “We’re not big enough to have HR” to me as we discussed why they’re being sued for employment discrimination or wage act violations or are in the process of firing employee number 5 this year and can’t figure out why.

          1. DoDah*

            This! I recently interviewed with a junior in-house recruiter. She couldn’t answer any of my questions about the organization or the role. Oh–and the appointment setting was ridiculous. I had to give her ten (!) dates/times when I was available. Her email instructed me that once I submitted those dates and times to her–they were set in stone.

            She is/was a mess.

        2. Milton Waddams*

          HR has fallen from its pinnacle in the 30s, when it was considered the crown jewel of a Harvard Business School education, and an essential tool in the toolset of any executive looking to move past Taylorism.

          A few practical reasons:

          1. It no longer has a basic research branch. HR used to be considered a form of applied sociology, and drew a lot of its findings from basic sociological research. However, in the 70s, sociology radicalized — many thought that businesses were abusing sociology’s discoveries, and the trend went towards doing research that had no business applications.

          2. The certification is kind of a scam. During the split between SHRM and HRCI, the president of SHRM finally let loose that the certification process they had supported for decades was mainly memorization and regurgitation just to get the cert. HRCI lobbied back that pretty much nobody in the executive level of SHRM had even bothered to get the certification, yet the organization basically made its money off of selling study guides for it, and acted very much like a for-profit business rather than the non-profit educational body they claimed to be.

          3. Maybe related to this, HR is no longer considered an “executive-track” position. Combined with the lack of basic research mentioned above, this draws a lot of people who could have been very talented HR folks into studying and entering other fields. I think the most common career path for HR today is for an admin assistant to get an HR cert in an effort to make a lateral move.

      3. it happens*

        Since you’ve got a few contacts with the company, maybe you could send a note that the hiring process has been different from what you expected. Not exactly excoriating the person who dropped a bomb assignment and ghosted, but noting how dissimilar it has been from the normal processes you have experience with. And reiterating how interested you are in the company, of course.

      4. miss_chevious*

        “I think it’s just the folks who handle hiring who are inept there.”

        I think this in an important distinction. I used to work for Very Large Company, and I was less than impressed with the recruiters and hiring staff who worked for us, even though I loved my job and had a great ride there. In one circumstance, they forgot a candidate in a conference room for three hours, and in another situation, they sent me candidates that weren’t certified in the proper field, even though that was a requirement for the role that they were aware of. Poor techniques like the one you suffered are a red flag, but they might be a red flag for the HR department, not for the company as a whole.

        1. Christopher Tracy*

          Yeah, my company’s HR/recruiting is a mess. If I hadn’t desperately wanted out of the terrible, soul-sucking law firm I was working in at the time, I never would have gone to the in-person interview for my first position at this place (which would have been a huge mistake – my manager ended up being amazing, and that job landed me in an actual career).

  24. Pwyll*

    Ugh, pre-employment testing. This reminds me of the job I mentioned in one of the Friday threads that asked me to take a “Reasoning Test” that was essentially the logic games portion of the LSAT the night before my telephone interview. It took roughly 45 minutes to setup their software on my computer, that video and audio recorded me while taking the hour long test. The telephone interview was fairly mediocre too (she read from a script, and would cut me off mid-sentence when she decided it was time for the next question), but literally before I could even take my name out of the running they sent me an e-mail informing me that “We have decided you are not a match for employment at Company and will be reposting this job and continuing our search. Good luck, Interviewer.”

    So bizarre. Don’t do this.

  25. NP Admin*

    Oh man, this reminds me of a terrible interview process I had for an entry level position. It went something like this:

    1. Initial phone / email screening (just a few minutes)

    2. Initial skills / logic / personality test

    3. Essay questions or writing test

    4. Follow up phone interview

    5. Additional skills / logic / personality test

    6. First round of interviews in person

    7. Second round of interviews in person and second technology test

    I mean, I guess at least the essay questions took place after the initial screening, but this felt like overkill.

  26. mem249*

    THANK YOU for posting this! I’ve actually had three different companies do this to me and I spent hours on each one and never heard a single thing back from any of them. I love the sample verbiage Alison gives in the comments that is tactful but to the point. “My time is valuable” is something I often forget especially during the job application process.

  27. Bex*

    Many years ago, I interviewed for a Development Associate position at a smallish animal rights nonprofit. After the first interview, they sent me a 25 question “General Campaign Knowledge Test.” I thought it was strange, but really needed a job and it was T/F and one line answers, so I did it.

    Then I got a request for 5 more essay questions, specific to the Development Associate role…. the last one was “create a comprehensive annual fundraising strategy.” At that point, I decided they were insane and withdrew my candidacy.

    1. Lia*

      I know of several non-profits that used the responses to questions like that to develop campaigns. None of the candidates were hired, of course (and at least two places never hired anyone). Sleazy.

      1. Bex*

        That was the exact sleazy feeling I got from this place. I also found it particularly egregious since the position was a $40K-per-year ASSOCIATE position, not even a manager or director.

    2. animaniactoo*

      So basically, “start doing the actual job before you walk in the door, for free”?

  28. Science Teacher*

    Unfortunately, the question that was posted sounds an awful like teaching applications– write a bunch of shortish essays in response to 2-10 questions. At least on those applications, the questions are almost always the same from district to district, so if you play the game right, you save your answers and copy/paste!

    Such a waste of time and you almost always get asked the same questions if you are lucky enough to score an interview.

    Good luck OP on getting some follow-up after all your effort. :)

    1. Rob Lowe can't read*

      Those essay questions were the bane of my existence when I was applying for teaching jobs! I always saved those applications for last.

  29. periwinkle*

    Next on AAM: “5 things that will send your job posting straight to the reject pile”

  30. Greengirl*

    I went through an interview process a couple months ago that felt really disrespectful of my time like this. After submitting an application, you took a two hour online timed test with questions that required writing skills, knowledge about the field, and to think critically about each answer. After that they asked for two sample short grant proposals. One was a page and a half and the other was a full page. You had to write them in response to questions they asked and they involved doing research on areas you weren’t expected to already have basic knowledge in, so part of it was showing your ability to quickly do research on new topics. It still took me a full eight hours of work. Only THEN did they interview me. This was also a company that reached out to schedule an interview with me on a Friday, then didn’t tell me what time, and after I reached out on the Tuesday before asking for a time, sent me a response on Thursday asking to reschedule for the following week. I didn’t get the job after all that and I really wish they had pulled me into interview BEFORE asking me to spend 8 hours creating a brand new writing sample.

  31. Bob*

    Sounds like you learned a lot about how this org works before you even made a visit. Consider it a bullet dodged. (Interviews are two-way streets.)

  32. Brooke*

    Apologies if this has already been posted, but what came to mind is that this may be a way for a company to get free content for their site :(

  33. Doesn't Work for Free*

    Couple of things…

    I actually feel like I am often in interviews so the organization can “pick my brain”. I once went through 3 phone interviews and an in person interview, each one having it’s own topic and list of questions. I honestly felt like this company was seeking free consultation services more than anything else. This questionnaire reeks of this scenario in addition to being lazy.

    I even applied for a job and the first step was that I complete a video interview that they asked me to sign a waiver for so that they could keep the video to use it for “training” purposes and prepare a strategic plan to expand into 2 additional markets AND review a proposal errors and edit it. Wow. Top that off with the fact that they CC’d all 30+ applicants on the same email, not BCC, I felt like these folks were nuts. I replied to all and declined to participate.

  34. Former Computer Professional*

    I had a similar situation during my computing career, although I was given two weeks. They sent me a package with a 7 page (double-sided!) questionnaire that covered everything from a basic “Where have you worked” to specific details about how I would handle a particular situation or which software(s) I would find appropriate for what use.

    I got the package the day I was leaving for a week-long vacation and, figuring my friends were also computer professionals and might find it amusing, took it with me. I was sitting in friends’ living room, reading the questions out loud, when I got to one that made me burst out laughing.

    The question was, “For (situation), which software do you prefer: A, B, or C? Please explain your answer.” With permission, I answered, “B, because the author/creator is five feet across the room.” (Was the truth, too!) :-)

  35. Milton Waddams*

    Once again, it’s a principal-agent issue. I can guarantee you that the owner is not interested in any of this nonsense. This is the sort of thing that is entirely driven by a set of employees who will take blame for a bad hire but no blame whatsoever for no hire, long hiring delays, or a selection process that drives off top candidates.

    Behind every absurd request in the hiring process, there is almost always someone trying to practice personal CYA at the expense of the greater good. Unfortunately, this is usually a sign that senior management does not have good control over their organization anymore.

    1. Colette*

      I could totally see an owner coming up with this process. In particular, a small business owner who sees hiring people as a one-sided process could easily comes with something like this.

  36. T*

    Maybe this is a cultural difference… I’m in Australia and 98% of the jobs I apply for require a resume, cover letter, and responses to 7-12 ‘selection criteria’.

    A lot of big places even provide hints on how to respond to selection criteria – usually the STAR format (situation task action result).

    1. mander*

      British applications are a bit like this too, but it’s usually more about giving an example of a particular skill on the person specification (like “advanced user of MS Word”) rather than the situational type questions.

  37. Fifty and Forward*

    I was once asked after a phone interview with a recruiter to spend four hours on a business writing test. She told me in an email that the hiring manager required it before they’d agree to an in person interview.

    After sleeping on it, I realized that not only was the request unreasonable, but was a huge red flag as well. I put a stop to the process and told them why. They didn’t even bother to reply.

  38. Dee*

    i had a recent test where i had to also spot errors as part of the test. 1 of the errors was an acronym was wrong. I work in IT (and was going for an IT role) but the acronym was specific to the industry the company operated in. If i knew the industry i would have spotted it i guess but i thought that portion a bit much but bit my tongue when they mentioned it afterwards!

  39. annoyed job seeker*

    Ugh! Sorry that OP had to waste her time Sunday working on a detailed narrative that went no where! I bet no one read the OPs submitted response.

    It’s bad enough we have to jump through hoops getting through the unbearable ATS software process where an application can take upwards of one hour to submit. Also, it’s a crap shoot getting around the employer configured kick-out questions. The online process is booby trapped with kick outs in most cases, answer one question wrong and your resume never sees the light of day. It seems as if the writing samples or narratives are becoming more and more common these days. Wow.

  40. nicolefromqueens*

    I’d reply back something like “well, I have plenty of interviews and other applications to juggle, but if I have time in the near future I’ll get back to you”, but I’m immature in a large, anonymous city.

    Somewhat related: I saw a posting that requests a writing sample. For an associate-level data entry / clerical position. Part time, low pay. The last time I wrote something besides forum posts and brief emails was in college, 5 years ago. I was interested but I just don’t have any writing samples available.

    1. nicolefromqueens*

      And seriously, they waited weeks before they told you that you have 48 hours to submit something, over the weekend?! What if you had a weekend job?


  41. Nobody*

    I would actually welcome the opportunity to answer a few questions in writing for a pre-screening, because I could come up with much better answers if I had the time to think and compose a response rather than respond verbally on the spot. I don’t think it’s completely out of line to ask candidates to answer some questions like this in writing, but only if…

    (1) they look at my resume first and only send the questions if I look like a viable candidate;
    (2) they give me a reasonable amount of time to complete it (say, a week);
    (3) they ask only a few carefully-selected questions that are highly relevant to the job.

    Asking candidates to answer 15-20 questions with a 48-hour deadline is ridiculously excessive, and I have a hard time believing they are actually going to read and evaluate every single answer in detail, so it’s just going to be a waste of candidates’ time.

  42. HardwoodFloors*

    I just wrote 645 words in an hour and a half for something else not related to looking for a job. So I think if I really wanted the job I would spend 3 hours to answer 15 to 20 questions. And then again, 3 hours is way past the amount of time I would spend on an employer who had not offered a face to face interview yet. I think my reply would be to this essay test would be silence, absolute radio silence.

  43. They call that summer?*

    We are hiring right now (management position) and asked candidates to, instead of a ‘normal’ cover letter, describe in either max. one page, max. four slides or a one minute video how they would tackle the job.
    I wondered if that was to much to ask, but since we’re getting resumes and cover letters from people who obviously didn’t read the instructions, it helps wield out non-detail-oriented or thourough people.
    (the one page part could just be a good cover letter, but we keep getting ‘I’m super motivated, an excellent teamplayer en verrrrry detail-oriented’ type letters, which is clearly not what we asked for)
    What do you think, too much or okay?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Too much. Wait until you’ve screened them and determined they’re plausible candidates before you ask for that. You’re going to screen out 85% of these people just based on resume; do that first.

      1. They call that summer?*

        So just ask for resumes? It should be about as much work as writing a good cover letter, I think. But thanks for the advice, we’ve already posted the job yesterday, but I’ll keep it in mind for next time!

  44. Chris Hogg*

    Sounds like Topgrading (Google topgrading corcodilos) or something similar. The main problem, though, is this is what often happens when our job search consists of finding publicly-advertised jobs and then applying to them (someone usually wins the lottery, but it’s usually not you / us). I’d ignore this and spend the time on a networking / informational interviewing campaign .

  45. The Snark Knight*

    A good rule of thumb I always go by is that the interview process is the company at their very best. If they’re not good during the process, it’s usually not going to get any better.

Comments are closed.