companies that ask people to answer mini-essays before submitting resumes

A reader writes:

In previous posts you have written that employers generally shouldn’t require applicants to do work (assessments, tests, what have you) at the very outset of the hiring process because that’s asking folks to dedicate time/effort when the majority of them won’t even get an interview.

I agree with you wholeheartedly, but I’m curious about a trend I’m seeing now: employers are trying to promote equity in their hiring process by eschewing the traditional resume/cover letter and asking applicants to answer job-related questions instead (some do this in addition to a cover letter, but that’s a different conversation). The employer says that they will do a blind review of the essays and only request resumes afterwards, which they presume will provide them with a more diverse pool … I guess?

Do you think that this hiring process can actually improve equity? Employers are still assessing people on their writing ability and the content of what they say, which can be strong signals for characteristics that they’re trying not to pay attention to. Plus, not everyone has the time to write a bunch of original content just to be considered for a first round phone screen (and top candidates with many other choices probably won’t bother doing it).

Here are example questions from a job application I’m currently considering. They all have a 250-word limit, which makes the exercise even more difficult:

• What are your top three values that guide how you work?

• Please tell us about a time you successfully carried a project from start to finish with little to no supervision. What were the 2-3 best practices learned in order to be successful? What did you enjoy about the autonomy and what, if anything, did you think was lacking?

• You have a large task of identifying companies who could be interested in investing in our partners. How would you go about building out the list? Please explain your rationale.

• How do you see our industry’s landscape evolving over the next 5 to 10 years?

• What excites you most about the field?

What’s your take?

Not a fan.

I am strongly in favor of reevaluating hiring processes to minimize opportunites for bias (for example, removing names and other demographic indicators from resumes before they’re reviewed, ensuring you have a diverse group screening and interviewing candidates, etc.) and to more clearly assess candidates against the actual must-have qualities and skills for the role (like revisiting degree requirements, which often keep out less privileged candidates without correlating to what’s truly necessary to excel at the job, and ensuring all candidates are evaluated against the same set of criteria).

But asking candidates to do significantly more work up-front just to apply isn’t the way to make your process more equitable. And for most people, this will be a lot more work. Most people have basic resumes and cover letters ready to go that they just need to tailor a bit to the job. This is asking people to spend significant time writing answers to mini-essay questions from scratch, possibly for multiple jobs. This one alone asks for more than 1,000 words — and some of these questions would take real time and thought. It’s a significant assignment, and it’s way too much to ask from people before you’ve even done an initial screen and determined you’d like them to move forward in the process.

I get that they’re trying to use this assignment to choose who to move forward without being biased by things like an impressive school or a prestigious internship someone got through their uncle. But this isn’t going to accomplish what they want. Too many people won’t bother to complete this assignment (especially people with lots of demands on their time, like single parents or people working two jobs to make their rent, who are presumably among the people the employer wants their process to be more equitable for) … but even beyond that, it’s just unreasonable to expect of people at this stage, period.

If they want to experiment with ways to de-prioritize resumes in early screening — which won’t make sense for a lot of jobs, but can make sense for some — they’d be better off picking a single question to ask people to respond to. Two at the absolute most. And that question or two needs to be tightly tied to what it takes to succeed in the position. People’s values and motivations are important, but they’re probably not the biggest differentiator among candidates at this early stage. If you’re screening this way, the screen needs to be a lot more narrowly focused on early-stage must-have’s.

This is just far too much, when statistically speaking the majority of applicants, even good ones, aren’t going to make it to the next stage.

{ 317 comments… read them below }

  1. Hills to Die on*

    I am so not for this. Between a resume, a cover letter, an executive summary, and a LinkedIn profile with a completed ‘about’ section, any tests that the company wants you to take, and the actual application itself, that’s enough pre-screening documentation. I mean, it’s not an application for a mortgage and I’m not adopting a child – pick me or don’t but no more things to complete.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Just to be clear, the philosophy the OP is describing is that these companies actively don’t want to look at those things in early-stage screening because they’re concerned doing so will introduce bias (race/gender/etc) into their process. They’re hoping by doing this, they’ll identify good candidates who might have otherwise been screened out.

      It’s still a bad idea, but the whole idea is that they actively don’t want to see the stuff you named.

      1. Hills to Die on*

        Yes, but I mean that these are all things I need to create in the course of job searching in general. To your point, most can be revised and reused (or simply reused), but this is another document to create that I likely can’t reuse.

      2. Artemesia*

        These essay tasks are a lot more like the experiences that privileged private school or college students will have been prepared to do. I am betting that those who end up being impressive and interviewed will be precisely those very privileged people.

        1. KoiFeeder*

          Yeah, my years of private school have greatly prepared me to bash out 1000 words of nice-looking garbage in record time.

        2. Junger*

          And they will also be the ones with the most time and energy to spare for their job search, which you’ll need a lot of to write this application in the first place.

            1. Quill*

              I mean, I am a champion at bullshitting after AP Lit and comp, but I got that from going to a relatively well funded public school. (The roof leaked but we had astroturf and actually had AP classes)… Not all of those are funded equally.

          1. April*

            Not quite sure why you’d think that someone having attended private school when they were younger equates to having more spare time and energy as an adult?

            1. MayLou*

              It’s not automatic, but if a family had enough money to pay for a child’s education, the chances are there’s more financial help around when they’re an adult too, meaning they won’t be forced to work multiple jobs just to keep afloat.

            2. pancakes*

              It’s not so much about free time or energy as about having the training and cultural fluency, if that makes sense, to express oneself well and turn in a polished mini-essay with relative ease. I suspect that many of us who went to private schools and small, expensive colleges are accustomed to focusing and being evaluated on our writing rather than standardized testing and exams. That said, I also agree with MayLou that someone who has a financial cushion is more likely to be able to set aside time for a task like this than, say, a person already working two jobs.

        3. Scarlet2*

          Exactly the point I wanted to make. If they believe it won’t be way easier and faster for people from a privileged background to do this assignment, they really haven’t thought this through.

          1. INSEAD alum*

            So many people on here are complaining that it takes a looooong time to write short (2-3 paragraphs) answers to questions. (You have to do that every single day in many jobs, of course.) And yet these same people are writing about as much in their blog comments, which they presumably do despite having family, work, and so on. This is that that onerous, particularly if companies only ask shortlisted candidates to do it.

            1. Eukomos*

              Most people put far, far more time, effort, and emotional investment into job applications than social media comments. They’re very different tasks.

          1. pancakes*

            For jobs that don’t involve writing? No one is saying it shouldn’t be part of assessing candidates for jobs that require it.

        4. Green Door*

          So much this! Unless the person you’re hiring needs to demonstrate excellent writing skills or a broad vocabulary this is going to be something that disqualifies people for jobs that don’t require strong written skills.

        5. Alternative Person*

          So much this.

          There’s a whole sphere of stylized writing that applies to stuff like university applications and professional fields that can be a nightmare to navigate if you don’t know what you should be writing and or how you should be writing it, and it wasn’t something that my Comprehensive High School covered. Without the help of an overworked high school teacher at one point and university support services at another (which in my experience, some students don’t even know to look for (and sometimes even the ‘right’ questions to ask/things to say to get help)) I sometimes wonder if I would have made it through some application processes.

  2. I'm A Little Teapot*

    I’m sorry, but if I had to do something like that before I could even submit my resume, I’m not applying. It’s not a college application.

    1. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

      Same here. I’ve fallen for it before and never even got a call. So now, if I see that I’d have to do that much work just to apply before anyone has even talked to me, I don’t bother. I just move on to the next company.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        Yeah, I made the mistake one time of investing three hours (I’m not exaggerating) in some stupid application exercise only to get a form automated email rejection. Way to make me hate your company forever and never want to apply to it again or ever encourage anyone else to apply. I’m sure you’ll get lots of great candidates that way.

    2. Diahann Carroll*

      Exactly. Hell, I’m sitting here struggling to write my letter of intent to be admitted into a graduate certificate program, and it’s only 250 words. Asking me to write 250 words for five questions upfront before I even know if I want your job or not is too damn much!

    3. Filosofickle*

      I just noped out on a job application that required *transcripts*. This is not a college application. I am not in my 20s. You do not need my school transcripts. It tells me a lot about who they are recruiting and what they value, and none of it is good.

      1. GrumpyGnome*

        Was it a job in academia? Once you’ve been in the work force for a couple of years, I can’t imagine any other reason that they would need transcripts as part of an application.

        1. Filosofickle*

          No, it was a professional services firm. Consulting firms are often pedigree snobs, so I assume they prefer to hire academic superstars. (Or recent grads, even though this was an experienced position.) And even though my transcripts would hold up, I don’t like that culture. Or the extra work! Who has those?

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            Ick, I’m with you… I used to have hardcopy but it was lost in a flood. I’m not buying a new set unless I decide to do something wild & crazy and go to grad school.

        2. tink*

          Can’t speak for filos, but 911 dispatch and records technicians that work with police and emergency services have to fill out background reports once they get past the apply -> interview/screening exam that require extremely detailed information. 10 years of addresses, school information including transcripts, detailed information about your immediate family, professional AND personal references, and then several pages of questions (that will presumably be asked again during the polygraph portion, but the detailed background was where I noped out in the process).

          1. Person from the Resume*

            There is a vast difference in filling out a detailed questionnaire for a background investigation after you have been interviewed and moved further in the hiring process and being ask to answer a number of essay questions just in order to apply.

            The pain point is they’re asking anyone applying to do this, and the majority of people won’t even make it to the first phone screen/interview. And also busy qualified people will not do the extra work and the hiring company loses out on the people with options.

          2. Cj*

            that’s what a background done by someone that company hires for this purpose is for. not something that you should need to spend time filling out

          3. Watry*

            I am a police record technician, and didn’t have to provide transcripts, just copies of my high school and college diplomas. It’s probably going to vary by jurisdiction–I’m sure BigCity police a bit south of us requires a lot more stuff.

      2. Astral Debris*

        Agreed! Some industries just can’t seem to get past this nonsense, though. My partner does data analytics for the state and has worked in his department for about six years now, but last year HR contacted him saying that they had misplaced his graduate transcripts an he needed to provide them with a new copy ASAP. I was horrified, but he shrugged it off as par for the course in a government job.

      3. LizM*

        It’s not unusual to require transcripts for federal jobs. Some positions have positive education requirements (either a specific degree or a certain number of credits in a specific field) and HR will verify eligibility before forwarding resumes to the hiring manager. I’ve been with my agency for 13 years, and I had to submit my transcripts for my latest promotion.

      4. The Voice of Reason*

        You do not need my school transcripts.

        The company gets to decide what it needs. You’re free to disagree and withdraw your application, which is what you did.

      5. Anonymosity*

        Yep, pretty ridiculous, especially for an admin position. They don’t need my GPA, either; it literally has nothing to do with anything once I’ve graduated.

    4. Ann O'Nemity*

      It really annoys me too.

      I’ve done it twice, and I’m still salty about both. The first time, I went through a lengthy and tedious application process just to get an auto-rejection five minutes after submitting. The second time, I should have known better but I ran through the red light because the job description sounded so perfect. I got a phone interview, but the interviewer was driving during the call and mostly just wanted to talk about himself.

      Essay questions during the initial application show me that employer has little respect for applicants’ time, and/or doesn’t bother to think through the impact of their processes.

    5. Audiophile*

      I was applying for a job a few weeks ago where I had to take two comprehensive behavioral questionnaires before I could even submit my resume. It’s a job I was qualified for and could have done. I made it through the first section but didn’t make it through the second section and the system would not let me apply. It’s pretty frustrating to spend several hours answering questions before being able to even submit the basics for an application.

      1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

        Ugh. I have a work friend who is very senior and experienced. She once applied for a job which required her to complete an online assessment first – not at all the norm in our field. She failed (it was scored by the system, not a human) and couldn’t apply. I can’t help wondering how many outstanding candidates they lost this way.

        1. The Voice of Reason*

          This is where you find out what actual human is hiring for this position and contact her directly.

      2. Environmental Compliance*

        Oh man, I forgot the lengthy behavioral questionnaires!! Dang it.

        I once walked out of an interview after they left me in pretty much a closet to fill out a ridiculously long behavior questionnaire for over 45 minutes. I finished it, sat for about 15-20 minutes, couldn’t find anyone in the entire front of the store, decided this was incredibly stupid as I hadn’t even talked to anyone about the position (they brought me in, plopped me in front of the computer, and left), found a post it note and wrote Sorry, No Longer Interested and left.

          1. Environmental Compliance*

            I mean, I was in high school at the time, so a note felt appropriate at the time, and all I could find were neon post it notes.

              1. Environmental Compliance*

                Would explain why I didn’t get the joke. I have never watched that show. Or movie. Movies? *shrug*

                1. Dream Jobbed*

                  That’s okay. If you had watched the show you would have found it amusing. :) Without that background, it does seem like a demand for clarification.

                  BTW, I think it was the perfect reaction! I hope you scored so high on the test they became despondent over losing you.

          2. MsMichelle*

            I sure do hope they paid for the replacement of those “misplaced” transcripts!

        1. Mel_05*

          Was it Payless? I had a remarkably similar experience there. I’ve never had a more rigorous application process anywhere.

          1. Uncle Waldo*

            Yeah, I agree with Alison here.

            For many years, the organizations I worked for participated in a specific, county-sponsored program designed to increase access to paid internships (and thus jobs) to minority, first generation and low-income students. My first summer the very students we were trying to reach really struggled with their cover letters. For many it was their first time, and they couldn’t get much guidance from their parents. Those who consulted with their career centers turned in horrible form letters that really contrasted with how wonderful, curious and hardworking they were.

            My second summer I starting asking applicants to answer two questions to address in their cover letter, but they did not have minimum word limits and were the kinds of questions they should have been addressing anyway (e.g. why are you a good fit for this position?). The response was drastically different, and we were able to consider a wider variety of candidates.

            That said, that was a different situation altogether, and it wasn’t asking the applicants to put any more work than they would have had to for a typical job application.

            1. feministbookworm*

              Yes, I think asking (in a very prominent way) for applicants to address some specific questions in their cover letter is a good way to approach this. Especially if it’s asking people to address the kinds of things that someone with more career advice resources would probably have done anyways, could be a great way to level the playing field. Though it’s more relevant for positions where written communication is an important skill– might not work as well for a technical role.

          1. Junger*

            Thats how you test for the real editing skills!

            All jokes aside, the does sound like a very good writing exercise.

      3. Pretzelgirl*

        I always fail the questionnaires. One time my husband was working for a large organization. He knew I would great for a certain job, that they were aggressively hiring for. I filled out the application and was auto rejected not less than 5 min later. They started hiring for this position. He said the incoming staff were awful. Constant call offs, people got fired left and right, people seemed to be terrible at the job. It wasn’t just one or two it was multiple. He left shortly after this, so I am not sure how it turned it out for them. He said it had to be the pre-hiring questionnaire. He’s not sure how the people made I through the hiring process, but they did.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          They only accepted the people willing to lie and BS on the questionaire, answering what they figured the company wanted to hear. Naturally, they got the liars, cheats and goof-offs.

    6. Environmental Compliance*

      I’ve 100% noped out of the following online initial applications:

      – I have to upload my resume, copy-paste the dang thing, and then still enter it in line-by-line for the third time.
      – I am asked to write more than 250 words per essay prompt and/or more than 3 essay questions.
      – I am asked for high school transcripts. I have a Master’s and am applying for mid level positions. High school courses are beyond irrelevant. I have no idea what information you will glean from seeing that I thought I was going to be a veterinarian and took every FFA class I could fit. Believe me, sometimes I still wish I could deal with animals instead of people.
      – The system kicked me out for no discernible reason twice and on Try #3 I gave up attempting to use the clunky POS system I was forced to apply through.
      – I have to attach 3 letters of reference specific for that position. Listen, you put minimal information in your job posting, I’m intrigued but I’m not asking my references to spend that much time for a job I’m not sure I’ll take yet.
      – I am forced to put in salaries for each and every job I enter in on same irritating line by line resume form.

      1. MmmmmmMMMmm*

        I genuinely don’t think I could easily produce a high school transcript. I have my transcripts for my BA and my MA, why in the WORLD would people want my high school information?

        1. Environmental Compliance*

          Right? I’m sure I have my high school diploma….somewhere? Maybe? Transcripts are most likely nonexistent. I could probably call up my high school and see if I still exist in the system, I guess. But I have my MS & BA transcripts *right here*…

            1. Nanani*

              My high school wasn’t run in English! They’d have to hire a translator* to read it

              *I am a translator

          1. RoseDark*

            I don’t even have a high school diploma. I was homeschooled.

            I can show you my AA or my BA degrees if you want them. You’re gonna have to take my word that I graduated high school.

        2. londonedit*

          We don’t have ‘transcripts’ from high school (UK). It’s possible that somewhere or other my parents have the little slips of paper that my A level results were printed on when I picked them up from school, but I highly doubt it! I think my parents also have my degree certificate somewhere but who knows! No one has ever asked me to prove that I have the degree I say I have, let alone asking me to prove that I got the A level results I say I did.

      2. EggEgg*

        I’m going back and forth on one right now that’s like this. It has a few of these things, plus three required (REQUIRED) questions that involve uploading a video of myself answering a specific question in one to two minutes. It just opens up the door for so many biases, I’m aghast. It’s supposed to be a great company to work for and the position is really interesting, so hopefully it’s just a rogue HR person, but still…

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          Ugh. I don’t do videos of myself. If they want a question answered, they can ask it in a Zoom session.

      3. Rachel 2: Electric Boogaloo*

        Ugh. My favorite is applications that require you to enter starting _and_ ending salaries (plus bonuses, 401K match amounts, etc.) for every job you’ve ever had. Like I’m going to remember what I made at the temp job I had 15 years ago. Thank goodness companies can’t ask for salary history in IL anymore!

    7. EPLawyer*

      People with options won’t waste their time. So instead of a diverse candidate pool, you get a pool of people who are only applying due to lack of options. Not the best way to get the best candidates.

      1. NW Mossy*

        This, right here.

        Part of what makes a high performer is valuing one’s own time and prioritizing accordingly. This type of application process screams that it’s high effort/low reward, which turns off those who want to spend their time well. It’s a shame, too, because these are the very people you want to attract if you’re trying to improve efficiency and productivity in your organization.

      2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        Either that, or you get the people looking to be rejected to stay on their unemployment benefits.

      3. Another freelancer*

        I was coming here to say this. Only someone who is desperate will do this, so then the company is only interviewing people (and extending offers to) who will take any job just to have a job. I would think that with the time and money it takes to interview candidates, it would be far better to find a system that helps a company find the better candidates.

  3. Lynn*

    I would argue that this process is in fact, accidentally less equitable, because it almost certainly discourages people who don’t have as much time and resources to devote to the job process from applying, and that discouragement likely disproportionately impacts single parents, and lower income people who may be working multiple jobs to make ends meet, and may not have unlimited access to computers and internet for these shenanigans.

    1. Matilda Jefferies*

      It also discourages people who don’t write fluently, for whatever reason – ESL, dyslexia, learning disabilities, etc. And there’s a big overlap between this group and the groups you mentioned, because these conditions can lead to disadvantages in the job market as well – which leads to having less time and resources, and round and round we go.

      1. LT*

        How long before companies will pop up to help you write answers to these questions?! Which, again, yet another way people with more disposable income will game the system…

      2. Social Commentator*

        Well, sure, but that mises the point. For many, many jobs being able to craft a fluent, well-written communications is pertinent and desirable skill. The point isn’t to erase the effects of past inequitable experiences that may have prevented folks from developing desirable skills — it’s to NOT overlook the folks who do have those skills because of bias around other factors.

        1. MayLou*

          This depends on whether writing fluently and concisely is part of the job though – if the role is almost entirely numbers based, or physical labour, or verbal communication, then the essay questions aren’t even testing for the right thing.

        2. Metadata minion*

          If writing skills are essential to the position, you’ll also get that through a traditional cover letter, or a writing sample that the applicant already has available.

        3. Curmudgeon in California*

          While my job technically doesn’t require writing skills, it actually does require technical documentation skills. But random essay questions don’t demonstrate this.

          I would not balk at a question that asked me to write a short “How To” guide on a common technology – something like “Write an instruction guide on how to open a locked door with a provided key”. But that’s because my jobs frequently require user guides, troubleshooting guides, runbooks, etc.

          That’s very different from the topics in the letter.

    2. hbc*

      I wonder how that balances against the fact that the less-desperate will also not apply? There’s no way I would have spent time on that if I already had a job. It usually took me at least a week to scrape the time together to customize the resume and write a decent cover letter.

      It basically screens for people with time to kill.

    3. tangerineRose*

      “This process is in fact, accidentally less equitable, because it almost certainly discourages people who don’t have as much time and resources to devote to the job process from applying” This!

        1. Mid*

          Also these seem decently jargon-y which can add another layer of gate-keeping to these things. They still want you to say the magic words that signal you know the game and how to write “correctly” aka using their regional/company specific jargon. I highly highly doubt the judgement of these essays is actually unbiased. People judge your grammar and word choice, this is just making them feel slightly better about “promoting diversity” while not actually doing anything to promote diversity.

  4. The New Wanderer*

    All of those are interview questions. It’s like asking people to take the time to write out an entire interview without actually being screened for whether an interview makes sense. And it’s just not going to get at the information that’s relevant because a good interview also provides information to the candidate that can help them put their answers in context.

    Also it would bias against ESL writers, which is problematic.

    1. Nanani*

      And people who haven’t got great writing skills but ARE qualified for the actual job. Lots of people have skills that aren’t about putting words together.
      I wouldn’t put it past people who think this is a good idea to require it for all jobs, even the ones that don’t require much, or any, writing.

      1. Observer*

        If these questions themselves are relevant for the job, then the ability to write reasonably well is almost certainly going to be important in general.

        1. RussianInTexas*

          All of these questions are more or less relevant to my current job, and my job does not require me to write much except an occasional semi-casual e-mail to a customer with a question or a confirmation.
          No one cares for internal e-mails. Half of my company consists of the first generation immigrants, and none of us have perfect language skills. I measure my on the top of the sliding scale for my particular company (for the group of immigrants). We make do.

    2. CatCat*

      When I read this, I was reminded of a job posting I saw that said the written questions would act as the “first interview.” I laughed at the absurdity.

      1. Snarkus Aurelius*

        I work in politics and government. Openly advertised positions can get up to 100-200 applicants easy.

        There’s no way that employers are going to read 1000+ words from each candidate in any meaningful or thorough way.

        That’s another reason I don’t do essays.

        1. L.H. Puttgrass*

          Of course not. I’d be surprised if they didn’t just run the essays through an automated evaluation system to come up with the top contenders. The company might even convince themselves that the process is “unbiased” because it’s AI-driven.

        2. Amy Farrah Fowler*

          If you want to ask a few basic screener questions – does your availability meet the needs for the job, are you capable of xyz task, okay fine, but anything lengthier or wordier, than that might as well be tossed into the void. Even with resumes and cover letters when you’re reviewing dozens or hundreds of apps, at best you can give one person 3-5 minutes of time before moving to the next one, often less than that.

        3. Ace in the Hole*

          Interesting. The only job applications I’ve ever seen ask for short essays were government positions. In that context it makes sense because they have a standardized application format for the state/federal government, and the additional questions are a candidate’s chance to explain relevant info that doesn’t fit on the standard form.

          Of course, the questions tend to be much more specific. For example, the two from my last application were something along the lines of “Describe your experience interpreting regulations or technical information for practical applications” and “This position involves working with lamas, including emergency response. Describe your experience managing lama emergencies – give specific examples.” Those kind of things might not be addressed in a boilerplate resume template used for every agency in the county, so it makes sense to have them as an extra thing.

          I’d be pretty miffed if the extra questions were fluff like “what are your values.” Yikes.

        4. lazuli*

          Yeah, I work in government and do some hiring, and those short essay questions are *absolutely* the first interview. I’ve been in charge of “scoring” the responses and we have to give zeros to people who say “See resume” or something along those lines. We’ve actually been told we shouldn’t read the resume, or at least not focus on it, but to use the answers to the questions to rank the applicant, and then only those applicants in the top few tiers get an in-person interview. (I should say, the ranking happens after HR has done a very basic filter for candidates who meet the minimum requirements.)

          It’s very obvious in that process which candidates have worked in government, because they do write complete essays. Lots of non-govt people treat the questions like an annoyance, and so even if their resume says they’re super-qualified, they can’t make the cut.

          1. lazuli*

            (And I believe I wrote about 5,000 words to get my current position, which is management-level. As someone who thinks better writing than speaking, I actually liked the opportunity to organize my thoughts and present full answers, the way I would at an interview.)

    3. BRR*

      That was my thought when I came across this in my job hunt last year. The employer asked 15 questions like these, all requiring long answers (they didn’t mention if it was to promote equity). Since I was having good luck with my job hunt and this position wasn’t very desirable I posted this to the open thread and decided to write back that I couldn’t commit the amount of time needed to answer these this early in the hiring process and wished them the best of luck filling the role. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the position was reposted constantly for 8 months and as far as I can tell was never filled.

      But those are interview questions. My field shouldn’t have essay questions as part of the job application.

    4. Filosofickle*

      I’m just barely starting on a job search and last week ran into what I would call a written interview (they called it a “career snapshot”), as the next step after applying. When I saw it I almost withdrew immediately — not only would it be pages of mini-essays on a short turnaround, but from the questions it was clear I didn’t have a lot of their wish list. I did end up filling it out because it’s been a looooong time since I’ve interviewed, and I figured I could use the practice at “tell me about a time” and “explain your experience with x” questions. The recruiter called to check in before I finished so we could talk a bit about expectations and make sure it was worth submitting. (Why we didn’t do that quick phone screen first, I don’t know.) Then I never heard back.

      In my field I expect interview homework, but I don’t appreciate it when it comes so early in the process. I want to talk to a person, ideally the hiring manager, before I give you hours or even days of my time.

    5. KayDeeAye*

      A couple of us recently completed (more or less) the process of updating all of the company’s official bios. (I say “more or less” because we have four hold-outs that we’ve basically given up on.) We have only about 35 employees and officers who needed a bio, and these were all short, matter-of-fact documents, but it nonetheless took *ages* and much nagging to get everybody to fill out the very short form, send it in, then respond to a follow-up inquiry to answer the questions on the form that they didn’t answer the first time they filled it out, approve the draft of their bio, etc.

      The main reason why it took ages is that there are a lot of people – smart, capable people who are good at their jobs – who are not comfortable with or good at written expression. And why should they be? Why should an accountant or a database manager be able to write fluently and easily on non-accountancy or non-databasery matters? I mean, it’s nice if they can, but it’s hardly a job requirement, so why screen all applicants for this one, pretty specific skill, that of being good at essay tests? It just seems like a terrible waste of time to me – for the applicants, but for the company, too.

  5. PeteAndRepeat*

    These questions are also asking for specific, in-depth answers to broad questions IN 250 WORDS! This whole thing is so, so poorly thought out. I’ve been in multiple job hunts where I jumped through ridiculous hoops to apply for positions, but I’d laugh at this one and move on to the next application.

    1. Insert Clever Name Here*

      That second one especially… in 250 words you want me to 1) tell you about a project I implemented, 2) tell you 2-3 best practices, 3) what I liked about it, and 4) what I didn’t. There’s no way.

      1. GrumpyGnome*

        If I came across this in an application, I’d already know I wasn’t going to seriously apply and probably answer that second question with “I would love to answer this question in depth but due to character limits am unable to do so. Resume is available upon request, please contact me at X to set up a phone screen.”. Also, I’d have to assume I’d be blacklisted from that company, but it might be worth it.

        1. JeanB in NC*

          I got so frustrated one time filling out an application with all these extra questions, after already uploading a resume and cover letter, and having to retype half the application because it uploaded wrong. There was about 8 of these type of questions and I finally just started saying things like “why are you asking me this??? It’s on my resume!!”. Definitely blacklisted and I don’t even care.

      2. NotAPirate*

        Please tell us about a time you successfully carried a project from start to finish with little to no supervision. What were the 2-3 best practices learned in order to be successful? What did you enjoy about the autonomy and what, if anything, did you think was lacking?

        In my time at Llamas incorporated I created a new system for cleaning brushes and tracking needed replacements. It involved barcoding brushes to track usage and cross contaminants. I learned to focus not only on the solution itself but on making implementation as easy as possible. I also learned to provide options for user feedback early in the process. Users did have valid constraints with the initial prototype that would have be useful to know earlier, especially as in several cases as end users are not following the exact protocol that was given to me. I liked that this enabled the company to ensure quality of llama brushing and getting to run with my ideas and meeting end users as well as management during this process. I disliked the way the system is reliant on software XYZ, I have some concerns regarding updates and longevity. It would also be easier to access if it was software independent. As a work around we have a dedicated tablet at the grooming station that is shared by all groomers and a backup stored on site. I think with more oversight on this project we could have made a strong case for creating our own software and app to be used. A clearer way to address the scale of the project might be useful for similar efforts in the future.

        226 words. And that’s super unedited. You can barely get any detail in there, I tried to add background like what is the brush for and it doesn’t fit well. You’re not going to get much out of 250 words. Plus in an actual interview I can read the room, are they following what the end users use this thing for or do i need to make that clearer, etc. And they can ask follow up questions, clarify what you mean by XYZ. You’d get about as much information out of this “exercise” if you just asked for 250 words on what my favorite TV show is.

        1. RoseDark*

          Gonna be honest, I got bored about 100 words in and skipped to the next paragraph. Which is probably what would happen in the real applications. There’s no way to write a succinct answer to this that would be nearly as engaging as talking about it out loud.

    2. Uhtceare*

      Writing short is SO HARD! The time to write something meaningful and comprehensive that is ALSO punchy and compact is easily three times the time to just write the meaningful and comprehensive part. Not the way to recruit people who are already time-poor.

      Probably apocryphal Mark Twain: “I would have written a shorter letter, but I didn’t have the time.”

      1. Jennifer Thneed*

        It’s a real quote, but it wasn’t him. It’s unclear precisely who it was, but the first known rendition in English was in 1658. (Some of the later ones were probably quoting earlier ones because it’s amusing.)

        1. Uhtceare*

          Thanks :) I thought I recalled that he was quoting someone else, but couldn’t remember who.

      2. Pomona Sprout*

        Yeah, the only way I can write something that’s both meaningful and short is to write a ridiculously long first draft, then edit and cut the living daylights out of it repeatedly until it meets the word limit. That takes a ton of time. I’m a damned good writer, if I do say so myself, but that is freaking fricking hard.

  6. Anon For A Day*

    There’s nothing I hate more than going to apply for a position, thinking that I’ll attach my documents and be done – and then finding there’s a barrage of extra or repeat info to enter.

    Sometimes it’s things, like these essays, that require a lot of additional thought. And I’ve never heard back at all from any of those employers, even to give a rejection.

    1. Snarkus Aurelius*


      One of the reasons I stopped applying for federal jobs is because of the KSAs. I remember spending hours trying to write out answers only to be immediately rejected after I hit submit.

      I later learned from a former HR fed that you need to repeat the words in the KSA question over and over again in your answer so you can pass the automated screening tool.

      No thank you. Not worth it. Besides for the ten year period I spent writing responses to essay questions? Never got a single interview.

      I’m senior enough in my field that I can automatically decline to apply to any job that requires essays. I hate playing games.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        I’m almost mid-career, but am basically entry-level in my new field, and I still wouldn’t jump through these kinds of hoops. This is nuts.

      2. Starbuck*

        Ugh, USAjobs. I remember reading an article a couple years ago (when I was a new grad and thought I’d try applying to some govt positions after my govt internship) that was bemoaning the lack of younger workers in the federal workforce, partially because the application process was so impenetrable. My takeaway was that you’d need someone with experience with the federal hiring process to basically guide you through it, and that by being ‘honest’ you would almost certainly be auto-rejected.

  7. Snarkus Aurelius*

    Plus it’s super easy to cheat. It’s way too easy to either ask someone to write responses for you or write your own answers and have an expert review and edit. I have no doubt you could pay a writer to do this for you.

    You’re still reinforcing a bias.

  8. Dan*

    TBH, I think one question from that list is fine, but most of them (as written) suck. The only question I think that has a smidgen of value is the last one; the longer ones come across as really disjointed.

    Although… I once applied for a job in my field that required three short answer questions and one about salary. I have a bit of a unique background, and can give insightful answers to many questions. I never heard back, and I had named a salary figure that wasn’t ridiculous. My only thought was, “if you’re not willing to pay the low end of average for this skill set, why bother with the stupid essay questions? Apparently there’s only one question that really matters.”

  9. Archaeopteryx*

    I honestly would answer these questions just to ream them about how terrible a process this is. They need a reality check!

  10. Laura*

    Shouldn’t the cover letter serve some of this purpose? As a hiring manager, I look for a well-written, mistake-free cover letter that highlights some of the applicant’s top achievements and also specifically says why they want my particular job.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      Yes – the cover letter would best address these issues as would the eventual interview, lol.

    2. Alison*

      Ok, yes butttt most cover letters don’t actually answer key questions in my experience. I think if you have a good cover letter, you can copy and paste a lot of this.

    3. PrgrmMngr*

      I started emailing out a few questions to candidates who had interesting resumes but did not submit a cover letter. I don’t expect much, but it gave me a chance to see their writing skills and also what they believe in their background is relevant to the job (as nearly all candidates would be making a pivot to take the position).

      If I could have embedded them into the application process, with the option to say “see cover letter”, I absolutely would have. I appreciate a cover letter and outright ask for it, but few candidates provide one.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        I can see that as valid – asking for extra info in a cover letter or in place of a cover letter.

        What I hate is stuff like:
        “Send us a cover letter telling us: A. How you saved a former employer money, B. Why you want to work as a Llama Stablehand, and C. What is your favorite type of broom for sweeping up llama dung and why.”

        The lower level or more soul destroying a job is, the more they want you to perform enthusiasm and deep investment in it as a “career”.

    4. feministbookworm*

      The issue is that someone without access to good career advice resources (ex: family members and friends with office jobs, functional career offices, previous experience in a white collar job, time to spend reading books/articles about job applications, etc) may not know that that’s what a hiring manager is expecting, unless it’s asked for in the job application. The result is that people with more resources are going to be more likely to produce what a hiring manager expects, and people with fewer resources get screened out. While this is most important for entry-level positions, if people can’t get the entry level positions, how are they going to be in the running for more senior ones?

  11. Taco Time*

    If I see these types of questions, I give up on the application. It’s not worth my time.

    As a slight aside, I’ve also seen “Tell us what makes you unique in 150 characters or less” on two recent applications. This one baffles me. Most of what makes me unique has no relevance to the positions I’m seeking. And 150 characters is such a short length. I’m not sure how any response would give the company enough information to make or break my application.

    1. Uhtceare*

      “I have six toes on my left foot.”
      (which isn’t unique but may be in their candidate pool)

      What they’re going for is “distill what would make you excel at this position”; they’re not actually asking for the combination of factors that make you, Taco Time, the only one of your kind. They’re looking for “I am incredibly patient and love making spreadsheets!” for a role that does a lot with Excel, or “I enjoy importuning total strangers and encouraging them to buy soy milk powder” for retail positions. But it is a stupid question, firstly because of the misuse of “unique”, and secondly because the length limit encourages unverifiable statements like “I am friendly and a hard worker”, and discourages “Here is my track record of achievement.”

    2. Coder von Frankenstein*

      I am unique because I put the following text in this application: (fill up remainder of 150 characters with randomly generated text string)

      1. Sacred Ground*

        From “Life of Brian”:

        Brian: You are all different!
        Crowd: (in unison) Yes! We are all different!
        Brian: You are all unique!
        Crowd: (in unison) Yes! We are all unique!
        One quiet voice at the back of the crowd: I’m not.

  12. Guacamole Bob*

    I once did an application process kind of like this, but it was web-based and it was basically impossible to see what the questions were in advance. I just clicked submit on my resume and cover letter and then these other questions came up. You couldn’t see them in advance and so I hadn’t allocated time to them, and I didn’t want to cancel out because I’d already submitted my resume and cover letter. So I answered them on the fly, much less carefully than I would have if I’d known about them in advance.

    I did not hear back about that application.

    1. Guacamole Bob*

      They probably came across as about as well-written as this comment. Three uses of “in advance” in one four-sentence paragraph. Oops.

          1. Guacamole Bob*

            Ha, I wasn’t beating myself up about it – it’s an internet comment section – but noticing that the format of filling in a web text box without lots of time for review may not generate the most eloquent of writing from candidates.

        1. Uhtceare*

          (Guacamole Bob was replying to Guacamole Bob, so not necessary, but not particularly unkind)

    2. Snarkus Aurelius*

      I once applied to a Fortune 500 company. Same deal except it was a personality test. The questions weren’t numbered, and the system didn’t tell you how many there were. So I did one screen and then the next and the next. Two hours (!!!) later, I felt bamboozled and left the process. It was ridiculous.

      Plus I know you’re asking me the same question just rephrased to see if I’ll give the same answer. I’m not stupid!

      1. Amy Farrah Fowler*

        Ugh – yes! those are awful. My husband and sister both had to do one (they worked at the same company for awhile) and it’s literally like 57 variations of “It’s okay to steal from the company if I repay what I took” or “It’s okay to sell (illegal) drugs to my coworkers on company time as long as the coworker can afford it” My husband read each question out loud to me and I think by the end my brain had leaked out my ear!

    3. Amariy*

      Ugh, I just ran into this problem. I thought it was just wanting me to attach a resume and cover letter, so I put one together, clicked continue, and it was followed by a lengthy extensive questionnaire requesting full work history, full salary history, contact information for all supervisors, and applying granted them permission to contact all of them including your current supervisor. Reader, I withdrew.

  13. AnonGoodNurse*

    I work for a government agency and our candidates do complete a written assignment, but it’s only after a second round interview. Candidates have to first pass through a screening process conducted by HR (which includes scoring for things like diversity, veterans preference, minimal qualifications, etc.), then our office conducts a first round interview. Candidates who are selected for a second interview are given a written exercise at that time (immediately following the second interview). The exercises are submitted blindly to the hiring panel (so the panel doesn’t know who wrote what…) and graded.

    But HR and the first round interviews are pretty vigorous. It’s a government process and has its draw backs, but writing and analysis are a huge part of our job, so the writing assignment is critical. It can definitely impact the outcome of the interviews.

    However, it would not be appropriate and would be a waste of time for this to be done before the first round interview. It would have turned me off from interviewing with them.

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      Exactly – there’s nothing wrong with a reasonable writing assignment once you’ve reached a certain level within the process of interviewing. But in the process of submitting an application. Nope!

  14. Nanani*

    This sounds like a college admissions essay. Did someone decide to take a page from college admissions and adapt it for hiring? It’s silly for all the reasons discussed, and probably counterproductive.

    If you need writing sample, ask for them AFTER the initial screen (or if its a portfolio industry, you’d get them with the resume). Asking people what sound like interview questions when they haven’t even got the basic screening done is a massive waste of time on both sides.

  15. Bob*

    My first thought is, are they going to morph this into getting unpaid work out of candidates?

  16. seldomsham*

    Can we have a new wall of shame for potential employers who give too much homework to candidates who feel trapped by the current job market? I received the below after a phone screening with an HR rep:

    “Thank you for your time this afternoon. We enjoyed speaking with you. In addition to the interview questions, we wanted to ask you to complete a typical recruiter assignment as part of the interview process. I’ll describe the assignment below:
    1) Write an engaging Indeed advertisement for a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) position.
    2) Write a Facebook advertisement for a CNA position. Describe the picture you would include with the post.
    3) Write and/or describe 2-3 Facebook/Instagram posts for the purpose of increasing engagement.
    4) Write 6 interview questions for a CNA interview that you believe are critical to determining whether the candidate is a good fit for the position.
    If you could send this back at your earliest convenience, that’d be great.
    Thanks so much!”

    1. PeteAndRepeat*

      Beyond being way too much, this also seems like a sneaky way to get free work product.

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        Picking two of these questions to ask candidates to do after a second-round interview would be one thing. All of them after a phone screen seems nuts.

    2. juliebulie*

      Wow. If they can get even 5% of applicants to complete these kinds of assignments, they won’t need to hire anyone at all!

      1. voluptuousfire*

        Make that did anyone else aside from me read this in the voice of Bill Lundberg, the boss from Office Space?

    3. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

      The only way to make this close to acceptable is to ask for work that your company clearly can’t use. I’ve done a lot of work for banks, and one of them had an interview whiteboard exercise that focused a fast food place. It was purely to see how candidates approached the work, and it was also clear that that hiring team wasn’t looking for people to do actually usable work for them.

  17. Foreign Octopus*

    I’ve actually just completed an application that had a question about responsiveness that would have been better suited to an in-person question. Had I not already gone through ten minutes of filling out details to get there, I might have stopped filling in. As it is, in their feedback form, I did say that it was out of place there. It was way too time consuming to be in an initial application, especially as it had a word limit, which, like OP says, is even more difficult.

  18. Rachael*

    As a single mom…I would never apply to this place. It would be too exhaustive. I would look at it and just decide that it’s far too much work right away.

  19. Lucy*

    This reminds me of the Miss America pageant. Okay job applicants, what’s your ideal date?

  20. nnn*

    Another thing that strikes me is how unlikely it is that these questions would all be appropriate to the same job. I mean, it’s possible that they are – I don’t know what the job is – but, for example, “How do you see our industry’s landscape evolving over the next 5 to 10 years?” is not super relevant to lower-level jobs, whereas “Please tell us about a time you successfully carried a project from start to finish with little to no supervision” isn’t appropriate to the kinds of leadership jobs that involve thinking about industry direction.

    Even if asking candidates to answer short essay questions at this stage in the process were appropriate, I’m not sure that these are the right questions to ask.

    1. Sacred Ground*

      Most jobs do not ever require someone to carry a project from start to finish with little or no supervision. I’ve never worked at one. As a mechanic, as a stagehand, and in military service I’ve always been required to either work with others or be supervised, carrying out others’ plans. Or when I worked largely alone (as a driver) there were no “projects” with a definable “start to finish.” There were only tasks, assignments, and the ongoing processes of the transport sector.

      I guess this means I’m not qualified for anything after 30+ years of working. I feel like I know this already.

  21. Schuyler Seestra*

    So I don’t completely hate this idea? I have edited my resume, updated my resume, but still get passed over for jobs that align with my skillset. I’d actually rather answer essay questions if its in liu of my resume. Honestly the above questions us basically STAR interview questions in written form. I think this is a creative way to get to know candidates beyond skillset, it emphasizes soft skills as well.

    1. Schuyler Seestra*

      uggh, I meant Linkedin. Anyway I hate when I have to answer a bunch of questions in addition to resume and cover letter, but this sounds different. It gives me the space to be more intentional with my answers. I come from a creative industry so i like having unique options to highlight my achievements. With that being said I completely get why this concept isn’t everyones cup of tea.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        The thing is, they can ask you these things during an interview if they’re curious. It makes no sense to do this before either side has determined through a phone screen if you even want to continue in the process or not. I’ve applied to many jobs that sound good on paper, but as soon as I spoke to the HR rep for the initial phone screen, realized that job was not for me.

        I’d be highly annoyed to have had to fill out these ridiculous questions prior to a phone screen and come to find out after speaking with HR that the salary isn’t in line with what I want to make or the job description left out some key detail that would have made me pass on the posting in the first place.

        1. Schuyler Seestra*

          It seems like an alternative to the phone screen. I’d like to know what the rest of the recruiter process looks like. I assume next step is a traditional interview with the recruiter.

      2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        Applying for a job is very time consuming. And that’s with the ability to reuse or revamp your resume and cover letter. Adding one more thing to do, that most likely can’t be reused (unless another company asks the exact same questions) is a big ask at the application stage of the process. I’m not opposed to the essay questions in general, but most people are not going to invest that much time in it before they even know if they have a shot at the job.

        1. Schuyler Seestra*

          I’m on the job hunt myself. I would actually take the time to answer the questions. It’s not a deal breaker to me.

  22. Beth*

    I could see this being workable IF it was the norm in the field AND the questions were standardized enough that people already had stock versions of answers the way most people have a stock version of a cover letter. This is how I feel like it works in academia–I have a stock version of my CV, but also a stock version of a ‘statement of purpose’ essay, a stock diversity statement, a stock teaching statement, etc. It’s still a lot of work for each application even with those basics already written, since it’s a lot of text that needs editing and adjusting to the specific grant or workshop or program or job I’m applying for, and I’d love to see it be less for at least the initial stage since I know they’ll only be seriously considering a handful of applicants for any given thing I might apply for. But it’s how the field is, so we work with it.

    That’s not the reality of most fields. In most fields, the normal materials are your resume and maybe a cover letter, and that’s what people are prepared to submit. Stick to that unless there’s a very good reason not to. If there is a good reason, what you’re asking for 1. should be extremely targeted to that reason, and 2. should take pretty minimal time for applicants to write up (no longer than adjusting an already-written resume/cover letter to a job listing would, ideally).

    1. Not for academics*

      This is kind of what I was thinking too – a writing sample is standard sometimes, and having it directed to a specific topic is too. I don’t hate the idea in general, though the questions should be specific enough that they’re a good assessment of candidate-to-job match and that the reviewer is paying attention to their own language biases. We’ve got all this done in general enough terms already, it’s just a tweak as needed.

  23. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    Being in the reality of today, where many companies don’t bother reaching out after an interview if they’re not interested in moving forward, there’s no way I’m spending any additional time to write an essay to apply for a job. Finding a job is a full time job in and of itself, with the searching, writing cover letters, making sure my resume is relevant to the job, etc. So until a company has expressed interest in moving forward with me, you’re not getting more of my free time.

  24. Jennifer Juniper*

    Hmmm…..this process could discriminate against people with dyslexia and other learning disabilities, as well as those with limited English proficiency. (I’m assuming this is an American trend.)

    1. Lucette Kensack*

      No system is perfectly neutral, and eliminating all potential avenues for bias can’t be the goal. The goal needs to be to identify those particular biases that people in power in your institution (or sector, or culture) tend to have and build structures that help them avoid those biases.

      It’s also ok if your system screens out people who don’t have the skills necessary for the work: if clear, written communication on a short timeframe is a key skill for the job, it’s a good thing if your system screens out people who — for whatever reason — can’t do that well. What hiring managers need to do is be very clear with themselves about what the necessary skills actually are and build hiring processes and assessments that screen for those (rather than defaulting to assuming that someone who writes a good cover letter is better than someone whose written English isn’t as a strong; or that someone with a degree is automatically a stronger candidate than someone without).

  25. Observer*

    So, I agree that this is not a good idea for the reasons that Allison notes. But I’m going to strongly disagree that “Employers are still assessing people on their writing ability and the content of what they say” is a problem. For the kinds of jobs that these questions would be relevant to, the ability to write reasonably well is actually quite relevant. And what else is an employer supposed to judge an employee on but what they actually say?

    1. Nanani*

      It becomes a problem if this sort of exercise is required across the board, even for jobs that -don’t- require writing skills.

      Do you really think the kind of company that jumps on trends and doesn’t care about wasting applicant time is going to carefully consider whether every position requires writing ability?
      Assuming every job requires writing to a certain level is just, not reality.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        Years ago, I applied for a paralegal job in the county attorney’s office. They had a bunch of us in for the interview, for both paralegal and legal secretary jobs. One of the preliminaries was a typing test. I am a competent typist, so this was no problem for me. The funny part was that they told us the minimum speeds for the two jobs. The paralegal had a higher minimum than did the secretary. Legal secretaries sometimes do classic secretarial functions like typing letters that a lawyer has dictated. Speed is a reasonable criterion for this. Paralegals don’t do this (at least not win a well functioning office). We do our own typing, which might be letters or pleadings or work product for the lawyer. In none of these is speed, within reason, a major factor. Typing speed is not the limiting factor when drafting a legal pleading. So it made absolutely no sense for the paralegal position to have a higher minimum. I actually asked about this (which might be why I didn’t get the job). I got an embarrassed response, that yes, this didn’t make a lick of sense, but paralegals were paid more so they had higher minimums. That’s just how it worked. So yeah, I have to agree that a trend for essay questions is going to be grossly misapplied to file clerks and janitors.

        1. Abogado Avocado*

          I disagree.

          A paralegal who hunts and pecks or who can’t type without having to go back and correct is a slow paralegal. Which can be a significant problem in an office where the paralegal’s workload is greater and required to be more legally precise than that of the average legal secretary (to the extent legal secretary positions even exist anymore, anyway). In fact, that’s why, in most law practices, paralegals are compensated at greater rates than legal secretaries.

          As for speed not being an issue, there’s a significant amount of emergency litigation in government practice, whether TRO’s, motions to quash, or writ applications that require paralegal assistance well beyond typing pleadings. If a paralegal can’t type speedily and accurately, then the county attorney’s office probably isn’t the place for that paralegal.

          1. Guacamole Bob*

            I don’t think the argument is that a paralegal doesn’t need to be able to type competently. It’s that a paralegal doesn’t have a need to type faster than a legal secretary.

            My typing speed isn’t the limiting factor much of the time – I’m working through what I want to say as I write, thinking about word choice and phrasing and whatnot – and that’s likely to be true for many paralegal tasks. For straight typing up of someone else’s writing, like a legal secretary, typing speed is likely to be a more relevant metric of how quickly they can accomplish a task.

          2. Semprini!*

            I’d imagine a “produce a typical legal document in X amount of time” test would be more effective than a typing speed test. It seems like there’s any number of factors that might make a paralegal unable to produce quickly enough (for example, if they have to look stuff up too frequently, or aren’t able to look stuff up quickly enough) and testing for typing skills alone would miss any number of problems.

          3. Artemesia*

            I am a touch typist who types reasonably competently and not a hunt and pecker — BUT I would never be able to type at the blazing speed that someone typing copy rather than creating copy would need to do. Speed is just not necessary for a para legal doing their own composing past a certain competent minimum.

          4. Richard Hershberger*

            What they said. It is entirely reasonable to treat typing as a necessary skill for a paralegal, and to test an applicant for it. But a paralegal need not be a blazing fast typist. A fast typist isn’t composing the text, but merely transcribing it. I, only a modestly competent typist, can type faster than I can think through what to say. I have drafted my share of emergency rush jobs that need to be at the court by 4:30. My modest typing skills are not even close to the limiting factor.

        2. Observer*

          What do you want to bet that the people who came up with these guidelines were a bunch of guys who weren’t really thinking about the real needs of the positions but about how to evaluate and pay the “girls” who support the (probably all male) lawyers.

          And before anyone jumps on me, I do NOT think that it is at all appropriate to refer to support staff as “girls” (or “boys”). But we all know that this is EXACTLY how female support staff were referred to.

          1. pancakes*

            We don’t all know that, no. Maybe this is regional to some extent, but these stereotypes aren’t true of firms I’ve worked in, and seem outdated to me. Have a look at the Women in Law wiki page for numbers.

            1. Richard Hershberger*

              It is also possible that these job requirements were drafted decades ago and have never been reconsidered.

      2. Observer*

        I wasn’t addressing the question of whether this is a good idea – I agree that it’s not.

        I was only addressing the idea that trying to assess people on ability to write and on what they have to say is necessarily a problem.

    2. Koala dreams*

      Yes, any job that requires a resume would have this problem. If judging people on their writing abilities is a problem, it applies to traditional applications too. The post says that the answers are in place of resumes, so writing abilities are required either way.

      1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

        Do you think so? It’s perfectly okay to have someone help you with your résumé, either just proofreading or actual wordsmithing, but I’m pretty sure that you’re expected to produce these answers unassisted. And your résumé you’d prepare in advance with lots of time to check it for typos, but these questions seem like something that companies spring on you with a limited time to answer them. So I don’t see them as an equivalent assessment of writing skills.

        1. Koala dreams*

          I might have mixed up resume and cover letter. If the company would ask for both, then they are already demanding decent writing skills. If they ask for only a resume or to fill in an application, maybe not as much? The examples on this blog seem to me to require quite a lot of writing skills for both resume and cover letter, though.

          I would assume it’s okay to ask someone to proofread the texts and give advice, just as with resumes and cover letters. (Or with school essays for that matter.)

  26. Lucette Kensack*

    I’ve wondered a bit about a similar experience I had last year.

    Last year I interviewed for two separate roles at the same institution. Both times, I made it to the second round of interviews, and both times was given a writing assignment like this between the first and second interviews. It was certainly better designed than this — there were only a half dozen or so folks who had to complete this assignment, as the field had already been winnowed by a resume review and an initial interview — but it was still hours of work, and by the second time I went through it I found it pretty frustrating.

    Do you see a role for this kind of assignment at any stage in the process?

      1. ampersand*

        As someone with ADHD, writing assignments that take other people a standard amount of time to write can sometimes (okay, often) take me longer to complete. I’m not sure there’s a good solution for this, but it’s something for employers to keep in mind when they’re assuming that a writing assignment should only take X amount of time. I feel like this could get into weird accommodation territory during the interview process, and that’s not something I would personally want to deal with!

      2. Lucette Kensack*

        Yeah, this was way more than one hour.

        And now that I think about it, my last job had a labor-intensive project as a part of the hiring process, too. At least for that one it was before a final interview (and I believe, at that point, I was the only serious candidate; they did a rolling hiring process). That one was even more labor-intensive — it was to develop an initial plan for launching a new regional presence for the organization, and build a deck to present on the plan.

      3. Curmudgeon in California*

        I, just today, wrote a 127 word “How To” wiki page in roughly 45 minutes, including formatting, hyperlinks and examples. Something short like that would be fine.

        But 250 words is about an hour and a half of composition and formatting, IME. Multiples of these, even after a phone screen, would be very daunting, especially talking about soft squishy “values”. (If I did an essay on values, it would probably be 1000 words, and take a day to polish.)

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I think it’s fine at the stage of the process that you describe, but it isn’t something that should take HOURS. That’s insane and totally not worth it.

    2. Nonprofiteer*

      I’m not sure why you’d choose essay assignments vs. a task directly related to the job. You could be a wonderful writer and have great perspective on the industry, and still be really deficient on a technical aspect or have bad judgement. Often in the course of a full-day interview I’m asked to complete a task that would actually be requested if I accepted the job.

  27. Admins, can't find good ones*

    Unreasonable Group has an application like this although I think they do look at resumes too, they’re just stripped of anything they think might bias them. For fun, I applied.

    As part of the rejection email, I got to read their assessment of my answers and see how I stacked up against other applicants. No written comments, just a rating in graphic format for each answer. Not sure what value they thought that added since they didn’t say why one answer was amazing and the next was just so-so. Anyway, I agree that putting these questions first adds a huge burden to candidates. Kind of like the video one place required. I skipped that!

  28. Lizzo*

    If equity in hiring practices is a concern, there are more practical things to do like including salary ranges on job postings. (And offering fair and competitive salaries, too.) Neither of those things require candidates to jump through extra hoops.

  29. SomebodyElse*

    I honestly think this is terrible. If you really want to remove bias from the initial screen… then clicky boxes is the way to go…

    Requirement 1: Y/N
    #2: Y/N
    #3: Y/N
    Degree: Y/N or choose A, B, or C

    This is the only way to fairly initially screen candidates, then I guess if you wanted to take it further you only allow that information to go to the interviewers.

    To be fair I hate that idea too. Because it’s a terrible way to assess a candidate! It would be better than the twitter essays that the OP is talking about.

    I don’t claim to have any answers here, but goodness… this is definitely a terrible idea. Surely there’s a better way to accomplish this?

  30. Nikki*

    I’m a software engineer and I’ve seen this type of thing frequently when applying for jobs in the past. A lot of companies will ask applicants to complete a brief coding assessment along with their resume, I’m guessing so they can confirm the applicant actually has the skills they’re looking for before moving forward with any interviews. This makes a lot of sense to me because it’s hard to tell by looking at a resume how capable someone is at coding and this kind of thing easily screens out unqualified applicants. But I can see that in other fields, written essays might not be as useful in screening out candidates.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      Assessments aren’t the problem – as you said, many companies use them to narrow down their pool of applicants. Most of those assessments also come after a resume has been submitted and a phone screen has taken place because hiring managers and HR reps typically don’t have time to sit around and read 100+ assessments for candidates they more than likely won’t be moving along in the process anyway.

      The problem with this is that they’re asking interview questions in lieu of receiving resumes (which is stupid in and of itself since you could be impressed by someone’s answers and then receive their resume after only to discover they have zero of the practical/technical skills you’re looking for) and before they’ve even spoken to a candidate in a brief 20 minute phone screen. It’s backwards.

    2. Coder von Frankenstein*

      Sure, but that is a scenario where there is clear, direct relevance to the job. And even so, I’d say a pre-interview coding assessment should be quite short, something along the lines of FizzBuzz, where you are simply confirming “Yes, this person can take stated requirements and turn them into code.”

    3. Khatul Madame*

      How do they know the person completing the assessment is the same as the candidate?

      1. Clisby*

        My grad-school daughter has had a few application assessments like this that are proctored. They can tell that she’s doing it. They’re watching her do it.

    4. Tau*

      I’ve done coding tests, but always at the interview stage (or post-phone screen, at least). I’d be really annoyed to be asked to do one as part of my application, I am not made of time.

  31. KayEss*

    My employer does something like this and while I absolutely love my job and company, that one thing about their hiring process makes me cringe. I initially ghosted the hiring manager (now my boss) when I received their questions (before even a phone screen!), and only ultimately continued because he followed up strongly hinting that they REALLY wanted to interview me and I had been unemployed almost a year at the time. The one saving grace was that when I had the phone and later in-person interview, it was clear that everyone had actually read and considered my responses and asked deeper questions about things I wrote instead of rehashing the same questions I had already answered verbally.

    I’ve gently raised that we may be missing out on good candidates because of our onerous hiring process, but apparently it’s felt that the ones we get are sufficiently good. :/

  32. Anonapots*

    This is standard operating procedures in all government jobs for the city where I live. It’s aggravating and such a waste of time.

    1. Snarkus Aurelius*

      And you’re not hiring the most qualified people. You’re hiring the people who can figure out your job application process.

      Those are two different and unique groups!

    2. MJ*

      Perhaps it’s an assessment to check applicants’ tolerance for long drawn-out pointless soul-crushing tasks.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        I find this the most likely answer, even if that is not the originally intended purpose.

  33. Adereterial*

    The second question (tell me about a time when…) is effectively asking for a competency/behaviour example. That’s the standard requirement for applications to lots of public sector jobs in the UK – typically 4 statements on 4 of the 9 behaviours will be required, and you’ll be sifted either in or out for interview on the basis of those.

    Want a UK public sector job? That’s how you’ll be applying for one. CVs are more common than they used to be but behavioural statements are still used heavily, particularly for roles below deputy director level. Internal (ie existing public sector employees) tend to have a bunch of examples for each ready to go, with minor tweaks. Those that are good at writing them can crack one out in a few minutes. I am not one of those people…

    1. Foxgloves*

      Yes, I was just going to say the same. I work in higher education in the UK (professional services), and I have had to do this in job applications too. It’s infuriating and SO time consuming, but to be honest I’ve never had to submit an application which is just CV and cover letter, so it feels sort of normal. I’m quite good at them, and save all of my past applications so I can rattle through quickly, but yeah, this is somewhat normal as far as I’m concerned…

    2. Wintermute*

      big cultural difference though, a public sector job in the UK has a lot more legs than any job in the US, but especially private sector. In the US for public service we have tests and exams as well.

  34. Night of the Living History*

    I once put a short essay question on an Indeed listing for a part time position because no one would submit a cover letter as requested in the listing. No one. If I rejected everyone who didn’t submit one, I wouldn’t have been able to fill the position. That was a special case of a not-very-exciting-or-well-paying position in a low unemployment rate market and I generally agree this is weird.

    1. Khatul Madame*

      Requiring a separate cover letter attachment is pretty onerous. If you allowed it to be copy-pasted into a form, you’d have gotten more responses. Copy-paste allows to tailor the text on the fly.
      And I say this as someone who actually saves her cover letters with company name and position number in the filename. But the positions I apply for are senior and pay well, so I take the time.

    2. Jubilance*

      Was a cover letter really critical for you? What type of information were you looking for?
      Just curious.

  35. ampersand*

    I applied to a job recently that required that I answer multiple questions (like five or so) in an essay format. Also they requested a cover letter and resume.

    I wasn’t selected for an interview. It took them two days to send me a rejection email, which, yay? I’m glad they were on top of it and actually followed up, but I spent way too much time on that application. To be fair, I was really interested in the job and organization. It still stings though to sink that much time and thought into something just to be not selected.

    1. MmmmmmMMMmm*

      I had one that had 11 questions! I got a first round interview, and they told me, “Oh, we’ll contact you in about a week.” Heard nothing for about a month? Then I got a rejection letter in the mail. Which, is fine, whatever, BUT, they used really nice paper with gold foil? Like, isn’t it cheaper to send an email??

      1. CW*

        @MmmmmmMMMmm They sent you mail? The same thing happened to me a few years ago. I got a rejection letter in the mail sealed in the envelope. I opened it, then ripped it apart and threw it away without thinking twice. Just send an email next time? It baffles me that some companies still operate like it is 1990.

  36. Binky*

    I don’t understand how these questions help with diversity/bias issues. Doesn’t the qualitative nature of the assessment lend itself to even more unconscious biases? At least where you’ve worked/how long/what position as reflected in your resume is objective. An eloquent answer about “what excites you most about our field” has no connection to whether an applicant can do the job at hand.

  37. MmmmmmMMMmm*

    I JUST had this for a job application! It had eleven questions! It didn’t list how long they wanted the answers to be, and honestly, by number eight, I was asking myself if it was really worth it. All of the questions were ones that I’ve typically seen in an interview before “Tell me about a time when…” that in person, are easy to explain the background behind, but when putting it to paper, just seems LONG. Not a fan of them AT ALL.

  38. Zennish*

    I could be wrong, but my thought is that the companies that require this sort of thing from applicants probably inflict a similar level of inane overcomplication on their employees. I just imagine that every memo, document and policy in the entire org. will make Joyce’s Ulysses look brief and to the point.

  39. MistOrMister*

    Oh good lord. I originally thought OP was giving amples from various applications. Then realized after reading Alison’s response that this is all for one place!! Just…wut? I feel like a heck of a lot of people would opt out of applying after seeing these questions. I sure would. This is ridiculous. I also really hate the question of where you see the industry. I guess it depends on what type of position you’re going after, but I don’t care what changes happen in my industry as long as my job is safe!

  40. Alison*

    I ask questions like these (but just one and with a short word limit.) Honestly, most cover letters are really, really bad and don’t answer the things I want to know. And most CVs don’t get the message across.

  41. Travelling Librarian*

    In Australia there’s a similar approach to this that’s common in many industries – called “Key Selection Criteria”. Basically a list of required experience/knowledge (e.g. “demonstrated excellence in customer service”) and you would have to answer each point with detailed examples (Typically using the STAR method) and submit this as a separate document in addition to a resume and cover letter.

    I’ve applied for jobs before that had 10-12 key selection criteria, so you end up writing 700-1000 extra words for those applications. When you’re also tailoring your resume and cover letter to each job, it ends up taking a huge amount of time for each application! In my industry this is standard, even for part-time or casual positions.

    I was surprised (and kinda relieved) when I moved to North America and found this was not common here at all. On the other hand, it gave me great practice writing job applications.

    1. Miss Pantalones En Fuego*

      Same in the UK. Almost every job I’ve applied for here has had a similar format, if slightly different questions. For instance, I’m currently working on an application that has six questions about things like “describe how you provide excellent service”, and then a statement about how you meet all the criteria in the Person Specification, which is often a table of characteristics and experience, broken into categories and classed as either essential or desirable. The questions have a 250 word limit and the statement 1000. It’s a total pain, and it’s only for a six month contract!

      1. ceiswyn*

        That’s gotta be industry specific; I’m in the UK, and if anyone tried that on me I’d nope right out of there.

        1. londonedit*

          Yeah, I’m in the UK and I’ve never seen this in my industry. It’s standard CV and cover letter all the way.

          1. Miss Pantalones En Fuego*

            Really? That surprises me. I’ve even applied for jobs like receptionist or other admin type jobs that had the whole person specification thing. Most places I’ve applied don’t have the separate essay type questions but they almost all ask for a statement that addresses how you meet all the criteria. My husband’s industry uses this format and he says they take the person specification and compare it item by item with the statement, and score applicants on how well they meet the criteria. If you don’t meet all the essential ones you don’t get interviewed.

    2. Artemesia*

      I absolutely don’t believe these things are carefully read and considered if they are part of the application itself. It is insulting to expect people to devote a lot of effort to something at that stage. Winnow it down to ten promising candidates at least before upping the ante.

    3. Agreed*

      Yeah, my reaction was the same. I totally agree it’s a heavy burden on candidates with no guarantee of an interview, but I was surprised at the vehemence of the response here. I think there needs to be a rider on the advice Alison has given that this practice is in fact very, very normal outside the US.

      People with multiple jobs/single parents/work and study obligations just find the time to do it, so it’s not impossible. It’s just accepted as part of the time you have to factor into applying for a job, if you want to work in those industries. I’ve never heard anyone complain that it’s discriminatory to those groups.

  42. RussianInTexas*

    All of these questions are more or less relevant to my current job, and my job does not require me to write much except an occasional semi-casual e-mail to a customer with a question or a confirmation.
    No one cares for internal e-mails. Half of my company consists of the first generation immigrants, and none of us have perfect language skills. I measure my on the top of the sliding scale for my particular company (for the group of immigrants). We make do.

  43. RussianInTexas*

    If I saw questions like these, I would totally ask my partner to check my answers, and help me, to make them look good. I don’t have that much trust in my writing abilities, given that English is my second language, and I never have to really write anything for work. I would never apply for a job that requires writing specifically, so why should I be tested on it?
    Is it cheating? Yes. Do I care? Not at all.

  44. natalie*

    I remember I once answered around 20 such questions for just one application directly after my Ph.D. It took me a day or two of work.

    Now I can’t believe how stupid I was. And how happy I am that I decided to switch into IT, where a thing like that would never be accepted.

  45. That Girl from Quinn's House*

    Based on my experience on the job market, I’d assume this job was a scam and not answer them, honestly.

  46. Aquawoman*

    This also screens for strong writers, which is likely not the purpose. I’m a lawyer, where writing is important and even so, there are other strengths that are important. I’ve had employees who weren’t among the strongest writers but had a great head for financial analysis or public speaking.

  47. Kara S*

    Honestly if I saw this, I would not bother applying unless the job seemed perfect. These questions are very open-ended and not answerable in 250 words. They also seem more like interview questions than application questions and it signals the company doesn’t know effective ways to interview and hire.

    I once had an online job application ask me questions that were strange logic and math puzzles. Think “If train A leaves the station at 12:00….” or “Mary lives in the blue house, Jane lives next to Mary…” type puzzles. Each one had a two minute time limit and it was incredibly stressful. The job in question? Entry level graphic designer. No idea what they were hoping to accomplish with those other than turning away applicants.

    1. RussianInTexas*

      I had to do these for a customer service job (I got the job). I have no idea why they needed it. I don’t have to solve any kind of puzzles at my job.

    2. JSPA*

      Well, there you go; they’d rather get ten responses from people who think the job seems perfect, than 200 responses from people who are applying to everything that they might be qualified for.

      The logic puzzles suggest that they were screening for “people I’d like to chat with,” not “people who do good work.” That’s more of a problem, when the skills you test for have little or nothing to do with performing the job well.

    3. university admin*

      I’m one of those people who like logic puzzles, but unless I’m interviewing to write questions like those for a standardized test (or something similar), I can’t imagine how it would be useful to be able to do these for the vast majority of jobs in the universe.

    4. Red henley*

      “Honestly if I saw this, I would not bother applying unless the job seemed perfect. ”

      ..but I think you’ve just identified the upside — to employers — of asking this question.

    5. Curmudgeon in California*

      I hate “story problems”. I’m good at math, took all the way up through differential equations and got good grades in it. But I loath story problems, logic puzzles, and trick questions. Yes, I realize that a lot of programming is writing solutions to what boils down to story problems, but it is real world versus contrived baloney.

      I also hate pre-employment cognitive tests. I have ADHD, dyslexia, aphasia, short term memory issues, and have survived a stroke. These are designed as deliberate tools to screen out people with cognitive disabilities that can actually be worked around.

  48. Goldenrod*

    When I was actively job searching, I had to do SO MUCH HOMEWORK. Sometimes it was later in the process, but sometimes not! Half the time, you’d work really hard on something and then later find out they barely glanced at it, which made me think the point was just seeing how many hoops you were willing to jump through.

    The worst was a job I did homework for – I had to write 2 sample letters on an assigned topic – then I had a follow-up interview that was ALL DAY. And I’m an exec assistant – it’s not generally an all-day interview type of career. There was a room of about 20 people in a panel, taking turns asking me questions….then another large panel THAT REPEATED SOME OF THE SAME QUESTIONS.

    The worst part? The next day, they emailed me with a question that they “forgot to ask” and wanted the answer via email. It’s like, really? You had ALL DAY and like 50 people asking me questions.

    Actually the very worst part was sending them the email answer – and then getting a really cold rejection!

    :D that was one job I was happy not to get!

    1. Wendy Darling*

      There is so, so much homework in job searching now. The line I’ve drawn is that I won’t do homework if I haven’t at least TALKED to someone. I need to hear a bit about the job so I can figure out if I actually want it before I dump hours into your hiring process, thanks!

      And some homework I just won’t do. If you want me to do 8 hours of work I’m just going to withdraw my application. If you give me a task that it would take 8+ hours to do decently and tell me it should only take me an hour or two, I’m also going to withdraw my application. (I used to do whatever I could manage in an hour or two but I got ghosted after every time so I’ve given that up.) This is always on top of 5+ hours of interviews, too!

  49. TootsNYC*

    My God, how exhausting! Those would take a LOT of thinking and writing. And then the pressure of editing, proofreading, etc…..

    1. CW*

      God forbid if you made a typo you didn’t catch, even after proofreading 3-4 times. That has happened to me.

      Mistakes happen, but so many employers are so stubborn that they think one typo is a sign you will be a bad employee and therefore they reject you before giving you a chance to interview. No, typos mean we are human. We are not designed to be perfect. But some companies just don’t get that.

  50. CW*

    This drives me nuts. Usually, I back off and don’t even bother to apply. When I actually go for it, by the end of it I have lost all my patience. Even one sports team in the NFL did this (I won’t say which team for privacy concerns); I applied anyway because I thought it would be cool to have an opportunity work for a popular sports team. Even with that in mind, it still drove me crazy.

    Companies that do this are just wasting their own time. This doesn’t attract more candidates, it drives them away. And then the employers complain they can’t find anybody. Job applications should be simple and straightforward. That way, more people will apply.

  51. Brain the Brian*

    Also: what kind of hiring manager has time to sit and read 1,000 words per submission as part of an initial screening process? Honestly, if you have that kind of time, I question whether you need another employee!

    1. Artemesia*

      I used to get about 100 applications for a job that required a PhD — about 20% were garbage, about 40% were impressive but not what we were looking for and so only about 40% even got closely read. We then narrowed it to ten and phone screened from that pool — usually 6 — and then interviewed with rather demanding schedules and requirements for preparation 2 or 3. It would have been cruel to expend complicated essay questions for the 60% that had zero chance and I think unreasonable to ask it of the 30% we didn’t consider for the phone screen.

      And No way is anyone reading that much junk carefully. So it makes the applicant expend energy that is not even used. It reminds me of organizations that don’t say ‘no’ to projects but keep asking those proposing them to write more and more justifications etc — because they aren’t willing to just say forget about it.

  52. JSPA*

    Pushing back, partially, in that the specific questions matter at least as much as being asked to write.

    Before they get to the interview stage with any company–and in fact, before they write their cover letters for other companies–it would do most applicants a WORLD of good to prepare a thoughtful, concise, calibrated answer to the question,

    “Please tell us about a time you successfully carried a project from start to finish with little to no supervision. What were the 2-3 best practices learned in order to be successful? What did you enjoy about the autonomy and what, if anything, did you think was lacking?”

    Being encouraged to do this for one job is of great benefit to the applicants who have not already formulated a good answer. And for candidates who have already thought through that class of questions, it’s not much of a hoop to jump through.

    For upper level jobs, assessing the future of the industry is a much better assessment than the tired old, “where do you want to be in 5 years” question. And really, if you want to work in an industry, you should have some sense if it’s in its dying days, going strong, the next big thing, driven by healthy competition or riven by unhealthy influence peddling by a pair of feuding duopolies.

    In contrast, the one about “companies who could be interested in investing in our partners” is just scummy, “we’ll profit off your ideas without hiring you” BS. Reject with extreme prejudice.

    1. Sacred Ground*

      “Please tell us about a time you successfully carried a project from start to finish with little to no supervision. What were the 2-3 best practices learned in order to be successful? What did you enjoy about the autonomy and what, if anything, did you think was lacking?”

      You can honestly give an honest and complete answer to this in 250 words or less?

      1. JSPA*

        Someone gave an example above (or below) so i don’t plan to re-invent that wheel, but, yes. Unexpected though it may be, based on my long post here, I can and do edit for brevity, when it matters.

        There are few jobs where nattering on is tolerated, and fewer where it’s rewarded.

      2. JSPA*

        Example: my Ph.D. project. The received information on my starting materials was wrong; I learned to cross check information and be alert to inconsistencies. The presumed basis for the entire effect was grounded in a misconception; I had to find ways to present the the concept and arguments in entirely new ways, so that people steeped in the old assumptions could be openminded. I loved both the moment at 2 AM when everything suddenly made sense, and the moment of showmanship, at group meeting, when I built up to the reveal. The downsides: My preference for working late and alone to germinate those “aha” moments was not ideal. It took me far too long to understand, even with direct feedback, that my glee was not universally shared, and learn to rein it in when (as sometimes happened) it weakened the rationale behind someone else’s project. And in my enthusiasm to try something new, I didn’t follow up in the same field, but shifted fields for “a new challenge,” secure in the (mistaken) assumption that my publications would speak for themselves, without further promotion.

        183 words, leaving plenty of room to de-anonymize or tailor the thrust for, y’know, an actual job, where I’m not anonymous. Less than half an hour, and ten minutes of that spent making sure the field and the players would be adequately vague for posting purposes.

        I could have done any of three other jobs or projects, so “well, dang, if you did a PhD, sure it’s easy” isn’t helpful.

      3. INSEAD alum*

        Yes. You can definitely answer that question in 250 words.

        My MBA applications, just over ten years ago, consisted of several short essays and two long essays. The short essays had a 250 word limit and asked the following questions:

        – Give a detailed description of your job, including nature of work, major responsibilities, employees under your supervision, number of clients/products, and results achieved.

        – Describe the evolution of your career. If you were to remain with your present employer, what would be your first step in terms of position?

        – Describe a situation taken from school, business, civil or military life, where you did not meet your personal objectives, and discuss briefly the effect.

        – Have you ever experienced culture shock? What did it mean to you?

        – Is there anything else you would like to Admissions Committee to know that you have not mentioned in the above essays?

        The longer essays had the following topics:

        – Describe what you believe to be your two most substantial accomplishments to date, explaining why you view them as such. (400 words)

        – Discuss your career goals. What skills do you expect to gain from studying at INSEAD and how will they contribute to your professional career? (500 words)

        Sure, you could write a lot more on any of these topics. But the word limits really force you to distill the core message, write concisely, and edit ruthlessly. I think the exercise was extremely valuable. I still look at the essays from time to time and mentally update them, which helps in thinking about career progression.

        There are pros and cons to requiring an exercise like this. On the pro side, it forces candidates to think about job fit and career goals in a systematic way. This is undoubtedly why you find civil service positions in the US and other countries including key skill assessments (KSAs) as part of job applications.

        It also screens for poor writing skills. True, not every job requires equally as much writing, but at least in an office setting, I have never encountered a job that requires zero writing. And I have seen plenty of *atrocious* writers who muddle things rather than clarify, costing their companies money. Power Point is not a substitute for good writing. This is why Amazon management asks employees to prepare short memos on contentious points before meetings.

        One the con side, it obviously deters some candidates from applying.

        My own takeaway: I wouldn’t require an exercise like this from *everyone* who applies for a job, but I can easily see doing it for shortlisted candidates, especially in white collar settings, and especially for jobs higher than entry level.

  53. Texan In Exile*

    When Mr T/Primo was running for Congress, he got a questionnaire that asked these questions:

    * Will you co-sponsor the Voting Rights Amendment Act, authored by Wisconsin’s Rep. Sensenbrenner to repair the damage caused by the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder? Why or why not?
    * What do you believe the role of the US government should be in transitioning to clean renewable energy generation?
    * Most healthcare expenditures are for chronic illnesses. Would you support increased funding for prevention and public health? How can we reduce chronic illness?
    * There are two ways to balance a budget – by reducing spending and/or by increasing revenues. What is your approach, and how would you ensure the revenue required for needed services for citizens?

    1. pancakes*

      From who? From Congress? Running for office and applying for a job aren’t comparable in many ways.

      1. INSEAD alum*

        Running for office and applying for a job aren’t comparable in many ways.
        Well, no, but one thing they have in common is selling yourself, and explaining in concise and simple language why you are applying for the job.

        1. pancakes*

          Of course, but if the group submitting these particular questions wasn’t a group the candidate intended to seek votes from—or, going a little further, were in fact adversaries—the candidate isn’t obliged to answer, and may fare better not doing so.

  54. s-inlondon*

    This is very common in the charity sector in the UK. Applicants are expected to retype and reformat all of their CV information into an application pack (essentially a 10 page word doc), then write 1000-2000 words answering how they would match 15-20 competencies providing examples for each, and then answering a few of these questions. It’s ridiculous how much time you spend writing these application packs when you know there are probably around 70-200 applicants for the role.

  55. I'm just here for the cats!*

    This reminds me of a job application I recently completed. Earlier this summer I was looking for some part time/temporary writing jobs where I work from home. I applied to one place. They responded with a requirement for an essay on specific topics. It had to be 500 words and I only 2 days to respond with the work. They see the email late afternoon Thursday July 2. They didn’t specify if they counted the holiday or the weekend. Just that I had 2 days. I didn’t check my email until later that weekend. Even if I had read the email on Thursday, the last thing I’m going do is spend a Holiday weekend researching this topic and writing 500 words. I mean I understand needing writing samples, but that’s when you ask for already written work. Don’t assign something right before a holiday without even talking with someone.

  56. FloraP*

    I’ll be the crazy dissenter.

    I’ve just started a new job and the application consisted of a series of questions. The difference is that the questions were very specific to the position and the organization, in a fairly niche industry. Not ‘where do you think this industry is headed?’ but ‘please describe your experience with discussing the implications of the results of lama genetic test for fiber staple length with llama veterinarians and breeders.’

    Yes, it did take time. But the themes I picked up on in the questions was incredibly helpful in understanding what they were wanting in a candidate. I was able to tailor my answers to highlight where I had adjacent-experience for the areas I was lacking direct experience. It was like being able to write an extended cover letter while being given a cheat sheet listing what really mattered to them.

    They didn’t ask the same questions in the interviews, it was clear they had read the written answers. In the interviews I was able to hit those themes from the questions again with additional or more detailed stories.

    For me, at least, it was a good process and worth the effort. I felt like I had a far better sense of the needs and values of the group. Being asked to describe how I work in teams with representatives from several work groups each with their own sometimes-conflicting priorities tells me much more about an organization and a role than a job description that says they want a team player.

    One resource advantage I haven’t seen upthread:
    Having a willing and able editor.

    It’s one thing to have a friend look over your resume for typos. Having a person who can read your responses and point out where you need to change wording or expand on an idea is invaluable.

    Lots of people would be willing to do what I did – coming home every night for a week from a labor-intensive job to work on an application while subsisting on frozen burritos and minimal sleep. Not everyone has someone with the skill to seriously read a series of short essays and give useful feedback.

  57. Local Gov Bureaucrat*

    Work in local government, we absolutely do this. And it absolutely stops people from applying, people have told me this. We do not ask for cover letters, nor do we consider them in our evaluation criteria. Given that case I don’t think it’s inherently bad to ask someone to write a paragraph or two on a specific topic in lieu of a cover letter, however, my colleagues cannot help themselves but require responses to several complex written questions that would take hours to write a good answer, and for some reason our HR department doesn’t see a problem with it. I’ve tried to push back to no avail.
    Having been part of the hiring committee on the inside of an organization who does this, my advice for if you really want a job with that organization to grit your teeth and take these questions seriously. For us, having the minimum qualifications on your resume gets you through step one and on to step two where your responses to these questions carry a lot more weight than your resume. I’ve had to pass on people who had a good resume but didn’t put any effort into answering the written questions.

  58. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

    I would be astonished if no unconscious bias crept in as people were reading the answers. In addition to the things already mentioned about whether the applicant’s first language is English, I would expect bias based on what kinds of projects they described in answer to ” Please tell us about a time you successfully carried a project from start to finish with little to no supervision.”

    What do they do if someone writes about a project they did while working at a prestigious company, and gives the name? Or if they talk about organizing a parents association and mention difficulties because a lot of parents were working two jobs and couldn’t spare the time to be involved? Or organizing and chaperoning a mission trip for their daughter’s church? You might be able to edit out the mention of a specific company, but religion is central to that third answer. (Those are off the top of my head.)

    Please tell us about a time you successfully carried a project from start to finish with little to no supervision. What were the 2-3 best practices learned in order to be successful? What did you enjoy about the autonomy and what, if anything, did you think was lacking

  59. Nacho*

    4-5 250 word questions is only about half an hours worth of work. I spend at least that much on my cover letters, so I don’t think it’s a big deal to do this instead.

  60. Purple Jello*

    Yeah, I’d have to be pretty hungry or bored to answer anything more than one or two of these without deleting and cancelling out of the application

  61. kitty*

    I have never understood why employers don’t understand that they are also being interviewed and that the way they treat applicants will reflect on their reputation, brand, and their ability to hire strong candidates. Demanding that applicants do a bunch of upfront work (for free) is a surefire red flag that their time and labor will be unappreciated once hired.

    1. INSEAD alum*

      Alternatively, it could signal that your co-workers will have decent communications skills, have some sense of why they’re at the company, and wanted to be there badly enough to answer the questions.

  62. Wendy Darling*

    The first response to an application I sent to a company recently was an invitation to take a 45 minute coding test. I’ve never talked to anyone in this company in my life, not even a recruiter or HR person, and I have no idea if I even want the job. They want me to spend 45 minutes doing an automatically graded coding test before I ever talk to a human being in their employ.

    I decided I’m not interested in working there but I can’t even withdraw from consideration because I don’t have a contact email for them — the coding test invite was from a noreply address belonging to the third party company that administers the test.

  63. Carrie F*

    I recently applied to a job where I received an email stating that the next step in the process would be the following: watch a 45 minute video of the ceo telling you all about the company; then take a quiz. Submit ANOTHER resume and cover letter (*you’re BEST ONE!) answer 4 or 5 test like questions that would require company training to answer; and finally to call a number and leave a 3 minute elevator speech. I was floored.

  64. LogicalOne*

    Having applicants jump through a few hoops before actually getting the job is a huge turn off. It would make me think, well gee what other hoops am I going to have to jump through if and when I get the job? Lots of workplaces are and recently have been reevaluating their hiring practices. Red flag for me.

  65. Pigeon*

    I had to write a substantial essay for a job app once. I didn’t mind, because I was very passionate about that particular industry and was excited to share my thoughts. And I think my response was a large part of why they moved forward with the interview process. But in retrospect, I do think it’s inappropriate to essentially screen candidates based on writing samples for positions where writing is not an essential part of the job.

  66. Have to do this anyway*

    This is actually the standard practice in my industry (government). Where you have to answer a bunch of selection criteria questions or write a longer form answer with a few of the selection criteria embedded. We have to do this for promotions as well. It does take significantly more time, especially for people who are outside the field. I do think it gives the selectors a better idea of the candidate but I think more useful would be setting a task that is related to the job (not always available in bulk round applications). It gets easier once you have already applied for a few jobs because the selection criteria questions are all very broad and you generally have examples already written that can fit into boxes. I find I write these types of answers to prepare for interviews anyway so I don’t mind so much, but if I was applying in a bunch of different industries, no thanks. I wouldn’t bother.

  67. MV*

    Sounds like k12 teaching.
    Resume, cover letter, transcripts (unofficial ok), copy of license, letters of rec (generally 3, sometimes they must be within the last year…), retype all of this information into the system, confidential recs (generally 3, at least the system sends those….), multiple essay questions like those described.

    To maybe get an interview. Ever wonder why there isn’t much diversity in teaching? Or teachers put up with lots of stuff?

  68. Sum()*

    Consider the time it will take an applicant to do this activity well then multiply it by the number of applications – it’s a gross amount of time to steal from people, all but one of whom will be rejected.

  69. Cap*

    Maybe this is just my region (UK) or industry (“”low-skilled”” customer service monkey), but these sorts of questions are pretty commonplace. Most jobs I’ve applied for have been application forms with 83 questions rather than the CV and cover letter AAM often refers to (although I have noticed the “”real”” jobs I’m applying for right now lean more towards CV and cover letter. Which I suppose just goes to prove that customer service workers are expected to do more work for less reward even before we have the job…)

  70. Julie Noted*

    Completely routine in my country and industry. What I’ve never experienced is a phone screen and multiple interview rounds, even for senior positions. Cover letters are also not expected and credit checks aren’t a thing. Norms vary; I’m not bothered by having to put more work into applications because the number of applications submitted for a given position is probably lower, and the process from application to offer is generally pretty smooth without multiple rounds of winnowing the field. The targetted written application process has been useful to me on the hiring side, too.

  71. Dasein9*

    How strange. The only time I’ve been asked to do anything like this in any extensive way was when I’d taken the Foreign Service Exam. The second step was a series of essays. I guess that’s technically the application process, but it was certainly prior to seeing a resume or cv.

  72. Jh*

    Good candidates have many options. This is a massive barrier to entry for those with busy lives and they’ll skip this and apply elsewhere.

    This kind of requirement implies people are desperate and your workplace is out of touch and missing the mark when it comes to ensuring true equity. I would say this approach is actually quite elitist and makes me assume your organization thinks too much of itself.

  73. HR in the city*

    So here is a good real life example of why this isn’t a good idea. One of my co-workers is Native American. She was raised on the reservation and went to a reservation school when growing up but hasn’t lived on the reservation in many many many years. When you see her it is obvious that she is a Native American. But if she talked to you on the phone there is no way you would be able to tell what race she is. Well she applied for student loan forgiveness after ten years of payments, filled out the paperwork, and wrote a letter and was denied. She went to another coworker of ours who wasn’t raised on a reservation to help her with the paperwork and letter and BOOM she was approved. So her being raised going to a reservation school still comes out in her writing. So this could be true for many people where the way they write is the way that they write. Despite the claim that this will create a more diverse workforce I can see how the biases of those reviewing can still come out. Not everyone writes the same. & what if someone is a computer genius but dyslexic. Can’t write well but could do an IT job with no problem. I think as I keep going I could come up with so many other examples. It just seems like yet another barrier to employment for many.

  74. Sun Tzu*

    “Plus, not everyone has the time to write a bunch of original content just to be considered for a first round phone screen (and top candidates with many other choices probably won’t bother doing it).”


    If I see this in a job posting, I’m not applying unless it’s the job of my dreams at the company of my dreams.

    Or if the job has some interest to me, I apply but answer each question with one sentence — no way I’m writing an essay.

    1. INSEAD alum*

      If I see this in a job posting, I’m not applying unless it’s the job of my dreams at the company of my dreams

      But that’s part of the point — it screens for candidates who really see the role as one they want and are suited for, and filters out candidates who are throwing mud up on the wall and hoping it sticks.

  75. Koala dreams*

    It’s interesting to read all the comments. I am not sure what my own opinion is. On one hand, there is a lot of conflicting advice about resumes and cover letters out there. Asking applicants to answer the same questions and imposing a word limit could help leveling the field. I imagine it could be helpful especially for jobs that don’t have hard requirements (a degree, certification or a certain amount of experience). You might use it for a receptionist, but not for a nurse, for example.

    On the other hand, I don’t think the example questions sound very useful. The top values question could probably be answered in a traditional cover letter, and the project question seems too complicated to answer within the word limit. The other three questions are okay I guess, but even with only three questions it would be a lot of writing (750 words is a lot for an application).

  76. Clisby*

    My husband once had to fill out a lengthy behavioral questionnaire, but it wasn’t online – it was part of a screening by a practicing psychologist. (He passed). But this was well into the process, after a phone interview and technical interview and then flying him in for more interviews. This was for a senior computer programming position at a small tech company – I thought it was odd, but the people at this company said the few times they disregarded the psychologist’s advice, they lived to regret it.

  77. Free Meerkats*

    I work in Civil Service and most of our applications include a supplementary questionnaire specific to the job. All the questions are short answer and determine who will be invited to the initial interviews.

  78. Wintermute*

    I’m against this for an entirely different set of reasons, actually, which I think are all things to think about.

    First, you’re introducing ANOTHER set of biases– a bias towards English (presumably) writing ability that may or may not have anything to do with the job. Now, I work in IT, rules are a little different, but I can’t see this ever working in my field for that reason alone. There are tons of qualified candidates who have excellent technical skills, and modest English writing skills (many of them minorities and immigrants which means the point of this whole exercise would be mooted instantly by biasing against them).

    On top of that, it’s WAY too easy to BS your way through, that’s why a lot of even mid-high level jobs want contract-to-hire now, it’s harder to fake your way into a job when you have to do it six months before you’re considered for statutory W2 employment with the company (we do this even for some of our directors currently). No essays will ever replace concrete data on what you did, where you did it, for how long and at what level.

  79. House Tyrell*

    I’ve seen these on a lot of applications in the last year and I honestly just skip them and don’t apply like 99% of the time.

  80. Ms. Marple*

    We had all resumes get routed to one admin, who was trustworthy and not part of the hiring process. She took copies and redacted name, anything relating to age/gender, and any other information that she felt would lead to bias. The redacted resumes were then forwarded to the hiring group, who reviewed them and made their selections. It worked out pretty well – we ended up with a fairly diverse interview pool.

  81. Shari D.*

    Wow. My sister told me about this website and I love it. As a professor at a community college, I was asked not only to submit a CV and “teaching philosophy,” but also essay answers (with examples) that went on and on. At one point, I had 27 pages that wouldn’t attach to the ftp site… had to break it into 2 pieces. Good luck to all!

  82. Name (Required)*

    Am I the only one that thinks the “in the next 5 to 10 years” questions need to go? If 2020 has shown us anything the only answer to that is “no f’n clue”. Especially since it seems many industries have been thrown into a mess this year from which they might not recover.

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