should employers pay candidates for their time in the interview process?

A reader writes:

I just saw a job ad which includes: “We didn’t want to take our applicants’ time for granted, even though we are a small publicly supported organization. Because of this, we decided to pay each our five finalists $500 to proceed with the rest of the interview. While $500 is not a huge amount, we thought it was a nice amount for a charitable organization to give to an applicant who would dedicate some time and thought to our hiring process, which would cover strategic thinking about our organization’s mission and operations in our communications and other related areas.”

I don’t think I’ve ever seen an employer before who offered finalist candidates a payment for the work of participating in the interview process! I can see the upside of helping compensate a candidate for their labor and showing appreciation. Are there any upsides — or downsides — I’m missing?

One upside: It potentially makes it easier for a wider range of candidates to participate in this hiring process, if they otherwise would have had barriers like not being able to afford taking time off work to interview or paying for child care while they complete a hiring assignment.

I suppose a potential downside is that you might have people stay in your hiring process just for the money when they otherwise would have self-selected out. But I think you’d learn pretty quickly if that was happening (like if suddenly your number of rejected offers went way up). I’d also want to know what they expect for that $500 since if they’re giving weekend-long assignments, for example, it’s not as generous as it first appears. (I don’t assume that’s happening; I’m just poking possible holes in it because you asked me to.)

In general, while I don’t think compensating candidates for interviews needs to become the norm, I do think more employers should be paying for candidates’ time when they ask them to do time-intensive work simulations in a hiring process. Not for things like spending 20 minutes writing a sample press release … but spending hours on something more significant, yes. In fact, I worked somewhere that did this — we’d ask finalists to do a project that would demonstrate their approach to the work, usually taking a few hours, and paid them a pretty significant freelance fee for it. We got the in-depth look we wanted, and they felt treated well/not taken advantage of. That seems right to me.

{ 114 comments… read them below }

  1. Gene Rayburn was the best game show host ever*

    “…more employers should be paying for candidates’ time when they ask them to do time-intensive work simulations in a hiring process. Not for things like spending 20 minutes writing a sample press release … but spending hours on something more significant, yes.”

    This. This right here.

    1. Exhausted Trope*

      Yup. Speaking as a candidate who once spent 5 hours completing a project, unpaid, and wasn’t even granted an interview, I couldn’t agree more.

      1. hayling*

        I know a lot of employers make candidates do an assignment first (I think this is common in engineering) which I think is awful

        1. LinuxSystemsGuy*

          I remember once doing a fairly in depth Perl script as part of an interview process, that clearly reflected something the organization needed. It took several hours. I was the only candidate that successfully completed the task (at least according to the recruiter I was working through), and I’m pretty sure they used my work product.

          I say “pretty sure”, because while they offered me the job it was advertised at 110k a year full time, and was offered as 85k a year contract to hire. The recruiter claimed that they decided at the last minute they weren’t sure they needed a full time dev ops guy. I was a little pissed about that one.

          1. BeenThere*

            I’ve had similar, there was a problem I solved at one company where I was interviewing with multiple teams. Everyone was taking lots of notes, I didn’t think much of it at the time and end up selecting a different team. Fast forward a few years and an internal transfer to this team and lo and behold, there was a process that used my exact design. In my case at least it was only a 30 minutes solution presented by an engineer with a decade of experience. Knowing the group closer now very few folks in the team would have come up with that design. Would have been nice to get some sort of credit for it.

        2. BugHuntress*

          “It should take 2-3 hours” says the company when it offers the software engineer take-home. However, it would take most people on the software development team a few days, and everyone knows “a few hours” could mean 3, 5, 8, a weekend.

    2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      Particularly since some companies will use that work product for gain, and not just file it away.

      Some companies run a “hiring round” to avoid paying a designer or consultant.

      If you pay for that work product, it legitimately belongs to you. If not, it’s just a pitch and ought to belong to the innovator.

    3. Nicotena*

      See, I was thinking, “who wants to deal with the extra tax burden just for a single one-time job?” but I am a freelancer who ends up putting in a good chunk of time on taxes and withholding. I bet a lot of people just don’t report it or pay the penalty for not doing the taxes sooner.

    4. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      Yes indeed! As a freelancer, this is how I’m hired each time: the client gives me a small project to see how it goes. It’s not a freebie, so I get to see whether they pay on time, whether they transfer money to my account or send me a cheque, in which case I then have to trundle off to the bank, fill in a form and wait for a couple of days before seeing my money.

      Here in France it’s not possible to pay someone for a one-off job that only lasts a few hours unless they have a freelance status, and while it’s easy to set one up, you do have an obligation to report your earnings and make social security contributions from them. Then again you can very easily hire people, with a trial period, then get rid of them very quickly if you see it doesn’t work out.

  2. animaniactoo*

    This is an interesting perspective. I like the idea of paying for when you’re asking for something intensive that requires a significant investment on the part of the applicant. It’s a question of recognizing what you’re asking for and not taking it lightly.

    May also help with the framing of the interview process on the employer’s end – if you’re not willing to pay for it, do you really need it? Is there a way to get what you want in a way that is less onerous on the applicant’s part, that you wouldn’t feel compelled to pay for due to how minimal it is?

    1. selena81*

      I think it signals that you understand that candidates (and by extension employees) do not have limitless amounts of time to cater to your every silly request.

      Afaik it used to be normal to always reimburse travel expenses for all candidates, i’d really like that to make a comeback.

  3. KHB*

    I’d think the potential problem of people applying just for the $500 could be easily solved by not mentioning the $500 in the job ad – just pay the finalists their $500 when you get to that point (or tell them about it at the stage when you’re asking them to do an hours-long test project).

    1. anonymous73*

      This was my first thought. It’s a bad idea to put it in the ad, but if they’ve reached the stage as a finalist (or where a significant ask if requested) then you let them know they will be paid for their time.

      1. Amaranth*

        It sounds like a good way to protect the company as well, if they are asking for actual project submissions as part of the process. If someone drafts materials for consideration, then do they really belong to the company or is it just the same as an artist offering up a portfolio of their work? I wonder how often a company uses some of those ideas without hiring and if they ever get sued.

        1. Jen in Oregon*

          This. I’m going to keep this really vague because it’s happening in real time: a friend is in the middle of interviewing for a public sector job that is being created (and whose continued funding hinges on a bond measure being passed in 15 months.) The people doing the hiring don’t really seem to have a great grasp on what they need. My friend does. Friend does a PowerPoint presentation in a zoom meeting that makes everyone sit up and take notice, and afterwards had the hiring committee asked for the presentation to be sent to them and had the gall to be put out when they were told that, for now, they could have it as a PDF only. At that point my friend said even if they get called for another interview, they were going to opt out of the process anyway, but the absolute audacity……

          1. Birch Tree*

            Wow, as someone also in Oregon, I respect your vagueness but also really want to know what public agency had the nerve.

    2. Whimsical Gadfly*

      Not advertising it means it doesn’t solve the problem of people who don’t feel like they can afford to apply if it is a long process.

      So if part of the point is increased diversity including groups typically underrepresented because of such barriers, not advertising it is a waste.

    3. selena81*

      But that might keep people from applying.

      I think it’s best to mention it, but not heavily advertise it (put a part in the ad where you mention the project and what you’ll pay, but don’t put a big ‘earn €500 by applying’ banner over your ad)

      I think the fact that only the finalists get the money will also be a big shield: if someone isn’t really interested in the job they are probably not going to put much effort into their application-materials

  4. ZSD*

    I once had an employer say he’d pay me for my interviewing time and then not follow through. Of course, everything about that job was completely nuts, anyway.

  5. Mia*

    I was in a job interview where they wanted me to do 6 – 12 hours of work and then give a presentation, all for no money. I ended up not going through with it for personal reasons but in the back of my mind I was wondering if I should have asked for them to pay for my time. I’m going to assume that if I had asked for that they would have removed me from the process.

    1. Meep*

      Ugh. I feel dirty about that. Our Hiring Manager has this very nasty belief that SHE is giving you money out of the goodness of her heart and that you never actually earn the money for the work you do. It is one grand favor that you should fall over yourself for.

      It made me positively disgusted when she made some poor woman applying for admin assistant do logo design work as part of her job application and get pissy when the woman wanted to be paid for the work. (She didn’t end up hiring the admin as she was of Chinese descent and HM is a high-key racist.)

      She also tried to insist that one guy should do work outside of the scope for free because “we were paying for it.” We paid $5000 to sponsor a capstone project. He paid $3000 for the class. She even threatened to not let him graduate if he didn’t do this work.

      Please like this are positively disgusting.

    2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      I had an interview where, when I asked about salary, was told “well, first, you must work for us for a coupled of days for free, then once we’ve seen what you’re worth, we’ll let you know how much we’re prepared to pay you”. Er no, I’m not taking a couple of days off my paid job to work for free, not knowing whether I’ll be hired or how much I would earn. I also got the impression that I’d have to be available straight away, whereas I owed my employer a 2-month notice period (this is standard here in France).
      I’m wondering how many poor desperate students accepted such working conditions, how many they would have come in like that.
      I walked out of the interview telling the guy I felt insulted as a seasoned professional.
      Several months later, someone contacted me saying they had another opening and please come in for an interview, I took great delight in explaining all the reasons why they ought to throw my CV away and never ever contact me again (no need to worry about burning a bridge with that cowboy outfit).

  6. MK*

    Call me cynical, but this:

    “give to an applicant who would dedicate some time and thought to our hiring process, which would cover strategic thinking about our organization’s mission and operations in our communications and other related areas.”

    suggests to me that they are expecting a significant time- and effort investment from the candidates. This sounds more like cheap ideas shopping than paying for an interview.

    1. Purple Cat*

      I’m willing to give this company a thumbs-up though. Many companies ask for a significant time and effort investment and give NOTHING to their candidates. This firm is acknowledging the investment and giving a stipend for it. Maybe they ask for too much and this still isn’t enough $, but at least it’s something. Especially if it’s a scenario where they might actually like *part* of a candidate’s pitch, but the overall candidate doesn’t get selected, but that idea percolates and gets implemented….

    2. Pomegranate*

      To be honest, that was a concern that stood out to me too. On the surface, paying candidates for their time sounds like a positive development. But that would that mean that they can use ideas/products developed by the candidates freely, because they paid for them? Would the $500 be the going market rate for such work? And do the candidates understand both side of the deal? Hope so.

      Overall though, it is nice to see employers recognizing the level of effort the candidates need to invest in some hiring processes.

      1. AcademiaNut*

        If what they pay is equal to or greater than what they’d pay a contractor for the same work, I think it’s fair.

        What I would be careful about is the time they’re asking. If the candidate has the time to do the assignment, the pay is great. If they don’t – if job and family and other demands on their time means they don’t have time to do freelance work as part of an application process – they’ll have to bow out of the process even with offered pay. So either keep the necessary time to what could fit inside a thorough interview process, or make sure there is enough time to fit it in (ie, a couple of weeks, not over the weekend). And keep in mind that candidates are likely to spend more time than expected to do a really good job.

    3. Malarkey01*

      The red flag for me was saying they knew $500 wasn’t much (I’d be interested to hear what level they’re hiring for and whether they expect applicants to pay travel fees). $500 actually seems like A LOT to me for a normal interview and even a lot for a more intense multiple round. Saying they know it’s not much makes me think they’re asking for a bunch or like other poster said they want you to produce a work product that they might actually use.

      1. BRR*

        I wouldn’t call it a red flag without more context. $500 if you’re paid as a contractor could end up being an appropriate amount depending on the hours and work. And compared to places that ask a lot and don’t pay you, it’s certainly not a red flag. I’d want more details before proceeding but as a candidate, I would definitely consider that the employe might actually respect people.

          1. Freya*

            Fun fact: in Australia, they’ve already passed the point of needing to do the equivalent, because they’re paying more than zero. You’re either an employee, having tax withheld from your pay and superannuation paid on your behalf, or you’re a supplier (of goods or labour). If you’re a supplier and you don’t quote your ABN, then the purchaser is required to withhold tax at the highest personal rate from payments to you and fill out forms. And if you’re a supplier of labour, the purchaser may also have superannuation and other obligations on your behalf.

            There’s some exceptions, but if the potential employer wants to claim this an an expense, there’s rules around it.

    4. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      I think it is walking a thin line between soliciting work and looking for free labor. I wonder if this came about from real world instances?
      Alison writes that the sample work she gives are not functionally applicable to her company/business/department.
      I think the company may 1) not be able to come up with a hypothetical widget project; 2) have had people come up with really useful practical work and been ethically screwed about using it. (Even if, “we don’t want to hire you, but we like your work.)
      But if they are going down to the last five, “ok, here’s a project. You will get $500. We may hire you and/or we may use it,” might be the wave of the future.

    5. Smithy*

      My reading of this part of the ad, “While $500 is not a huge amount, we thought it was a nice amount for a charitable organization to give to an applicant” makes me think the employer is a nonprofit. And my experience in interviewing in the nonprofit space, is that assignments are very common.

      And while most interviews I’ve had have said that their assignments should take around 2 hours, my reality is that I’ve always spent a lot more time. Perhaps partially because 2 hours wasn’t enough time, but also often my own desire to do well which has required I take even more time to learn about the organization, their strategy and their work. All of this to say, if any nonprofit where to have ever used those samples as work product – yikes. While those assignments have all given insight into my process and experience, they’re just not comparable to the product you could create after working for a nonprofit.

      I’ve certainly been apart of some interview processes where I’ve seen the writing assignment and simply withdrawn from the process based on what’s being asked. But simply speaking from my corner of the nonprofit world, I wouldn’t have this worry.

      1. OP*

        I’m the person who saw the blog post and wrote in to Alison; to clarify, while the organization’s blog post ends by mentioning a job opening, most of the blog post is a description of the process this org used to hire their most recent new employee. (Hence the past tense.) And yes, it is a nonprofit.

        The five candidates in question had already done:

        * initial 15-minute screening interview
        * exercise (bounded at 90 minutes, stated the expectation that it should take an hour or less)

        The next (final) set of interviews were videochats with the hiring manager and then with the staff as a whole. Candidates were sent questions ahead of time so they could prepare if desired. I assume that candidates probably took half an hour or an hour to think about those questions before the interview, and that the last set of interviews probably took at least two hours per candidate. So that would total up to something like 2.5-4 hours per candidate. Some of the candidates for this position probably came from an industry where I’ve seen consultants charge $300 per hour, so I think that helps give context for the disclaimer that $500 is “not a huge amount”.

        It’s good to know what suspicions this raises in people who don’t already know and trust the organization. I know and trust them so those suspicions don’t arise naturally for me.

        1. Smithy*

          Again, from my nonprofit interviewing experience – all of this seems incredibly normal. (Other than any the compensation which is new)

          The vast majority of my nonprofit interviews processes have included at least 4-5 different interviews as well as some kind of assignment. From this website and compared to other industries, I know that is perceived as a lot without being unusual. All to say, I think that overall the nonprofit sector does often include more interviewing asks than outside the nonprofit sector. So even if it wasn’t an organization I personally trusted, the overall process wouldn’t seem off to me.

          And as a note about withdrawing from interview processes because of the writing test – I’m in fundraising but do not consider myself a good fit for roles that are looking for those positions to have heavier writing duties. Often the nature of the writing assignments are a good indication of what they’re actually looking for in the role and if I’m a bad fit. Not that the assignment itself is inappropriate.

    6. L.H. Puttgrass*

      I’m inclined to believe that the organization from the letter is acting in good faith. I’ve been in a few interview situations (with non-profits) where $500 wouldn’t have been unreasonably high or low given the role and the work I had to do as part of the interview process. For example, I had to provide custom “writing samples” on a specific topics at a couple of places. Even when employers think they’re giving really short assignments they can take a day or two to put together. Another organization wanted “thoughts” on strategy and direction that took about the same amount of time to put together coherently. In each of those situations, $500 would have been more than I was actually paid for my time (which was $0), but less than I’d have made as an employee for the time I spent on them.

    7. yup*

      It’s what most potential employers, especially in the private sector, have expected from candidates for at least the last fifteen years. They just haven’t been upfront about it, or offered to pay for the candidates’ time.

      I know what you’re saying, but I’ll give this company kudos for being both honest and willing to remunerate.

    8. Oui oui oui all the way home*

      Ideas are ‘a dime a dozen’. What is worth paying for is someone’s actual work.

  7. Pop*

    Slightly off-topic, but in the food service industry, it is standard to do a stage (“stahj”) shift, where you work a shift to make sure that you will be a good fit. They are almost always unpaid, and while this is obviously illegal, refusing to do one would make it extremely difficult to find a job in the industry. My husband’s employer pays people for their stage, and I’m hopeful that with the employer/employee power dynamic shifting, especially in the restaurant industry, more places will follow suit!

  8. Talula Does the Hula From Hawaii*

    A publicly supported charity is paying people $500 to interview?
    This is so unusual it could spell scam of some kind.

    1. npoperson*

      I agree that it is unusual. But I have to push back on the suprise/dismay about a charity paying someone for their time. I realize it is a common expectation. But having worked in the charity (nonprofit) realm for 20+ years, I have seen first hand the ways this mindset has been harmful to our field- expecting people to work for free or not providing competitive wages perpetuates inequities and assumes that the skills and talents required for this work (which is often extremely complex and demanding) isn’t valuable.

      1. SuperDiva*

        Co-signed! It also has the effect of limiting the non-profit workforce to people who can afford to work for/are willing to subsist on low wages (whether that means family money, a partner with a more lucrative job, relying on a revolving door of young, inexperienced workers, staff living in poverty, etc.). There’s a growing movement to encourage non-profits to employ people from the communities they serve, and paying a livable wage is a huge part of making that possible. The work of non-profit employees needs to be adequately valued by funders and donors.

        1. Aquawoman*

          This is the kind of thing I was thinking also, that the nonprofit was being intentional about some of their values and it translated into paying people for their time/work.

      2. L.H. Puttgrass*

        Right. And I could imagine certain non-profits realizing how much time they’re expecting of applicants and trying to do something about the imbalance. If there’s any employer who can (a) see an imbalance/unfairness in the hiring process and (b) try to do something about it, it’s (some) non-profits. Not all, or even most (alas), but I’ve known one or two who I wouldn’t be surprised to see give this some serious thought.

      3. Smithy*

        I agree with this.

        I will also add that while the concept of charities/nonprofits as a monolith exists for many people outside the sector, the reality for those inside who have made this their profession is that there are very likely more organizations doing good work in your general area of specialization that you are familiar with. Therefore, when interviewing – there really is a lot of time a candidate can spend reading an organizations materials to assess the organization and potential fit.

        For a midsized or small organization, who may be well aware of how well known they are – this also seems like a very reasonable nod to the extra work candidates may be doing.

    2. Alexis Rosay*

      It’s extremely unusual, yes, but coming from the nonprofit world it’s not 100% unheard of. I have not actually seen it done, but I have heard arguments about it, which means that some in the nonprofit world are becoming aware of the idea.

  9. Love WFH*

    The later stages of the hiring process for software engineers sometimes includes doing a project that takes several hours. Good companies pay the candidates a stipend for that.

  10. Wendy*

    Could this also be used as a loophole for using anything the candidates came up with without looking like they used candidates’ for ideas/projects for free?

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      I was thinking that, too. Check out Love WFH who writes “good companies pay the candidates a stipend” and it made it seem less gray area for me.
      There is a legitimate payment type for it. So yes, you are agreeing to do the work for $500. But I think you can say no, if you feel it is not worth it. And you can also do exactly as much work as you feel is appropriate for that amount.

  11. HarshBarley*

    Another potential downside—if you are currently or soon to be filing for unemployment, and they offer you the job and you turn it down, you may be considered to have quit rather than refused an offer of work.

    I work for unemployment in [state that will not be named]. I had a case a few weeks ago where a claimant was paid to take an exam during the interview process, then refused the job. Because the employer paid him, he was considered to have quit, not refused the offer of work. State laws vary, but in many states, it is much harder to qualify for benefits for a quit than a job refusal. So, i love this in theory, but it may have unexpected repercussions based on how different states’ UI laws consider this.

    1. pancakes*

      I don’t see how it’s at all fair or within the letter of the law to posit that someone quit a job they were never offered. The idea that paying someone to take an exam that will be used to assess their candidacy is indistinguishable from paying an employee for their work doesn’t make sense. One person has a job and the other does not. I hope your state is challenged on denying people unemployment for this reason and I hope it loses.

  12. voluptuousfire*

    I’m curious as to how this plays out at tax time. How does that work for the candidates? Paying them as a 1099 contractor or something?

      1. Economist*

        Yes, but that’s on the employer side. On the job candidate side, it’s still earned income so it would have to be declared. Although the amount of federal and state taxes would not be large, taxes would still need to be paid.

  13. Polly Gone*

    I worked for a company once who flew me to another city for a day-long process of psychological evaluation. I suppose it would have been nice to have been paid for missing a whole day of work, although of course they did pay for a plane ticket and a per diem for my meals.

  14. LunaLena*

    I wonder if this employer has been having trouble with candidates ghosting them during the interview process.

  15. Grayling38*

    I own a tour company and the final stage of guide recruitment is conducting a half day tour. We pay the guides the standard half day rate for doing this. We’re not in the US or Europe, this isn’t a rich country, and I think it would be entirely unreasonable to expect a tour guide to do it for free.

  16. Parenthesis Dude*

    What about an interview process where candidates are told to spend only an hour or two on an assignment, but decide on their own accord to spend five or ten on it to ensure that their answers are what they consider to be their best work?

    1. Gerry Keay*

      I mean… that’s on the candidate. There are times at work where you’ll only have two hours to work on a project you’d like two days for, and you still have to produce. If you’re paid hourly and consistently go over your hours to do your “best work,” that would require a pretty serious correction! Seeing what candidates are able to produce under time constraints is pretty useful.

  17. Krabby*

    My current company does this for one stage of our process. Basically, if you take part in our day long job shadow (standard for a few of our roles as the duties are very specific to our company and we want people to go in with their eyes open) you need to sign an NDA and we pay you $400. But, for the roles where our technical assessment is just an hour long test, we don’t pay anything.

  18. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

    In my youth, I worked as a copy editor at newspapers, and the finalists were asked to come in and do a two-day tryout in the job, for which they were paid union scale plus travel expenses. This, uh, may have given me an overly rosy view of how the process worked.

    1. pancakes*

      Maybe. I remember there was an article about edit tests for writers and editors in CJR a few years ago, and a lot of publications were not paying. I think the negative publicity did inspire some improvement, though. The title is “Edit tests are out of control, say journalists in search of jobs,” at cjr dot org.

  19. Jam on Toast*

    I was contacted by a company recently for a role I’d applied for and was *very* qualified for. The initial screening went well and the HR contact began enthusiastically laying out the next steps: timing, who I would be interviewing with etc. Then they added, “And because this is a very hands on role,” she continued, “you’ll need to prepare and present a 15 minute presentation to the hiring team when you meet them next week. The document overview I’ll send you is very clear on what you’ll need to include. Most people take 3 hours…really, no more than 5 hours.”
    “That’s a significant investment of time. Will you be compensating me at the hourly rate we discussed earlier? Because generally, I don’t prepare work on spec.”
    Crickets….so many crickets…all the crickets and then a frosty scramble. Not typical policy….how we gauge potential employees’ interest…portfolio work is the norm….blah…blah…blah.

    Three days later, I got a form email, telling me I didn’t “fit the company’s hiring needs at this time.” It was, needless to say, not a surprise and frankly a big relief. But let’s say they interviewed 5 people for the role…that’s 15 to 25 hours of work they expect, with no guarantee that any of it will secure the role and giving them tons of valuable insight with zero compensation.

  20. RedinSC*

    This is interesting to me. In a difficult hiring time, like now, offering money for people to stay in the pool is intriguing to me. But then again, as Alison said, is it keeping people ini the pool who would have selected out? IKD.

    I do know, that for a recent job I applied to, I spent probably 10-12 hours on the “assignment” that they required to move on. It was very involved and that was on top of my already stressful job. Paying me for that time would have been nice of them, to recognize that it was a significant ask for me in order to be considered.

  21. FiggyPudding*

    This would have made me feel a lot less put off by an interview for a software development job where they wanted me to do a take home assessment that would have taken all weekend. Coding assessments are normal but they are typically around an hour (timed). I told them no thanks because that was a lot to ask for a job I wasn’t even sure I was interested in.

  22. Badasslady*

    There are a lot of cynical responses here from folks I’m not sure work for nonprofits, and while there are a lot of reasons to be cynical about the nonprofit world, this isn’t one of them.

    Most nonprofit I know would not ask a candidate to do anything beyond submitting a cover letter and a resume, and doing 2-3 round of interviews, because we know asking for assignments means someone is doing unpaid labor. Without having any additional info than what’s in the letter, I would assume this nonprofit might or might not ask more of final candidates. There might be an additional assignment asked of candidates, but assuming that this assignment is worth more than $500 without any additional info, or that the organization is trying to steal or use candidates work, is completely unsupported. And treating the fact that an organization is trying to pay job candidates as a red flag, is frankly, idiotic.

    1. Smithy*

      No matter how junior the role, I’ve always had assignments in my nonprofit interview life – so this may be department/job type dependent.

      All of that to say, there are problematic nonprofits and many reasons to be cynical about them – but provided this is an actual nonprofit (which you should be able to identify prior to the interview process), then this is not where I’d invest that cynicism. No different than a fast food restaurant offering free air pods for someone who interviews, this seems far more aligned with the industry’s larger discussions around equity than something worrying.

    2. HelloHello*

      Yeah, there are some wild leaps happening about the possible ways this offer could somehow be a scam or exploitative. I know we’re all used to workers being taken advantage of by potential employers, but the solution to that isn’t to assume attempts to become this paranoid about what clearly seems to be an attempt to make the hiring process more equitable.

      1. HelloHello*

        Ugh, some word salad happening there.

        *Isn’t to become this paranoid about what clearly seems…”

  23. Cold Fish*

    In the back of my mind there is just an ick factor I can’t quite put my finger on. Either “scam” like someone else pointed out; or opening up the candidates to potential abuse/be taken advantage of by company. While I get paying for candidate’s time if asking for a labor intensive work sample/presentation, I don’t really like these kind of tests to begin with.

    1. Cat Tree*

      For me, my concern is that paying the candidates for the interview might make them feel more betrayed if a candidate ultimately declines an offer, although it would likely be subconscious (which actually makes it harder to address). Of course, plenty of employers already feel personally betrayed when this happens, but the money adds another layer to reinforce that feeling. I don’t think this problem is insurmountable and overall I think the payment is a good idea. I just think this is a potential problem to address.

  24. CBB*

    When I signed on with my current employer, I agreed to disclose any freelance work I do.

    I’d have to squint slightly to see this as not violating that agreement. (Though I’d do it anyway.)

  25. Same*

    When I was hired here I did a half day “working interview” after my interview, at a front desk admin position, paid at the hourly rate I was later offered when they hired me, and I really appreciated that! I got a good idea of a typical day in this job, they got to see me working a bit, and it wouldn’t have been a waste of my time even if I didn’t get the job!

  26. QueenofSwords03*

    I have zero problems with paying people during the interview process, especially if they require any kind of testing or show of skill before hiring. I’m a content, SEO, and copywriter and during my job search this last year despite a thorough and diverse writing portfolio I was constantly asked to take unpaid writing tests or provide “company-centric” samples without being paid. I started turning them down with this “I’m sorry, I simply cannot afford to take on any unpaid projects. The market rate for your project (blog, eblast, sales funnel, website, editing) is $X and my freelance rates are $YY, I’d be willing to draft a contract agreement if you’re interested in my continuing in the process. If not, good luck with your search. ”

    If your hiring process is rigorous and requires the use of someone’s time, energy, and expertise, PAY THEM.

  27. mmppgh*

    What is uncomfortable for me is that it is a publicly funded organization. Do supporters want their money used in this way? Or do they want it used for the work being done? Depending on staff size and turnover, this could could become a considerable amount. Also, are they paying current employees appropriately? What are they doing for retention?

    1. HoosOnFirst*

      I don’t necessarily think this is a fair comment, in that nonprofits spend money on all kinds of things – typically do not and should not get into the weeds like this. As long as it’s budgeted for and the nonprofit is doing good work and running a sustainable business model, it would be unusual to care about these amounts.

      1. pancakes*

        I agree, Hoos. Donors who want to micromanage how their money is used are free to take it elsewhere.

  28. CanRelate*

    Many artists in different types of industry are expected to complete an “Art Test” to be considered for a job, even if they have a solid portfolio, because of some style consideration for the project. They sign an NDA, so the studio generally owns the work that is produced, and the work is usually unpaid, and at worst can be predatory and labor intensive.

    We’ve seen some push back against this in recent years, and I hope we get to the point that any skilled labor that requires the amount of time it would take to do a freelance job in that field gets a freelance rate for the effort. Most of these companies bank on the absolute excitement people have for working at a “cool” place, and the hunger/instability of artists/freelancers in general, to make that dynamic work.

    1. LogoNogo*

      I asked the last hiring manager who assigned me a 12 hour social media project (unpaid) why they did that and she said it was so they knew my portfolio wasn’t a “fluke”. I asked if they would ask their plumber to fix something for free so they knew his business card wasn’t a fluke and she got all stammery and offered to hire me as a contractor right there.

  29. The Other Katie*

    It’s totally standard for jobs for waitstaff and kitchen staff in UK hospitality to have trial shifts, which you’re paid for. If a firm wants to know how you actually work, they need to actually pay you.

  30. Sleeping Late Every Day*

    My problem is that it is a not-for-profit doing this. If I were a donor to that organization, I would not be happy.

    1. The Other Katie*

      And that’s why people who work in non-profits end up dealing with this weird culture that they shouldn’t ask to be paid for the work that they do, and do stuff like “volunteering” to work the other 20 hours of a 40-hour a week job they’re paid part-time for. People who work for non-profits deserve to be paid, too.

      1. Sorel*

        absolutely!! And this is why so many NPOs have lacked crtical diversity in their staff. Only people who can AFFORD to work there do. Generations of exploitation and inequity in this sector because of this harmful expectation by (thankfully fewer and fewer) donors.

        1. pancakes*

          Yeah. It’s not my field but I have a couple friends in it, and this particular problem is very apparent to me. It doesn’t need encouraging.

    2. animaniactoo*

      Why? It is treating an extensive process with respect for the investment of the applicant, and is more likely to net them applicants who are good at the work and can do it well and efficiently. Versus ones who will drop out of the process because they look at the requirements and think “This isn’t worth my time, there are other options for me out there”.

      So essentially, you are paying $500 upfront per candidate to keep candidates in the running who will be a decent to an above average return for the $60,000/yr you’re going to spend on their annual contributions.

      As long as your final candidate pool is 20 people deep, you’re spending let’s say – $5000 per search. Which you could spend on additional recruiters in trying to find a unicorn candidate willing to go through all that, or which you could spend on a new search when it turned out that your applicant pool wasn’t getting you decent returns, or when you have to invest in additional resources to balance out the person you ultimately hired because you needed SOMEBODY in the slot, and they were the best you could get based on who stayed in until the end of the process and the salary you’re offering.

      And in the end, you’re likely to spend a lot more than $5000 to do those kinds of offsets… so if you look at it from a different perspective, this $500/final candidate is a cost-benefit on the saving side. How is that a bad use of your money?

      1. Amaranth*

        I also wouldn’t be surprised if this originated with the board or was a result of brainstorming on ‘why can’t we get good people to stick around through the process’. Or just stick around in general. I’m curious if they’ve also made changes to pay ranges and other retention options.

    3. HoosOnFirst*

      Why would you not be happy? What is wrong with using money in this way? As a donor I’d be actually happy to find this out about an org.

    4. HelloHello*

      Creating a fair and equitable hiring process that allows people from a wider range of economic backgrounds to apply is absolutely a good use of funds. They’re not hiring a private jet to fly in CEO candidates, or splurging on caviar for board members, they’re compensating potential employees for their time. It demonstrates a commitment to paying their workers a livable wage, and people who work for non-profits deserve a livable wage. In part because everyone deserves a livable wage for their labor and in part because non-livable wages reduce your workforce to only people who are privileged enough to have another source of income to live on, aka a wealthy spouse or family.

      There is so, so much disfunction in the non-profit world that stems from organizations being staffed entirely by either wealthy people who are not a part of the communities being served or entry level workers struggling with poverty-level wages and quickly burning out on the industry as a whole. Donors who nit-pick staff salaries only add to the issue.

  31. Calling to Confirm*

    With more focus on DEI, I think this could be a way for non-profits to make the candidate pool more inclusive for a position that has many rounds or is otherwise asking for a good chunk of time. I’ve definitely been in the position of taking time off of work to interview on multiple days for multiple rounds. I could afford to take the time off but not everyone has that privilege.

    If the idea is to value candidates’ time, I think an equally useful action employers can take is to just list the salary range.

  32. Anonymous Luddite*

    What gets me is that around here (Washington state), I believe $400 is the cutoff over which they must give you a tax slip. I feel for the other four finalists who have to wait for that tax form at the end of the year.

      1. Anonymous Luddite*

        I guess I’m projecting. For myself, I’ve been burned several years by companies who fail to send out their tax paperwork on time.

  33. Swishy fins*

    I recently left higher ed, where it is very common to require job applicants to spend a significant amount of time (unpaid) putting together a presentation. I’m not talking about faculty positions, where the “job talk” is norm—in those instances, the candidate generally has a canned presentation that summarizes their research. I’m talking about administrative positions, some of which are entry-level, and often low-paid. Before I left, I counseled a colleague who was going to be interviewing candidates for an entry-level position to not ask them to do a presentation, but they insisted it was the best way to assess their presentation skills, which they felt were a priority. It’s just one of many things that are broken about higher ed.

    1. just whelmed*

      Where is the line of intellectual property? Do they now own the ideas and documents because they compensated you for the work?

      1. Swishy Fins*

        Not in my experience for higher ed. The presentation isn’t to help the office with their work but rather for them to be able to judge the candidates based on both the content and the presentation skills. It’s a lot of work to put together.

  34. BritChickaaa*

    This is very common in my industry. Not so much if it’s just a straight interview, but if the application process involves putting together any kind of pitch or presentation, that would usually be paid.

  35. fifteen minutes of indiscriminate screeching*

    lmao – as someone whose industry LOVES these sorts of unpaid screening exercises (and just recently went through the job hunting process), i wish companies paid for the time you spent on them! i recently had one company ask me to book off TWELVE HOURS STRAIGHT to do their screening exercise – you told them what time you wanted them to send you it and you had to send back your code and answers exactly 12 hours later, not a minute late. it took me all twelve hours to do, too, and i sure wasn’t paid for any of it!

    another company that i applied to years ago had an application consisting of three parts, each of which were “answer all questions” or “answer three of five”. i calculated it and the work that would’ve gone into one of those parts alone would’ve been worth several hundred dollars in freelance pay. i never bothered finishing that one.

  36. A Problem with Paying*

    After the interview stage, my company pays applicants to do a test assignment. We then hire the person who does best on that assignment. One year I supervised a new worker who I’m convinced had paid someone else to do the assignment for her. Her work was awful, and completely unlike the work that she had submitted during the application process. She did not last long.

  37. Yep*

    This is common in the music field. If you are hiring a music director or musician (say, a church organist or a player in an orchestra), it is common to invite the finalists for a performance or two. And of course they would always pay you because you’d have to take off from your regular job for the opportunity. I’ve never not been paid in those situations.

  38. Wrench Turner*

    In my personal opinion, interviews where you do any work – create any product that the company can actually use- should be paid. Skills tests (software, machinery, process, etc) are a little different but even those, if you’re there for more than an hour or two, should be paid. Chasing a previous career, I had a “test” in a very high end restaurant which just wound up with me dropped in the kitchen working as a prep cook for a full shift. Used my own uniform, knives, learned where everything was, didn’t know anyone, and the chef was an ass* the whole time. I did a great job, frankly. At the end of it, hearing no instruction or anything else, I found him in the office where he said “Oh, I forgot you were here.” Didn’t hear anything for almost a month. I declined the offer. Never got paid.

    *I’ve worked in other restaurants and food service settings before, I do understand the urgency of food service. Like any production line, if you know what you’re doing and manage your staff well, you do not have to be an ass about it.

  39. More than 20 mins*

    I’m over here laughing at the “20 minutes to write a sample press release”. I work in PR for a major company and our press releases take weeks. If I was providing a 1 page writing sample for a job, it would certainly take me several hours to produce my best work.

    1. RC*

      I was coming here to say just this lol. Sure, the active writing might not take much time, but the research into the company, product, industry, and market trends that would feed into it would take several hours.

  40. Onetime Poster*

    I read about a similar process, I think at, many years ago. At that time, Zappos was well known for its focus on customer service over discounts and cutting corners. So, they sell their products at regular price but provide superior service (I used them a lot and can vouch; I’ve since moved out of US so I can’t use them any longer). What they did to ensure they only hired people looking to pursue excellence in customer service was offer an incentive of $1,000 to leave the company/final onboarding process:

    “After a week or so in this immersive experience, though, it’s time for what Zappos calls “The Offer.” The fast-growing company, which works hard to recruit people to join, says to its newest employees: “If you quit today, we will pay you for the amount of time you’ve worked, plus we will offer you a $1,000 bonus.” Zappos actually bribes its new employees to quit!” –

    The article states that about 10% of their employees take the offer and run. Basically, if someone is just after money they surmised, then they’d rather dole out a bit of cash so they don’t waste their time on the wrong people who could in turn jeopardize their strong brand.

    I think it’s a clever way to approach hiring.

  41. Taco Bell Job Fair*

    I got paid once for a job interview with a sandwich. It was for KFC, but I did get a free sandwich worth $3.99.

  42. Agree1*

    I don’t really know what would be the correct amount. But I know many people myself included who have gone on 4-5 interviews, only to not get the job. Most interviews last about an hour. So that’s potentially 5 hours of wasted time. Time off from your current job (if you have one). So I kind of agree!

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