jobs that require a time-consuming exercise before you can even apply

A reader writes:

What are your thoughts on tests that are required as part of a job application?

I work in marketing/content creation and even though I have a portfolio of samples of my writing work, I have no qualms about generating new material if an employer is truly considering me for a job. Occasionally though, I come across an open position that states candidates must perform time-consuming tasks in order to apply.

For example: “Read our 10-page style guide, listen to an audio of a meeting, then write a summary that covers X, Y and Z.” Or: “Answer the following five questions in up to 200 words each, including thoughts on our blog and which article you think best fits our goals and mission.”

Knowing that these types of jobs (if not this method of hurdle-jumping) get hundreds of applicants and very few are even considered, I bristle at putting so much energy into what is potentially a wasted pursuit. BUT, does it considerably up my chances at getting an interview given that some people won’t bother to go through so much trouble?

I’m looking at one such job now, and though I feel resentful at having to do so much work to simply throw my hat into the ring, the job is a perfect fit with my skills and interests. Is it worth it?

It’s BS.

I am all about using exercises and simulations to see people in action and assess how they will perform on the job, and a lot of hiring mistakes happen when managers don’t do that. But it’s only reasonable to do after the employer has done some initial screening and narrowed down the pool, so that candidates are only asked to spend time on it after someone has determined they could have a decent shot at the job.

Asking it of every single person who applies for the job, before any screening of their application has been done, is thoughtless and inconsiderate. It’s going to be a waste of time for the vast majority of those applicants. And not insignificant time either — the sorts of requests you describe take anywhere from an hour to much more. (Although frankly, even half an hour isn’t reasonable at this stage, considering how many applicants will generally be cut just from a first pass review of resumes.) Plus, since you haven’t had a chance to talk to them yet (like in a phone screen), you haven’t had a chance to ask your own questions and figure out if it’s even a job you’re interested in and willing to invest that sort of time in.

You asked whether it will significantly increase your chances of an interview if you play along since so many other people presumably won’t. I do think you’ll find less competition … but I’d urge you to consider what this employer is telling you about how they operate.

To be fair, there are decent employers who have problematic hiring processes, and you can’t say with certainty that companies doing this will have the same disregard for you/your time/your energy once you’re hired … but they’re still telling you something about the way they operate and it’s worth paying attention to that. It might not be the only data point you consider, but it should be a data point. It’s a strike against them, and I’d want to see lots of positive factors in their favor to balance that out before you think about playing along.

{ 182 comments… read them below }

  1. Jam Today*

    I have twice been asked to write product requirements for a “hypothetical” feature that I am 92% certain was something the companies were planning on building, ostensibly so they could understand my thought process, etc.. I spent an hour on each (a fraction of the time I would spend doing so for real at an actual job that was paying me) and when I said so during the interview the temperature changed, which went some way towards confirming my suspicion that they were using free applicant labor to bootstrap their product development process.

    1. redflagday701*

      When they react that way, it definitely feels like (1) that’s exactly what they’re doing and (2) they know it’s not OK.

      1. Jam Today*

        Yeah for sure, and one of them was a panel interview which included the review of of the requirements, with detailed questions as if I had actually gone through the whole process including market analysis, developing user personas, interviewing users, workflow observation, etc. and getting weirdly antagonistic about things that were missing — because I hadn’t done any of those things in the one hour I wrote the “specification” in my living room, e.g. “it doesn’t look like you considered X, why not?” and I was like “well correct, since I have never spoken to anyone about their needs as a user, so…”

        It was all just so obnoxious. I feel like interviewers frequently forget that candidates are also making decisions about *them*, especially the further advanced we are in our careers.

        1. ferrina*

          ….that process takes weeks, if not months and it takes real budget. If they’re going to go with specs that don’t have data behind it, well, that’s what unpaid interns are for /s

    2. BritChikka*

      In my industry it’s the norm to pay job applicants to perform interview tasks (not much but maybe like £200 to put together a proposal, or £500 to do a writing sample). I don’t understand why that’s not standard.

      1. So they all cheap ass rolled over and one fell out*

        I am not a lawyer but I think legally, if they are going to actually use the product of the “interview,” they are supposed to pay at least minimum wage for the “candidate’s” time.

  2. rosaz*

    The one advantage I can see to this kind of application process is when they do it instead of looking for specific qualifications in resumes. There’s something to be said for giving serious consideration to anyone who can do the job well, without first filtering on criteria that may or may not actually help find the best candidate.

    1. Lmcm*

      Maybe in some industries, but I (and OP) work in content writing and this is how you end up hiring a plagiarizer.

    2. Artemesia*

      No one is going to actually read all this twaddle. Seriously –no one is reading 50 or 100 applications — so they will be dumping most of them on a cursory review of the resume before focusing on the semi-finalists. It is a really nasty waste of a lot of people’s time.

      1. Miette*

        omg YES. This is exactly what’s going on–I avoid these “opportunities” at all costs.

      2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        I’d have thought it would narrow the number of applicants right down to only those who are desperate and have plenty of free time. This would probably deprive themselves of the most experienced candidates, but perhaps they’d prefer someone without enough experience to push back on the CEO’s stir-crazy ideas, point out that what they want is unfeasible or illegal, or with any inkling of workers’ rights.

        1. topcat*

          I agree. It depends on the level of writer you’re trying to hire. If it’s someone unknown with limited career history, for a junior role, then testing them out is not unreasonable.

          For a mid to later stage career writer, when most approaches are through your network anyway, it would probably put better, busier, more in-demand writers off from even applying. I’m fine with providing a couple of examples of relevant work from previous clients (as often my contacts need to run something past senior managers who don’t know me) but I’m not about to generate free sample copy.

      3. JustaTech*

        It reminds me of when I learned how the essays in the AP exams are graded – they hire in teachers from all over the country and give them like, 10-15 minutes an essay (maybe less), all day for several days straight. No one’s going to really read your brilliant prose, they’re just looking to see that you have the right structure and aren’t *completely* making things up.

        (The person who told me this was my history teacher who did this as a side gig, and was trying to get us to understand what would be asked of us on these exams.)
        It’s one thing to do that with an exam administered to thousands of students. It’s another thing to do it to job applicants, because there isn’t any pressing reason to do it that way.

        1. JustAnotherKate*

          Hell, that’s what we were told about the bar exam, at least in the old days when you wrote your essays by hand: reviewers wouldn’t read all of each essay, but they’d check whether you got the right concepts down in a semi-coherent way. So, the bar class instructors recommended underlining key words/phrases to make it easier for the reviewers to pick it out of the chicken scratch! No idea if that was really how the essays were reviewed, but I mostly followed this advice and passed easily. (And then utterly failed as a lawyer in less than five years…turns out the ability to rote-memorize and cram legal concepts into your brain isn’t actually a good predictor of your likely competence as an attorney. Who knew?)

    3. Whale I Never*

      I worked at a job that had an assignment first for similar reasons; it was an org with connections to incarceration, and they wanted to screen for people with the skills to do the job, but who might not necessarily have a job history or resume-writing skills that would stand out in the first screening. But it was only about half an hour’s work (maybe less? It was a while ago), and the work couldn’t be used to their benefit in any way.

  3. Higher Ed*

    Sounds like a lot of extra work for the hiring committee or whoever is going to have to go through all these submissions.

    1. Anonym*

      Exactly this. Wouldn’t you want to ONLY evaluate work samples from people who have a strong chance of being a good fit based on experience, informed (interviewed) declaration of interest, and salary alignment? I’d certainly rather review 3-5 than 10-50+.

    2. I should really pick a name*

      Pretty sure they’ll chuck out most of the applications before they start reviewing the assignments.

      1. Lacey*

        Yup. I worked for a company that would just take 10 off the top, decide who they wanted to interview out of that 10 and then if no one was what they wanted, on to the next 10.

        They did, however, wait until the second interview to have them take a skills test.

    3. NerdyKris*

      Which is why it’s such a waste of time for the candidate. Most of that work is never going to be seen unless they get to that round of interviews. They’re frontloading all the work even when the majority of applicants will never get to the point where the hiring manager needs to look at it.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        Pretty much sums up my opinion of cover letters and why I self-select out of them.

        1. Moonlight*

          Do you get interviews by doing that? Cover letters are a pain, but they’re such a standard in every industry, that I definitely wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that; it’s not such a burden on my time that it’s a stance I feel I need to make. I’m not judging; I’m genuinely curious if just… not doing it… works for you?

          1. Alan*

            I think cover letters provide some humanity to balance the resume’s bland statement of skills. And I agree, the time required to tweak a standard cover letter for each company is miniscule.

            1. No Longer Looking*

              If all you are doing is name-tweaking a cover letter, then yes, it probably isn’t doing you any good, and you’re probably applying to too many positions.

          2. justme*

            Successful in tech for over a decade – I’ve never written a cover letter nor seen one as a hiring manager. I assume the system we use is somehow filtering them out, and I’ve avoided jobs that require them.

          3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            I think it depends on the industry. It’s common in IT not to bother for example. In industries where writing skills are important, it wouldn’t wash at all.

          4. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            Do you get interviews by doing that?

            I do. I’m in IT, though; if I hiring manager can’t see how I fit into their environment from my résumé, it’s going to take a lot more than a cover letter to bridge that gap.

            In my mind, it fits the same description–unpaid work that is customized to that specific opportunity that I can’t efficiently reuse in the future–and should be treated the same.

            I’ll admit I may miss out on a few opportunities, but the odds are I wouldn’t have gotten those jobs anyway.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              So do I. I’m trying to move into a more specialized role and do it from out of state, so a cover letter is an absolute must for me. I’ve had interviewers refer to it, so I know at least some of them are reading it.

            2. a good mouse*

              What would you suggest to people trying to change industries given that approach? I struggled with this during the pandemic – I was in an industry that totally dried up (themed entertainment design/engineering) and so was trying to find jobs in somewhat related fields. I tried using my cover letter to explain how my skills would transfer, but also was acutely aware that my resume was pretty specialized to my niche and wouldn’t seem to meet the requirements at first glance.

              1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

                What would you suggest to people trying to change industries given that approach?

                Having stared down that barrel recently, I don’t have great answers. In my case, I was trying to abandon Development’s overspecialization and bonkers, banana-crackers entry requirements and get into Server and/or Network Administration instead.

                The best ideas I came up with were to:
                1. Acquire and hone the skills for that job (e.g. ssh/sftp/vpn/vnc/rdc, cron, apache/nginx, Virtualization platforms, etc).
                2. Acquire certifications (which I think are inferior to experience, but superior to nothing).
                3. Network via existing job contacts (i.e. where someone could vouch for my work ethic, and this is a recurring theme among those I have known who successfully changed careers).

                It’s a legit concern you’ve raised, but I don’t see requiring cover letters being the solution to it. If the hiring manager would not take on faith that I’m going to pick up their Linux Administrator I role from the Linux skills on my résumé and expressing my desire for it by applying for it, a cover letter where I try to assert my fitness anecdotally isn’t going to move the needle either. Minds have never been that open and the job market hasn’t been that tight since the Younger Dryas–like references, I chalk most of the esteem for them up to the enthusiasm of those who like receiving them and confirmation bias.

                YMMV–the only life I’ve lived is my own. I might have done better if I’d been in a position to sell my home and didn’t have a spouse and children to support.

                I didn’t make it out–I’m still in Development. If anything, I’ve ended up deeper in Development.

                1. a good mouse*

                  Same, I ended up being able to/having to wait it out until projects started up again and was hired to do basically what I was doing pre-pandemic. But it definitely made me deeply aware of how hard changing industries is. Especially for roles that might not have things like certifications that you can independently do.

          5. topcat*

            I’ve read the sample cover letters on here and I find them rather long and somewhat “American” in tone (which is fair enough, this is a US site). Outside the US, something more simple, succinct and more factual – less about people’s personal thoughts and desires – is generally considered more appropriate.

            Eg no one here wants to read endless paragraphs of puff about “what I think my greatest strength is” – it’s cringe. But apparently for American recruiters it’s a winning strategy.

  4. Cobol*

    There’s a once market-leading company in my area that asks literally 20 of these questions. Since I too am in marketing, you really gave to either not apply or commit 5-15 minutes for each answer.

    The real crazy thing is their success has made our area a center of this niche industry – including the new market leader – and I have to assume their cumbersome application process paid a part.

    1. Jane*

      Yes, in my sector it’s common to be given a role description with multiple bullet points. There will be an application form with multiple questions (“give an example of a project where you enhanced the student experience” and other such nonsense) and a longer open question asking you to address each of the job criteria. This for, is submitted along with a separate resume. You need to customise your resume to show that you have the factual experience for the job, and write an extensive application showing your soft skills and giving examples that meet the requirements, and if you don’t do both of these your application won’t even be looked at.

      I can easily spend 10+ hours on an application. Asked a friend if it was just me and she shared that the last time she got an interview invite, she counted the time she spend preparing for the interview and it was 24 hours. (You’ll be expected to give a presentation in the interview, be familiar with the current issues in all areas of the role even if you’re not currently doing them, know the employer’s goals and vision, etc) So in our very competitive sector, applicants can have spent 35+ hours on preparing before they even step into the interview.

      How is this fair?

  5. L*

    My employer pays a reasonable freelancing rate for work tests. It seems to vastly decrease the level of resentment.

    1. Nanani*

      That’s what they should do, but then that’s only feasilbe after some initial contact, right?
      This letter is describing long exercise just to send in an application!

    2. GreenDoor*

      I think a reasonable freelance fee for applicant work is reasonable. Especially because once you read a great idea, you can’t unread it and that might mean that applicant work gets folded into company product. However, I imagine they’d still want to get through one or two rounds of pre-screening/interviews before they pay for test work. Otherwise it’s a waste of the company’s money.

      1. ferrina*

        Yep, and it means that you don’t need to worry about copyright laws, because the work that the applicant did was for the company (hence the company’s intellectual property)

        1. Sleepy cat*

          You don’t want to worry about copyright laws anyway because you don’t take work from candidates’ tests and actually use it.

          1. Splendid Colors*

            You wouldn’t be using code, sure. But if it’s a sample marketing assignment, how can you unsee their design? Or what if their design is so obvious a solution that it would be awkward to reject any internally-generated designs that are similar? It’s like when authors don’t read fanfic because they don’t want to get sued if they either accidentally remember a plot point or turn of phrase and use it themselves, or a fan successfully predicts a development the author already planned. Yes, there are ways to fight all this, but it’s better to avoid the problem by not reading fanfic. (Or having job applicants crowdsource your next design.)

            1. Elenna*

              This is why you set up the assignment so it’s not related to anything they’re currently working on. If the assignment is to create a design for a project that was marketed five years ago, then it hardly matters if you can unsee the design or not, since you can’t go back in time to use it anyways.

            2. Varda*

              Is that actually a real issue regarding fan fiction? Just thinking of the numerous theories and fan fics that get written (I mean, George r.r. Martin is screwed then because every possible thing has 0probably been thought of and discussed before he finishes a song of ice and fire)

              1. AcademiaNut*

                Many authors refuse to read fanfic set in their worlds, or any writing sent to them by fans, to avoid being accused of plagiarism and sued. I think there have been cases where a fan has said “you stole my idea that I sent you” and then sued – it’s not a common occurrence, but “I never read fan writing” is a good pre-emptive defence.

                1. Corrvin (they/them)*

                  One version of that story has been passed around about a specific author, but information that came out after the author passed away seems to show that it’s possible things were quite different (whose lawyer contacted whom, what the offer was intended to purchase from the fan, the existence of the book that wasn’t able to be published, and so on).

                  In the applicant/company situation, seems like the easy thing to do would be to offer to pay the applicant for any work that was used and state a price ($50? $100?) If the company and applicant end up disagreeing on whether a concept got used, then it only costs the company a little cash to make it right and save their reputation.

    3. LabTechNoMore*

      A lot of employers require any sources of income to be reported, particularly in the public sector. Meaning you may be putting prospective candidates in the difficult position of breaking the law, or disclosing their job search to their employer. Payment may also weed out unemployed candidates, as this will affect UI eligibility. This isn’t always practical.

      More broadly speaking, if you want candidates to do work for you, there’s already a means of doing that. By hiring them. I’ve seen too many of these “simple screening exercises” devolve into multi-stage processes that can take an entire week to complete. Factor into that many candidates are interviewing with more than one company, so multiply that effort by every single other company they’re interested in, and you end up with a full time job of applying for jobs. It’s absurd.

      1. So they all cheap ass rolled over and one fell out*

        That’s a “not everyone can eat sandwiches” objection.

  6. Stevie*

    I had to do a data analysis exercise for one organization, and then they never contacted me again.

    1. LabTechNoMore*

      From anecdotal experience, I’ve noticed the more onerous the exercise, the more likely a company is to ghost you. This rule of thumb has made my application process simpler.

  7. alienor*

    I applied to a job like this last year. The questions on the application were things like “Choose a blog from any company that specializes in X and analyze the blog’s strategy and how it supports their brand,” and there were around 6 of them, so it took a couple of hours to do a thorough job. After I’d made it past several rounds of interviews, they also asked me to do a sample project that involved creating an editorial calendar with topic and SEO keyword research, and that took another couple of hours. I don’t think I’d do that again unless I REALLY wanted the job (this one did make me an offer in the end, but I turned it down for a variety of reasons).

  8. Bend & Snap*

    I just interviewed for a job that required a 30/60/90 day plan as part of the hiring process. They expected 20 hours to go into it.

    I was going to withdraw but they decided not to move me forward, which was a huge relief.

    1. Purple Cat*

      What level in the org was this for?
      Seems excessive – but something you might want to see for C-Suite.

    2. Texan In Exile*

      How do you even know what your plan is until you have spent time in the job?

    3. mreasy*

      Holy cow! I was asked for similar for a very senior role, but not 20 hours! I spent a couple of hours making an outline. 20 hours??? That’s beyond nuts.

  9. Lacey*

    I hate this even when I know I’m one of the top picks.

    I can see the advantage in some situations. Once I helped hire for a position and someone had put they were proficient in a design software that they could barely type a sentence in.

    But often times, it’s just hours of work so they can see the exact same type of design that is in my portfolio.

    1. MigraineMonth*

      I’m a software developer, and I had a company reach out to me about applying, except first they needed me to do this small exercise… in a language I’d never learned… in an area I wasn’t familiar with. It was like asking a professional French translator to learn the basics of Spanish just to apply.

      Somewhere in the middle of a YouTube tutorial , I realized that the project grading would reflect on the quality of the tutorial, not the work I was actually capable of doing. I withdrew my application and put all my energy into preparing for a technical interview where they let me use my strongest language.

    2. mreasy*

      When I was hiring a designer, I had them do a one-hour timed exercise because we work with very specific time constraints on a weekly basis. But because I read AAM, I only asked my 2 finalists – who I really couldn’t choose between without it! – and explained that we would not be using the work. I figure a one hour exercise replacing another interview round was fair – and it did enable me to make the decision. But stories of these multiple essay questions or a specific project they’ll use…it’s so disrespectful to candidates’ time.

      1. Lacey*

        Yeah, something like that is nerve wracking, but at least it’s not a massive waste of time.
        And I can see it providing actual insights.

        In one interview I had to sit down and do a sample. It was useful for me to see how VERY boring the work was. I withdrew my application and moved on to more interesting options.

    3. Elizabeth West*

      I mean, this is what a portfolio is FOR. :-\

      I spent a lot of time setting mine up and I even direct people to it. Then they don’t even bother to look, ugh. I can’t imagine not doing that if I were hiring for jobs where it would be even more relevant like a designer, etc.

  10. learnedthehardway*

    I pushed back recently with one of our hiring managers on the need for candidates to do a test case. The hiring manager pushed back that they need to see the candidate in action before they can really know that the person has the skills. Sigh. I think a project sample of a strategy they had created (appropriately anonymized) would be just fine, but the hiring manager disagrees and thinks that their initiative is too unique.

    We’ll see how well this works when the candidates drop out because they have other opportunities.

      1. B*

        Also everyone always thinks their project / approach / business is SO UNIQUE when what they are really saying is they have no idea what else is out there…

      2. LDN Layabout*

        Except if the person’s work isn’t up to scratch, you do what, fire them after they’ve likely quit their last job and are relying on continued employment to pay bills, health insurance etc.

        How is outcome any better than having a (decent) assessment process in place?

        1. Decidedly Me*

          This! Plus, hiring and training takes a lot of time, money, and effort. Firing someone, even when it’s the right call, can result in team members feeling uneasy.

      3. Big Glasses*

        Hard disagree on that, basically for the reason that LDN Layabout says. Probation period isn’t an extension of the interview process and people don’t understand it that way — if they did, companies would find it much much more difficult to hire anybody who is already employed, mostly only unemployed people would be willing to take that risk.

        1. AcademiaNut*

          Yeah, a probation period is so that if you realize you’ve made a horrible mistake, you don’t need to go through the usual PIP process to fire them. Hiring people without due diligence, and deciding a month or two if you want to keep them, is likely to drive away anyone currently unemployed, and the previously unemployed will be inclined to keep looking.

          Testing skills is entirely reasonable. It should, however, be done by people who pass the phone screening, should be completed during the course of a single day interview, and shouldn’t be useable by the business.

    1. Tequila & Oxford Commas*

      I do always push for some sort of in-office (or remote, I suppose) exercise for writing and other creative positions. In my line of work, it’s typical for the final product to have gone through multiple layers of edits and approval, so looking at a portfolio alone doesn’t tell you everything about a candidate’s abilities; seeing what a candidate can produce when working without collaborators has helped us avoid some underqualified hires.

      That being said, I’m talking about an exercise that should take no more than an hour, max, and only for finalists. And the raw material we give them is for a project that we’ve already completed, so they’re very clear that we’re not secretly looking for unpaid labor.

      1. ferrina*

        Yes! I’m a fan of the half hour test scenario. One of the dangers on longer take-home exercises is that you don’t actually know who did it. We had an engineer who had a buddy do his take-home evaluation- a coworker ran into the buddy at a conference a year and he freely admitted that he had done the evaluation. It explained why the engineer had never gotten even close to replicating the same quality of work.

      2. Didi*

        Yes, I have done this for years also. The truth is, lots of people say they can write. They talk a good game. They show good clips. But they do poorly when they actually have to write on deadline. Or, they show an inability to follow directions.

        1. Artemesia*

          Absolutely have people perform — and in ways they can’t cheap on. WHEN THEY are in the final 5 or fewer.

      3. Koalafied*

        We do the same thing when we hire content creators. We give them a writing prompt for a “current event” that happened at least a year ago, because we want to see that they can produce a decent first draft on their own and with the kind of turnaround time they’d have to meet on the job.

        We do ask for writing samples from the applicant’s portfolio with the application, and only candidates who have gotten through to the final interview round (typically 2-3 finalists) have to take the assessment. But it feels like it would be too huge risk to only evaluate previous work they cherry picked to present, not knowing how much it was edited by others at their current job or how long it took them to produce it, because rapid response comms are a big part of our work.

        I need to know I’m hiring someone who can deliver me a draft within a matter of hours on any relevant event that might unexpectedly occur, that has good bones and just needs some polishing and proofing before it goes out the door.

      4. StrikingFalcon*

        I did a sample when interviewing for my current job. It took an hour, was done as part of the second round interview (which also included an interview with management and a chance to meet the team without management present so I could ask my own questions and the team could give feedback on me as a candidate), and was very clearly not real work. As a candidate, the whole interview process impressed me. It was well organized, respectful of my time, and also made it clear that they were looking to build a team where everyone contributed and could get along with their coworkers.

        I would not have submitted that kind of exercise if they asked me to do so just to apply.

        1. TrainerGirl*

          I just did this as part of a 2nd round interview for a job last week. At the end of first interview, the hiring manager asked if I wanted to continue, because the company seemed aware that they were asking for a time/effort investment. I was impressed that they didn’t assume everyone would be gung ho to do it. The instructions were also very clear that the sample should be for a fictitious company, so it wasn’t going to be something that could be used for work product.

      5. londonedit*

        Yes – some sort of test is extremely common in interviews for publishing jobs, but it’s done at interview stage and it’s usually only half an hour maximum. Depending on the role it’ll be something like a copy-editing and/or proofreading test, and/or you might be asked to read a book description and write a short paragraph of cover copy or marketing copy. And those will all be based on books that have already published, or it’ll be material that’s only ever used for testing purposes, so there’s no possibility of the company stealing someone’s work (not that a couple of copy-edited pages or a paragraph of copy would be particularly useful, anyway!)

      6. mreasy*

        Yea definitely! And use a private shared doc that only you & candidate has access to, which you restrict after the time period. That actually evaluates what the candidate can do.

  11. Ama*

    I am wondering if OP has seen the same job posting I have seen (the first task described is VERY similar to one I’ve looked into). If so, it pays higher than average for the type of position (non-profit content writer) but they have reposted it every month for at least the last six months, which I can only think is because they can’t get anyone suitable to apply. To their credit it doesn’t appear they are trying to steal people’s work (as the task involves using as source material a recording from over a year ago), but I looked over the materials once and realized it would take at least 2-3 hours of my time to do everything they wanted, with no guarantee of even an initial interview. It’s a little below my desired salary range and I have the luxury to be picky in this job search (my current job is tolerable enough until I can find something better), so I haven’t been that motivated to apply.

    1. Michelle*

      OP here — and yes, I’d bet it’s the same job that gets posted repeatedly (nonprofit company that starts with “G”). Not only is the application time-consuming with no inkling they might be interested, but compared to other content jobs out there it doesn’t sound very interesting; the sample test looks depressing as hell….

  12. anonymous73*

    I’m not in marketing, but if submitting an application required me to do any more work than filling out the application (which is tedious and redundant IMO) and putting together a cover letter, I wouldn’t look twice at it.

    1. Ari*

      Honestly these days I won’t even fill out an application – unless it’s my absolute dream job at my dream company, if I can’t Quick Apply on LinkedIn, I’m scrolling past.

  13. Cat Lady*

    Ugh I just came across a job like this. I tailored my cover letter to the posting and then when I clicked apply they had a note that said “we know you hate writing cover letters and we hate reading them so we won’t waste your time asking for one”. But then they had a list of six short answer questions to answer instead. Most of the short answer questions where things I would expect in an interview, like “tell me about a time when…”. I was so annoyed I didn’t apply. It feels so disrespectful.

    1. Moonlight*

      URGH!!! You know what sounds bad about that? Is that if they’d just put it in the job post, it might’ve changed your opinion and you’d have still applied vs. wasting your time on a cover letter they didn’t even want and then acting like they’re such a pain and still asking for written work, as if that’s literally any less timing consuming/hassle oriented.

  14. Aarti*

    The local YWCA had a job opening that had like 10-20 questions, each asking for a large paragraph or two of response. I was like, that is what you ask in the interview. So frustrating!

    1. Splendid Colors*

      Is it possible this is to benefit people whose disabilities put them at a disadvantage in phone screens, etc.? –Person who can’t convince anyone on a phone screen or interview that I even know what part of a computer you type on.

      1. StrikingFalcon*

        If you wanted to do that, you still should send the questions to the candidates you are interested in after reviewing resumes, not before you’ve even glanced at their materials.

      2. Aarti*

        I don’t know. But I can’t imagine people with disabilities even have time to do this. Like, most of us work! This was a full day’s work!

  15. WestFront*

    How about being given an exercise, being graded on it, all while the interviewer is watching you like a hawk within less than a foot behind you? Yes, this has happened to me once, and I could NOT do the exercise. At all. I basically fumbled with the mouse the entire time and due to being nervous, I started sweating like a waterfall.

    Let’s just say I royally screwed up the interview that day and did not get the job.

    1. Moonlight*

      I feel like that tells you a lot about the employer/possible manager; maybe they wouldn’t do this on the job and just thought it would be fun to see you work, but I’d be worried that similar micro-managing/ control/ excessive supervision would come up on the job.

  16. Beau*

    I’m a veterinarian. Working (unpaid) interviews are really common to see if you fit into the environment and how they practice. Unfortunately, some take it way too far. My last one was 13 HOURS on the first day with just a Subway sandwich in all that time. The second day was 4 before I had to fly back home and at least included lunch. I had to take vacation time to do these and fly in on my own dime. A previous employer was looking to hire a friend of mine and had her come for two days. He said after that he couldn’t make a decision and wanted her to come for 2-3 more days for free. She told him to piss off.
    I’m at the point in my career where I don’t do that crap anymore. It’s rude, I don’t have much vacation time and I’m not going to waste time jumping through hoops when only occasionally have I gotten an offer after spending a fortune on travel and wasted days off.

    1. ferrina*

      This is common in childcare, too. An hour is pretty standard and plenty of time to see how the candidate meshes with the kids and the team.
      13 hours is beyond ridiculous.

    2. anne of mean gables*

      In addition to that being ridiculous in terms of time required of applicants, how on earth does that work in terms of liability? I always think of veterinary and person- medicine as being roughly structurally equivalent, and I cannot imagine a situation in which an unpaid applicant could drop in to a clinic and work. Wild.

      1. Beau*

        I carry my own insurance so that wouldn’t be an issue at least. I didn’t do very much patient handling so it was more observation and discussion. Incredibly painful and awful and should have told me a lot about how they function.

      2. Moonlight*

        Like Beau, most health-care related people are required to have their own professional liability insurance (vets, therapists, doctors…). I wouldn’t do it because of the kind of work I do, but it could make sense if you’re a vet and might get to do things like a few annual exams of cats or something; I’m a psychologist and typically only do ongoing work, so that’s why it wouldn’t make sense

    3. Splendid Colors*

      You’re not James Herriot, are you? Sounds like what Siegfried put him through.

    4. Moonlight*

      That honestly sounds beyond ridiculous. I can’t even imagine what that would look like for me; even though I have my own liability insurance as a psychologist, I think I’d insist on doing a mock-session with my interviewer or someone else on staff and not a real client. I would have serious concerns about a potential employers judgement if they wanted to test me on a real client. How does that even work, ethically, for veterinary stuff? Do they just ask you to do routine stuff, like annual exams for cats/dogs and observe the rest?

    5. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      Yeah I had an interview with a guy, when it came to question time of course I asked about salary because he hadn’t mentioned it. He told me that their process was to have people come in to work for free for a few days and then he’d tell them what he thought they were worth.
      I just got up and walked out, it was so preposterous. He knew I was already working and would have to take paid leave to work for him for free. Sorry mate, paid leave is for having fun not working for you for free. I can show you samples, take it or leave it.
      They then had the gall to call me about six months later as if I’d never been for an interview. Probably the person they hired didn’t stay beyond their trial period. I burned that bridge with a vengeance!

  17. Velawciraptor*

    I have attorneys do a hypo in interviews, but that’s IN the interview, not before I’ve decided if they’re worth speaking to. You do want to know if a potential trial attorney can think on their feet, can be reasonably effective at issue spotting, etc., but that has to come after figuring out basics like “did you go to law school?”, “are you a member of the Bar?’, “have you ever been in a courtroom in a professional capacity?” (shocking how many people apply these days despite missing those fundamental qualifications).

    I’ve interviewed for jobs that had me do some work ahead of an interview after they reviewed my application. But that work was clearly geared towards seeing if you had the requisite knowledge to do the job. But that part of the process made the interview itself shorter than it otherwise might have been, as it covered some of the big questions in advance.

    Asking someone to do this sort of work before they even know if they’re going to get an interview is disrespectful and a waste of everyone’s time (I say, making the possibly too generous assumption that every applicant’s project will be thoroughly reviewed ahead of decisions about interviews being made). This feels mostly like fishing for free work the hiring company can use.

  18. Let’sBeReal*

    My favorite ever job had an insanely long and exhausting process that required an assignment in the application step. I am still surprised at myself that I even attempted it, and that I stuck out such a long, multi-interview process. But they were a terrific employer in terms of pay, culture, support – literally everything I could want from a job. I stayed with them quite a while until I had to leave for personal reasons.
    Yes, the interview process required a lot of investment and commitment. I think I was ultimately okay with it when I realized that 1) they trade on the quality of the employees they have and ALSO 2) they give those employees a LOT of autonomy. They need a process that makes sure they don’t hire someone who can’t meet their standards because their business would suffer a lot if they didn’t realize for six months that a new hire wasn’t up to par. I totally forgave them the difficult process when I saw how great they were as an employer.

    1. Chalk Dust In The Wind*

      One of my best jobs ever likewise had a very involved interview process — _but_ the exercises came well after the application phase, and happened at a point when the company was investing a great deal of its senior engineers’ time in the process.

      I’m perfectly happy to go through an involved process if the investment is mutual. Not so much if it’s only the applicant’s time on the line.

  19. UX Writer*

    I got a job at a fantastic company where this step was unintentionally backwards. I asked them if I could do a phone interview to get to know them and they agreed and acknowledged that they were working on refining their hiring process and appreciated that feedback. I got the sense that they didn’t ask this of all candidates, just ones with good resumes. However, I think this was a rare circumstance. I think most other companies who have employees do giant tests before letting them interview are usually awful. My biggest indicator that this was a rare exception were the glowing reviews this company had on Glassdoor, so also check there before considering how to proceed. Good luck!

  20. JeJe*

    There are some tech companies that do this with programming tests. I’m talking tests that they give you 24-72 hours to complete, before you’ve talked to anyone from the company. They always use the excuse that they get so many applications that they have to screen this way, but some of the largest tech companies that everyone has heard of somehow seem to recruit without doing this.

    1. JeJe*

      Don’t get me wrong, those large companies still had long tests, but they could at least spare 10 minutes to tell you about the job and discuss your history before scheduling it.

    2. TheMomFriend*

      I’m a web dev and I got a “Please answer these short questions within 2 business days! After we receive the answers, we’ll set up a short screening call.”. There were 11 questions, ranging from “What is your development process, step by step?” to “Describe 3 recent web development projects that you worked on. What were the most interesting and challenging parts of each?”

      Eleven of those questions.

      I do not have that kind of time, so I just never replied.

      1. JeJe*

        Applicants for tech jobs aren’t evenly distributed. If you’re an ERP programmer in an IT department, there are more jobs than applicants. If your job posting is in a particularly hot area, you get a lot more applicants per job. My old company was small but every engineer and software engineer posting got 1000+ applicants because the specific tech area is something people are excited about.

    3. Lysine*

      I wonder what market that’s in or if it’s for people with literally no experience. My spouse is a web dev and the idea that any tech company would do this is laughable unless they’re paying 50-100k above market rate. He gets recruiter emails almost daily since there so much demand for people in tech.

      1. JeJe*

        I’m in computer vision and automation. Despite the increase in jobs in this area, there are still more applicants than jobs.

  21. Muddlewitch*

    After completing an application (2hours) filling in detailed answers to 5 additional questions “give me an example of when you’ve managed chocolate teapots” (3 hours) and doing a personality test (45 mins) I got a first interview (1 hour plus prep).

    I was asked before a second interview to complete a “case study” created by my QUALIFICATION AWARDING BODY, which should take (3 hours) to complete. I’m qualified, it took 3 years and 14 exams, and I have 25 years of technical experience. Is that not enough?

    I pulled out, and told them that their application process was geared towards childless people who don’t run their family home, or people who’d be able to complete all the tasks in work time. Arrgghh!

  22. Selina Luna*

    Every teaching job application I’ve ever filled out has some form of essay required. The topics vary a little, but it’s usually some form of “What is your teaching philosophy?” or “What is your classroom management strategy?” and these questions mainly annoy me because it’s always very clear that the administrators and teachers who interview me later did not, in fact, read any of these essays. They usually read my resume, but not always. I’ve been on interview committees and I don’t even get to see resumes or letters of recommendation-just the resume, but I know administrators have access to the rest.

    1. Ryo Bakura*

      Literally one of the reasons I switched from academia to a different sector was because of the absolute ridiculousness of the application/interview process. You want me to write out a teaching philosophy, statement of research, letter of intent, get 3 full letters of recommendation and years of teaching evaluations? Then you want me to fly/drive-often on my own dime- to a school where I get to do 10 different interviews with students, faculty, and administrators? Then go to a dinner with the faculty where I don’t get to actually eat, but instead have to navigate a social interview dressed up as a dinner to see if I fit with the departmental culture? And even then it’s a crapshoot to get the job because they fly in 5 finalists? AND the job pays maybe 70k at best?

      No thank you, I am happily enjoying my WFH life and decent salary even if it doesn’t come with the prestige of being *a professor.*

      1. Selina Luna*

        Which is why I won’t become a professor. I’m a simple high school teacher, training young minions to fix the world one well-constructed argument at a time,

    2. Anonymous for this*

      Teaching statement/philosophy and classroom management strategy — TBH I think those are documents you should just have if you’re in teaching? It takes a lot of time and effort to write good ones, but then you have them.

      I do a workshop for our staff (university, academic adjacent, we all teach a one-credit freshman class) on writing a teaching statement — we have two sessions, drafts, peer review, then I help them polish it up. In other words, a lot of time. But then they have the document for job applications, annual reviews, teaching award nominations etc.

      1. Selina Luna*

        I have 3 or 4 versions, polished and ready to go. I have that many so that I can adapt the jargon to what the school district really wants. Some want a “data-driven” teacher, while others want a “social and emotional learning” teacher. I’m the same teacher everywhere, but I’ve only been in a situation once where I didn’t really need to take a job that summer, so I adapt my buzzwords to the ones the district focuses on.

        It’s still really annoying that I often have to fully retype the whole thing because some systems won’t allow copy-and-paste, and I often have to do this in addition to a 45-minute “personality screening” that cannot be all that useful because they’re too easy to game.

  23. NeedRain47*

    I have not had to do a presentation for an interview yet, only essay questions. Considering that I get so nervous I basically black out while presenting, I hope I never have to. (I got through grad school with the assistance of medication, but none of my presentations were good despite tons of prep.)

    1. GythaOgden*

      I had to do a presentation for an entry level civil service job immediately after I graduated (on compulsory voting, light years away from the actual job, but I guess to see how good my actual education was and maybe how well I thought through new issues) and write a briefing paper on the advantages of nuclear power (for a political office job, I guess to see how well I coped with a particular brief that may not totally align with my personal views — although the research ended up changing my mind once I got into the raw technical details from engineering sources).

      Both were beyond the initial application process, but tbh I’ve seen these as routine for jobs where a certain level of education, skills and professional thinking were required. I agree they shouldn’t be done by all applicants, but the projects were fun and actually helped me prepare properly for the interviews by switching my brain into engagement mode with the organisation and not let me just coast through the process only to be like the proverbial rabbit in headlights in the actual face to face interviews.

      It definitely benefits people with the time and resources to do this, but for me it helps overcome a certain shyness and anxiety that can torpedo interviews, and so it’s helped me get jobs rather than hurt me. It gives me an opportunity to show what I can do rather than let my anxiety take over.

    2. Susie Q*

      “Considering that I get so nervous I basically black out while presenting, I hope I never have to.”

      This is why we require presentations from candidates for certain positions in our company because that job is solely giving presentations and demonstrations to customers.

      1. GythaOgden*

        Yeah. It’s a necessary part of many jobs. My dad is very confident in private but I was surprised to learn that he had my mum — a teacher, who likened her job to performing in front of an audience who didn’t want to be there — had to coach him every time he made one. His speech at my sister’s wedding was really emotional — by mine he’d grown into it.

        I totally get where NeedRain is coming from. People have different talents but jobs that need presentations end up needing some evidence of that.

        I was certainly like NeedRain in this situation — part of my Masters dissertation grade was a presentation so I was straight down to the disability office the moment I realised that there was a problem. I ended up having more of a conversation with my class rather than making a full presentation and I did well on my final marks, but it made me impressed with people who can manage it.

        I now manage my anxiety with meds and I wonder whether I’d be better at it than I was ten years ago at uni. I don’t think I’ll be teaching any time soon, but it’s a useful skill to have in many informal situations. I’m not saying people without the skill and for whom anxiety can get that bad should just deal (because I have so been there and know how embarrassing it is) but the meds have made a huge difference to how I can present and demonstrate things to people, and that’s helped me feel more confident.

  24. nycacd*

    I’m a creative who recently asked Alison a similar question, and it dawned on me that there’s a disconnect between how many creatives think about hiring managers/recruiters don’t understand the role of a portfolio.

    In many cases, creatives are *taught* that their portfolio is what will land them work, and we expect a good portfolio prezzo to be so much more than just showing the final result. We expect to be asked pretty probing questions about process, our role, and even talk about concepts or work that didn’t make it to the final product. And for many creatives, it can feel like doing double work when you’ve gone through the trouble of maintaining your portfolio and then get asked to do a test assignment anyway.

    Most hiring managers, I think, don’t really think about it from that angle. They think a test assignment is the ONLY way to gauge creative ability.

    1. nycacd*

      And of course I made a typo—it should have said “[…]disconnect between how creatives and hiring managers/recruiters think about portfolios.”

    2. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      Do you think that it’s a fear of being fooled by plagiarism? When your portfolio was hand-drawn on 2′ x 3′ boards, things were different.

    3. Marilyn Monroe dress*

      I’m a recruiter who def worries about this from an ethical standpoint; but we do the test instead of an interview. PLUS we try to keep the test short. You’d be surprised how many people with great portfolios bomb the tests – often because they don’t bother to read the instructions.

  25. Sssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

    The Canadian federal government wants to you upload your resume, after you’ve created your account profile.

    Then answer a WHOLE bunch of questions, usually no more than 200 words, but sometimes up to 500 or even 1000 words in their proprietary system. If you don’t save periodically, it times out after an hour and you lose everything because merely typing doesn’t count as activity in their system.

    The questions are based on the job description. “Must know Word. Please describe in 200 words how you know Word. Do not say ‘See resume.'” It was painful. It could take hours. It helped if you knew “federal speak” because they used expressions unknown in the private sector.

    This *could* lead to not an interview but to a round of testing in a room with dozens of other hopefuls. This would be in addition to language testing.

    If you passed the test, you might be called for an interview.

    For one job, 10+ years ago, the entire process from applying to rejection took 8 months.

      1. Kowalski! Options!*

        I’d love to know if the Public Service Commission tracks information on how many people don’t complete their applications before the job processes close. I bet a lot of candidates just hit the wall and go “f*** it” when they start doing the mental math of how much time they’ll have to invest for so little return.

    1. L.H. Puttgrass*

      Some U.S. federal government agencies do that, right down to “Do not say ‘see resume'”—but not many, fortunately. I think it’s because fed HR has to make sure that the resume shows experience for all the job requirements, and straight out asking candidates for “short” answers on how they meet each of the requirements is easier than reading resumes. But as an applicant, it sure is time consuming.

      Oh, and the 8 months from application to rejection also sounds a lot like U.S. federal government hiring (assuming the applicants hears anything back, of course).

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Yeah, I gave up on federal jobs because of the long process. The only exception was a FEMA job (yeah, I know!) that didn’t go through USAJOBS—I think it was a subcontract. I only applied because it was short-tenure but I would have learned a lot I could take elsewhere. After I didn’t get it, I archived my federal resume version.

    2. Kowalski! Options!*

      Oh God, THIS. This infuriates me so much. And those questions that are basically the same question asked three times over, and you contact the e-mail address to ask what different information is being sought in the questions (because you can’t be sure if it’s carelessness, or a trick on their side) and you get some haughty reply, like, “The answers are in the questions themselves.”
      THEN there’s the – what’s it called, the Test of Judgement? – where you’re presented with those twenty-five scenarios that you have to make a judgement on, and none of the possible answers is the correct answer, because the correct answer is “I need more information because I know that I don’t have all of the information in a 250-word scenario”.
      No kidding, I’m in 18 different job inventories and the only reason I haven’t cancelled the applications is because I use the applications I’ve submitted as a central inventory for all the responses I’m going to use for future job applications, because the questions so rarely change.

      1. Ssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

        I had started a master Word document with my saved replies, as the questions did vary every so slightly from time to time.

        Then I found a job elsewhere. Never did make it into federal service. My joke is that I never learned the secret handshake.

        Don’t get me started on the interview part where each answer you provide is graded and the one with the highest grade is picked regardless of fit.

  26. Kramerica Industries*

    While assignments overall are annoying, I think the examples you gave were actually of the kinder genre where it specifies “in 200 words” so you’re not left guessing how much effort to put into it. To get my current job, the assignment was to create a “mockup webpage” for one of their products (they specified the page was already launched in reality). But “mockup” is SO ambiguous. Did they want images? Copy? Just empty boxes to show where things should go? I honestly spent like 8 hours on the assignment because I felt like it was the final stage and I wanted the job really badly, but it was insanity to work that much on something.

    1. Making up names is hard*

      Ugh I hate that. Especially because for many designers it’s the restrictions that let us be creative. So if they give barely any specs and don’t provide assets, it’s overly challenging but also kind of worthless, unless they expect their designers to work with zero guidelines.

  27. LDN Layabout*

    I think assessments like this are essential in certain jobs/sectors, but they need to be designed and implemented well (which the one described isn’t).

    Portfolios are not a good replacement for them, because for every person who is honest and showing their own work, there’s another who isn’t. Also unless you’re a freelancer working solely on your own on the behalf of clients, that portfolio is likely to be have been guided and influenced by others in the way a test or assessment isn’t.

    My current job handled it pretty well, although I still spent probably longer than I needed to on the assignment. It was pre-interview, but post initial sift, it was clearly dummy data and it covered the two big parts of the work I was going to be doing, analysing data (pre-interview) and presenting it (post interview).

    And since there has been a bit of a movement (which I am very grateful for) in making sure people can progress in certain careers as SMEs versus having to go into management, yes it’s reasonable to say that you, a person applying for a senior position still doing the work vs. devoting more time to project/people management, need to be able to demonstrate that you can actually do the work.

  28. General von Klinkerhoffen*

    As well as all the other excellent objections raised …

    … an advance submission might not even all be the candidate’s own work. Having to do a timed assessment in the first round is 100% your work. Hiring managers can make allowances for the artificial environment, and certainly shouldn’t expect an hour’s timed test to reflect an hour’s actual work from someone securely in post, but it gives you a good indication of whether the candidate actually knows a language / law / process or not.

  29. blue*

    Any employer asking applicants to do this sort of thing needs to be paying them for their time.

  30. Marthooh*

    This reminds me of scammers who start their interactions with a blatantly ridiculous story, in order to winnow out reasonable people and concentrate on just the gullible ones.

  31. JuniorRecruiter*

    So, here’s a question: We request a cover letter, but seldom get them and I don’t really care. But my marketing director (we’re looking for a proposal manager) has insisted that I reply to all applicants for her role, who don’t include a letter, with “Thanks for your interest! We invite you to submit a cover letter outlining how your skills meet our needs, along with a writing sample or three.”
    I have had zero replies to this response. Is it a reasonable ask, especially in this market?

    1. Purple Cat*

      It sounds like she personally *requires* a cover letter. If so, that needs to be stated up front. If I”m submitting an application and it doesn’t specify that a letter is required, and then comes back asking for not only a letter, but one to THREE writing samples??? That’s a hard no from me. Decide what you want ahead of time and ask for it up front. Don’t move the goalposts on the applicant after the process has started.

      1. Working For A Livin'*

        Well, it does say they request a cover letter. If I saw that in a job ad I would assume that they require one to go forward with the application.

        1. Erin*

          “Request” and “Require” are two different things, though, and so many of these are churned out and posted with minimal thought, and say “cover letter” but then don’t care.

          “… and if you love chocolate llamas and grooming teapots, we’d love to hear from you!

          How To Apply:
          Send an email to with:
          1. Your resume/cv
          2. Your cover letter
          both attached before Wednesday the fourth of never. Please note, we are unable to consider applications that do not attach both documents. We’re aiming to do our first skim by Friday the eleventh of never.

          Looking forward to hearing from you!”

    2. Miette*

      As a contributor to a fair number of proposals–which can be fairly detailed, therefore calling for someone that can follow directions carefully–I’d say not following simple directions for the job listing by providing a cover letter gives you all the information about the applicants your hiring manager needs.

    3. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

      That resume is a writing sample. The cover letter is another writing sample. How many more does that marketing director want? And they should specify something, like what style or topic they want, and how long they expect.

      And “a writing sample or three” is awful. Will the marketing director *really* be okay with only one? Or are they expecting to get three and will think poorly of anyone who submits only 1 or 2? If so, they should just state it up front. (I can be bad at nuance and I really hate these kinds of potential/hidden tests.)

  32. Jam on Toast*

    Putting aside the ethics of soliciting unpaid work (which, ewwww), so many of these experiences demonstrate hiring processes run people who don’t understand how to design authentic assessments. 1. Give specific, unambiguous questions that say exactly what is expected. 200 words. 1 page. 5-6 sentences. Do you want a specific output: a Mock-up? Code? Copy? 2. Give sample documents that demonstrate what a ‘good’ one looks like so people don’t have to guess. Have your questions explain why you want to assess a specific skill. ie This job requires Tea-Pot design skills 50% of the time. This question will assess your tea-pot software design skills. 3. Give a rubric that explains how something is going to be marked. It doesn’t have to be long but for instance, does spelling matter? It might in an advertising job but what about a position with little to no external communication? And most importantly, the hiring manager/team should *do* the test first. 4. What did they accomplish in 2 hours? etc. If they can’t do it in the time allotted, why on earth would the applicant?

  33. Not Today Josephine*

    Applied for a job as an office manager. The application required about a dozen “mini-essays”, not short answers. At the interview, the interviewer did not even tell me their name, told me the actual job was doing sales cold calling, and goodbye. I had spent a few hours completing the writing tasks for nothing.

    Asking prospective employees to write something makes sense but not before they are screened.

  34. KRN*

    Not sure if this will come across as snotty, but in my experience, talented, capable people with great experience and resumes will outright skip these kinds of jobs if they’re looking for a new role.

    So I would consider what that would mean when you think of who your supervisor would be, who your coworkers are. They’ll be the people desperate enough for a new job that they’re willing to overlook a red flag like content creation as a first step in the hiring process. One of them may have come up with the idea, a few of them will likely have supported the idea, and more of them didn’t push back strongly on it. Think about who you will be surrounding yourself with if you do this kind of thing and then get the job. Honestly, they probably wouldn’t be my kind of people, so why even start the process?

    1. Wendy Darling*

      I’d like to think I’m a talented, capable person and I’m not doing these things anymore unless I feel that the exercise is a reasonable time commitment (ideally 2 hours or less, I MIGHT stretch to 4 if I was just ridiculously excited about the role and the company otherwise) and we’re already deep enough in the interview process that I am pretty confident the position would be an improvement on where I currently am.

      Right now I’m at a job with a great team, pretty good pay (though gradually getting worse and worse because they don’t do cost of living adjustments so inflation is killing us), okay benefits, and dumpster fire upper management. You have to be offering me interesting work for good pay in what seems like a better environment to get me to move. I’m looking because it’s the only way I’ll ever get a raise, but I can absolutely stay where I am indefinitely. If someone wants to hire me they’re gonna need to talk ME into it as much as I’m talking them into it.

    2. Alternative Person*

      I sometimes wonder if it’s part of a self fulfilling victim narrative for the employers. Intentionally (or not, some really have the blinders on), they create the conditions where good people self select out, underpay and treat those they do hire badly, then when they inevitably lose staff they complain about it.

      I see a semi-consistent cycle of certain companies reposting jobs on the boards I haunt and you can tell from the blurbs that the job will be more trouble than they’re paying.

      1. Wendy Darling*

        I quit a job because it was awful, and for like 3 years afterwards they’d re-post the position every 3-6 months with an increasingly specific, increasingly odd set of criteria for who they wanted to hire.

        I am personally responsible for a few very passive-aggressive bullet points about dealing GRACEFULLY with ambiguity and being focused on solutions, not problems. I assume my predecessors also got their own bullet points as the company discovered, slowly and painfully over a 4-year period, that you cannot pay $20k under market for one entry level data analyst and get the output of a whole data science team.

        1. Wendy Darling*

          Although my very favorite thing about those ads was every time they reposted the job they added a year or two to the SQL experience requirement. They didn’t even have a SQL database. They told me they had a database when I interviewed and once I started working there it turned out what they had was a few hundred inconsistently organized Excel files on Sharepoint and people just referred to that as “the database”.

  35. Name Required*

    I worked for a small digital marketing agency and was tasked by the owner in placing an advertisement for a content writer. I had a friend who did freelance content writing and graphic design, and he invited her in for an interview. Afterwards, he asked me to ask her for a few writing samples so that he could generate “free” content from her to provide as a paid product to our clients. He said this to me as if it were a genius idea, and as if I would immediately agree to fleece my own friend out of work. SO SHADY.

  36. Faith the twilight slayer*

    Employers who do this: I get it, you want a good fit, and maybe you’ve been burned and hired someone who didn’t work out. Perhaps take a look at what the basic qualifications are, and re-examine the questions you’re asking during interviews. Then take a good look at the real reasons people have left. I guarantee there’s a few former employees who would have stayed for a little bit more pay, a little more flexible schedule, and maybe, just maybe, better management. I’ve quit one job I absolutely LOVED because I couldn’t make the money I needed to survive. I also quit a job that paid enough, challenged me intellectually, and had extremely awesome benefits because the manager was such a horrible person she drove people to therapy (at least 3 people besides myself that I know of). If you have a lot of turnover, look inward: you haven’t had bad luck finding employees, you’re driving them away. And countless tests, quizzes, and personality assessments are driving away people before you’ve even met them.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      If you have a lot of turnover, look inward: you haven’t had bad luck finding employees, you’re driving them away.

      This should be posted as skywriting in big black letters a la “Surrender Dorothy.”

  37. Audiophile*

    I recently had a recruiter from large financial company ask me to submit a writing sample as a first step. This was the preliminary step to get to a phone interview and The recruiter called to relay all this. Why not just ask for writing samples at the application stage? Since I didn’t have an email address, and the recruiter never followed up with one even though I requested it, there was no way for me to submit it.

    The lack of follow up was enough for me to decide I wasn’t that interested and they couldn’t be that serious about reviewing candidates if you can follow through with that step.

    I had to laugh when I got a generic rejection a few weeks later.

  38. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

    I’ve gone along with the time consuming exercises before and it’s not worth it. However, I did get the job when one employer brought me in to assess my PowerPoint skills and how well I could catch on to what I would be doing. That wasn’t bad or time consuming at all (spent maybe an hour there while also talking to a couple more people) and just a way to demonstrate my skills for the job. But the ridiculous time consuming exercises before you even get an interview are a waste of time.

  39. Mangled metaphor*

    Every entry level applicant at my company has to do two tests – 15 minutes to answer 20 maths questions (calculator provided and needs a 70% pass mark), followed by 20 minutes to answer 5 long-form written questions (along the lines of “write an email chasing payment of a past due supply invoice”)
    These tests usually fall between initial screening and the usual interview and are really intended to check the applicant’s communication style and attention to detail under a small amount of pressure – one of the questions concerned VAT, which is currently 20% as standard, but the question states the old rate of 17.5% and still catches a few of them out.

    To emphasise again, this is *entry level*, deliberately targeted at school leavers (not even graduate level, although these aren’t excluded if they apply at entry level), and these tests are nearly always on the same day as the interview (we give them a break between test and interview and buy them a brew in our canteen while the tests are marked) – they’ve proven to be the most reliable indicator of who can do the job, while the interview determines who will be a good culture fit.

  40. Wendy Darling*

    I work in tech and my particular subfield is pretty consistent about using this kind of take-home assignment as part of the application process. In theory, I don’t have a problem with it.

    What I do have a problem with is that increasingly they’re putting this step immediately after resume screening, before you’ve even spoken with anyone at the company — I’ve been getting a lot of requests to do timed coding exercises or untimed take-home assignments as the first contact after I’ve submitted a resume. I don’t think they’re having ALL applicants do this, but I do think they’re having every applicant whose resume seemed promising do them. For a lot of these assignments they’re actually evaluated automatically, at least as a first pass, so there’s very little cost to the employer to do this — they can just toss anyone who doesn’t score well enough and then look harder at the people who passed — but it’s 2+ hours of the applicant’s time.

    Recently I did a fairly intense 2-hour timed exercise for a company that then scheduled me for a phone interview, in which we promptly discovered that the top of their salary range for the job would be a $20k+ pay cut for me. As a result, I’ve decided that I am no longer doing any exercises for jobs where I don’t know the salary range. I’m planning on following up with requests to ask for more info about the role and their salary range, and I’d love to hear if anyone has advice on how to do that. But if they aren’t willing to give me enough information to tell if I’m actually interested in the job, I’m not willing to expend multiple hours of my time on their application process.

    It’s probably going to cost me some opportunities but I’m fortunate to have a job that’s good enough for me to not care. I’m looking for work because I want to trade up, not because I need a job at any cost.

  41. Feral Historian*

    It’s pretty normal to be asked to do an editing test at some point in the jobs I’m applying for, but I definitely think it should come after an initial phone screening. And companies shouldn’t ghost people who do complete the tests. (Speaking from recent experience here.) I just got sent an NDA for an editing test today, which I knew to expect from Glassdoor, but which I do find pretty funny. I used to work for a Fortune 500 company and we didn’t send people NDAs with interview tests! Give me a break.

  42. cup o' noodles*

    I applied to a job last year that required applicants to go through an HR screening, then an interview with the CTO, and then complete a 4 – 6 hour assignment, all before meeting the hiring manager. The company is cutting edge tech, but this is a crazy old school process that assumes that the hiring company holds all of the cards, and the applicant has no leverage.

    I went through the first two steps but then withdrew after realizing that the 4 – 6 hours had to be consecutive, on a timer (meaning I was giving up a chunk of my weekend). And the project was to take a long list of tasks, prioritize them, and explain why I chose that order (screams “this environment is chaotic”). They were offering a fee in exchange for my work, but no one could tell me what the $ amount was, other than “nominal”. The hiring manager is literally everything to me– no way was I jumping through this hoop, without having met her first. And my weekends are precious.

    No thanks. I took another job, and months later a got recruiting email direct from the CEO. Not surprising they were still looking.

  43. Saraaaaah*

    I once put together a whole workshop, WHILE I WAS ON VACATION, participated in their FOUR HOUR final interview process ALSO WHILE I WAS ON VACATION and never heard from them again.

  44. Miette*

    I am in the same line of work and recently applied for a position that was right in my wheelhouse, where the first interview was a “virtual” recorded thing where I could record my responses on my computer and had a couple of “takes” to do it.

    I basically wasted a half day of my time–I was able to craft talking points and I wanted to be thorough–only to be rejected via formulaic email and it really pissed me off. I refuse to jump through these kinds of hoops again–it’s ridiculous.

    As stated above, these kinds of tests to gain an understanding of people’s skills make sense in the final rounds of a process, but it’s a waste of time at the start. OP, you should proceed with caution–either knowing you will once more be wasting your time and at least walking in with eyes open, or walking away.

  45. Hog Wild*

    I applied to production design a really cool-sounding independent fantasy film. They sent me a few script pages and asked for a couple sketches before agreeing to an interview. This is most definitely not normal. I’ve already sent them my resume and link to portfolio. The next step would have been for me to read the full script and meet them to chat. Maybe pull together some mood boards to show-and-tell during the interview.
    But I liked the concept, so I doodled a few ideas and watermarked the hell out of them with my union logo. (not what I’d typically do, just a hunch) I got a message back requesting I resend the files without the watermark. So, yeah… that was laughable. I responded that I can’t without an employment contract but the watermark shouldn’t prevent them from being to able to judge my work. I didn’t get invited to an interview.
    Turns out (believe it or not production designers talk) they didn’t even have financing in place. They used the sketches from this “application process” for an investor pitch package. Never hired/paid anyone.

  46. Anonymous for this*

    Not sure how many colleges/universities do this any more, but when I was on the market for a humanities tenure track position back in the last century, many places asked for your dossier (letters of recommendation, sometimes other materials), transcripts, writing samples, and teaching statements right up front, not just for applicants invited to a first round interview at the annual conference. Even for non-tenure track positions!

    In this case it wasn’t time, but money. A lot of it.

    My university charged a painful amount to send the dossier; if you went to more than one school (BA, MA, PhD might all be different, and I transferred colleges, so I had two of those), ordering transcripts added up, and anything printed out would require printing, packaging, and postage. It really added up, especially because we applied to dozens of jobs — the market was terrible.

    It was really thoughtless on the part of the hiring schools, because most applicants never made it to the first round interviews.

    The job I ended up getting didn’t in fact ask for any of this initially, just a letter and cv.

  47. Working mom*

    I interviewed for a job where they had me do 11 or 12 different tests (personality, number matching, excel, word, IQ, etc) before having 4 interviews in 2 different locations. A bunch of them did not apply to the type of job this was. There were other huge, waving red flags that made mw decide to nope out, even though I really needed a job. Don’t regret it.

    1. Wendy Darling*

      One of my favorite things about my current job is that it’s decent enough that if anywhere I apply pulls that crap with me I am completely comfortable walking the fuck out. Especially right now with the job market the way it is.

    2. Elizabeth West*

      I refuse to do those personality tests. You might as well ask applicants what their zodiac sign is. The fact that the company was gullible enough to purchase them tells me a lot. And the general knowledge/math/timed tests that have nothing to do with the job are potentially (no, they ARE) discriminatory.

  48. Liz T*

    Recently a standard Exec Assistant type job asked in-depth essay questions on their application, in addition to cover letter and resume. For each of them I just answered, “Available for questions upon interview.” I figured if they really needed someone, and liked my resume, they’d want to find out more.

    No, I didn’t hear back. But I have no regrets. You don’t hear back from most jobs anyway!

    1. Miette*

      Exactly this. I customize each cover letter to the position–and often the resume too, which can take an hour or more. They don’t get to claim any more of my time without giving up some of theirs (i.e. by reviewing my resume).

      Ah the interviewing, it is like a dance :)

  49. RebelwithMouseyHair*

    I will admit, at the agency I worked at before, we sent out tests before interviewing. But we only sent the tests to candidates with strong CVs, usually only two or three people. I sent a good half dozen texts to be translated, telling the candidate to only translate the ones they felt they could do well. This was to give us an idea of the kind of work they felt capable of doing, as well as assess their work. The texts could each be translated in under half an hour by a competent translator. A candidate that only did one text, might be eliminated because we wouldn’t have enough work for them in just that field.
    My best ever hire did all the test translations except one about women’s lingerie, and did a pretty good job on all of them except the legal translation. He turned out to be very versatile, even tackling a translation on rocket science on the strength of “I grew up just 20 miles from Houston”.

  50. Test me not*

    I recently applied to a company that sent me back 6 tests as a pre screen (yes pre) that, by their own calculations, will take about 3.5 hours to complete. No thank you. I am looking because I want better work life balance and to work for an organization that treats people as people and not just fodder. This clearly is very much the same if not worse.

  51. YaYa*

    I’m a medical records coder with 16 years of experience and one coder wanted me to take a three hour “coding evaluation”. I politely declined.

  52. Potatoes gonna potate*

    Yup very frustrating – the application to one chain store was about 45 minutes long with lots of questions.

    Another place wants me to upload my resume AND list every job including supervisors/managers.

    These are both retail/minimum wage jobs. and then they complain “nO oNe wAnTs To WoRk”

  53. Jay*

    I am a teacher and a few years ago I was changing school systems. In one system, I applied centrally and then was contacted by individual schools. In another system, I had to apply to specific listings. I applied to every job that was posted, except for the one that asked me to draw up a lesson plan ahead of time. I didn’t think they were trying to harvest free lesson plans like happens in tech/creative jobs, but I have 10 years of teaching experience, an MA in teaching and another in my content area, and I’ve written more than 10,000 lessons over my years. I honestly couldn’t be bothered to do one more. It just felt like weird make-work to add false legitimacy to the process.

  54. AceyAceyAcey*

    Most faculty jobs in academia require 2-3 essays from every candidate: a teaching statement, a research statement, and/or a diversity statement. Each is expected to be 2-3 pages in length. Thankfully these can be partially recycled, but generally can’t be completely recycled, as you have to customize it to their classes, their research interests, and/or their student population. And that’s just to get into the applicant pool of some 100-400 applicants.

  55. Mitchell T*

    It appears I am in the minority on this then…but that’s the sort of thing I wish I saw more of in my current job hunt. I’m a Master’s grad in Statistics looking for my first data science/analysis job. My resume is a weak point because I have no experience in data analysis, and I’ve had a lot of struggles with interviewers asking me specific syntax questions (think “how would you write this inner join in SQL”) when code syntax is something I really struggle with recalling verbally/while not working on a larger project. Tests would allow me to actively showcase my skills, something I’ve felt unable to do with the standard hiring process. The one opportunity I came closest to landing the job so far was the one opportunity I’ve found with a testing requirement. There are some caveats to consider, but they handled it perfectly – it was impossible the work I was doing was free work for their needs, and it was direct to the two largest skills I would need for the job, statistical knowledge and programming skills.

  56. Old School HTML*

    There’s a job I’m continually tempted by, and I think it would be a good fit if I got it, but the hiring process includes an up-to-6-weeks part-time (paid) “audition.” I just don’t have the mental energy to work another 4 hours a night on top of a regular job (and apparently those who do just a few days a week on the audition aren’t as likely to advance).

    While the audition-pay is comparable to my current job’s, I’d want to know if I can make significantly MORE than my current pay in the actual job (and apparently that’s very much based on a 1-on-1 negotiation with their CEO that varies wildly based on how you click with the guy, and it’s the final step).

    Wait, why am I shielding them — they’re proud of this process! It’s automattic-com/how-we-hire/

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