are we asking for too much work from job candidates?

A reader writes:

I’ve recently read some pushback on employers that ask candidates, as part of the hiring process, to complete assignments that may take many hours to do. At my law firm, we have recently moved to giving legal research and writing assignments to our attorney candidates. I would not be surprised if these projects take 10-20 hours. We don’t use the work, because we give them questions to which we already know the answers. We’ve found this to be an incredibly effective evaluation method. We’ve had people whose writing samples were fine, but who did an inadequate job on the assignment. And we’ve had people whose work on the project was better than expected and tipped them over the edge to getting an offer. A two-hour skills test would not give us particularly useful information, because a major part of what we want to know is whether someone with a difficult question and limited time can put together a well-researched, well-organized, substantial piece of legal writing and make it convincing.

We do not make every candidate do this, but if we are still seriously considering them after the interview, we use it as a major part of deciding whether to hire them or not. Is this still unreasonable to ask of candidates?

I answer this question — and three others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • I need to tell my team they can’t make so many errors
  • I asked my employee to nominate me for an award
  • How do I reject candidates when we we’re going to re-list the position?

{ 169 comments… read them below }

  1. learnedthehardway*

    If that’s the best way for you to determine who is a great candidate, I would keep using the assignment. However, I would look into ways to make sure it is accessible and doable for all candidates. Eg. you might be missing great candidates who simply don’t have time to do the assignment – whether because they have family obligations, lack of access to systems, disabilities, etc. etc. I had this happen with a candidate recently who presented really well in an interview, but whose computer system went down during a timed follow up assignment. The result was a less than stellar case study response. Luckily, the hiring manager was willing to give the candidate another chance.

    1. Sloanicota*

      Sadly, excluding candidates with family obligations and disabilities is probably more of a feature than a bug here.

      1. Jem One*

        That was my thought too. Many law firms are actively looking for employees who can regularly devote significant overtime to their job with minimal notice. This kind of interview process may not be explicitly designed to filter out applicants who can’t do that, but it’s definitely a bonus from the hiring manager’s perspective.

      2. PollyQ*

        At least LW asked the question. Hopefully, she was open to the answer Alison gave, back in the day. I would think now that we’re in the Great Resignation that fewer really good candidates would put up with this demand, and that it might well be counter-productive overall, even if it weeds out the lower-performing candidates.

    2. My Useless 2 Cents*

      You are missing out on just the “non-accessible” candidate. There are many of us out there who just won’t do it. I’m not going to give 10-12 hours of my time for a *possible* job (well maybe but that salary would have to be outrageously high for me to consider it).

      1. CommanderBanana*

        I wouldn’t either, unless this was absolutely my dream job and I wasn’t applying anywhere else so I had the time to spend over two working days on an assignment. And honestly, any place that asked me to do that, for free, as part of the interview process is probably not one with which I’d want to continue the interview process.

      2. Wendy Darling*

        I will no longer spend more than about 4 hours on take-home projects for ANY job. I’ll do a 1-2 hour takehome assignment, but only if I’ve already talked to someone on the phone and verified that the salary range is acceptable for me (learned that the hard way doing a 2-hour code screen for a company only to find out they wanted to pay half of what I was making).

        I might stretch to 3-4 hours for a job I was EXTREMELY excited about but if someone asked me to do 10+ hours of work I wouldn’t just decline, I would be pissed.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          yeah. Law is more complex than translation, I expect, but I devised a 5-line translation test to see how good a translator is. Companies often expect tests of several pages, but I managed to assess them on five lines.
          Often there are very simple pointers. First thing, I check whether they used the spell check. If they didn’t, or if they still had a typo in there, I didn’t bother to look further. I realised very early on that the best translators always ran the spell check just before delivery, so it is obviously a factor to be tested on.
          Then there’s deliberate typo in the name of a company in the text to be translated. A good translator will google any names they don’t know, because the spell check won’t work on names unless they are household names and can be written in all lower case like hoover and google. So you need to check that all names are written correctly.
          Then there’s a typical “false friend” word, where the French word strongly resembles an English word (like “hydration” in cosmetics, which mustn’t be left as “hydration” which is meaningless in the context, but translated to “moisturising” which is the correct term.
          Then there’s a link to a French website. In an English text, if you link to something in a foreign language, it’s only fair to specify “in French only”. That way people don’t click on the link unless they can actually understand the page they’re sent to.
          And then there’s a sentence that takes up the rest of the five lines. This needs to be cut up into at least two if not three sentences. Otherwise English speakers will never read to the end.
          Very few translators survive my test. The text is pretty easy, but you have to pay attention to detail and check everything to get it just right. And that’s what a translator has to do on every text they translate.
          So I’m wondering whether the OP might not be able to whittle the assignment and writing down to something that would take less time to produce?

      3. Curmudgeon in California*

        I’ve had take-home tests specified at “only three hours” that I looked at and scoped as eight hours of work just to set up an environment to do the “only three hours” of work. So that was a nope!

        I’m very much over spending hours and hours on make-work that isn’t even representative of the job.

        1. KelseyCorvo*

          They may be telling you a lower estimated amount of time than is reasonable because if you come back and say, “This would [or did] take me six hours instead of the three you said,” it makes you look slow.

      4. FisherCat*

        This part ^^ especially because, in law, either none or few of your existing work product will be able to be used for applications because of ACP and privacy issues. So, the writing sample is *already* several hours of additional work just for an application.

      5. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        10-20 hours of work? Not doing it unless I am paid for my time. I have a job and can’t take on 0.25-0.5 FTE for free in any given week

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          yeah, I was told once in an interview, after I had the audacity to ask about pay, that I’d have to work for free for a few days, then they’d tell me what I was worth. I just got up and said, OK this isn’t going to work, thank you for your time, and walked right out.

          They then had the gall to ask me if I was still interested in the position about 6 months later – presumably the new hire hadn’t worked out, and nobody had bothered to make a note of the fact that I wasn’t prepared to work for free. I wrote a very scathing reply to that email, totally scorched earth, because WTH.

    3. JD, Esq.*

      As other lawyers have said – this is not the best way, or even a good way, for a law firm to determine who is a great candidate. Other fields may vary (although 10-20 hours is a lot of time), but this is ridiculous and is not the standard at all in the legal field. I’m guessing that their “great results” are from hiring people fresh out of law school who don’t already have other jobs and are desperate to get hired to pay off their loans.

      1. AnotherAttorney*

        Yes, the only way they’d get decent candidates would be hiring law students. For experienced attorneys only someone who’s desperate would likely participate in this.

      2. Phryne*

        I don’t even see how they can conclude this method gives them great results. Sure they have been happy with the people they hired, but with absolutely no idea what kind of candidates they scared off, or ever having tried another method of recruiting, they have no way of knowing if there were better matches out there that they simply don’t even know exist…

    4. Public Sector Manager*

      I’ve been a lawyer for 27 years and a 10 to 20 hour research assignment is patently unreasonable. And without more, I’d say they are doing it specifically to weed out candidates who have other time commitments, family obligations, and disabilities. It’s a huge red flag that they do it.

      1. Wendy Darling*

        And people willing to assert any kind of boundary about work-life balance. An increasing number of people see this kind of thing and just self-select out of that whole workplace. If you only want to hire people who are willing to let work take over their lives this is a great screening method.

      2. Ismonie*

        I had a government job give me 48 hours to do a research assignment, although it was a very desirable job. I did it, but was kind of resentful. Unlike other candidates, I did not take a day off from work, or my childcare responsibilities.

        1. CoveredinBees*

          How long did the research assignment take? I’ve been given a short turnaround like that on test assignments, but they were 1-2 hours of work.

          1. Ismonie*

            I could’ve taken the entire time if I wanted. I think I spent 8-10 hours. And I’m very fast. It was writing a draft opinion. After reviewing full briefing. On a novel issue.

    5. Eye roll*

      It’s likely that a key reason some writing samples are great but the accompanying assignments are not is that… the writing samples were based on actual work product for which the attorney had time to complete it. I’m sorry, but I do not have a spare 10 to 20 hours to invest on a possible job, when I have my current job, volunteering, hobbies, kids, husband, pets, etc. that take up my time. The best products will be from the people with ample spare time or who already know the answer/have a similar document to pull from.

    6. Aurelia*

      Another argument in favour of paying them is that it will help the hiring manager really narrow down their focus. If it costs you 10-20 hours of work then you’re not going to casually assign this project to your top 5 candidates, maybe just 1 or 2. And “why should I pay someone for work I’m not going to use” is the employer side of “why should I spend hours on an assignment for a job I’m not guaranteed”. It makes sure both parties have “skin in the game”, so to speak.

  2. Another JD*

    Lawyer here. 10-20 hours isn’t reasonable. How can you pare down the hours required from the candidate and get what you need? Some ideas: a closed memo to test writing skills; a limited scope research assignment; and recycle old bar exams questions relevant to your area of practice to test issue spotting.

    1. Bean*

      Yeah, also a lawyer, and I’m way too busy to do 20 hours of research that doesn’t count towards my billables. Plus, I can’t use Westlaw etc. from my current firm for this. I have also never heard of a firm doing this, so I would just not apply to a job if I saw this was part of it. It comes across as super out of touch.

      1. AnotherAttorney*

        The closest I had to this was when I was interviewing for a clerkship and even then they gave me a caselaw packet to use, even though I probably would have been allowed to use my law school Westlaw. But later in career for firm hiring? Yes, the Lexis/Westlaw usage is problematic.

      2. Marion Cotesworth-Haye*

        Co-signed by another lawyer. Another JD’s suggestions are spot-on — you could give them a case and made up fact pattern to apply the case to, have them summarize a short/fake deposition transcript, have them issue spot a fact pattern like they would on a law school exam… So many ways to make this less burdensome but still valuable.

      3. EPLawyer*

        The not using Westlaw/lexis from your current firm is HUGE. it would be unethical and a breach of contract to do that.

        But if you need to do research for the project, then you have to do it somewhere. Most law libraries have it, but then you have to go during the hours the library is open, which might be working hours.

        OP, lose the assignment. If you can’t tell by their writing sample and then interviewing them about said writing sample, then a 20 hours homework assignment isn’t going to add much.

        quite frankly, even if I were interested in working for a firm and made it to the point where you asked me to do this assignment I would nope right out of there. It’s disrespectfuly of people’s time. Interviewing is a 2 way street. You are losing out on people with options who don’t want to dedicate their lives to getting a job.

    2. Mid*

      Also, pay them for that time. Even though they aren’t using the work, 10-20 hours is a lot of time for people to invest. Paying people a reasonable rate for 10-20 hours of work would help lower the barrier of entry for some people at least, making it a more equitable process. If you have someone who you might want to hire but are concerned about their writing abilities, you could hire them as a contractor for a project even (though this might still cost you the best candidates because they can get offers for permanent positions instead.)

      Other things you could do would be to ask candidates to explain how they would approach a research question rather than have them actually do it, outline their answer without requiring a fully written piece, have them do it timed for 1-2 hours to see how they would approach the problem and start writing without actually writing the full piece…jumping to such a large project seems like it will cost you the best candidates who will get offers with less hoops to jump through.

      I work for a law firm and helped with the hiring process for our last two clerks/jr associates. If we asked them for 20 hours of unpaid work, they would have probably laughed and walked away.

      1. zuzu*

        At lawyer rates, it’s anywhere from $2000-18000 (or more!) of billable time you’re asking for. For the mere possibility of an interview.

        1. Fikly*

          That’s the point. They are asking for that much billable time in unpaid for just for the potential of a job.

          If that’s what they really need to evaluate a candidate, then they should have to pay for it. If they do not want to, then it’s incentive to come up with a way to evaluate candidates that is far more reasonable, for the candidates.

        2. Mid*

          That’s exactly my point. I’m a paralegal and I know what the billable rates are for attorneys, and how ridiculous it is to ask people to do 10-20 hours of work for free.

          If the assignment is truly that valuable to the LW’s firm, then they should value it enough to pay for it. They say they do it for late-stage applicants who they want to offer positions to, so they should be willing to pay for their work at that point.

          (Also, lawyers aren’t paid what they bill at. Someone billing at $350/hour isn’t making $350/hour, even in BigLaw equity partner levels of pay.)

      2. Bob Loblaw*

        I’m not sure I would agree to take pay while employed at another firm, even if I had no conflict in interviewing. I’d be worried it violated my outside employment policy. (Of course, if your firm finds out you’re interviewing at another firm, they’ll probably can you, violation of policy or no.

        Definitely never heard of a bespoke 10-20 hour applicant exercise (though when I interviewed as a lateral partner, I was within that range for interviews).

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          yes, it would very probably violate non-compete clauses in employment contracts or employee handbooks.

    3. Hyacinth Bucket (Pronounced Bouquet!)*

      Also a lawyer. I’ve never had anything like this at any firm where I’ve been hired. I’ve provided writing samples and had to do a basic proofreading test as a law clerk, but never a lengthy skills test. I also think Bean’s point about not being able to use firm resources like Westlaw or Bloomberg would be a bit of a handicap in legal research assignments.

      My spouse works in a tech-adjacent industry, and skills tests like this are common. They used to be unpaid, but the industry is changing. My partner has withdrawn from jobs for this reason.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Spouse is out of the field portion of the industry they were in now (have shifted to behind the scenes support roles), but all the field people know that normal for that field was a full day for finalists – with a three hour skills component built into the day.
        But, like I said this was just for the finalists – so three people at most would be doing this. Maybe it’s a possibility to in addition to making the skills test shorter to make is something that only your finalists are completing.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Sorry – that was supposed to say “normal for that field was a full day INTERVIEW”

        2. BethDH*

          The other thing about a day-length interview/visit is that all the ones I’ve been to or hosted were also about the candidate deciding whether they wanted to work there — talking to potential colleagues without a supervisor there, seeing the work environment, etc.

    4. FisherCat*

      also lawyer checking in and I would nope out of this process. The writing sample itself is a major time investment for the application, I really cannot and would not do more.

    5. Public Sector Manager*

      It’s so beyond the pale that I can’t even process how someone thought this was a good practice. I wouldn’t work at a firm that did it. I hate to be this blunt with the OP, but the firm sounds like a mill.

    6. Kesnit*

      Yet another lawyer adding to the comments…

      This is nuts.

      My state bar gives us access to a research site (can’t remember what since I haven’t used it in several years), but even with free access to legal research, the person still has to do the research. And be able to dig through tons of case law to make sense of what they are reading.

      You say you already know the answer. That means there is a single answer, meaning someone who stumbles across it quickly is at an advantage over someone who does not. And what if someone does not find the single answer and submits a well-documented writing sample with the wrong conclusion?

      I agree with the others who said to give them a fact pattern with a closed collection of references. Or have candidates submit writing samples of their choosing. If you have to do the writing sample at all.

    7. Sandgroper*

      Not a lawyer, but an employer of people at a wide variety of skill and experience levels.

      It’s sounding like any competent, professional lawyer isn’t likely to bite at this. So it appears this is a ‘test’ for entry level/newly minted lawyers.

      So if this is a 10-20 hours assignment for an experienced lawyer, what’s it for an inexperienced one? 40 hours?

      A skills test is normally a couple of hours tops (and agree it should be AFTER an initial interview, when it’s down to a few people to choose between, not ever before), and that’s on a standard 40hr week. Lawyers work anti social/long hours often, but if it’s 2hours for 40hour employee, and it’s 20hours for a lawyer… does that mean lawyers are working 10x the hours of average employees? 400 hours a week? Nope. Reel in your excessive demands and stop taking advantage of inexperienced green graduates if that is what you are doing!

  3. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    It sounds like this is pretty deep into the interview process, which makes it a tiny bit more palatable. And perhaps only palatable if these are very well compensated, professional positions.

    But I’d recommend trying to streamline the project to a shorter length of time, tell them how much time it should take, and pay them the equivalent of the target hourly wage to do it.

    I wonder if the hassle of cutting a check will reduce the number of candidates you bother “testing” in the long run.

    1. The New Wanderer*

      Agree, if this firm is absolutely committed to keeping this extensive interview project, it should be paid. Asking candidates to work up to 2.5 days unpaid is not okay, whether or not you can use the end product.

      But the firm really shouldn’t be committed to this in the first place. It’s exclusionary even if paid, due to the sheer number of hours involved. The firm needs to find a better way.

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      We do a deep-in-the process excercise at my company but like…we expect it to take two hours tops. And even then are very flexible with the deadlines. And even *then* we have had a ton of internal discussion about whether or not it’s a reasonable ask and have pared it down quite a bit over the years. This seems like too much under any circumstances I can imagine.

    3. Your local password resetter*

      I just assumed that the candidates were getting paid for their time, because 20 hours of free work with no guaranteed compensation is so obviously unacceptable.

      Its still a massive burden regardless, and the OP should really try to scale it down as much as possible.

    4. Eye roll*

      Even deep into the interview process, 20 hours is inherently not reasonable. Either these are newly admitted attorneys, in which case, this feels a little exploitive to ask them to invest half a week of work into one job application (presumably preventing them from investing the time in other job applications/opportunities), or these are experienced attorneys who will only offer 20 hours of free (and pointless) work if they are unemployed and desperate.

      1. What a way to make a living*

        The other opportunities is such a good point! What if every employer did this!? Imagine applying for jobs if every single job requires 20 hours of work.

        They’re simply not thinking through the realities of what they’re asking on the other end.

  4. Stephanie the Appalled Lawyer*

    I’ve been reading AAM for years, but this is the first time I’ve ever felt compelled to comment. I’m an attorney who hires other attorneys. I have never, ever, heard of asking an attorney to do a research and writing project as part of an interview and would never do one. What a gargantuan waste of time and resources. Asking an applicant to provide a writing sample is common. It’s easy enough to provide a brief that is of public record or a redacted memo. An interviewer can ask how heavily edited it was, and if at all possible, check references and for a fairly new grad, research and writing grades. If a potential employer asked me to research and write a memo from scratch, I’d consider it a sign that the employer would a) assign busywork and b) not respect my time.

    1. PollyQ*

      I have to think that in addition to this being a true hardship for working parents or even just people who currently have a very demanding job, a test like this would chase away some of the best candidates who’d decide that they didn’t need to jump through these kind of hoops. They might also wonder, “If this is how demanding they are before I’m hired, how much worse would it be once I’m on the payroll?”

      1. Important Moi*

        With all due respect to working parents and people who have a very demanding job, busy work is a waste of EVERYONE’S time.

    2. Kay*

      Gargantuan waste of time and resources indeed. It is very telling of not only the employer but of anyone willing to actually participate in this nonsense.

  5. Agile Phalanges*

    [I know this is from the archives, but just for fun…]

    For the legal writing assignment, I agree with Alison that it could be pushing people out of the running who have other obligations on their time for whatever reason. Can you shorten the exercise? Obviously, when someone works for you, they’ll have their hours in the office to accomplish their tasks, which is set aside for that purpose (even if there are tight deadlines) and not have to squeeze it in around their current job, caregiving, hobbies, etc. So can you eliminate as much of the time portion as possible and just test their other skills you’re trying to assess? For research skills, can you have them research case law on a certain obscure topic and just site a certain number of cases, or for writing, can you provide them the citations they need and just ask them to write a specific type of document? Or if you would generally work from a boilerplate template in the actual job, then have them do that, not draft from scratch. But break it down into a couple of short tasks rather than combining all the pieces into a multi-day process?

    I’m in accounting, and have had to take tests to prove I know what I’m talking about, but they’re generally a few vocab questions, and a few “which accounts would you debit and credit in scenario A” type questions, as well as the usual “tell me about a time when” questions, not a full “reconcile these ten accounts using this multi-tab workbook,” you know? They figure if you know enough of the lingo and generic scenarios, you’re probably just as capable at a bigger project that puts all the pieces together.

    1. LawBee*

      “ For research skills, can you have them research case law on a certain obscure topic and just site a certain number of cases”

      That would take forever using publicly available legal search tools. At the very minimum they should provide a Westlaw login. Most firms closely track what is being looked up on WL/Lexis, so Candidates cant use their work accounts.

  6. The New Wanderer*

    I was a final candidate for a position where I didn’t receive an offer and they didn’t offer it to anyone else at the time. The recruiter’s message basically said they thought I had a lot to offer but my specialized knowledge base wasn’t as good a fit as they were looking for. That was a decent way to handle it, I thought.

    If you ever do reconsider former candidates later, though, here’s a recommendation. After my interview I found it annoying to receive periodic LinkedIn messages from their other recruiters (all internal recruiters) asking me to apply to that same role because I appeared to be “an excellent fit.” It’s one thing to reach out to a former candidate and explain their needs had changed and they want to reconsider me if I’m interested. It’s another to appear completely unaware that I had already spent a full day interviewing with the extended team and my candidacy had not been successful.

      1. Justin*

        I mean, probably not if it’s like 30 minutes – no one is going to pay you to write a cover letter. But if it’s starts all the way up ten hours, yeah, probably both.

  7. Justin*

    Also I did a complicated assignment for a job this winter. And then it turned out the interviewer had not even read it – so I wonder if the screening was just if we found the time to do it at all.

    On the plus side, being rejected for that job annoyed me enough I sent out a bunch of applications the day I was rejected and one of those was my new much better job.

  8. L.H. Puttgrass*

    “You should also look at who you might be screening out with this requirement. For example, if you’ve got a candidate who’s employed 50 hours a week and is a single parent to young children, is she really going to find 10-20 hours to do this? Are you comfortable screening out people who just can’t make this work with the logistics of their lives?”

    I’m really tempted to make a sarcastic comment here about the “life” big law firms expect their attorneys to lead…and I guess I just did.

    1. Artemesia*

      I suspect that they are just fine with that because who wants people who have any other demands on their time than billable hours? It strikes me as a great way to discriminate – and not just on writing/researching abilities.

      1. L.H. Puttgrass*

        Yup. There are a lot of firms where the answer to, “Are you comfortable screening out people who just can’t make this work with the logistics of their lives?” is, “Yes. Yes, we are.”

      2. L.H. Puttgrass*

        One of the first comments about this on the original thread (Nov. 19, 2018, Letter #4) flat-out called this an advantage of this method:

        As for “screening out people who just can’t make this work,” well, it’s a law firm. You probably want to screen those people out given the nature of legal practice.

        So, yeah. There are plenty of lawyers who would see “can you carve out 10-20 hours for extra work in a week?” as a completely legit screening criteria. Unfortunately.

        1. L.H. Puttgrass*

          Ugh. My blockquote didn’t close properly. The second part of that blockquote is me, not a quote.

        2. Lilo*

          I will also say that things have changed ged since 2018. In my organization we are desperate for new attorneys and have added some new hire benefits (such as significant work at home benefits starting much earlier) to get new hires. A firm would never get away with this today.

      3. CoveredinBees*

        It also screens out people who are already employed at another firm. I don’t know how long they have to complete this assignment, but 10-20 hours is a big ask if you’re already working. Even if you have no family, friends, pets, hobbies, and your studio apartment is next door to your office building.

    2. AnotherAttorney*

      To be honest you’re also screening out people who have some sense of professional boundaries. This isn’t the norm for attorney hiring, most attorney would see this as a red flag and walk. I would. My experience as an experienced attorney is that firms very much try to woo their wanted candidates.

      1. JD, Esq.*

        This. It sounds like they’re hiring new JDs who don’t already have jobs and don’t know the value of their time yet.

    3. Just Your Everyday Crone*

      I doubt this is a big law firm , though. And people screen themselves out if they want work life balance.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        I doubt it is BigLaw – their screening process is on-campus interviews, summer associateships, and then work experience (where you can submit a publicly-available pleading or redacted memo for the writing sample, if needed). Above the Law would have a field day with this, if it was a BigLaw firm.

        BigLaw only recruits a small number of top-of-class attorneys from top-tier or local schools (unless lateralling), though, so I’d guess that this firm is getting applicants who either aren’t interested in the BigLaw life or don’t meet BigLaw recruiting criteria.

        It’s also kind of funny timing for the reprint, given how blazing hot the associate market has been and some being offered jobs without even interview, much less working a part-time job to even apply.

    4. Marion Cotesworth-Haye*

      Big Law attorney here — this is absolutely not part of the hiring process at any firm I’ve ever heard of.

      1. CoveredinBees*

        and that’s why you’ve never been awarded the Francis Scott Key key!

        Seriously though, this is absolutely bananapants. I have worked or interviewed with nearly every type of legal employer out there (non-profit, government, big law, small boutique, small generalist…). Not once have I seen anything like this.

    5. Dwight*

      To me it seems to be a feature, not a bug that they’re screening out people who need work/life balance.

      1. JD, Esq.*

        But it screens out people who are fine with working long hours. Those people already have jobs where they’re putting in a lot of time, and therefore don’t have the leisure to do 10-20 hours of free labor for the OP’s hiring team. The only people who will have time for this nonsense task are new law grads and unemployed, desperate people – and in neither case does willingness to do this assignment say anything about work/life balance.

  9. JustSomeBodyinHR*

    A 20 hour project for a job candidate is not reasonable. That is basically half a week of work candidates are doing for free. It is still an unreasonable amount of time if you are paying them, but adding compensation makes it slightly better.

    I would dig into the skills you are wanting to assess with this project and figure out a more reasonable way of measuring success.

  10. bamcheeks*

    At attorney billable hour rates, this is maybe like $5000 worth of work you’re asking people to do for free? Maybe considerably more depending on what field you’re in? I am frankly pretty amazed you find multiple people willing to do that!

  11. Casey*

    For LW2 who’s worried about errors on their previously understaffed team — we actually went through something similar recently and I thought my manager handled it really well! He basically said: “Hey team, I’m really proud of the work you’ve done over the past 6 months to keep the ship afloat. Now that we have some more breathing room, I’d like to take the time to address some of that process-improvement work that naturally falls by the wayside during busy periods. One of the things I’ve noticed is that we often have errors in our XYZ process that are caught late in the game. Maybe the answer is that we’ve just been in a rush and it’ll naturally resolve, but can you all take some time to think about how we can improve this, and then we’ll meet next week to discuss? It’s possible that XYZ has too many steps or should be automated instead, so I want to hear your feedback on what you’ve noticed while doing this work in a crunch.”

    I thought this was great because it made me feel like it was team vs the problem, not manager vs team, and it also helped us pivot out of the stress and deadlines mindset to a more relaxed, brainstorming type setting.

    1. Anonym*

      Wow, that’s so well thought out and reasonable! Also creates the opportunity for process improvement overall, not just a return to the previous standard. Love it.

    2. Sedna*

      Love this response, especially your manager’s attention to the process issue! I made a huge mistake at work recently & my manager’s response was “well, that’s bad, here’s what you need to do to fix it & please don’t let it happen again. But also, we need to fix our system so it’s much harder for a mistake this big to happen.”

      1. Casey*

        Exactly! We work on systems where making mistakes can lead to (literal) explosions, so the stress is constant and the emphasis is always on assuming human error is inevitable and building really robust checks/review/validation into the process.

    3. SereneScientist*

      This is a great way to frame it and very much falls in line with Alison’s general managing guidance: treat the issue as a work issue to be tackled as a team.

    4. Elizabeth West*

      This would perk me right up since I’d probably already have been thinking about it the whole time, and I’m the nerd who would have notes already. And having a great boss like this would make it even better.

    5. tamarack and fireweed*

      Yup, I came here to say something along these lines. I’ve been in this situation as a team member, and then as a team lead (one step before management level).

      The key thing for the team is to realize that the manager has their back during the stressful times (ie, keeps the higher-ups or customers off their backs; takes heat in their place; shows them they are appreciated; is scrupulously fair and calm in the storm; etc.). Once the stressful times resolve (somewhat), what is going to happen about errors and cut corners is:

      a) those errors that purely were caused by excessive stress will reduce on their own
      b) those errors that came from lack of time to implement a process that would have eliminated them can now be addressed simply by implementing those processes (“one thing that keeps coming up is that we really should have a template step when we create new client implumblement documents. having one would greatly reduce any chance of leaving out a point. so, Gabriellina, you’re generally on top of these – will you please create a draft template and we review in our next meeting?”) or even getting ideas which process to use here (“we were so pressed for time that we had to deploy new code to production with very little QA. can I get some ideas what you think would be the best way to add some redundancy here – maybe formal code review? pair programming? should we create an internal QC task force? any other idea?)
      c) those errors that come because habit has set in can be addressed by giving some time to re-training, gently, and generally creating pride in the work output.

      In general, capable people want to do good work, so I think that formulating the problem through the lens of the manager being “less lenient” can be counterproductive. The errors in pt. a) need no work at all, and chances are, the team will be very happy to have time to dedicate to the tasks in pt. b). Now that staffing is adequate, work should become less stressful – not just as stressful, just with the boss breathing down their neck instead of unhappy internal and external clients. Creating consensus is going to be much more effective than pressure. (And I like the collaborative tone of Casey’s example.)

  12. INeedANap*

    Regarding the interview assignment:
    Alison is right that it excludes people who simply do not have the bandwidth to do another 10-20 of work on top of their regular work.

    But! It also excludes stellar candidates who know they can get a job elsewhere without doing this (paid or unpaid). It’s funny how in an attempt to find the best candidates, you may be excluding them from the get-go.

    1. Emily*

      Yes. Both because of the time required, but also because it communicates “we do not adhere to norms around hiring people in this field.” Which sometimes a company can get away with if there is some major compensating issue (status/money), but by and large you don’t want to filter people out because they conclude you don’t know how to hire and that’s probably the tip of the dysfunction iceberg.

  13. AnotherAttorney*

    I’m an experienced attorney and there is no way I would complete a 10-20 hour assignment for an interview. I would consider this a red flag.

    I haven’t moved around a ton in my career but the only time I was expected to do assignments was right out of law school and they were never 10-20 hours. My experience is that this is not the norm at all.

    1. CoveredinBees*

      I graduated from law school just as the legal world was imploding and large, well-established firms went from “we may need to make some cuts” on Monday to “tomorrow will be the firm’s last day in existence” on Thursday. So, I was ready to bend over backwards to get any job at all. However, this would have sent up more red flags than even I could willfully ignore.

  14. Linda*

    10. – 20 is wild. I’m in data but honestly I try to keep it to 1-3 hours max. Something that could be done after work 1 week night. Maybe even after the kids have gone to sleep one weeknight.

    It’s harder to make a good short test, but the tests can also focus on the skills you actually need.

  15. An Australian In London*

    “We’ve found this to be an incredibly effective evaluation method.”

    That’s great news! It sounds like your organisation receives a lot of value from doing this.

    As a law firm, I feel sure you do not provide commercially valuable services for free (except perhaps to meet mandatory pro bono obligations). Why, then, would you expect to receive them for free?

    You should pay them for this time, at least as well as you would pay them if you hired them. I say “at least as well” because, in most cases, they will be completing this work on top of their current work commitments, so it sounds like you should pay time-and-a-half for what is effectively an overtime requirement.

  16. kiki*

    We’ve had people whose writing samples were fine, but who did an inadequate job on the assignment.

    Has LW1 considered that some of the folks who did an inadequate job on the assignment performed poorly because they could only make time in their schedules for a 2-4 hours when other folks are taking 10-20? This sort of test penalizes folks with obligations AND folks who are are currently working a full/busy schedule.

    1. kiki*

      I’m a software developer applying for new roles. Software also tends to require take-home assignments or live coding sessions. It’s hard to find time to go through all the hiring processes since most of them want 2-5 hours of work to make it to the final round. I’m trying to find a new job because I’m working too many hours… having to juggle more on top isn’t good!

      1. Wendy Darling*

        I also work in tech and a totally normal interview process is like:

        30-minute phone screen with recruiter

        30-45 minute phone screen with hiring manager

        1-8 hour take home assignment or 1-2 hour timed coding test

        4-5 hour series of on-site interviews

        By the time we get to the offer stage I have spent anywhere from 6 to 14 hours actually in interviews (not to mention time I’ve spent preparing, researching the company/role/salary range, etc). If I have two or three irons in the fire, which hopefully I do, plus a full time 40-50 hour a week job, it’s EXTREMELY onerous.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          Yeah, the current state of hiring in tech is that you can’t afford to take the time to jump through all the stupid hoops unless you are unemployed and spend 40 hours a week doing phone screens, hiring manager interviews, take-home BS at 3 to 10 hours, live “coding” (even if you aren’t a developer, FFS) for one to three hours, plus panel interviews.

          During my last unemployed bout I had up to seven phone screens or interviews each day of the week, plus take-home test that were supposedly “three hours” but needed eight to ten hours to set up your own box with the environment and software needed to program for. (I noped out of that one.)

          I have 23 years of experience in my field, but I invariably get “tech screened” by some guy (yes, it’s always a guy) that seems to want to prove that he’s smarter than I am and that I know nothing about development (which, I mostly don’t, because I’m not really a developer.)

          I will never understand why they want compiled language skills and b-tree sort algos for a sysadmin – it’s seldom part of the job. Also, why you are assumed to know nothing about certain tools unless you can design and build the entire set up in detail from scratch in an hour. Most jobs are brownfield – the basic set up is done already.

          When I interview, I ask about stuff on their resume, and their opinions on current subjects and changes in the field. That tells me a) are they blowing smoke?, b) are they reasonably current?, and c) do they think about stuff rather than just rote memorization?

          1. Tau*

            Honestly, I don’t know why they want b-tree sort algos for developers either half the time. Usually if you’re writing an algorithm from scratch you’re doing something very wrong. A lot of the time I get asked about stuff that I never need in my actual job (including stuff I don’t really know since it’s theoretical computer science and I came into the job sideways from a different academic background). Or they ask you to answer questions just from memory without access to online resources which just makes the situation completely artificial.

            (special shout-out to that time I had to do a timed coding challenge, with instructions saying you were only allowed to use your IDE’s tooling and the official language documentation for support… in a programming language I didn’t know!!)

            I may steal your asking for opinions on current subjects and recent changes in the field! That seems like it could turn up some very useful information (as you say – does the candidate *think*) without requiring onerous amounts of work.

      2. Tau*

        Another software developer here nodding woefully. I attempted to get our company to pare down the take-home homework for my area but no luck. The closest I got was “we can say in the instructions that you shouldn’t take longer than 4 hours and you can hand it something partial.” And then at the same time someone was talking about how they’d reject anyone who didn’t write tests out of hand, so… OK, so we’re not open to partial solutions at all and are lying about it, that’s just *great*.

        And I actually have no idea how anyone can manage more than, like, two or three simultaneous job applications in this field. Everything just takes way too long.

    2. Jackalope*

      This is a really good point. Some of the people with substandard submissions might well have done an awesome job after actually being hired and having time during the work day to work on it.

  17. A Simple Narwhal*

    Woof, 10-20 hours?? That is such a huge time commitment! And how long do they have to complete it? Even if someone was unemployed and had no obligations, that’s more than a full day of work, possibly several, just for the chance at a job offer that may not materialize. And if you have a job, you can only do a couple hours max at night, which would still require you to give up or work around any commitments you have (and resting/recharging in the evening most certainly counts as a commitment). It could easily take weeks for someone to put that much time into something, and I have a feeling you aren’t waiting around that long.

    Even if you paid them for that time, not everyone has that time to sell.

    I agree with Alison and what others have said, you need to drastically reduce this assignment.

    1. CoveredinBees*

      Yeah. Even if they have no after-work commitments, you’re getting people’s after-work tired brains doing this way overly-long assignment. I did an assignment after work and it happened to be a particularly exhausting time of year for work. I tried my best given the situation but what I sent in was far from my best work in general.

  18. Sequoia*

    That’s a lot. My personal rule of thumb is that I won’t assign interview homework if I’m not willing to provide a private, quiet place for someone to work on it if they don’t have internet, quiet space, etc at home.

    So a 2 hour task could be either part of an interview day or a homework assignment. Maybe even 4 hours. Anything more than that is unreasonable.

  19. kiki*

    I think something to keep in mind with take-home work and onerous hiring processes is that job candidates are often applying to many, many jobs. If every workplace required 10-20 hour assignments, applicants wouldn’t be able to move through the process of all the jobs they need to.

  20. Avril Ludgateaux*

    I’m not completely against assignments, especially in professional environments where you really need to know a candidate’s practical skills pass muster.

    But on the long end of your estimate, you’re asking for half a week of high-focus, intellectually rigorous work from a candidate, unpaid.

    And yes, I know in law, weeks can be upwards of 80 or even 100 hours, but to put it into perspective, if you math it out using billable hours, you’re asking for anywhere from $1,200 to even $9,000 of work, for free (this is based on the range of typical billable rate in my area, irrespective of specialty, lowest estimate x 10 hrs to highest estimate x 20 hrs).

    I don’t know what the solution is – can you shorten the assignment in any meaningful way? Can you compensate candidates for their time? Can you delay the assignment to the final, pre-offer step? – but when you look at it by the numbers, it really is asking a lot.

  21. I should really pick a name*

    For LW4, I’m hoping that the reasons they rejected both candidates were things that they learned from the references checks, because you shouldn’t be initiating a reference check until you’ve decided you want to hire them.

    1. PollyQ*

      I disagree with the second part of what you said. It’s fine, IMO, to do reference checks on your final 2-3 candidates with the intention of making that part of determining who your final pick is.

      1. I should really pick a name*

        I think my mind went to contacting their current employer for some reason

        1. PollyQ*

          Oh yeah, I definitely agree with that. That should only be done as the very last step before hiring someone, or maybe not even then. What if the potential employer chooses not to make an offer? Or what if the final candidate doesn’t want to accept the offer? Then the employee’s in a situation with their current employer that could range from awkward to disastrous.

      2. Scout*

        Do you realize that a lot of candidates simply can’t do this? In many places, if boss/management finds out you’re job hunting, it’s out the door you go.

        I only see this working when the candidate is making a big move up that isn’t available at their current job, and when the boss/management understands this and is supportive.

        Which is far less often than you might imagine.

  22. ABCYaBye*

    I don’t hire for attorney roles, so my knowledge is limited in that regard. But assigning a project that could take up to half of a typical work week to complete is onerous. We’ve tried to be reasonable with interview times to allow for people who are working to be available and not have to find ways to slip away from the office. And that’s just for interviews. I couldn’t imagine asking someone to complete a task that a) they didn’t already have examples of or b) would take them their entire weekend or every night after work for a week to complete, and then not worry that you’re losing potentially great employees for those roles because people just can’t find that kind of time to complete your tasks.

    IF it is a must-have part of the evaluation process, I think it is imperative to offer compensation. Saying, “We’ve found that this task helps us really understand how well a person will fit here, but we know it is asking quite a bit of time from you. We would be pleased to pay $_____ to compensate you for those hours you’ll spend” would be a good acknowledgment that you understand the investment the candidate is making in your process. And then chalk that up to the cost of hiring, much the same as you’d apply to fly a candidate in for an interview. Or even better, consider that an investment so that you’re getting the right person and don’t have to spend more time and money in the long run if you’re not getting people who are going to stick with you.

    1. CoveredinBees*

      As a former attorney, I can say very strongly that something this long is NOT necessary. It is miles from our professional norms. Can you imagine if they were applying to multiple firms and had to do this multiple times, possibly within overlapping timeframes? Assignments are not super common in my experience, they’re either having you work within a closed-universe hypothetical (i.e. they provide a fact pattern, relevant laws, and some relevant caselaw, which is something that happens in law school and the bar exam) or editing/rewriting an existing document.

  23. Marketing Unicorn Ninja*

    I’m in Marketing, and during my most recent job search, one company asked for an incredibly detailed marketing plan. It would have taken me a solid 10 hours to develop that to their specs.

    I didn’t do it. I removed myself from the interview process because (a) I don’t work for free; (b) I volunteer for legit charities, not corporations; (c) I knew they could take my work and re-purpose it without paying me for it; (d) I am good enough at what I do to be able to pick and choose where I apply.

    That was 6+ months ago. I have found a new job, and that position is still open. I know these are old(er) letters that Alison recycles and updates, but ESPECIALLY in the current labor market, if you as an employer are placing onerous burdens like this on applicants, they’re gonna nope right out and apply to jobs that don’t expect someone to spend the equivalent of a quarter to a half of a workweek working FOR FREE.

    1. Gary Patterson’s Cat*

      I would never do that for a marketing job either, too easy to steal your creative ideas. If they can’t assess you from looking at your portfolio and resume, too bad!

      I gather attorneys can’t “show” their past work as easily, so such an assessment might be more the norm in law? 10-25 hours seems like a lot though. I would suggest the OP try to shorten what they’re asking for if it’s possible.

    2. justanobody*

      I think they’re just looking for people to do some free work for them. They may not have any real intentions to hire someone.

      1. Caraway*

        I feel like this sentiment comes up sometimes in the comments, and while I don’t want to say it never happens, I really think this is unlikely! My organization often asks finalists for jobs to prepare a short presentation on some aspect of the role, and even the very best candidates are just not coming anywhere close to providing anything usable. Outside candidates simply don’t have the internal knowledge necessary to provide usable work. I’m sure there are some unscrupulous companies or hiring managers out there taking advantage of applicants, but not nearly as many as people seem to think.

        1. Caraway*

          However, this doesn’t negate the point that companies should keep their pre-hire assessments reasonable and equitable!

  24. Canadian Librarian #72*

    I’m not a lawyer, but I’ve removed myself from the competition for jobs where they’ve asked for assignments or prep as onerous as the ones this letter writer describes. I feel it doesn’t bode well for the work-life balance or an organization’s respect for my time if they ask for free labour to this extent prior to my even being interviewed, let alone hired.

    Having worked in biglaw firms, I understand that the expectation there around work-life balance is often heavily skewed in favour of work and against life. But candidates who have confidence in their skills and marketability will reasonably eschew firms that ask them to jump through these sorts of hoops in favour of firms that don’t. The letter writer will find that the majority of the candidates willing to go put themselves this are the most desperate ones, not the most skilled ones. (They may also be quite skilled! But they also might not be.)

    1. Canadian Librarian #72*

      Oh, and the job where I removed myself from the competition? The deadline passed weeks ago, and they just reposted. Looks like they’re having trouble hiring – can’t imagine why…

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        Gee, I wonder why… It couldn’t be because they are looking for a servile unicorn with no work/life boundaries, could it? /sarcasm

  25. lost academic*

    No. It is not reasonable. Half that time is also not going to be reasonable – not in a short time period. You are self selecting people who have no other commitments they can’t foist onto others for the CHANCE at an OFFER. You are asking for the kind of work you use to evaluate a new employee, not their potential. Alison hits the nail on the head – you are trying to gather way too much information in the hiring process and you’re being discriminatory, if not maybe in the legal sense, by doing so.

    I also want to note for the commenters suggesting you pay them that that doesn’t come close to solving the problem. The issue is having the time in the first place, not just compensating someone for it. I have a lot of flexibility in my job but I still have family commitments. I could not take that kind of time and do what I consider an appropriate job at my usual level of quality outside of an already demanding job I’m not going to half ass for an interview. It doesn’t matter if you pay me or not – I can’t take that time away from my existing job. In fact, I just had an interview process with 5+ hours of one on one interviews during the workday and a writing sample, and I absolutely sent in substandard writing (had to be to their prompt, absolutely no outside help) because I didn’t have a choice – it had a deadline of 4 days after being sent to me.

    Find another way to evaluate candidates – you need to find a proxy, not a way to get the same kind of work from a candidate you expect from them day to day.

  26. Missy*

    Another attorney here, and I would refuse to do any skill based task like this. I do not have that much time to spend on MAYBE getting a job. I have had interviews where I was asked to read a prepared packet of information on a topic and come in ready to answer some questions about my thoughts on how to address the issue. That might be the best way to go. Give them the question ahead of time (if it is long) or in the interview and then ask them what steps they would take to find the answer. Go to Westlaw and search on a certain phrase? Go to the underlying statute controlling the topic? If there are certain types of research that are necessary for your type of law ask them how they would get those things. Find out if they have ever pulled a legislative history or how they would go about doing so. If they know how to look up rulemaking content.

  27. Chirpy*

    10-20 hours is way too much time to be spending on an assignment for a job you don’t have. That much work should be probably halved, and paid. It doesn’t matter if you don’t use the info, you’re still making someone do a lot of work for free.

    As a side note, I’m not a lawyer but I did do mock trial in school. The way our cases were set up is everyone in the state got the same packet, which included six one-page affidavits (fictional defense and prosecution characters) plus the relevant laws to base our cases on. It was always interesting at tournaments to see how different the arguments people presented to the (real) judges were. Perhaps something like this would be useful for testing candidates with less time expected.

    1. Chirpy*

      To clarify on mock trial: we were not allowed to use ANY outside sources (other than the teams had real attorneys as coaches, who could answer questions about the law, etc.), to put all competitors on the same level. You could make any arguments you wanted based on the affidavits given. I think something like this could be a good way to compare candidates in a shorter period.

  28. curmudgeon*

    I don’t have a ~prestigious~ law degree, but if a potential employer told me I had to do a project FOR FREE that could take up to half a work week to complete, I’d laugh and decline to go further with the process.

    (Truthfully I’d want to tell them to take a hike and get a fucking grip.)

  29. LawBee*

    Lawyer here, and I would be highly annoyed by this. I don’t have independent access to Westlaw, I don’t have time to do the job I have now AND maintain a personal life, much less add 10-20 hours of fake work on top of that for a job I may not get. I would see this as a sign that the firm will expect a work/life balance that is unfairly weighted on the work side, since they want this much from me beforehand.

    This is what a writing sample is for.

    1. Lilo*

      I have to say, I don’t know anyone who has independent access to Lexis/Westlaw (unless they hung a shingle, I guess). That stuff is expensive and under some of their billing models you’d be directly paying for those research hours.

    2. Lexis costs more than a Lexus*

      Legal databases are unreasonably expensive. Most public libraries do not have access. Some trial court libraries and academic libraries do, but the public can’t necessarily access that.

  30. Emily*

    I think it’s really useful when you’re doing hiring to learn more about what other companies in your field are doing. I don’t know what the answer to “how can we screen people way more efficiently for these jobs” is, but I know that a lot of other organizations have similar needs and are doing this, so there must be some way.

    And if you figure out a shorter screen and need to sell it internally, you can start by shifting some jobs over the the new hiring method and see how that affects candidate persistence and quality. For that matter, once you hire people using your new screen, you can have them complete the 10-20 hour one as well (now that they work for you and you are paying them), although obviously the conditions won’t be exactly the same. But if you find that your new process is hiring people who wouldn’t do well on the old process, then you can keep iterating.

  31. Gary Patterson’s Cat*

    I would personally find a 10 hour assignment too long, but I work in marketing. As an attorney candidate, I would probably expect a more involved type of test or assessment to determine how I would handle cases. If this is an industry expectation to assess a potential attorney, people are likely prepared for it, as it’s an advanced career. I would only say that you should give plenty of notice to the candidates, both in the job postings, to the recruiters, and on any pre-screening you do.

      1. Gary Patterson’s Cat*

        Ok. I work in marketing and have a portfolio to showcase my creative work, but not sure what attorneys might show given it could be private.

        It seemed rather excessive to expect 10-25 hours on a test or sample project. Who even reviews them? Ugh!

  32. Phony Genius*

    I wonder how long it takes for the writer to review each of the 10-20 hour submissions. Most lawyers would not have enough spare time to read very many carefully enough to make a determination about a candidate.

    1. mm*

      my guess is the review process by the employer is far less involved and time-consuming as the assessment is for the candidates

  33. Raw Cookie Dough*

    If you’re going to keep doing this, I think you should send each candidate a generous gift card for a restaurant near them, or for food delivery.
    At the very, very least, these people should get a few good meals for their time.

      1. Raw Cookie Dough*

        But the point isn’t to ‘cut it’ because the candidate knows these are not billable or compensated hours. So the gift card (in a generous amount!) is more of a kind offering, rather than tit-for-tat.
        “We know this project will take up a lot of time and we don’t want you to think that’s not appreciated. In a little way, this will help keep you fortified. We look forward to seeing the outcome of your work.”

        1. Lilo*

          Yes, but you have to understand experienced attorneys would find this insulting. A good attorney knows what their hours are worth and so would self screen out of an offer like this.

    1. I should really pick a name*

      Honestly, that feels kind of worse than nothing considering just how much time the applicants are putting it

  34. Lex*

    I have a ton of sympathy for a hiring situation where resumes, writing samples and interviews simply don’t accurately convey if a person can do the job or not. We’ve gotten repeatedly burned after hiring people we didn’t put through an assessment for whatever reason.

    We handled this simply by paying people for the work they do during the interview process. (We also have a industry set up for a lot of freelance work, which makes it easy to pay people for one-offs.)

  35. Not That Kind of Lawyer*

    So I once had a follow-up interview where I was told I would need two hours for the interview because I would be given a brief writing assignment. At the interview, I was given the hypothetical problem and the sources to use – statutes, caselaw, etc. They asked for a simple four-paragraph IRAC (issue, rule, analysis, conclusion) memo. What I was not told is that some of the sources either did not apply to the problem or were no longer good law. All the info I needed was within the sources including whether another source was considered good law.

    From this, the employer learned whether I could recognize the issue, parse through multiple legal sources, identify and apply applicable law, and get a sense of my writing skills. This allowed for a level playing field because someone with access to expensive research software gets no advantage over someone forced to rely on the books at the closest law library (or Google).

    Perhaps your firm can consider something similar. You already have the hypothetical and know what answer you want. Just streamline it. Unless your plan is to rule out people for reasons other than their ability to perform the job.

  36. Tangential Tangerine*

    My company is like #1. My team’s test is at least 10 hours, to do a great job double that. I’ve raised the issue with my broader team and my boss. I’ve framed it in terms of equity as well as losing out on senior candidates who opt out. I’ve proposed alternate paths (make it smaller, pay them, be super generous with timelines). I’ve even raised with our DEI folks. This is not a battle I can win.

  37. Anonymoose*

    I get where the letter writer is coming from but in that case why not just pay the applicants? Say you have five finalists, pay them each $100 to do the task. I mean, a law firm takes in $500 in like 45 seconds, right?

    1. Clobberin' Time*

      If a law firm offered to pay me $100 to do 10-20 hours of unpaid labor to be considered for a job, I would probably break a land speed record for hanging up on them.

      1. Canadian Librarian #72*

        Same; I’m not a lawyer but my hourly rate as a professional is just over $40. $100 for 10-20 hours of work? Not a chance. That’s a sub-minimum wage even if the work only takes 10 hours.

      2. lizesq*

        Right?? I’m only a second year associate but my hourly rate is almost 4x that $100 pittance. And currently, I get tens of emails from recruiters a week looking for someone with my background. I would literally laugh in the face of the firm that asks me to do this.

        1. Lilo*

          Yes, I don’t think people get it. If you’re a desirable attorney you get literally wined and dined.

  38. breamworthy*

    Experience from the other side: the government where I live does this for all jobs above a certain level. The projects are large and take several days to complete. *Three times* I have been told in a post-interview debrief that my work on the project was the strongest of all the candidates, but I did not get the job, either due to details about how things are scored, or because they decided to give it to the person already filling in on an interim basis. I can’t tell you how upsetting this is, to put in so much time, and then be told that I did by far the best work but still didn’t get the job. So, if you do continue to use an assessment this onerous, PLEASE make sure it figures strongly enough in the final decision that you don’t put candidates in this situation.

  39. Nom*

    I can’t see Allison’s response because of the paywall, but yes, absolutely you are asking too much. 10-20 hours isn’t reasonable and could actually be discriminating against protected groups (such as women with children). It’s really disrespectful to your candidates.

  40. Longcat isn't as long as this job application*

    That is wildly unreasonable. That’s the equivalent of 2-3 workdays worth of work, for free, without knowing whether or not you’ll have the job. If you must have them do this so you know they are capable of doing the same for the real job, it should be trimmed way back. You already know the answer to this problem, so surely there are key points that you can have folks aim for in 5 hours of work rather than in 20.

  41. emmelemm*

    My partner is a lawyer, and while he was searching for a job, he did apply to a job with the state where they wanted him to do an exercise, I believe it was timed at 2 hours. As some lawyers have noted above, I think it was basically giving him a “fact pattern” and asking him to write up an analysis/approach or something similar.

    At the time, I was glad there was a writing exercise, because his resume was a bit spotty/has a gap in it, and I felt like if he could do really well on the exercise compared to other applicants, that might make up for some resume deficiencies. But even at the time, when he needed a job, if it had been something estimated to take, say, 10 hours of work, I would have been like “no way that’s crazy.”

  42. RedinSC*

    I did this for a job. It was a lot. I’m working around 50+ hours, during the pandemic, with tons of stress, and honestly it was TOO MUCH.

    And they wanted the response back in a couple of days. So, after a 10 hour work day I was putting like 5-ish hours in on this over a 3 day period.

    I won’t do that again. My lesson learned.

  43. ActYourWage*

    10-20 hours work for free? Not a chance. You as propective employers have shown me exactly why I should never work for you. You’ll be expecting free weekend working and free Overtime for the same tired old reasons.

  44. Paul Pearson*

    Since you’re not paying your candidates at all at this point, you’re certainly not paying them enough to assign this level of work. 20 hours? Half a week of work? You say this is useful to judge their skills and abilities – but is it? I mean, if this were their full time job then maybe they could devote 20 hours to it – but if they’re already employed, have a family, other commitments, how many people are going to be able to squeeze 20 hours free for this? Maybe you’re declining candidates not because they’re unable to do the task, but simply because they don’t have time to do it properly?

  45. Yellow Flotsam*

    Do you pay your candidates for the work? How many do you have jump through this hoop?

    If it was a final hurdle / only couple candidates AND I was paid even token cost I’d be fine with that.

    Or, if the application/interview process that whittled down to the final few was really low effort I’d be willing to invest in something like this (But – I’m in an industry where spending 20+ hours writing your job application is the norm – so if this was instead I probably wouldn’t question it)

  46. What a way to make a living*

    If you don’t want to pay them for work you won’t use, why do you expect them to give so much of their time for work they can’t use and a job they might not get?

    Do you not realise people’s time has a value?

    I find it hard to believe you’re getting “great results.” I wonder if your firm is looking for a particular type of person (perhaps without even realising it), and your process rules out an awful lot of others, so you think you’re getting good candidates.

    How much diversity is there within your organisation? Not just race but all kinds of diversity. Age, disability, personality types, skill mix etc?

  47. Relentlessly Socratic*

    Back in the day at OldJob, we would have people complete short assignments (and, short is relative, we gave them 2 weeks to complete, and the work should have taken a good 10 hours [pre-work to completion]. We would be happy to work with someone’s schedule, though, if they needed more time to fit it in and told them so up front.).

    It was offered to ALL candidates who were in final consideration for the final interview stage, so it wasn’t to every applicant. (Think initial phone interview with hiring manager, assessment, interview in-person or on Zoom with larger team, hiring decision.)

    We did pay them a stipend for doing the work, and that work wasn’t used as a product we’d then use ourselves. I did the same assessment before I was hired, and when I was actually there, worked on streamlining it, because it was even longer when I was interviewing. Although kind of a PITA, I found the assignment interesting and ultimately it was a good example of the work, so I’m glad I had a chance to play around with an assignment. At that time, the position I was interviewing for would have required a move to another state, selling my home etc, so it was high value in my decision-making process to ensure that I’d be happy with my job when I landed there.

    The assessment served two purposes. 1. It did give us a good sense of how well people were prepared to do the work our group did, AND gave an indication of what level they might come in at, where we might need to work with them on certain skills, or whether they could do the job at all. 2. It was a very good example of what their job would be when they started, so if they hated the assignment, or couldn’t tackle any part of it, thought it was boring, etc. it told them they wouldn’t be a good fit.

    Did we lose candidates? Yes. I think that’s unavoidable when you give candidates homework. Is it a bad practice for our group? Maybe? Maybe not?

    Having said all of that, I would nope out of anywhere expecting me to do this type of assessment for free. I think that these assignments can be useful for BOTH parties if they are well thought out. I also think that it helps to pitch to the candidate how reflective it is of the work they’d be doing day-to-day so they can evaluate that as well.

  48. Justin*

    Last time I was looking one hiring manager gave me an assignment that easily took me 10-20 hours and then had the audacity to tell me over the phone that he was disappointed in the results and then lecture me via email about his “concerns” regarding my abilty to keep up with the demands of the job. Buddy, I don’t work for you yet. Funny thing is the job that I eventually got specifically asked me to do less than an hour long assignment. That was reasonable.

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