When You’re Really Asked to Do the Job to Get the Job

It’s fairly common these days for companies to ask job candidates to perform some task or do some assignment to showcase their skills. This is a perfectly reasonable request. In fact, it is a good idea for employers to ask for evidence of a candidate’s work to really see what he or she can do. It helps the employer make better decisions on whom to hire.

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Such tryouts give a more complete picture of a job candidate’s abilities, which might not be evident from just an interview. Conversely, there are people who interview well, but may not have the skillset that is required.

But when it comes to tryouts, there is a troubling trend that has been developing. Instead of some concise task or brief assignment, companies are increasingly asking job candidates to undertake lengthy and more complicated assignments, ones that demand a good deal of time and effort.

Important note: We have talked in the past about “doing the job to get the job” as a way of standing out among a sea of similar candidates. But when we recommend you do it, it’s voluntary, something you do on your own initiative.

Or, if you are asked to create a specific type of document or complete a short project, we recommend that you take it upon yourself to do more than is asked of you: write three social media plans rather than one; create two newsletter templates than just two.

How can you tell when you’re basically being asked to work for free? Some examples:

For example, an event planner was asked by a company to submit not one but three proposals for events that covered every aspect of the affair, including things like budgets, marketing, staffing and design. The company expected candidates to finish this assignment within seven days.

Another job candidate was asked to produce a 30-minute learning video, with voice over, discussion, graphics, and other features, a job that would normally take about 30 hours of work and cost several thousand dollars.

Assignments like these are asking for much more than is needed to judiciously evaluate a job candidate’s skills.

Candidates may sometimes be uncertain whether a particular job tryout is going over the line. If you are unsure, consider the time and effort you need to put into a project. A guideline some career counselors recommend is that if an assignment takes more than three hours, the job candidate should be paid for it.

The purpose of a short assignment is to assess how you think, your analytical ability and creativity. Longer assignments are generally tasks someone is hired to do because of their expertise, in other words, more what an employee does.

Remember: There is no legal way for an employer to ask you to work without paying you. Any employer that does so is breaking the law.

What You Can Do

If you are a job candidate and encounter a tryout request that seems unreasonable, what recourse do you have? One option is to walk away. And this is something to consider because an employer who would make an unreasonable tryout request may have unreasonable expectations for the job itself.

If, however, you cannot afford to take yourself out of consideration, you can also try negotiating with the employer. One way of doing this is to suggest a more streamlined version of the assignment, one that is no more than an hour or two. Or you could simply offer to provide a portfolio of your work.

Possibly the Worst of the Worst: Manipulators

While some employers are simply inconsiderate – or ill-informed as to the law – in expecting job candidates to complete long and involved assignments, others have a more underhanded motive: getting something for nothing. They have no intention of using the work to gauge a person’s qualifications, but rather to get a service for free.

There are a few telltale signs that you may be the victim of this type of manipulation. One is receiving an assignment several days after an initial interview without any prior notice or follow up plans. Another is being asked to put together a detailed strategy or redesign, or to write a full article or presentation. If the company is genuinely interested in your qualifications, the assignment will usually involve some hypothetical situation.

We understand why you may be afraid to say no to a potential employer, but do be careful. As mentioned above, any employer who requires you to do hours of work without compensation more than likely really is not a good employer. Run away. Fast!

If you need to find work quickly, consider registering here with us at Helpmates. You can work on temporary assignments with us while you look for other work. What’s more, many temporary assignments do turn into more permanent work.

Contact the Helpmates branch nearest you, or take a look at our current opportunities and if any appeal to you, follow the instructions for applying.

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