Job Search & Interview

Work Assignments During Interview Process: Here’s How To Handle This Request

When you prepare for a job interview, you likely will read up on the company, your interviewers and any other subject that will help. But you should also be prepared for your prospective employer to ask you to complete work assignments during interview process.

You may ask, what would I do if an employer asked me to produce free work as part of hiring process? Make sure you can answer that question because it could come up during your job interview. Employers are increasingly asking job candidates to complete work that demonstrates their skills and problem solving.

Some employers believe the assignments help weed out candidates who are not truly interested in the job. They believe if candidates accept the assignment, they will work hard to prove their worthiness as an employee. They also may believe if candidates question the assignment, they may not be as interested in the position.

How work assignments during interview process help employers

Employers that use this tactic say it helps them see how candidates would approach the role that they are interviewing for, so it is helpful. The average corporate job opening receives more than 200 applicants, resulting in four to six candidate interviews. The interview assignment also helps candidates who may not interview well to shine by showing off their skills in the exercise.

An employer also may use the assignment to learn more about the candidate’s work process. Will they complete the assignment before deadline? Will they produce work that goes beyond the minimum needed to complete the assignment?

In some cases, it could be a brief, timed exercise that the employer gives to each candidate. These assignments are not likely to produce work the employer can use. It is more of a boilerplate problem for candidates to solve or a simple writing exercise to complete.

Read More: How To Ace Your Next Corporate Development Interview: Questions and Answers

How work assignments during interview process help job applicants

The interview assignment can help job applicants during the interview process. It is a great way to prove that you are the best candidate for the job. If you do a really good job on the assignment, the employer may be willing to offer more money for salary.

The assignment also gives you insight into the prospective employer’s expectations. It can be difficult at times with some jobs to understand exactly what the daily responsibilities and duties are. Such assignments can help shed light on that for you, and may help you decide whether to take the job.

If you complete the assignment and enjoyed the work, this could be a great sign. If you find the work tedious and not what you expected, it can help identify problems in the job.

What type of interview assignments can you expect?

Most companies are likely not looking for free work from candidates. But they must be sensitive to concerns that candidates will have that their time is not valued. The truth is, some companies receive free work from these arrangements and benefit from it.

There are examples of employers asking candidates to complete more involved exercises, then using the candidates’ work product. For example, a copywriter interviewing for a marketing job may draft content that the marketing team can later use without compensating the candidate. An applicant for a project manager job might develop a workflow plan and budget for a pending project that can be used.

Some employers are sending candidates home with work assignments during interview process that are quite involved. You should be aware that these requests are out there and develop a plan to respond to it.

It is reasonable for employers to ask candidates to demonstrate their skills, perhaps with an assignment that might take an hour. It is not reasonable to ask candidates to tackle assignments that take longer, maybe even days, without compensation. Here are some tips for handling requests to complete work assignments during interview process.

What is a reasonable and unreasonable assignment request?

First, it must be emphasized that employers asking candidates to complete simple, quick assignments is not unusual or unreasonable. In these cases, the person conducting the job interview can explain that this assignment is given to each candidate. It is a repeated task that is not used by the company to complete work without compensation.

It is important for candidates to know what the assignment is used for and how it fits into the interview process. This can be a useful tool to narrow down a finalist list for a position and to pressure test candidate claims about skills.

However, the problem occurs when a candidate receives an overly long and involved assignment request. If the candidate is given multiple days to complete the assignment, that is an indication that it may be too complicated. If a complicated assignment is given with unrealistic deadlines, that also is a red flag to consider.

But how can a candidate competing with others for a good job handle such involved assignments? The biggest fear is if you refuse, the employer will simply move on to candidates who will do the job. Here are several tips to consider when thinking about how to respond to interview assignment.

Suggest a simpler exercise

If you are presented with an assignment that appears complicated and involved, you could consider proposing an alternative. You can tell the employer that you have other work commitments that make it difficult now to complete the assignment. But tell them you are willing to complete an alternative that is less involved.

You can explain that your current job keeps you very busy and you have many commitments now. But offer to complete an exercise that takes about an hour or so to complete. This allows you to protect your valuable time, while also offering them insight into your process.

Offer samples of work similar to assignment

It is not unusual for you to explain that you have limited time outside of work. If you are asked to complete work assignments during interview process, tell the employer you do not typically do spec work. You can offer to share work you have done that is similar to the assignment.

If you have a portfolio of your work, tell them this will offer them the insight they seek into how you complete work assignments. You can even offer to arrange an interview with past supervisors who can discuss the quality of your work.

Find out more about the assignment

If the request you receive in the job interview to complete an assignment appears excessive, ask why it is requested. You can ask what they intend to do with the work you produce from the assignment. Ask them how many candidates will complete the task and are they all the same tasks.

If the assignment is particularly lengthy, you can ask if candidates have declined in the past to complete it. You can also ask if they have considered paying applicants as freelancers to complete the assignment. Also, ask how long to hear back after interview assignment if you elect to complete it.

Ask the Prospective Employer for Payment

Remember, the job interview is a vehicle for you to determine if the employer is right for you. It is a chance to speak candidly and professionally with your prospective employer. You can explain that you are willing to complete the assignment if they will compensate you for it.

As the rap singer Kanye West said, “Know your worth. People always act like they’re doing more for you than you’re doing for them.” You are showing the prospective employer that you know your worth by asking for compensation.

This idea only works when the assignment is particularly extensive and potentially can be used by the employer. Discuss options with the employer about payment, including whether a paid trial assignment will work. You could also offer to forgo payment if the employer decides to hire you.

How the company responds to your request will tell you a lot about it. If a company expects free work before they hire you, it likely will expect free work as part of your job.

How to decline an interview assignment and stay in the running

The best way to decline an interview assignment is to be honest. If you believe the assignment is too complicated and will take too long, tell them. If you are worried that the assignment poses a conflict in your other job, tell them.

Your job interviewer may offer some flexibility if you are honest with them. They may also determine that the assignment is not necessary if you are the top candidate contending. It is possible that the interviewer will also agree to an alternative assignment.

Employers asking candidates to complete assignments must recognize that applicants have limited time. It is not reasonable to expect them to complete a task that will eat up hours of their time. And if candidates produce excellent work, offer to pay them.

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About Author

Founder of With over 20 years of experience in HR and various roles in corporate world, Jenny shares tips and advice to help professionals advance in their careers. Her blog is a go-to resource for anyone looking to improve their skills, land their dream job, or make a career change.

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