Artwork by: Stas Podgornov
The take-home assessment interview–also called the working interview–has several pros and cons. Different from an interview skills test, the take-home assignment may include payment.This article will tell you what to expect and help you prepare if you come up against this type of interview.
The interview can be an extremely nerve-racking process during the job search, not to mention the many different interview types to prepare for. These include the one-on-one interview, the panel interview, the behavioral interview, and the group interview to name a few. However, there is one interview type that has a lot of mystery surrounding it: the working interview.
The working interview, or the take-home assessment interview as it is called, can leave more questions than answers for candidates. There are several horror stories of applicants working on take-home assignments for hours and days just to have their ideas stolen with no acknowledgement or compensation.
Should you do a take-home assessment interview, should you be paid, and is there any legal precedent for this interview type? In this article, you’ll discover:
What is a take-home assessment interview?
Why do companies give assignment interviews?
What are the pros and cons of the pre-employment test?
How long should an interview assignment take?
Should you do free work for an interview?
How do you reject an interview assignment?
The take-home assignment should be approached carefully with a complete understanding of how to get through the process as well as the pros and cons for the job seeker.
The take home assessment interview is an interview type that allows the candidate to complete an assignment at home. While not completely new, the take-home assessment interview has been gaining in popularity.
This process provides the applicant with the ability to demonstrate and showcase their skills to do the job and wow the hiring manager, but it goes well beyond the normal Q&A of the traditional interview type. Typically, the take-home assignment interview will consist of taking a test, completing a project, and/or creating and delivering a presentation to the hiring manager.
The interview is a two-way street. Have the mindset that you are interviewing the company as much as they are interviewing you. Do not give the interviewer all the power.
The purpose behind the interview take-home assignment and why companies use it is that it challenges the candidate to solve the firm’s everyday work-related problems. It allows the hiring organization to see firsthand how a candidate will perform using real-world examples of what the candidate may face as an employee.
Here is what the take-home assessment interview will show the hiring manager about the candidate:
Ability to follow direction
Written communication (documenting procedures)
Verbal communication (presentation)
The interview process is perhaps the most important step in the job search. Being interview-ready can be the difference between getting an offer letter and being rejected. Get more insight with our blog, Make an impression: how to ace a job interview.
When done the right way, the take-home interview assignment can be a great tool for both the company and the candidate. But as with any tool, there are pros and cons that both parties should be aware of when entering into this kind of interview.
Skill observation – It allows the hiring company to see the candidate’s skills in action.
Skill demonstration – It allows the candidate to demonstrate his or her skills and abilities.
Insight – The take-home interview assignment will allow the candidate to have a better understanding of the position.
Supplemental information – If done early in the interview process, it allows the candidate’s skills to do the talking as opposed to the hiring manager only relying on the resume.
Less pressure – Because a Q&A interview can be a pressure cooker, the take-home assignment allows the candidate to feel more at ease.
Lost time for the candidate – The interview take-home assignment may claim to only take a couple of hours to complete, but it may take longer than expected.
Lost earnings – According to a BBC article, “‘Another major issue is candidates are ostensibly doing paid work without compensation. Asking people to complete a test project or having them come in for a working interview isn’t unethical in itself – the problem lies in not paying candidates,’ says Latesha Byrd, CEO of talent-development agency Perfeqta, based in North Carolina, US. ‘No matter what term you use, asking candidates to complete working interviews without pay is simply unpaid labour.’”
Companies using candidates for their ideas – Unfortunately, some companies will take the ideas of the candidate, use them, and not give credit to the candidate or compensate them.
Cheating – Interview take-home assignments, just like anything else, can be hacked and may not give the true picture of the candidate’s skill set until it is too late.
Impersonal – While the interview take-home assignment may be a good tool to assess a candidate’s skill set, it cannot account for a person’s personality and behavior.
Validity of the test – The interview take-home assignment is only as good as the test and what it is testing for.
How long an interview assignment should take is the million-dollar question–or at least it is a compensation-related question. Before we get into whether you should be paid to complete an interview take-home assignment, let’s dig deeper into how long an interview assignment should take to complete.
The length of a take-home assessment interview may depend on several factors. The assignment could take anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours if you are doing calculations or data entry. It may require you to create code or create a presentation which can take from several hours to up to a few days.
Is the assignment related to the position?
Can the assignment be repurposed and used if you are not hired?
Will the assignment be a benefit for the organization (i.e., winning a contract, satisfying a client, or developing strategies)?
Decide if you are willing to take on the assignment.
Be sure to understand the assignment and its requirements.
If the assignment is expected to take longer than a couple of hours, create a plan.
Stick to the scope of the assignment – do not do more than required.
Whether or not you should do free work for an interview is really a legal matter.
First, let’s break down what is meant by “work.” Work is anything that provides a benefit to the employer.
Completing a skills assessment test may not provide benefits to the employer.
Completing a market analysis for the hiring organization that they can use to increase market share will benefit the employer.
Kristin Dvorsky Tauras, an attorney at McKenna Storer, writes in the article What Employers Need to Know About the Legal Obligations of the Working Interview, “If the applicant performs any work for the employer that provides a benefit to the employer, the applicant must be paid. The same is not true if the activity performed is a skills test. A skills test can be used to evaluate the applicant’s knowledge, skill, and ability to perform the job duties. Where the applicant is not performing work for the employer and the employer is not receiving any benefit from the testing, a skills test is part of the interview.”
Tauras goes on to say that the skills test should be related to the position and provide an accurate predictor of performance in the position. In addition, the hiring organization should administer the same tests under the same conditions for all applicants for the same position. Reasonable accommodation should be made for applicants with disabilities.
Knowing the difference between providing a benefit to the hiring company versus testing to assess your skill set will determine if you are legally required to be paid for your time and effort.
As you have learned, a skills test can be part of an interview and should test the candidate’s knowledge, skills, and ability to perform the job duties. It is also not out of the norm for a hiring organization to request an applicant to complete a take-home assignment.
If for whatever reason you choose not to accept the interview assignment but would like to remain in the interview process, there are a few things you can do.
Ask why they are requesting that you complete an interview assignment. Remember to always remain professional.
Communicate to the hiring manager that you remain interested in the position and then point him or her to your portfolio that illustrates your skills and ability to perform the job duties with similar work from previous projects.
Provide the hiring manager with professional references (preferably superiors) that can speak to your skills and your past accomplishments which are similar to the interview take-home assignment.
Offer to take a brief skills test versus completing an interview take-home assignment.
If you are still uninterested in completing the take-home assignment, respectfully decline and ask for an interview with the hiring manager.
If you choose to reject the interview assignment, it could disqualify you from the interview process.
The take-home assignment should be approached carefully with a complete understanding of the pros and cons for the job seeker and how to proceed through the process.
The take-home assessment interview permits the applicant to demonstrate their ability to do the job and allows the hiring organization to see how the applicant performs in a real-world situation.
Performing a skills test should take no more than an hour or two, and when it does not benefit the employer, the applicant does not receive payment.
If the applicant performs any work for the employer that provides a benefit to the hiring organization, the applicant must be paid.
You can refuse to do a take-home assignment or present other alternatives, but know that this could prevent you from moving forward in the interview process.
Earnest is a Career Coach (CPCC) and Resume Writer with expertise in providing professionals with the tools to effectively navigate the job search and prepare for a successful career. He has extensive experience leading HR and recruiting efforts. Earnest specializes in training, coaching, and mentoring career seekers on how to gain and maintain a successful career filled with purpose and passion, and he believes true career success comes from being holistically balanced.