This Employer Red Flag is More Common Now Than Ever — What to Do If You See It in an Interview

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine2.3k
April 15, 2024 at 3:24AM UTC

Today, many of us are used to rigorous, several-round interviews. Sometimes, we may be tasked with completing light trial assignments—again, no problem. But what about when you’re asked to do a complex project before you’re actually hired?

An anonymous poster in the FGB Community recently shared that they found themselves in this predicament when they were asked to deliver a presentation as part of the final interview stage.  They wrote:

"It seems to me that they are looking for me to do a critical part of the job (strategy) before being paid. The presentation prompt was "Given what you know about the role, what is your strategy to execute on supporting the company’s growth as we significantly increase the headcount year over year for the next three years? Please include resources such as headcount, tools and budget you will need in order to execute, as well as assumptions you’ll use as you go through the presentation." I honestly thought the presentation I'd be doing would be a topic related to the role—such as motivation, leadership, emotional intelligence, etc. When I saw the topic prompt was this, my immediate thought has been that they want me to outline my 3-year strategy for the role and get it for free. They could still hire someone else and then tell that person, "Execute on this 3-year plan we had someone else create."

Many other FGBers commiserated and thought the original poster should trust their gut and ask to be compensated for their work, or walk away.

“I had a similar experience and had gleaned enough information during the interview to know this branch manager was asking each candidate for a business plan,” Anonymous wrote. “I believed that way he would take the best of all the submissions and create his own. I reached into my briefcase and asked relevant questions as I began filling out a contract. I wanted him to understand I would not give away my time and talent. He was surprised and expressed his unwillingness to enter into a mutually beneficial business transaction…. Trust your instincts and hold on to your power. You will find a company worthy of you.”

“Just reading this threw up flags everywhere for me too,” Dawn S. Cross agreed. “If you are still interested in the role, seek clarification and explain to them what your concerns are, although it would seem that what they want is exactly what you see — your work without the cost.”

“In my opinion, companies that have no issue asking you to put together a presentation such as this without paying you for it are the same companies that have no boundaries when it comes to working their employees as hard as they can for as long as they can for as little as they can,” Kelly Hammer wrote. “They have no regard for the employee and typically experience high burn out and turnover ratios.”

Others suggested finding a middle-ground solution — like completing the assignment as a pitch or outline instead of a more-complete work product. 

“I would advise you to go through with the interview if it's a job you want, but maybe treat it more like a pitch,” Amy wrote. “If you were trying to pick up a freelance job, you wouldn't necessarily give the prospective client the whole plan, right? So, give enough detail to show your talent and expertise, but not enough for them to take your plan and implement it without you.”

“If you really want to move forward, I agree with my colleagues on this thread to keep it simple and prepare almost an outline presentation,” Tami Cannizzaro added. “In my experience, I have never been given enough information during an interview to truly understand the details involved in making the assessments they are asking of you anyway. You could even start by saying that while you've learned a lot, you would hate to make assumptions about the details of their organization so your presentation is at the 100,000-foot level, and once hired, you'll be happy to insert data points/details.”

Some, however, thought the request was fair.

“There is no possible way that you could glean enough information during an interview process to create a strategy that would be ‘right,’” wrote Gretchen Scheiman. “There is too much you don't know. The request is to give some insight into how you think. Your response should reflect that: target a few key numbers and show your thought process. I have given this assignment and the response gave a ton of up front goodwill and credibility to the candidate from key groups she will need to work with in her new role, all before she accepted the job. There is value in this type of assignment for both candidate and hiring organization.”

What do you think? Should the candidate be compensated for this type of trial assignment? Is the hiring company overstepping? Or is it a reasonable request? 

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