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It seems like lots of folks start looking for new jobs in the new year. An unfortunate request during the job interview process has become quite popular during the past decade:
The homework exercise.
I’ve experienced and heard of all kinds of exercises.
Sometimes working sessions were performed onsite in collaborative sessions (e.g., whiteboard coding exercises, collaborative design exercises).
Sometimes the work only required a couple of hours of thinking and preparation (e.g., how would you approach creating a marketing plan for this product?).
Some were ridiculous and required about 40 hours of unpaid work (e.g., build a simple app that does XYZ).
Having a skills test is ok and to be expected. An hour or two of effort to show how you think and the way you work isn’t too crazy. But, dedicating several hours of work to a project that is very similar to the work a paid employee would do may be illegal.
The only time you should do significant amounts of unpaid work is when you're investing in yourself, loved ones, or your own business.
Do not engage in significant unpaid work for an employer or potential employer.
That's not an investment. That's wages theft.
It’s ok to say “No” and walk away from a job interview. I did that with a large, well-known tech employer. They wanted me to do some significant work on a project that I would present to the team.
I have better ways to invest my time. And my work experience and track record should speak for themselves. I said as much to the recruiter and politely declined to continue.
How you want to treat these sorts of requests depends on your situation.
How much work will the exercise require?
Is it a skills test or unpaid work?
How badly do you need this job?
Are you in demand?
Do you have several potential opportunities in play?
When you’ve created an invincible career, you will always have many opportunities and lots of demand for your talents. You can walk away from crazy requests because you know they should feel lucky to land you!
Larry Cornett is a Personal Coach who can help you optimize your career, life, and business. If you’re interested in starting a business or side hustle someday (or accelerating an existing one), check out his “Employee to Solopreneur” workshop (coming soon).
Larry lives in Northern California near Lake Tahoe with his wife and a gigantic Great Dane. He does his best to share advice to help others take complete control of their work and life. He’s also on Mastodon.