Schrage, writing for his HBR.org blog, calls this marriage of job application and project an "appliject" or a "projeclication." Whichever. His point is that "serious firms will increasingly ask serious candidates to do serious work in order to get a serious job offer."
Schrage observes that "world-class talent will engage in bespoke, real-world projects testing their abilities to deliver real value on their own and with others. Forget the 'What's Your Greatest Weakness?' interrogatory genre; the real question will be how well candidates can rise to the 'appliject' challenge and help redesign a social media campaign, document a tricky bit of software, edit a keynote presentation, produce a webinar, or peer-review a CAD layout for a contract Chinese manufacturer.
"Exploitive? Perhaps. But most organizations have learned the hard way that no amount of interviewing, reference checking, and/or psychological testing is a substitute for actually working with a candidate on a real project. I know advertising agencies that have an ironclad, inviolable rule that they will only hire creatives who have successfully done freelance work with an account team."
Schrage adds: "Ethically, the most interesting behavior I've observed is that firms exploring 'projeclication' hires aren't asking for free labor. They're paying below-market rates for their candidate's insights and efforts. If I were a twentysomething coder or a fortysomething marketer, I'd undeniably have mixed feelings about giving my best efforts for discount compensation. That said, it's worth something to know what it's like to really work with one's prospective colleagues on a real project as opposed to the all-too-misleading charade of iterative interviews....
"Ultimately, the reason why I'm confident that 'projects are the new job interviews' is not simply because I'm observing a nascent trend, but because this appears to be a more efficient and effective mechanism for companies and candidates to gain the true measure of each other. Designing great 'applijects' will be a craft and art. The most successful users will quickly be copied. Why? Because the brightest and most talented people typically like having real-world opportunities to shine and succeed.
"Should your next hire come from a great set of interviews and references?" Schrage asks. "Or from knocking your socks off on a project?"