The interview process has changed dramatically in the last decade. Companies are spending millions of dollars trying to improve how they hire. Why? The cost of turnover is huge. Some estimate when a person quits or needs to be fired, it costs the employer 120-170 percent of the employee's salary. The higher the position, the bigger the salary, and, the bigger the financial loss if the employee doesn't work out. This has led some employers to want to "try before they buy."
Some Hiring Managers Are Seeking New Ideas Free Of Charge
More and more job seekers have told me stories of employers asking them to do assignments, projects, and presentations as part of the interview process. These aren't simple 30-minute exercises. One job seeker told me she spent over 40 hours working on a project. She then had to present it to a panel of 12 employees over the course of two hours. The result? Not only did they not give her the job, she heard through a mutual colleague they didn't hire anyone but were using her ideas. And, while this (I hope) is not the norm, it does seem to be a growing trend.
If a company asks you to do some work as a way to evaluate you, I wouldn't say "no." The reality is, there are plenty of other candidates willing to do the work to land the job. You're a business-of-one trying to sell your services to the employer. Doing some work is a way to show them your competence. That said, here are my tips for making sure you don't get taken advantage of.
1. Ask them how much time they feel this project should take you to complete.
Some companies don't realize what they're asking when they assign you a project. By inquiring how much time they think you should spend on this, you can clarify and say if necessary, "You think this should take 4 hours, but if I do a thorough job this will more likely take 20." You may learn what they're asking for is not nearly as detailed as you are thinking it should be. Or, they'll learn they're asking for more work than is reasonable. Either way, the goal is to get on the same page regarding expectations.
2. Ask them how they will use this information in the event you aren't chosen for the job.
If you say politely, "I'm happy and excited to do this project because I think it's a great way to show you my capabilities and passion for the company. That said, I'm curious how my work will be used in the event I'm not selected for the role? I would be disappointed if the company incorporated my ideas but didn't hire me." By asking this you are making it clear, in a nice way, that they are asking a lot of you and that you hope they will be respectful of your intellectual property if they don't hire you.
3. Do only a partial "deep dive" to prove competency.
Find a part of the project where you can get really detailed and prove you know your stuff. Then, for the rest of the project, give them a more 30,000-foot view and say, "If hired, I would go deeper on all these other aspects like I did for the first one." This allows you to properly showcase your abilities without given all your knowledge and expertise away.
4. Create pdf files and put your name on every page.
Don't give them any documents they could easily change and make their own. Label everything with your name and the date too. This sends a message that it's your intellectual property and creates at least a little bit of a barrier to stealing it.
P.S. - Consider Playing The Long Game Here...
Any time you get asked to do work as part of the interview process, take a good moment to evaluate how much you're willing to do to get the job. If the company isn't on your bucket list, is it worth it? At the same time, doing the exercise allows you to flex your intellectual muscles which is always helpful for our careers. Only you can decide whether you want the job badly enough that you will put in a lot of hours and still possibly not get hired. That said, getting to know the company and investing time and energy into a relationship with them now could help you get hired there in the future. While they may not choose you for this job, they could choose you for the next one. Coming in second this time could help you come in first the next!