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Please stop asking candidates to produce work for free.

So employers want to get to know their candidates. This is more than the oral presentation, and more than the give and take in the job interview (s). More often than not, candidates for senior positions are asked to produce or create some kind of work product as a part of their hiring process, something that may indeed help a candidate be known and better understood by a hiring committee, but also often requires creating a particular product that then "belongs" to the organization. We keep hearing about this right now, folks immersed in long processes made even longer by the demand by prospective employers to create portfolios filled with content, write prospectuses and plans, design materials and offer proposals, all of which then somehow becomes the property of the employer.

Do you feel icky yet? Yes. So what does this look like?

A candidate for a marketing position might be asked to create a sample marketing plan. Or a candidate for a development position might be asked to create a fundraising plan or a pitch to a major donor. A candidate for an educational leadership position might be asked to put together a scope and sequence for a curriculum. And even in some instances, candidates are asked to review a job description (not a job posting, but the more detailed description of the "work" of the position) and clarify what might be missing, what needs to be added, edited or revised, in order to have some assistance in refining the position, also constituting work on behalf of the prospective employer.

And at the end of their interview process, those pieces of content then are in the hands of the folks who have conducted the interview, and they end up using them as they wish.

All of this is not good. It may feel like a good chance for candidates to show their stuff, but this kind of uncompensated work benefits the employer, and very rarely benefits the candidate.


How much time is a candidate putting into this? Once it's beyond an hour, think about their hourly rate, and whether or not it's worth the many, many hours you're asking them to prepare. There are those who have put in 15-20 hours on uncompensated work for job interviews. If you make $350 an hour, that's up to $7000 a candidate could be losing, just on this process alone.

What if you didn't have the time? This is the key to the core inequities in this uncompensated work issue. If you did not have the time, would you then be unable to apply, or be thus ineligible for the position? If a candidate is working full time while applying for another job, well, it's then a full time job to apply for another job. What if you actually cannot get the additional work done? This could be about caregiving responsibilities, the demands of your current job, and a million other things, and that doesn't seem fair.

Why don't we pay for work, even in this kind of process? Unpaid, unseen labor is a terrible problem inside our employment system, especially when it comes to the unseen work of women and people of color. We end up exploiting people because we've always exploited them, and we can't continue to traffic in this kind of unethical behavior. This is an issue with contractors and consultants, as well, but in this case, the problem is on the way in for those applying for positions. Asking candidates to perform uncompensated work tests or create content without compensation undervalues their contributions, is a reminder of the double burden on these folks to do twice the work to get half as far, and undervalues what they bring as candidates to the table. Pay them for their work, or don't ask them to work in this process.

Bottom line, don't risk it.

When organizations create hiring processes like these that involve uncompensated work and work tests, they end up making candidates feel resentful and angry, and these folks do talk. This becomes the reputational damage that hurts our very best employers, our non-profits doing excellent work on mission and vision aligned change-making in the world. Let us invite you to have some integrity, and not to treat the folks applying for positions like they're there to serve, but like they are the repositories of potential. They are. So are our employers. Together, we can remove unjust and inequitable parts of hiring processes that disadvantage those without time, resources or capacity, and create a more level playing field for everyone.

Our 2 cents on this in the last few years: see below for more resources on this topic.


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