Should You Assign Interview Projects to Candidates?

Thursday March 3rd, 2022

Estimated time to read: 2 minutes

Smiling man at a desk

A recent post on LinkedIn from a copywriter struck a nerve with jobseekers and recruiters, garnering more than 5,000 reactions in two weeks.

The topic? Whether projects should be assigned to candidates during the interview process.

Her post opens with, “Please don’t ask copywriters to carry out tasks without paying them.” She then shares a personal experience of how she was asked by an interviewer to submit a 700-word original writing sample, then promptly withdrew her application declaring “if they don’t see value in my writing now, they’re probably not going to see value in it if they hire me.”

While the responses were primarily supportive (including the noteworthy “Would you ask a plumber to snake your drain for free?”), many sided with the interviewer “How else will I know if someone is truly worth working with if I don’t ask for a test piece?”

All the Help They Can Get

For many recruiters, the latter remark resonates. According to several sources, the average cost per hire is at least $4,000 and it can take an average of up to 49 days to fill a position. It’s challenging now and, according to half of the HR professionals surveyed in isolved’s Transforming Employee Experience Report, it’s only going to get worse. Considering the current tight labor market, organizations are exploring all indicators of new hire success.

Adding an assignment to the screening process is appealing because it can help hiring managers predict how the candidate will perform on the job. While conducting interviews and checking references are an important part of the hiring process, they don’t provide the information needed to adequately vet candidates for some positions. Candidates seeking jobs in creative fields and ones that require a significant amount of writing, like journalism, marketing and public relations, are more likely to be assigned projects.

On the flip side, there are benefits for the candidate. It gives the prospective employee the opportunity to experience the type of work they will perform if they are hired and provides the shy candidate with a way to prove themselves beyond the interview.

Interview Projects Best Practices

With greater emphasis put on improving employee experience, organizations need to be sensitive to the candidate’s perception since the employee/employer relationship begins with recruitment. If interview projects are assigned, these best practices can help ensure the candidate still looks favorably upon the organization:

  • Respect the candidate’s time. Limit the assignment to 2-3 hours max.
  • If there isn’t an interest in the candidate, don’t assign a project. Reserve interview projects for situations where a decision can’t be reached based on other factors.
  • Respond to the candidate whether their work is good or poor. There is nothing more frustrating than submitting an assignment and not receiving feedback.
  • The work the candidate completes should never be used to benefit the organization. The candidate should retain the rights to their work.
  • It’s possible the candidate might say no because they have other commitments. Don’t exclude them from consideration simply for that reason.
  • Finally, take the advice of the author of the LinkedIn post—if a candidate is asked to carry out a task, consider paying them for their time.

Assigning interview projects is just one way HR leaders are building talented teams. Discover what else they are doing to remain competitive in today’s job market by downloading our 2022 HR leaders report of 500 HR professionals.