Job Interview or Bake-off?

Dear Evil HR Lady,

I’m in the creative field, and recently been asked as part of a job interview to produce layouts for the prospective client. The work is not paid, and several applicants are competing with each other; a bake-off type of situation. Since this usually means anywhere from 2-4 days of work (researching the story, production, fonts, photographs, online components, assembling all of the elements and compiling into a coherent design) I feel its is a lot to expect and quite frankly, insulting that a work history, recommendations, and past portfolio of work is not enough to base the selection on. I am tempted to refuse, even if it means I will not be considered. It feels like they think I’ve exaggerated what my role was on my portfolio.

One thing has become painfully obvious after this type of encounter, is that despite the best intentions of the applicant to stay upbeat, the bridge is effectively burned: you will never hear from the hiring manager again. I suspect the guilt they feel from asking for free work and then declining precludes them from ever contacting the applicant again. The sense of truly wasting your time is palpable. What’s your opinion?

Job Interview or Bake-off?

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9 thoughts on “Job Interview or Bake-off?

  1. 2-4 days worth of work?


    Unless you are representing a company pitching an idea for a contract this is unprofessional.


    Your example of making the person do some MS Access work before hiring – that's what tests are for. I'm sure that what you meant to say. As someone who has administered Microsoft tests, I can tell you that most folks OVER estimate their software skills. I don't think that they are intentially lying – they just think that they know more than they really do. (i.e., "yea, I know Access, see I open a .MDB file once")

    You want to test someone's knowledge – use a short test with some key questions; don't make them do a mountain of work.

    I don't know if this helps; But, as a trainer I am often asked to do a "demo." There really is no other way for them to see my training style. But it is a demo; not a full-blown training session. Usually there are just a handfull of folks sitting in on the demo – those who are involved in the hiring decision.

    Smart companies will allow me to choose my subject matter (I have a short 15 minute presentation that I usually do) as it allows me to be myself and allows them to see what I choose. Or, they will choose something that is simple enough to be covered in less than 20 minutes.

    "Dumb" organizations will tell me what to do and have other candidates train on something else (comparing apples to oranges). Oh, and there are about 20 plus folks in the training session; clearly folks there to learn. This is something that makes them look really bad – sleazy, in fact. Trying to get their employees trained for free. (And, as a side note, it usually seems to be schools or non-profits that pull this stunt) This is not cool.

    As for the OP; being in the creative field there are certainly ways for the company to see how creative she can be without involving a large amount of time or money to be invested to "test" her ability before hiring her.

    If they cannot figure out how to do that, well, then, I guess they (the hiring powers that be) aren't very creative.

  2. As a freelance writer during non-Hr hours, I am often asked for writing samples "in a related genre or field" but I have NEVER been asked to create new material to compete for a job! My fear would be that they could take what you submit and run, either modifying it just enough to get away with calling it their own, or using what you create as a basis for having someone else do something cheaper/faster/in-house with your ideas.

    Run, run, run away!

  3. Professionals are paid for their work. Amateurs are not. Lather, rinse, repeat. Professionals are paid. You do not do work on spec. Also, you never pay the full fee up-front. A third down, a third at midpoint, and a third on completion is what pros do. Anything else is a red flag. Any request to work for free–walk away immediately.

  4. What Lindsey said. I'm a novel writer dipping my toe in the freelance world. A site I write for now paid me for my test articles, which they ended up using. So even if I hadn't gotten the job, at least I got a couple of clips and didn't completely waste my time.

  5. This is something graphic designers come up against a lot. Especially students and those new in the field eager for experience. A good link to check out is

    It's pretty tempting, but when it comes down to it, if you don't value your work, why would anyone else?

  6. I've been asked to write new samples, but I've said no. I figure if you can't tell what type of writer I am by reading my 1000 articles available on line, then I don't want to work for you.

    I love the idea of doing a sample presentation or solving a problem or something that really shows you know what you're doing, but 4 days worth of work? Nein!

  7. This seems scammy (and scummy!) My husband is an illustrator and creates art for silkscreen applications, mostly T-shirts. He's applied for a few "phantom" jobs where they ask for three or four new designs as part of the process, and it is absolutely totally just an easy way for them to get new designs for free. And it's ubiquitous, believe me. Run, girl, and take your portfolio with you!

  8. Ugh…I hate these kind of company competitions. It really just means they don't want to take the time to pick someone for the job.

  9. Would a DOCTOR operate for FREE if they were seeking work elsewhere!?!?! i.e.;(ahhh Dr. Smith, we don't need you to perform heart bypass surgery today, we just want you to do something small…like take out a kidney stone, so we can see how well you will qualify for this job)I think NOT, so why should a company expect you to provide your career for free? Another important note…if your gut is already questioning this potential company…it's a good indicator there will be issues in the future. Get off to a good start. Follow your instincts. You'll make a good decision.

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