NOTE: The companies mentioned in this article have had their names removed to hide the identity of the guilty parties…and so we don’t get sued for revealing what some of these companies are actually requesting of (many times desperate) out of work candidates looking for work.
Have you ever been looking for a job, going through interview round after interview round, and were asked to take a skills tests, complete full projects and/or strategy decks as part of the hiring process? If so, have you ever thought about if companies should be paying for your time and potential usage of your IP? Well, if so, you’re certainly not alone. You’re so NOT alone that you might be shocked how many people actually perform free work and strategy for companies…many times under the guise of applying for employment.
We like to connect app growth experts with potential employers all the time. We aren’t recruiters, never want to be, and we don’t receive any commission or referral bonuses. Our goal is to connect people together, and do whatever we can to help people keep working as much as possible.
During some conversations with app growth experts, we noticed that there was a wide-spread trend of companies asking candidates to either take some basic reasonable skills tests relative to their position, or all the way up to requesting mock projects for the hiring managers and hiring boards to discuss candidate fit. Some instances, we found a ridiculous amount of companies requesting candidates to write strategy decks on how they’d scale up that company, then the candidate would get “ghosted” (the contact at the company “disappears” and never contacts the candidate again) only to see their strategy or work used by that company.
Some companies are asking their Candidates for 10, 20 or more hours of their personal time, without payment or compensation. Fewer, but too many, companies were also asking for extensive strategy decks. Only a few candidates (most likely ones who already have jobs) can afford to decline these requests, because most candidates are out of work and will do almost anything for serious consideration. They’re afraid if they say no they’d be looked at as “not a team player” or “difficult to work with.” So much so, they jump through these flaming hoops, reluctantly, and many ties end up getting burned.
When people are out of work and times are hard, like they are especially now, candidates will interview at many companies simultaneously. Multiply the average interview process by 10, 15 or 20 hours per project, and you can see how trying to get a full-time job is basically a full-time job…with overtime…without pay.
We asked hundreds of people to answer an anonymous poll on what their experience was. We made sure to be completely unbiased in our question and answer writing so we can make sure the poll (while admittedly not a scientific poll) would be as fair as possible. From love it to hate it, we made it as vanilla as possible. Here are sometimes disturbing results…
The vast majority of people responding stated they’ve been asked to complete projects as part of the hiring process.
Most respondents said they were not paid for their time, with only a few reporting compensation only a couple times.
14% stated they saw their work used by the Company they were interviewing with.
Off-Polling Anonymous Interviews
Granted, interviews are even less scientific than blind internet polling, so take the following information as it is…purely anecdotal. But still, these are very real experiences.
In individual interviews, only a few stated they declined to complete any project that wasn’t hypothetical or theoretical.
For those who declined to do the free work, all of them said they were subsequently “ghosted,” and never heard from their contact again. While this could be seen by the hiring manager as a decline for the role, in no instance did the hire manager express interest in continuing the hiring process.
The majority of interviewed candidates facing that situation sadly stated they were afraid to decline any projects or requests, because they really needed a job, or didn’t want to seem “difficult,” even though they didn’t feel right about it. They felt they had no choice. This is a similar type of feeling as a young actor in Hollywood being asked to do certain things to get a role, even if they otherwise wouldn’t do those things. Taking advantage of individuals in desperate situations is 100% wrong, no matter what industry.
Some companies, candidates reported, have been notorious for posting a job position, requesting strategy decks, then the position “disappears,” only to resurface a few months later. As if the company was “hiring” only to get free strategy consultation.
The lightest version of this, which is a basic skills test usually consuming only and hour or two, maybe three of the Candidate’s time. This is reasonable and fair.
It’s flat out WRONG to ask someone to do extensive labor for free. There are labor laws in most states and countries preventing companies from choosing to not compensate workers for extensive labor.
Paying candidates is good for the Companies, too. This is because when you pay someone, you’re buying their labor and can understandably consider that “contract work” which can then be used freely without issue.
Paying candidates for extensive tests and/or projects is a win-win for Candidates who will receive some degree of reasonably fair compensation for their time and labor, and the hiring managers can then feel free to not just use these ideas, but make the tests more obviously about their own strategy and even more involved, since they’re paying for the work. Also, anything under $600 doesn’t have to be reported as income in some instances (check with your accountant, this is not legal advice), so paying someone at least a modest rate can help the candidates out.
Finally, paying candidates will also ensure that companies will only request projects of finalists and not early-round candidates.
If you’re going to ask any candidate to do extensive work, then only request that of finalists, and have the common courtesy to respond to each of those few finalists on the results of their tasks. Many candidates are OK with not getting compensated if they know they were a finalist and will receive honest feedback on their project/task. We realize it’s unrealistic to send out hundreds of rejection letters, but when a company asks any amount of tasks, strategy or work from a candidate then that company owes them more than a cold ghosting.
I like to always operate with the mindset of, “If that were me applying for this position, what would I want, expect, and feel I was not wasting my time and the effort was worth it, regardless of result?” Always treat other people like you would expect to be treated…like your parents (hopefully) taught you when you were a kid.
Horror Stories & Anecdotes from Candidates
Here are some first-hand horror stories and accounts of personal experiences. In some instances, some similar accounts were combined for brevity, or some words/phrasing was changed to hide the author’s identity…but all of the stories below were authentically received and nothing created by us. Again, company and candidate names have been removed:
Asking for advice on how to scale the company:
“A company asked how I would scale them up. They asked me to analyze an Ad Campaign dashboard, review the build structure and suggest improvements. There were also 2 presentations I was asked to build and subsequently present. They asked for full details of my proposed tactics, time frames, budgets and testing strategies, as well as how I’d set up their campaigns across different channels. This type of work was beyond my comfort level, and since I already have a good job, I told them I wasn’t going to do this work for free. I never heard from them again, and they never replied to follow-up emails.”
Asked to complete a project, even though they weren’t getting the job:
“The recruiter said there were hundreds of people applying for the role. They said their decision came down to how I answered certain questions with the hiring manager. I sensed a disconnect in our communication, but I was still asked to complete the project. I wasn’t aware of their thoughts at the time I was working on the project. They also told me my project was one of their favorites by far. So, if I wasn’t going to get the job, then why ask me to still do the work? Since my project was one of their favorites it obviously didn’t matter how well I performed. They just wasted my time when rent is due in a couple weeks.”
Asked to build a social campaign & they used that campaign:
“I was once given an assignment that had (what seemed like) very real LTV data, and they asked me to build a launch plan for a social media campaign. They wanted creative direction, bidding strategy, audience strategy…everything. If I didn’t really REALLY want the job I probably wouldn’t have moved forward with the project, but this was pretty far along in the process, and I figured I was pretty close at that point. Unfortunately, I didn’t end up getting the job, but about a month later I saw an ad in my (social media feed) that was strikingly similar to what I had outlined in my project. I ended up seeing others on their (social media) Ad Library that were mine as well. Not sure how they moved forward with bids and audiences, but the creatives were clearly inspired by my project. This was the most egregious example, and the only time this has happened to me, but I was pretty upset about that one for a while…I guess I still am.”
Asked to complete a large task, but the position was canceled without informing the candidate:
“A company shared a task with me after the first interview, and gave me a week to complete it. The case study was long enough that they had to write ‘don’t spend more than 1 day’ on it (it actually took me 2.5 days). When I finally sent it out, the company and answered, ‘thanks for sharing. We’re sorry to let you know that we’ve decided to cancel the job opening, there is no longer a position open for the role you applied for.’ It would have been nice to let me know when they decided to cancel the position so I didn’t do all that work for nothing.”
Asked to evaluate app store listings, those suggestions were used, but candidate was ghosted:
“I was asked to evaluate app store listings, create a launch strategy, and solve a company issue (eg one country is performing below another how would I raise up the under-performing listing). I gave feedback as requested. A couple weeks later my suggestions had been applied, but I didn’t get the job. I was ghosted by the hiring manager.”
Asked to create a launch strategy, then the candidate was ghosted
“The company asked me to complete 5 tasks to prepare for the launch of (a new app). The result of this test task was 20 slides, and contained a complete strategy for launching and promoting (the product). It took me over 2 days to create everything. I never heard back from them.”
App Growth Summit has been voluntarily connecting people together since we started our company. We will continue to do so as part of our commitment to the Mobile App Growth community. We have been asked to consolidate any/all jobs positions which come across our feeds and emails into a Jobs Newsletter. We will look to create a fair hiring process checklist and any company wishing to have us share their job with you will be required to acknowledge that they do not conduct any unfair processes or make unfair requests of their candidates. This way, you’ll know that any job we officially share will respect your time and is worth looking into.
If you’re out there looking for work, or you have a job to fill (and you’re not going to act like one of the companies mentioned above), please fill out this form and we’ll connect you as much as possible!