Should We Get Paid To Do Job Interview Tasks?

Photographed by Laura Chen
The Great Resignation is the hot employment topic of 2021. Workers around the world are calling time on old or unfulfilling jobs and refusing to go back to the lives they had pre-COVID. Employees are handing in their notices en masse in pursuit of something better, whether that’s chasing their dreams, supporting a cause they believe in or looking for a better work/life balance.
How we apply for jobs has shifted too, with the majority of interviews still taking place online. While this has obvious benefits, there are some who argue it’s harder to build a rapport with someone through a screen, making it difficult for employers and candidates to connect with one another.
To combat this, many employers are ramping up the interview process and asking applicants to complete a task (or tasks) is now common practice when applying for a job. These tasks can vary in their intensity. Some are relatively easy and can be completed quickly, often within a time limit imposed by the interviewer. Others can be labour-intensive, requiring time off work, hours of research and high levels of creativity and execution
Once a task has been submitted, unless explicitly stated otherwise, there’s nothing to stop a company from using your work or implementing your ideas. Essentially, when you complete a task you could be working for free — giving your time, energy and creative output for a position you might not even get. Of course, employers must have a way of vetting us and doing a task they assign is a good way to demonstrate our credentials and appropriateness for the position. But what if work you submit as part of a task is used without your knowledge and without compensation?

It was incredibly frustrating to see that they clearly thought my work was good enough to use but not good enough to land me the job or to be paid for what I'd done.

I recently applied for a position that required me to submit an article as part of the interview process. Excited by the role and wanting to impress, I spent hours on this task, making sure I was proud of my work and that what I was submitting was up to a high standard. When I found out my application was unsuccessful I was disappointed, especially as I’d spent so much time and effort on the task. A few weeks later while browsing the company’s website, I was shocked to see my article included in their blog, uploaded word for word and without any mention of me as the creator or payment for the work I’d produced. Upset by the use of my free labour, I decided to invoice the company for my work. Sheepishly, they paid.
Joanna, a 28-year-old social media manager from London, tells a similar tale. "After the pandemic, I applied for lots of jobs," she explains. "It had been a while since I had interviewed last so I was surprised by just how much the interview process had changed; every job, even ones I was overqualified for, wanted me to do a task. I had one really bad experience where I completed a task that required me to write lots of content for the company’s social media channels." Joanna didn’t get the role but a few weeks later, as she was scrolling through Instagram, she saw her ideas executed just as she’d suggested on the company’s account.
"I felt really let down," she continues. "I had worked really hard on that task. It was incredibly frustrating to see that they clearly thought my work was good enough to use but not good enough to land me the job or to be paid for what I’d done. It made me very cynical about doing tasks for other jobs in the future and I felt like anything else I applied for was just an exercise to take my ideas."
As frustrating as this is, completing tasks can be a valuable part of the interview process. Ann-Evelyn Clark, a recruitment and talent specialist from London, explains: "Tasks are a great way for companies to see your potential. Completing them might feel very one-sided but the candidate should hopefully enjoy showcasing their work if they are interested in joining the company."

When it comes to companies using your work without crediting or paying you, things aren’t quite as clear. "It’s not at all ethical for a company to set you a task and use the work you’ve produced without your permission," Ann notes. "If you have concerns about how your work will be used it’s a good idea to find this out before starting the task."
Even if a task is set correctly and with clear expectations of how your work will be used, there’s no denying that it can be incredibly time-consuming to complete. For many candidates it can feel like you’re working for free — something made even worse if you don’t get the job.

It's not at all ethical for a company to set you a task and use the work you've produced without your permission.

Napala Pratini, cofounder and COO of digital health startup Habitual, agrees, which is why any candidate who comes through their recruitment process and completes a task is paid for their time and effort. "We really value each and every team member's contribution to what we're building," she explains, "so in my mind, there's no reason why that shouldn't extend to potential team members. I also understand that tasks can be time-consuming on top of normal work so it's only fair to offer compensation for candidates' valuable time."
Pawan Saunya, a cofounder at Zero Waste Club, has similar thoughts. "Our recruitment process includes a two to three-hour workshop which candidates are paid $185 for attending, whether they’re successful or not," Pawan explains. "We compensate because we’re usually taking up time outside of their working hours where they would usually be relaxing and spending invaluable time with their friends, family or pets. This is time they can’t get back. It would also be gutting for the candidate if they don't get the job after spending three valuable hours of their life."
Paying candidates for their time has huge benefits. It helps prospective employees to feel valued and respected, two factors that are incredibly important wherever you work. Respect is important for Napala: "We try to treat every person who comes through our recruiting funnel as a member of the team — because after all, some of them will be!" Pawan agrees: "If the candidate is hired after the workshop, they will be off to a positive start with the company since they got paid for their hard work in the interview process."
If a company doesn’t pay you for a task, however, it’s not necessarily nefarious. Anita is a recruiter for a women’s clothing brand and chooses not to pay for work completed as part of an interview. She explains: "We’re a small company and we interview a lot of people for each role. We physically don’t have the money to pay for every person we interview and set a task to but we make it clear any work produced belongs to the candidate and not to us. We aim to give really detailed feedback on any work that’s submitted and we make sure it shouldn’t take up too much time to complete."
If you’re not being paid for your work, the length of time it takes to complete a task is important. If something's taking up too much of your time, it’s worth considering if the role is for you — it might be that either the company is asking a lot from you or the role is not quite the right fit. That said, Ann believes things are starting to change. "I think more companies are seeing the benefit in paying for candidates' time and things are slowly changing. Companies need to be very careful how they set tasks in the current climate. There are a lot of good companies out there when it comes to hiring staff and if you’re setting unrealistic tasks, using the work produced and not paying for hard work that’s been submitted, then potential candidates will just look elsewhere."
"If this happens, it’s a good idea to speak to the hiring manager or whoever set the task and voice your concerns because there might be a way around it."
If the last few years have taught us anything it’s that the world is changing, especially when it comes to how we work. More of us are looking for meaningful roles and wanting to work for companies whose beliefs and ethics align with our own. Paying for tasks is an effective way for employers to stand out in a competitive job market but feeling appreciated throughout an interview process holds just as much value for potential hires. For many, the pandemic has meant longer working hours, a blurred line between home and work or job uncertainty and losses, making us feel disillusioned and frustrated when it comes to our careers. 
As we complete tasks and adapt to new ways of interviewing, a supportive company that appreciates the hard work you’re investing as part of your application is incredibly important. "I think it simply comes down to respect and really caring for other human beings as well as thinking about what kind of a world we want to create," Pawan says. "My own experiences make me think how different the working world could be if companies just cared a little more about their staff and potential candidates."
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