Employers are increasingly asking job candidates to complete assignments as part of the hiring process

Nick-Kossovan: Candidate assignments the new norm for job applicantsMany job seekers spend their time and energy focusing on job searching factors beyond their control, namely how an employer designed their hiring process.

Regular readers of this column know I stress the truism that employers own their hiring process, not the job seeker. Hence, rather than criticizing an employer’s hiring process, job seekers should work with it. Criticism or wishful thinking won’t get you hired.

The latest complaint: Employers are increasingly asking candidates to complete an assignment. This ask isn’t new.

Early in my career, I applied for a technical writer position to write instruction manuals for the employer’s line of software. After the initial interview, I was asked to write instructions, following the company’s internal style guide, consisting of a maximum of eight steps on anything (e.g., a recipe, changing a tire, repotting a plant).

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The employer’s ask made sense. They wanted to evaluate my methodical thought process and ability to write comprehensive instructions. I gladly did the assignment. (No, I didn’t get the job.)

There’s obvious merit in asking candidates vying for a position that involves writing, delivering presentations, or analyzing data to complete an assignment. However, candidates are increasingly being asked to complete an assignment for a broader range of jobs.

Why?

Because in recent years, there’s been an uptick in the number of fraudulent candidates populating the job market.

Forbes recently headlined an article 70 Percent Of Workers Lie On Resumes, New Study Shows. Essentially, 70 percent indicates the likelihood that the candidate the hiring manager is interviewing is likely to be lying or exaggerating about some aspect of their background. Hence, understandably, employers are taking longer to hire due to their increased diligence in weeding out fraudulent candidates.

There are many reasons a person lies on their resume. The most common, in my opinion:

  1. Desperate need of a job.
  2. Believe they’ll get away with their lies.
  3. Too lazy to do the work to obtain the required education, skills and experience, and
  4. Feel entitled to “success shortcuts.”

There’s no justifiable reason to lie on your resume, LinkedIn profile, or any time throughout an employer’s hiring process. However, as the Forbes article points out, many people’s moral compass tells them it’s okay to lie to employers; thus, lying on resumes, and it can be assumed LinkedIn profiles, is common. Sadly, this practice of lying is detrimental to job seekers who present honest and transparent resumes. They’re competing against fraudulent candidates who, unjust as the reality is, have a greater chance of being selected for an interview because their lies and exaggerations make them more appealing.

Employers are catching on that the [insert position] they hired several months ago, who regurgitated current buzzwords, exhibited just the right amount of boastfulness, just south of being arrogant, and bragged of past successes, implying they’d do the same for the employer, was all talk. As a result of such bad hires, employers are increasingly asking candidates to complete an assignment.

Employers understand an assignment isn’t foolproof due diligence. The candidate can still use AI, seek help from friends, submit someone else’s work, etc. Even so, requiring candidates to complete an assignment as a due diligence step is better than nothing.

After empathizing with the reason(s) why an employer makes completing an assignment part of their hiring process, the question becomes: Should you spend unpaid time doing the assignment?

The argument that candidates are exploited by not being paid for their time is mute since the assignment is voluntary. Additionally, I’ve yet to be presented with solid evidence that employers are using work created by candidates.

Obviously, there’s no definitive yes or no answer other than you should only do an assignment if you see it as an opportunity to demonstrate your capabilities. To be competitive with other candidates doing the same assignment, you must give 100 percent.

One time, I had a candidate offer to do an assignment. She strategically created an opportunity to demonstrate her skills by offering to analyze and write a recommendation report based on six months’ data. Impressed by her proactiveness, I took her up on her offer and ended up hiring her. (This is how you compete in today’s job market.)

An assignment allows the employer to assess a candidate in four ways:

  1. Are they the real deal?
  2. Are they genuinely interested in the position?
  3. How will they tailor projects to support their brand?
  4. Work ethic: Are they fully committed to tasks, or just do the minimum?

When you accept an assignment, make sure you:

  1. Understand the purpose of the assignment and what skills are being evaluated.
  2. Know the deadline, format, length, and mediums you can use. (Don’t assume!)
  3. You own your work.

Don’t view being asked to do an assignment as a dichotomy between your feelings about the employer’s request and your wanting the job. The yin-yang is simple: Either you want the job or don’t. Either you respect the employer’s right to design their hiring processes as they see fit, or you don’t.

Because job seekers don’t control the hiring process, no grey area exists.

Nick Kossovan, a well-seasoned veteran of the corporate landscape, offers advice on searching for a job.

For interview requests, click here.


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