Real Talk

5 Red Flags to Watch Out For In A Job Interview Assignment

June 1, 2017

It’s interview time.

With your portfolio in hand, you’re ready to answer any questions thrown your way.

Before you know it, you’re shaking hands with the CEO(s) and told you’d hear back within a week’s time ( whether positive or negative response).

You check your email on the weekend and surprisingly receive a response back earlier than expected.

A second interview is in the works! Yet, an assignment is requested.

A 10-15 min growth strategy presentation for their brand due in 3 days.

After reading the email over a few times, you start to question whether what they’re asking for is a little excessive for an interview assignment.

job interview assignment

With the competition high, you need to prove your worth by showing you can think on your feet and are a good fit- creatively and culturally.

Gone are the days of a diverse portfolio being enough to seal the deal.

Job interview assignments are the new norm.

Just ask designers who have undergone their faire share of “spec work”. #saynotospecwork

While interview assignments occur most frequently in creative fields, this popular trend is prevalent in the Start Up world. Reason being? Finding the right fit in a small knit team is a high priority.

job interview assignment

For anyone who’s experienced the 9 to 5 corporate grind, being part of a start up can seem like a breath of fresh air. Ability to work remotely, working in a small knit team, growing with the brand and the list goes on.

While some employers use interview assignments to assess your skills, other have a more manipulative agenda in place.

job interview assignment

There’s a fine line between taking on assignments and being taken advantage of.

How do you know when that line is being crossed?

Here Are 5 Red Flags to Watch Out For In A Job Interview Assignment:


1. No Indication of a Follow Up Interview

job interview assignment

If the employer emails you a few days later with an assignment to take on but fails to mention about it in the initial interview, start questioning their intentions.

Any professional employer who has your best interests at heart will give you a heads up in advance if they’ll be a second interview round.

They may or may not mention skill testing but won’t mislead you into thinking there’s only one round.


2. They Email/Call You on Non Business Days

job interview assignment

As if a short notice isn’t enough, imagine receiving an email regarding an interview assignment on the weekend. Forget spending time with your loved one or family, they expect you to crack down on the assignment within a short span of time.

As much as they may employ this “surprise” method to assess how you work under pressure, from a candidate’s standpoint, it’s purely inconsiderate.

By dropping a bomb, they’re not taking your own personal life into consideration and expecting you to drop everything for theirs. The return? Chance of being hired.

3. The ROI (Return on Investment) Is Unjust.

job interview assignment

While it’s understandable that an employer wants to make sure they’re investing in the right person, the workload shouldn’t be time consuming.

A good rule of thumb: If it takes longer than 3 hours of your time, you should be compensated.

It’s one thing to ask for a short assignment that requires you to conduct a brief analysis of a brand, It’s another to ask for a 10-15 minute presentation of Instagram strategies.

The big difference : The first gives the employer insight into your thought process and ability to think on your feet, the second is something you’re hired to do because of your expertise.

If they’re asking for “precise” details, they’re more than likely asking for the blueprint of your ideas. Now imagine, the same being assignment being asked by all their other job candidates.

That’s a HUGE goldmine of ideas they’re receiving for free.

Time is money, and you should be compensated for it.

4.The “Challenge” Or “Test” Is A Guise For Free Labour

spec work job interview

One big giveaway that they’re taking advantage of you is through filling in a need by falsely representing it as a “test” to assess your skills.

This can happen in Start Ups who are at the beginning stages and don’t have proper funding.

During the interview, if you find yourself being asked elaborate questions and requests such as providing strategies, redesigns, fully written articles and more, chances are they’re trying to capitalize on your skills.

Which is why having a strong portfolio that showcases your work allows you to give them a walk-through of all your past work and ideas.

The more diverse the portfolio, the better.

If they have their mind set on an assignment : it should be a SHORT one. Either on site or at home that doesn’t involve a service they’re in need of.

Someone who’s truly interested in assessing your skills and not exploiting you, won’t make you spend hours on something you should be compensated for.

job interview assignment

They’ll rely on hypothetical situations or fictional challenges that have already been completed in the past to gauge your thinking process and how well you fit in with the company.

Put it simply : It won’t feel like you’re being used

For example: Writing a press release for a fake/former client, using their product in action or asking a job candidate what they think are the strengths and weaknesses of their brand.


5. They Fail To Disclose What The General Goals And Expectations For The Assignment Are

job interview assignment

Before accepting an assignment, be sure to know what the goals/ general expectations are. If they haven’t shed insight into what they are or how they’ll be evaluating you, reconsider taking part in this shady business.

Additionally, if they’re giving you an assignment that involves brainstorming fresh new ideas and want them to be as detailed as possible, chances are they’re not just picking your brain for the fun of it.

Most professional employers will already answer most of the questions you already have beforehand. Such as :

  • Do they expect you to outline your ideas, or want them fully fleshed out?


  • Will this be the final assessment or is there another round of interviews afterwards?


  • How much time do they expect you to work on it for?


  • Will your ideas be used in the future ?

job interview assignment

The last question is the most important one. After all, you wouldn’t want to put in all those hours then come across your ideas being implemented in the future. This is when an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) comes into play.

You can guarantee finding out their true intentions if you propose they sign one.

For this reason, if their intentions are genuine, they would give you a heads up about not disclosing any information or using it for personal gain.

Just ask web/graphic designers, who experience free labour for potential hire all the time. They put in the hours, jump through the hoops, only to be told another candidate was chosen or they hired someone internally. #saynotospecwork

Yet months later, find their logos/creations being used publicly.

Be diligent and stand your ground when you find yourself second guessing their motivations.

Now that you know all the red flags to watch out for, you’re well on your way to making a deal with employers who value you as the real deal!

A public service announcement to all employers seeking job candidates: Take a chance, trust your gut and invest in a person, rather than investing in their free labour.

job interview assignment

Have you ever experienced job interview assignments that were shady ? Ever got your work publicly used without consent?

Let me know in the comments below!

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