The ‘working’ job interviews that go too far

Yet it’s not always as simple as saying no outright to these projects. Jobseekers, many of whom are juggling multiple applications, ultimately face a Catch-22: slave over the take-home assignment, without any guarantee of feedback or even a response; or refuse to work for free, and risk taking themselves out of the running. While some candidates are spoilt for choice in certain sectors, and can easily choose the latter path, not every employee has the breadth of options – or financial security – to jeopardise their candidacy. Realistically, this means some workers may find themselves with no choice other than to take the taxing working interviews, even against their best instincts.

More than a goodwill gesture

In an ideal world, the onus would not be on the potential employee to request payment for their work – it would be a regulated, paid process, spearheaded by the company. While still a fringe practice, some companies are redressing the power balance by remunerating candidates for working interviews.

For instance, applying for a developer role at San Francisco-based Automattic, the parent company of WordPress and Tumblr, starts with a text-based interview on Slack, before moving to a code test and then a contracted 40-hour task. Candidates are paid $25 (£20) an hour, and there’s no deadline for completion. It’s not just happening in tech; in March, the Toronto-based non-profit FoodShare began paying $75 an hour for each candidate’s interview as well as the rate of the job they’re applying for, if they complete any presentations or assignments.

Candidates find this to be a much more egalitarian approach. After a global software company recruited her on Linkedin, Ruth did an initial interview, and was paid a flat rate of $250 to complete a five-hour test project, before another interview and a second test project, for which she was paid $500. “It was estimated to take ten hours, but I really wanted to do a good job on the slide deck, so it took me about 12 hours,” says Ruth, who lives in Berlin.

After several more interviews and months of back and forth, she was offered the job. “It was one of my most positive hiring experiences, because they were very professional and always transparent about the next steps,” says Ruth. “To be given the payment (almost instantly after doing the tasks as well) was really appreciated, and made me want to engage in the process.”

Napala Pratini, co-founder of the London-based health-tech start-up Habitual, points out that along with strengthening an employer brand, paying candidates directly can be more cost effective than paying for placement agencies, recruiters or social media posts. Shortly after launching in 2019, her company started paying all candidates a flat fee of £25 per hour for up to four hours of task work.

“It’s not a huge amount of money, but it’s more about the gesture of compensating somebody for their time,” explains Pratini. “As a candidate, it can be easy to feel you don’t have power in the situation and although you’re not risking your life, you are making a life bet on a company, and they should value that, too.” 

As prospective employees navigate wildly different – and sometimes exploitative – hurdles in the recruitment process, safeguarding their time and honouring their value remains a balancing act. Thalia has been getting by doing odd jobs, and although has nothing contracted on the horizon, knows how she would approach a working interview, if asked again. “A small project, or a design or two would be fine, but for a substantial project, I think I’m within my rights to refuse,” she says.

Tahlia, Olivia and Ruth’s surnames are being held for privacy concerns