When a Job Interview Turns into Theft of Your Skills

When a Job Interview Turns into Theft of Your Skills

by Leslie Freeland, February 2, 2018

Work for free? I don’t think so.

Have you ever been asked to do a task or design something for a job interview? You want the job, right? So of course, you do what the interviewer asks, but stop and think for a minute, are they really testing your skills or doing something else?

Sometimes being asked to do a task is a very effective way to measure your skills to see if you can do the job, but sometimes it’s not – the potential employer ends up getting free work from you.

Some warning signs that you are being taken advantage of:

  • The task is a long, complicated project. It shouldn’t take more than an hour or so for you to complete.
  • They ask for work before the first interview.
  • The task is very vague. You are not sure what they want.
  • They ask you to sign something first.
  • They can use your work after you are gone for their own profit.

Some examples of reasonable vs unreasonable (aka free) work to test your skills:

  • Writing

    • Reasonable: asking you to write on a topic not related to their business to test your writing skills
    • Unreasonable: writing a blog post they could actually publish
      • Example: If an online pet store wants you to write a “test” blog post on washing a dog, your work will give them a free post they can publish on their current blog. But if they ask you to write on how to wash a car, it still tests your writing skills but does not provide them with your free work.
  • Programming

    • Reasonable: asking you to program something they already have and are currently using
      • Example: asking you to write code that creates drop-down boxes on a website, and they already have perfectly good drop-down boxes in place on their website. They are not asking you to create a new design for them to use – just seeing if you know how to do it.
    • Unreasonable: asking you to program something they do not have and are not using (they may be looking to buy this feature in the future)
      • Example: If they do not have drop-down boxes on their website, they might take your design and use it without paying you.
  • Cooking

    • Reasonable: asking you to make a meal the interviewers enjoy and evaluate
    • Unreasonable: asking you to cook a meal they will serve to customers
      • Note: they will make money from the meals you cook for customers
  • Designing

    • Reasonable: asking you to design logo ideas for a fictitious company
    • Unreasonable: asking you to design logo ideas for their company
  • Selling

    • Reasonable: asking you to (pretend to) sell a product to them (the interviewers) during the interview
    • Unreasonable: asking you to sell a product to an actual customer

Just think, if they are interviewing people to test the candidates’ ability to design websites, and they interview 10 candidates, they are going to get 10 completely different web design ideas for free!

 

The Test

Answer this one question: Can they use your completed task for their own profit?

If the answer is “Yes,” you are giving your work away for free.

And for those companies that actually use your work for profit, they are stealing.

One legitimate interview test is for them to give you a problem or task they have already solved and are just comparing your solution to their own solution with no intention of using your work for profit.

Some ways to protect yourself:

  • If you design something, make sure to put a watermark on the design or photo that states it can’t be duplicated.
  • Ask them how they will use your work. It should just be for testing your skills only.
  • If they want to use any part of your work as part of their business, they should pay you for it.
  • If the task is extensive and something you would normally charge for, such as a complete new website design for a company, let them know the rate you charge and bring up the fact that their “task” is a whole project they have ordered. Maybe offer to do something smaller as a test (that does not provide something they can profit from).

This is a tricky and sensitive situation to be in. There are many good reasons a company might want to see if you can actually do what you say. Just stay alert to the fact that some companies do steal ideas. You may want to pass on a job opportunity that pushes you to provide free work to continue the interview process or get the job.

 

The Bottom Line

If the work they ask you to do is something they would normally pay for, they might be taking advantage of you.

 

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Leslie Freeland

Leslie Freeland

Marketing Communications Coordinator at Asurea
After obtaining her Master’s Degree from CSU, Sacramento, Leslie joined Asurea as the Marketing Communications Coordinator in February 2015. Since then, she has been working closely with insurance professionals to educate the public on the importance of life insurance and protect the public from common scams to be aware of, insurance and otherwise.
Leslie Freeland