Is anyone else fed up with being asked to complete extensive projects for an interview? For FREE!? Read on...

Let me explain. Recently I was approached by a very well-established company looking for a freelance designer. Hello, I’m Stella, nice to meet you. This company came back to me keen to progress the process, however, threw a curveball and requested I complete a lengthy project as part of the interview process. Sorry, what? I am a freelancer, you just hire me to do the work, end of.

Said company requested consumer boards, mood boards, trend boards, colour and material and detail boards, 8 bag designs, and 3 shoe designs! That to me is a full collection, something for which I would invoice my clients for at least 2 weeks of work. But they wanted it for free.

This is my gripe, I have over 10 years' worth of experience in footwear and accessories design, so why is a portfolio not enough? Why is it not enough to assess a person's skills from that? Why the need for another project to prove what you already know?

Do hiring managers have any idea the amount of time that goes into researching the brand and trends, to then compile this all into mood boards, consumer boards, colour & material boards, to then spend hours sketching and CADing with further colour and material options. To ask a freelance designer to produce this quantity of work UNPAID is flat-out outrageous to me and should NEVER be accepted as the industry norm.
But yet we feel forced to do it because we want the job and to work for a brand we like.
How many others have been faced with this dilemma?

I still found it strange as there was no reason they couldn’t hire me as the freelancer they were looking for and just do actual paid work, they’re a big enough established company to payout. I did actually push back to the company and explained this was a lot of work and they reduced the output to 6 bags and 2 shoes… big woo hoo… Like a mug, I still did the project as I had some downtime and liked the brand (just not their approach), at best it gets me the contract, at worst it’s a project I can add to my portfolio. And while I’ve read it is reasonable to ask candidates to spend an hour or two demonstrating their skills (in most other industries - fashion is the exception); it’s not reasonable to ask them to complete complex full collection projects, at least not without pay, and to repeat, should NEVER be accepted as the industry norm. So why does this continue to happen?

What other industry accepts this level of creative abuse? Big companies are taking advantage and it needs to be changed. Who else has been there?


  • I am so fed up of this also! Can this stop being the industry norm as the projects themselves take a whole week or so. Today as an experienced designer, I was also asked to do a full design project unpaid for a 'Freelance role' with no real sight if there would even be a job at the end. The cheek of this. I obviously told them to politely go F themselves. Also hate companies merging roles together in their adverts for example they want both fashion designers and graphic designers, of course some skills overlap but well they are two different jobs... would you ask a chef to provide a weeks worth of catering unpaid? Nope.
  • Hey @Stella Arsenis, great question! Check out this discussion about working for free & read our mentors' top tips
  • @Anna Negrini Thanks Anna 🙌🏼 You're so right, and it's because we feel compelled to do so as what is the alternative? We miss out on the opportunity and after such a troubling couple of years with the pandemic impacting the fashion industry, there doesn't feel like much of a choice to negotiate in these situations.

    Your situation sounds very odd too, it's clear he was just after your ideas, but the cheek of him demanding work for free is frankly unacceptable in this day and age. Karma that his project hasn't gone through I say! 😉

    Thanks again for your kind words xx
  • @Ian Porter Thanks Ian! Much appreciated! I'm doing great thank you, hope you are too! Yes, this situation was all a bit strange, and I know it's not uncommon that companies have been known to steal other designers' ideas. It's sad that this has been accepted as part of the normal process over the decades. Criminal really, just surprising given the size of this company that they wouldn't offer any remuneration for the amount of work requested!
    Let me know if your company is looking for designers, freelance or full-time, big fan of the brand! ☺️
  • @Mike McCoole Thanks for your take on this too and glad I'm not the only one in this boat! The role was actually pitched as 'part-time permanent, starting with 6 months as freelance (2-3 days a week) with the possibility to become permanent, but no actual guarantees on either front. It was all very odd to me and felt like this hiring manager had no idea what they were doing or grasped how the freelance industry worked. Bizarre for such an established large company.

    It's tricky trying to find the balance in these situations, knowing one's worth vs giving in, but the satisfaction as a designer telling a company what they're asking from you is unreasonable does boost that confidence. So kudos to you for standing your ground and ending up with a role that works for you and the company acknowledged and appreciated your extra efforts!
  • You're right to be angry. Your answer to "So why does this continue to happen?" is because they always find someone who accepts this.

    Don't get me wrong, it happened to me once and I did the same (even if I just gave them moodboards it was free ideas): the guy was disappointed and then sent me back some examples of the projects done by other designers (like: this is what I want)!!! For free. Basically instead putting time to review portfolios and chat with people he was fishing for ideas until ... he'd found what he wanted..? I don't know, so far his project didn't happen. And checking other people who asked the same I realised their didn't happen too.

    I know it's hard to say no to a project (because we like our job and we all need to survive) but people who has serious intention spend time to review your work, chat with you to understand if you're compatible and you two can work together and talk about money beforehand.

    So stay strong :)

  • Wow, for a one off freelance gig? Seems pretty excessive either way. Maybe if they were so keen to see evidence of consumer boards, mood boards, trend boards etc. wouldn't it have been more reasonable to ask to see such examples from your own (already completed) work?

    It's not a recent phenomena in job searching as you say; I ended up not applying for one role that I thought would have been an excellent fit (for me, my skillsets and them) but the project they set was huge and well exceeded the time to do the project justice against the the time they set as a deadline (doubly difficult with a FT job and family commitments already). That said I did see the value is doing the mock project set by my current job as it was in that 2-3 hours remit (I went way above and beyond this and it allowed me to really 'hit the ground running' once I was offered the role).
  • Hey Stella,
    How are you, hope all is well. I share and recognise your pain, the scenario you mention is totally out or order, I think in this instance the business may have adopted your designs as there own, without payment or recognition to you… criminal…
    Your a well respected designer and your portfolio and past work is sufficient to demonstrate your design creativity…

    Shout if you need anything.

    Best, Ian x

You must sign up or log in before you 
add a comment.

Post reply