What are people’s thoughts on and experiences with unpaid interview tasks?

I am looking to move into events and 3D experiential design and was told I would not be paid for a task at a second interview round. Is this standard practice?


  • It does seem to be standard practice now although I'm not sure I fully agree with it, particularly when its been briefed by non-creatives who don't fully understand the scope of a task (I was once given an enormous task with a pretty impossible ask which took me the best part of a week, only to be told I was the top candidate and then totally ghosted).

    Depending on your current position, if you have room to be choosy I would only agree to do tasks that are either paid or are executed in-house where you will have support on hand and you can see that your interviewers are giving up their time too. This shows that they value your time by compensating it or matching it. If you're confident enough you can even ask to perform the task in house or whether it will be paid.

    Understandably if you're desparate to find work (this was me last year after losing my job) and you don't have room to be choosy then unpaid tasks are a must but if you receive an enormous task with no support then this is a red flag about the company as a whole and I'd suggest pushing back or removing yourself from that process and saving your energy for tasks from companies who know what they're doing
  • @Ronna Sakowska Actually, correction: I have been on the other side of hiring before, but no tasks were involved.
  • This is standard practice in my experience, but while I made the most of welcoming the challenges as I didn’t want to hurt my chances, I find it unethical and limited in usefulness.

    I agree with ICoD on the matter: https://www.theicod.org/resources/icod-position

    I haven’t been on the other side of hiring, but I strongly doubt that there are more applicants using work they didn’t/couldn’t create, than honest candidates, so I find the “it weeds out fakers” reasoning flaky. Unless they complete the work under your watch, there's no guarantee they didn't outsource it. If proving the ownership of the work is needed, it seems much more honest and straightforward that I open up the source files and pull up the file metadata.

    What employers seemingly forget is that candidates would likely have been applying for other positions as well. One interview task may not seem like a lot, but for those on the other end it is very rarely just one interview task. How many hours of unpaid work have I given up to these tasks across my jobseeking? I don't know, but there have been times I passed up attractive positions or turned down invitations to apply simply because I was at capacity between my job and other positions I was already applying for.

    Another fallacy of this practive being useful in assessment is that it rarely takes time into consideration. You are given a deadline - variable, but usually at least a week to accommodate people who work.

    In a job environment, it is not just about the final output, but also how long it takes.

    Let's say you have your top 2 candidates. #1 produced your favourite and superior outcome. But what if #1 doesn't work or only works part time, and took that full week to produce this result, while #2 is employed, and stuck to your suggested limit of 5 hours? And yes, while employers might suggest a time limit for the task, it seems naive to think all candidates will abide by this when a job they want is on the line.

    I prefer in-person tasks, as at the very least they are - by nature - more reasonable in scope and feel more fair. I'm giving up my time to answer your brief while sat in your office, but you're giving up your time for a longer interview process. Tasks are more geared towards understanding your process and ability to ideate, and so the final results are also, by nature, more rough - if they did decide to use the work in a real project, it'd at least only be an hour of your effort at most, and still have ways to go to.

    As a candidate, although widespread, this practice does not instill me with trust or confidence in the employer. Is there a culture of mistrust at this company? Does the interviewer lack competency to discern skill and ability without being able to compare work directly, and what does that say about how projects are handled? How ethical are the company's other practices? Will they respect my time?

    But as I said - I do my best to approach the tasks with a positive mindset, there doesn't seem to be any other choice in the current industry climate - and as a person with ADHD, a deadline, and a challenge, and a problem are a good recipe for me.

    Having read through ICoD's materials though, I'd love to see the industry having some regulation and more universal - ethical and otherwise - standards. There is far too much room for bad actors at the moment, and both clients and creatives suffer for it.
  • @Gemma Buss thanks Gemma. I partially agree, I’ve worked for a company that hired a senior employee who I ended up managing due to them not actually knowing the software. They were let go of soon after. But, I considered this a failure on my directors part for not vetting them at interview stage. In creative industries, there’s scope for interview conventions to change to include better vetting of prospective employees. For example, I’d be happy to walk someone around a 3D model or demonstrate a workflow during an extended interview.
  • They are in most cases standard practice. Personally I think they do hold value. I've worked with people who have lied about their experience and been caught out on the job and not capable of undertaking tasks (the person who's real work was used also came in to interview - lol, caught red handed).

    Yes, it is a bit annoying when you've already got a day job and need to squeeze it in, but another perspective is that it's an opportunity to do something outside of your day to day; which is why I've actually enjoyed doing them. It showcases your capabilities, and on the flip side if they're asking you to do something outside of your remit is a sign if that job really is for you.
  • @russell royer the work was never used for them in a commercial way. If I hadn’t got the job it would have became another portfolio piece. I enjoyed the work I did. But ultimately not the company I worked for. Hence why I’m now freelance 😅. I stayed there for just over 2.5 years and got some invaluable experience
  • @Katie Ruby Miller thanks Katie. Understood, if new to the field, I’d still argue that you should be paid for that time. Did you enjoy working for the company?
  • I had to do an interview task for a job before. It was for a greetings card company. Because I had no experience in that field it was a way for the company to see how I’d approach a brief. I found it to be fair. I did end up getting the job.
  • Opinions on unpaid interview tasks vary widely among individuals and organizations. Here are some common thoughts and experiences people may have:

    Positive Experiences:

    Some candidates may view unpaid interview tasks as an opportunity to showcase their skills and demonstrate their enthusiasm for the role. Completing a task can allow them to stand out from other applicants and potentially increase their chances of being hired.
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  • I believe it's fairly standard practice, and I've even heard of companies/agencies using it as a way of obaining free ideas and work.
    In this instance the recommendation was to ensur eyou put disclaimer son everything pertaining to the purpose of use being strictly for the interview process. I'm not a legal expert so don't know how watertight that is, but it might serve as a deterrant at least.
  • It is a common and standard practice, and used across other areas of expertise aswell. In an ideal world it is used to assess the individuals competency and skill-set. There is always a risk that the concept maybe iterated upon. It is a fine balance, just remember that the interview process is for the both parties. I hope you find a place that is a good fit for you.
  • @russell royer If you are already in the interview process I guess you have to go with it. Ultimately I hope you find a job with someone you enjoy working with and the work is stimulating and creative - you look forward to each day.
  • @William Webb Thanks William. I have done one so far and it didn’t feel right, they did attempt to justify it during the interview but I didn’t want to seem like a trouble-maker so conceded. Perhaps there is some sort of middle ground with a live display of a short task during the interview to show competency?
    Hopefully more companies will come across this article!
  • @ɐɹoᗡ ɐuu∀ ˥ Thanks Anna, agreed, it’s not always easy to put your foot down but someone has to do it
  • @Karen Mattiazzo thanks Karen! I think that’s my worry, competing with people who would be happy to do it. I don’t think that there is any job I would want enough to spend time after my 9-6 doing a task for. I worry that might also mean my time won’t be valued by that company if they were to employ me.
  • Hey Russel,

    In creative industries yea I'd say it's common, I've done UI web pages both for desktop and mobile so they could see my skills... It's complicated, I say you could do it if you really want it the position right?

    It's also a way for the company to filter who can't do what they specifically ask for, but at the same time it's annoying to invest your time creating a project that you might not get selected or even worse, they get some insights from your submission.
    You can always apply a watermark or your name/logo I guess.
    I do think it's shady, people should stop doing that so companies find another way to select someone. or straight up pay for the mocks..

    good luck!
  • Hi Russell,

    The short answer that is pretty much a standard in many industries. I personally think it's a vampire behaviour but there isn't too much you can do apart from kindly saying no or saying that you would be happy to do the task as long as it's paid.
  • Hi Russell,

    Personally I think this is pretty shoddy practice - a good company which cares about its employees would not expect people to work for free. However, opinions will vary on this - but I certainly didn't enjoy the experience early on in my career. I did the work but it didn't feel right - this is a Linkedin article which looks at various arguments and offers some solutions: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/unpaid-assignments-job-interviews-fair-game-nurturedbynatalia/?

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