45

I have applied for a Junior Product Manager position at a mobile gaming company (in Germany). After a standard phone screening, I was sent a test by email to complete in order to go further with the process.

The tasks consists in creating a roadmap for one of their mobile games with "at least 3 new features and a bunch of improvements to the current features in the game". It also asks to make estimations for the features/suggestions, and create a diagram to split up the work over the different teams. All suggestions should be well explained and motivated. There is no set deadline, guidelines on the time to spend on the test or on the length of the deliverable.

Now, I have nothing against interview tests. I am actually very in favour of them, and try to stay away from companies that hire fast without really checking a candidate's abilities. I came from a developer background, so I have often been asked to do coding tests for interviews.

However, this test took me by surprise because:

  • The scope seems huge. Even cutting it short, I don't see how it would take me less than a week to do this properly.

  • It is real work for the company. I can't even be sure the company isn't doing this just to get lots of ideas out of people. Why not have the same test but regarding a competitor's game, or an hypothetical one?

I'd like to hear other opinions regarding this. Is this kind of test common practice? Is it reasonable? Are they trying to exploit me with free work? And if not, how do I approach the company? Should I suck it up and do the test, just drop this and not go further with the process (I'm actually pretty interested in working for them), or try to communicate my doubts to them? How?

Thank you!

EDIT:

Thank you all for the responses. I wanted to give you an update on my decision.

After posting, I read some concerning interview experiences on Glassdoor. 2 artists who applied and were rejected after their test, then saw artwork very similar to the one they had submitted being used in the game updates. I then contacted the company asking if I could do the test on a competitor's game instead, and if I could reduce the scope. They told me both weren't possible, as they need to use the same test for all applicants for benchmarking.

I also got to learn that the final stage of the hiring process (in case I passed the test and 2 more interviews after that) would be a 2-days unpaid trial in the company.

So... yeah... I'm not going to move forward with them!

  • 2
    See also: Being taken advantage of in an interview? and it's linked duplicates – David K Dec 13 '18 at 13:24
  • 2
    Thank you for updating! It's always good to see how things work out in the end. Glad you dodged a bullet with this shady company. – user1602 Dec 17 '18 at 11:57
49

Unfortunately, companies using "interviews" as free work is not something new, it's been going on for over a decade that I know of.

It's not just small shops that pull it either. A friend of mine was being "interviewed" by one of the big financial companies, and they kept trying to get details from him on a previous project. He kept on pushing back until he finally said

Hire me, and I'll tell you everything you want to know.

Then they had the nerve to report back to the recruiter that he was rude.

IF something doesn't feel right, don't do it. This might not be a scam, but if it doesn't pass the smell test, then it wouldn't be a company you'd want to work with anyway.

  • 6
    Well, Hire me, and I'll tell you everything you want to know. does sound (to me) like FRO, but couched in polite words. :-) – Peter K. Dec 12 '18 at 15:34
  • 11
    @PeterK. FRO? never heard that one before. – Richard Says Reinstate Monica Dec 12 '18 at 15:39
  • 2
    @RichardU Sound like FRO is probably GFY (Go F*** Yourself) but different words – Ertai87 Dec 12 '18 at 16:44
  • 11
    @RichardU F*** right off, would be my guess. – Minix Dec 12 '18 at 17:28
  • 7
    @PeterK. I disagree. It sounds more like, "Stop trying to take advantage of me." A close look shows that a mutually beneficial arrangement is being proposed, rather than cursing them off. At some point, mistreatment demands a direct response, and it is not rude to do so, in spite of necessarily being a little bit confrontational. – jpmc26 Dec 12 '18 at 21:54
15

If you estimate the work would take a week to properly do, and suspect they're looking for free labor, then you basically have one of four choices.

  1. Do the work, but make it lack value. This shows you can do the work, but doesn't further the goals of the company. For example, you could take a different game, one that has nearly no value, and show how you'd add three features to it. (I'm thinking tic-tac-toe, or something so saturated it's not a money maker anymore, like Tetris) The risks are they might not accept the work as a proper response to what they requested, and such feedback (while expensive to you) is pretty indicative of their intent.

  2. Describe the work that would be done, instead of performing it, indicating how long each phase of the work you would have performed would have taken, detailing the resulting products, with mock (incorrect) output. The positives of this is that it clearly demonstrates you know the "process to plan and manage" such items. Again, this is a lot of work, and the cost / benefit might not be there for you.

  3. Describe the estimated effort of the work, and suggest that they send something that can be accomplished in under some-number-you-can-bear hours. Indicate that if you attempted to perform the work in the number of hours you'd be willing to do for free, the work would be sloppy, rushed, or incomplete, and that wouldn't reflect your skills or ability in a professional manner.

  4. Just move on, and don't give the work a second thought.

It is all a matter of how much you are willing to put into the hiring process. I fully agree, this request seems to weigh far too heavily on your time, and after it is performed, there is no guarantee any job is waiting. That said, every hiring process demands some effort, and it is a very personal choice how much effort a person will tolerate, especially if the job seems to be better than most.

Yes, I agree, they're probably looking for free labor; but, you can still present yourself as capable without contributing to their success for free. It's just not clear whether it makes sense for you.

7

Now there are some details missing, but to me this doesn't seem like necessarily a huge task. And less a question of how well you can plan down to all the details but more on how you manage tasks with limited time. I'd invest just as much as you'd be normally willing to invest in an interview task and along with the result give them the time spent.

The result could be very coarse, but I'd think that is okay. They might not be interested in the details but might want to see that you know how a development cycle roughly looks, what components it has (development, testing, bugfixing etc), how you can maximise the value generated, e.g. by having departments work in different stages of each feature in parallel (developers can write the next feature while the first is tested, etc.). And the "real" interview might be asking questions based on your plan and how to get from the rough concept to all the nasty details.

Seeing it at that level, I'd also consider it so generic that it wouldn't be working for free.

If you do this and that's not enough for them, then fair enough, you only invested what you would be investing for a task you considered "reasonable". If you get the job, well invested time.

3

There are 3 possibilities:

  1. The task is much smaller than you assumed it to be. This could be due to yourself thinking of the wrong solution, or misunderstanding the task, or it could be due to a misunderstanding or a typo by the person who created the task.
  2. The company is exploiting applicants. If you apply, there is a high chance there never was a job. Even if there is a job, there is a high likelihood that they're exploiting not just applicants but also employees.
  3. The person who decided to run the test specifically is looking for people who are willing to invest disproportionate amounts of work to get a shot at the job, and is doing so for non-nefarious reasons (inexperience?).

If it's the first possibility, this is a chance for you to leave a good impression. Inform them that you noticed the test is considerably longer than the norm and that you'd like to ensure you understood the task correctly before implementing the wrong thing and wasting both their time and your own. Then follow with a brief summary of what you understood the task to be.

If they confirm that you understood the task correctly, and that they really are demanding an unusual amount of upfront work to "earn" an interview, you have 3 options:

  1. Do the work in exchange for nothing more than a chance to possibly get a sub-par job.
  2. Give up on that job, and spend the time to apply to multiple other companies instead.
  3. Treat it as a request for contracting work and send them a quote.

Additionally, since the question talks specifically about the mobile gaming sector, you should be able to get a fairly good look at the ethics of the company by looking at the kinds of games they produce and especially the exploitation of gambling/addiction behavior.

-3

Some companies usually send big tests to filter candidates who will not be willing to do the task just because it's big and will take more time than the candidate are willing to spend.

This way the company will have less candidates to evaluate, and each candidate will have some degree of perseverance, and it'll show the candidate is really interested in the position.

But, the test can't have business value. It can't look like free work. It must be a task designed to the only purpose of test the candidate skills. Nothing more. Also, it must respect the candidate's free time.

I think a 6-to-12 hour task is ok. Candidate can take about 2 or 3 days to do it on his/her free time. If the company is not in the hurry to hire the candidate, both can allow some days or weeks to find the best option. But I'm aware that most people do not agree with that.

  • 13
    No down vote from me, but any task that takes that long is just showing disrespect for a candidate. – Richard Says Reinstate Monica Dec 12 '18 at 19:38
  • 2
    This might be a particular business's strategy, sure. It seems to me to be a strategy that's likely to backfire, as many of the most competent candidates will know they can get a perfectly good job at a company that doesn't require them to jump through so many hoops and won't bother. – Kevin - Reinstate Monica Dec 12 '18 at 20:47
  • 1
    @Kevin yeah, I'd feel very insulted. – Richard Says Reinstate Monica Dec 12 '18 at 21:15
  • 1
    (I want to add - I don't think this answer is wrong. I think it's unfortunate that it describes some companies, but that's a problem with those companies, not this post.) – Kevin - Reinstate Monica Dec 12 '18 at 21:26
  • 1
    I didn't say that I agree with this hiring strategy... I just know it exists. I already took similar tests from two different companies here in Brazil. They are big enterprises and I really wanted to work there so I took the challenge. But I usually wouldn't do it. And TBH, the downvote is unfair as my answer is a valid answer. – Daniel Ribeiro Dec 13 '18 at 21:05

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.