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I applied to a company and got a phone interview with their in-house recruiter. During the call, he/she did indicate that there will be a technical test. When I asked clarity on what it was they said it was a technical test and would have a time limit of 3 days. From what I heard it looks like a take-home project of sorts.

A week flew by and the recruit sends an email if he/she can send over the test.

I'm worried about:

  • Taking this test even though I haven't met the hiring manager or even had a chat with anyone on the actual team. I had only a phone interview with the in-house recruiter.

  • this "pre-interview take-home test taking more than a couple of hours" sounds fishy

Are these red flags?

NB: this is for a data engineer position at a not well-known tech company.

closed as primarily opinion-based by Dukeling, gnat, Jim G., bruglesco, MikeQ Apr 9 at 16:48

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    If you wan't to continue with the recruiting and interview process I would suggest you to consider doing the test... otherwise decline and look for other options (but, again, why are you hesitating on doing the test?) – DarkCygnus Apr 8 at 23:57
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    You said the key words: "sounds like"... you won't know that until you see the test and judge it yourself. I suggest you at least look at it before deciding you won't take it – DarkCygnus Apr 9 at 0:25
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    I partly agree with what you said. But the recruiter did mention something along the lines of building a "big data application so that we can evaluate your skills". I didn't say I won't take it, I a looking for a way to politely communicate to the in-house recruiter to get me in touch with a hiring manager or team member for an interview before I spend 5-6 hours on a test. When I did that last time, it did backfire so I am hesitant to do it without talking to someone in the team or a hiring manager. – James Apr 9 at 0:31
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    Why not, ask for the test, see it by yourself how much it will take, and then decide if you do it or if you better not cause you feel they are just polling for "free dev work" – DarkCygnus Apr 9 at 0:33
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    @DarkCygnus I'm not a fan of take home tests, especially before an interview/phone screen with the hiring manager. These tests often say "a couple of hours", but they expect 2-3 full days put in to them. Even if it isn't "free dev work" for their project. It's taking a lot of time out of someone's day(s) for an opportunity for just an interview. this says a lot about when these kinds of things are acceptable. I'd pass on it, and state that the pre-interview homework was the reason. – Malisbad Apr 9 at 4:14
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From your comment, you say:

I [am] looking for a way to politely communicate to the in-house recruiter to get me in touch with a hiring manager or team member for an interview before I spend 5-6 hours on a test

This sounds reasonable to me, basically you try to reduce risk of bad interview after passing test, for which you invested 5-6 hours (at market rate of $50/hr it is $250-300).

For me it can be rephrased as:

I was invited for onsite interview 4 hours away, and I have to pay for transportation. I haven't talk to hiring manager or team on site yet.

Would you do that, would you take the risk and potentially waste time and money? I guess, if you have no other offers or propositions, or if you have free time you need to kill, you can to take it. But you are the only person who can make the decision.

You can bring this up, mentioning that you are uncomfortable making time investment before the company makes time investment in an interview or contact or whatever

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The company seems to be thinking that it is perfectly time for you to waste three days of your life, and then they might not even look at what you did and just throw it away. It's not acceptable. It shows you what they think of their employees, and you don't want to work for a company that values them that little.

It is very easy and painless to do a quick phone interview, and within ten minutes the interviewer can tell 80% of applicants that they are not right for the job. For the other 20% they can do a one hour interview, and anyone passing that is worth a time investment. So I'd say this company is just lazy.

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    3 days is a limit - you must complete the test within 3 days, not "it takes 3 days". – Justin Apr 9 at 10:14
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To answer your actual question

How to politely decline the request or ask to differ the request until I can talk with someone like the hiring manager? Basically looking for pointers on drafting the email

What about this?

"Jane, thanks. As you know these sample projects can take a lot of time, usually more than a day. Would it be better than I first speak with one of the technical team? To find out if I'm even a suitable candidate for you before going to the next step."

That's the most polite possible way to say "are you kidding?" :)

"sounds like lazy recruitment practices right" - correct. You definitely should not do it.

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I really wanted to upvote another answer, but I just don't agree with either of the main ones.

If you don't have any plans or commitments over the 2/3 days and the job sounds interesting, I'd say ask to take the test. I much prefer this type of thing to trying to remember syntax for some obscure thing, or the default properties of widget.

It's a judgement call on whether this is a skill test or the company mooching free dev work. Either way, think of it as an opportunity to learn something. If you don't like it, phone the recruiter and turn them down. If you think its mooching, leave out some key part of the code (put comments instead), or code some difficult, but vital function to return a fixed value.

The whole point of these tests is to gauge your skill level and provide a conversation starter ("Why did you use events?").

And I think that's a very good sign; a company filtering out unsuitable candidates.

It hurts if you "fail", but ask for feedback if they say "no". Learn and improve.

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    Very good answer...for whoever has 3 days to waste. – gazzz0x2z Apr 9 at 9:42
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    @gazzz0x2z 3 days is a limit - you must complete the test within 3 days, not "it takes 3 days". I couldn't do it Tuesday because... Thursday is football night - better set aside Wednesday evening then, between getting home from work and bed. Longer than 3 or 4 hours? Ask to do it on a day off (Saturday). – Justin Apr 9 at 10:12
  • @gazzz0x2z the 3 days is an upper limit, and the tests I did so far never felt like wasted time, often I learned something new or had a fun little exercise in how to do a particular part in a clean and neat way. And again, it can help so much more than a one hour interview that just talks over nonsense and you have no clue what they look for and whether your future colleagues are worth anything. As the answer indicates, it's always a personal decision. For jobs I really care about, I love to do these (if they are reasonable, if not they give me clear indication to avoid the job). – Frank Hopkins Apr 19 at 17:33
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This depends upon your current situation:

If you are new to the field, having less than about 3 years of full-time, professional, paid experience, then I think it's reasonable for the employer to screen for basic skills before taking a lot of their own time.

If you have a proven record, or come via personal recommendation, then I would find it reasonable to meet with potential teammates before a skills test.

The reason for this difference is that, at least in my experience, I've often been surprised at the discrepancy in skills between new developers. I've been similarly surprised at that discrepancy between more experienced developers as well, but it's usually less drastic. I don't want to waste my time or my team's time meeting with someone who lacks basic requirements. If an inexperienced developer sought to hop through our hiring process in their own way, I'd be concerned that they wouldn't fit well into our team and this might negativity impact my assessment of them. They might have self-assessment problems, time management issues, process compliance difficulties, or emotional intelligence deficiencies.

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... team member for an interview before I spend 5-6 hours on a test ...

It doesn't make any sense. You're being offered the test because the company doesn't want to waste hours on you before they have the confidence to speak to you.

If you don't like doing it yourself, you could hire a cheap freelancer on Upworks to do it for you. 3 days is enough.

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    True. But as always said on this site, the interview is a two way process. So like the company doesn't want to waste time, so the OP doesn't want to waste time. And cheating at such test as you suggest is not a good start – Gianluca Apr 9 at 7:26
  • Questions of ethics aside, on at least some of the interviews where I've had a take-home test I have had to answer questions about the approach and implementation I used for the test. – Old Nick Apr 9 at 9:07
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    That will not work. Some will ask questions, some will even ask you to do a change while they are watching. – 422_unprocessable_entity Apr 9 at 10:01
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    I almost always enjoy SmallChess' answers- mostly because I'm never 100% sure if he's being serious or trolling. – Jim Clay Apr 11 at 17:15

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