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I applied for a research internship (computer science related, specifically natural language processing) at a finance company, and I was scheduled to take a technical written test (testing my background). I just realized that they're making me pay over $200 - just to sit and write an exam. The company is from the UK and is well known.

But I have never heard of people needing to pay for job interviews or taking a technical written test. Is this normal? They sent me over a set of practice questions, and I found most of them obnoxiously hard because some of them touch on the areas of finance (stock market, option pricing, etc) which I am not familiar with, and they're expecting me to learn them in less than a week (and I don't know how this is relevant to the position I applied for). It makes me think that they're doing this because of $$$. Should I still take a test or withdraw?

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    "I just realized that they're making me to pay over $200 - just to sit and write an exam." Who do you pay this money to? – Tymoteusz Paul Jan 12 at 9:39
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    Are you sure you are talking to the real company? and not to someone who is pretending to be it? This idea to have candidates for in internship (or whatever candidates for that matter) to pay for a test is incredible. – WoJ Jan 12 at 16:16
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    Did you send email to the address you found on glassdoor, or did you search for that info on the official company website? I think skepticism is in order, the company could be real but the Glassdoor presence could be fake. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Jan 12 at 18:28
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    I'm confused. This is a UK company and you quote a cost in $. Where are you based? Where is the job? Where do you sit the exam? Is this a company-specific exam, or is it something that would be re-usable somewhere else? – jcaron Jan 12 at 22:55
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    You "just realized that they're making me pay over $200" How did you come to that conclusion? Did they specifically inquire you about paying the money? I'm asking because I also wrote one these tests once for a similar position where they sent me a booking confirmation, in which the price of the test was written down. I was worried that I'd have to pay the amount but in the end it was only the company paying for using the third party location to carry out the test. – Perry Jan 13 at 7:56
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There are red flags all over this one. I'd suggest you withdraw.

I have never heard of people needing to pay for job interviews or taking a technical written test. Is this normal?

Nor have I. Absolutely not, in the UK, no.

But even assuming this is legit... well, then charging candidates $200 just to apply means that the competition for this position must be intense.

To proceed in the process, you're going to have to perform exceptionally well on this test. And just speaking plainly, it looks like your chances of doing that aren't great:

They sent me over a set of practice questions, and I found most of them obnoxiously hard

...touch on the areas of finance... which I am not familiar with

...learn them in less than a week

I think you're better off letting this one go and keeping your $200.

That's unless of course the money isn't important to you or you'd consider it a good investment in the learning you'll get from doing the test and going through the process.

There will be other opportunities!

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    If you have $200 to burn on a useless test, I'd find a cheap certification you can pass without any studying and go get that instead. – IllusiveBrian Jan 13 at 13:49
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    Amen @IllusiveBrian - actually, even an expensive certification that may be recognized by computing industry may cost less than that, or slightly more than that. – TOOGAM Jan 14 at 11:12
  • @IllusiveBrian though the test itself will likely be useless, studying for it may not be if OP feels the knowledge gained will help in future. And a real test / deadline / money down are good motivators for actually studying & learning fast! A certification for things they already know may also be useful, but in a different way. Or maybe the benefit of either is not worth the money. – davnicwil Jan 14 at 11:28
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    @davnicwil That's fair, but then find a certification for something you want to learn and pay for that test. My point is to spend the money on something you can put on your resume. It's certainly going to be something most intern candidates don't have. – IllusiveBrian Jan 14 at 13:02
  • @IllusiveBrian yeah that makes a lot of sense, definitely agree - that'd be a much better way to spend this money, if you're going to spend it at all! – davnicwil Jan 14 at 13:05
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There are 2 options:

  1. It's a scam, and/or an abusive company.

  2. You misread, or they made a typo, and they want to pay you $200+ for you to take the test. Monetary incentives like these are not unheard of, especially not in financial services.

    2b. The test is by a third party, usually costs $200+, and the company is covering that cost for you.

Unless the wording is unambiguous and doesn't allow for a typo to completely change it's meaning, contact them to find out which it is.

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    +1 for the "call and clarify". Seems like a reasonable thing to do. – Shaamaan Jan 13 at 10:02
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    2b was my immediate thought - something in the testing company paperwork mentioning the fee which would be why the OP "just realized" there was a charge. But checking for misunderstandings & then calling the company seems a good way to be sure what is happening. – Dragonel Jan 13 at 15:49
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    You say 2 options, but proceed to list 4: -scam, -misread, -typo, -3rd-Party. Despite the fact that I can think of other “options”, I’d also argue that those aren’t options at all... those are possibilities. An option suggests a choice; a possibility suggests a potential state/condition of being. – vol7ron Jan 13 at 21:23
  • Wouldn't another option be that they require some industry standard certificate XYZ as a requirement for all candidates. This candidate does not have cert XYZ so they are saying that they need to acquire it on their own dime if they want to progress the application further? – Martin Smith Jan 13 at 22:55
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They sent me over a set of practice questions, and I found most of them obnoxiously hard

This makes it seem like you aren't up to the standards they expect for their intern.

I wouldn't pay $200 to take a test unless I was convinced I would get the resulting job and that it was a job I really wanted. Based on your feelings about the practice questions, you would have to wonder if it's a job you could get.

You should be thankful that they gave you practice questions. Likely, it's a way for potential candidates to judge themselves and to make an informed decision before spending any money.

I know one desirable company that requires entry-level candidates to pay for a pre-employment screening test. My friend there tells me they do this to weed out the candidates who aren't serious. He isn't sure if the cost of the test is reimbursed for those who are eventually hired.

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    I think worth mentioning or referring how unusual the request for an intern to use own money to pay to take an exam is. To me at least, this says "scam", although perhaps there are legitimate paths to end up in this situation which are not clear from OP's question – Neil Slater Jan 12 at 17:41
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    @JoeStrazzere A commission? – Minix Jan 12 at 19:08
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    I am imagining that OP has been given the impression they are applying to "well-known financial company" but it is being mediated by some other more scammy recruitment agency. However, it is hard for me to place any scenario that rings true over OP's description. Some important detail is missing IMO, but perhaps something OP is not even aware of. Or perhaps I am just out of touch just how far "pay to play" internships have become in the UK. – Neil Slater Jan 12 at 19:16
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    _"I wouldn't pay $200 to take a test"_ - if it was a certification, ok. But to apply for an internship? NO effin' WAY! And: The questions may be hard for people not familiar with FINTEC, but for people that are may be reasonable. Which would make a scam more believable. They are actually "filtering" for "good fits", then scamming them out of 200$. Must be a true FINTEC... haha – Fildor Jan 13 at 8:11
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    the only part that would make paid test participation reasonable was for a high salary job that would re-imburse test cost over time by high(er) salary - but not for a usually unpaid or minimum wage internship ... as others suggested - time to call HR to clarify if YOU have to pay that .... – eagle275 Jan 13 at 10:35
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  1. Check out company's Glassdoor page + comments and posts on their LinkedIn and Facebook pages, just to get an idea if they have offered something like this to other candidates as well.

  2. Try and talk on call to the HR of the company directly, they might provide some clarity as to why they need money from you.

  3. After above steps one of three things may happen - either they'll identify their mistake and tell you no money is required OR you'll get satisfied by talking to HR and as per your own research about the company OR you won't get satisfied and in this case I suggest you forget about the company and try for others.

Good Luck!

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There seem to me to be two issues here. One is the requirement to pay to take the test, but, more importantly, there seems to have been a disconnect between the job you intended to apply for, and the job for which they are screening you.

They sent me over a set of practice questions, and I found most of them obnoxiously hard because some of them touch on the areas of finance (stock market, option pricing, etc) which I am not familiar with, and they're expecting me to learn them in less than a week (and I don't know how this is relevant to the position I applied for).

They are screening you for a job that requires knowledge of the stock market and option pricing. It is very unlikely they expect you to learn the material in less than a week. It is much more likely that a qualified candidate would have already studied those subjects.

The only case in which it would be worth seriously considering paying to take a test, and doing the investigation to make sure you are not being scammed, is if the test is for your dream job, and you expect to ace it. That is not the case here.

Depending on how much you think you would like the original job, and what alternatives you have, either simply decline to continue with the application, or point out that you are applying for a job that requires different skills from the practice questions so there must be some misunderstanding. The second response leaves the door open for them to drop the finance test and evaluate you for a natural language processing internship.

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There is another option: This 'test' may not actually be part of the interview process, but may be a prerequisite for the job.

There are many certificates, offered by third parties that require a paid exam to obtain. If this position needs someone with certificate X, they could have explained to you that you'd need to pass their exam. This would also mean that not every applicant needs to pass this exam, just those that aren't already certified. If this is the case and they are pushing you this direction they seem more than interested.

Did they by any chance mention you would need to have certificate X for this job, and could this exam be the exam for this certificate? To who do you pay the 200$, who takes the exam, and is there a certificate obtained?

In any case, I'd find it reasonable to ask for a reembursement.

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  • Agreed, one easy related example would be language tests : In some case, one company may ask to provide a recent TOEFL test, and these tests are not free. – Paul Hudford Jan 15 at 9:58
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In the industry, it's very common to pay a 3rd party testing provider to administer a test to you, online, with screen-share and a web-cam to make sure you aren't cheating and then the video and results are submitted to the prospective employer which can examine the "product", not waste any valuable engineer time if your results are plain wrong and if they're OK, focus on how you present your thoughts, how good your English is, etc. They fast forward through irrelevant bits. Considering that it's usually at least 2 people who are making the hiring decision, usually more, it's a very good investment.

HOWEVER, these guys expect you to pay for it.

Are they requiring payment to a 3rd party testing provider, or to themselves?

If it's the former, they are just being cheap, or at least taking a shotgun approach of having 200 people interview for a position, if they aren't paying for it. Your chances aren't good. If it's the latter, it's a scam. Either way, I'd recommend forgetting about it.

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