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I'm applying for a permanent, remote web developer position. Initial interview took place, now I must submit a test which should take me between a half and a full day of work.

I know one issue is whether this work will further the company's interests, or if it's purely for test purposes. I cannot verify that.

But even though I am told this practice is becoming widespread, to me it still feels wrong to work several hours for nothing in return.

An hour or so seems acceptable, but what about 5? 10? 20? Where should we draw the line?

  • So no limits, does that mean it is acceptable for a company to require a full week of unpaid work as recruitment test, provided at least some applicants are desperate enough to do it? If not, then surely there is some kind of ethical range. That's what my question is about. – drake035 Oct 25 at 19:28
  • "no fixed amount" does not mean "no limits". – DJClayworth Oct 25 at 23:23
  • @drake035 if it's unpaid real (as in will be deployed to prod) work then it's unethical regardless of how much or how little is required. If it's not real work then they can ask for whatever they want, and the candidate is free to refuse to do it. – jcm Oct 26 at 6:53
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    Does this answer your question? Pre Screening - Time spent on technical Test – gnat Oct 26 at 9:37
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I've previously written an answer (Writing computer program code for free in an interview?) where I argue that, except for the rarest of situations (the lowest of the lowest tier IT outsource shops, or a very esoteric problem domain where they might not have the skills to solve the problem in house) it makes zero economic sense for a potential employer to use recruitment exercises as a way to obtain free labor: it would cost many times more to review, validate, and integrate the code than the value they would be stealing.

Given the above, consider the time spent on this task as no different from the time spent on any other part of the recruitment process, and draw your line where the time required is more than you want to spend for this opportunity. Put another way, you should feel exactly the same about being asked to come in for an all-day interview as you should feel doing an all-day evaluation. For some jobs, it might be worth it to you, for others, it might not be.

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An hour or so seems acceptable, but what about 5? 10? 20? Where should we draw the line?

Draw the line wherever the possibility to obtain the job being offered isn't worth the effort you are required to expend.

For some candidates and some jobs, an hour would be too much. For other candidates and other jobs, 20 hours would reasonable.

If in the end you get this permanent, remote web developer position, would the half to one full day of work have been worthwhile? If not, simply decline and move on.

(I spent 6 years obtaining an undergraduate and then a graduate degree to put myself in a position to be eligible for certain good jobs. For some, that would be too much. For others, not enough.)

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    +1 for the degree, helps put it in perspective. Put in the time if you feel it will be worth the reward, doesn’t guarantee that it will be worth it, but you can only decide on what you know now. Another reference might be that some people take pay cuts either for better careers others take a pay cut for less stress. Again no guarantees, but you shoot for your own goals. – jmoreno Oct 26 at 3:24
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An hour or so seems acceptable, but what about 5? 10? 20? Where should we draw the line?

It will greatly vary based on your circumstances.

If you are desperate for a job and are not getting any callbacks then it may make sense to do "whatever it takes" to secure the one job back that is actually moving forward because that's your best bet to get the job.

On the other hand when you are in comfortable spot (aka having a job/very substantial savings that you don't mind eating) and getting a lot of invitations and are progressing with other interviews, I likely wouldn't spend no more than 2 hours on those, as that's a prudent amount for a demo, and expectation I've always had when crafting tests for applicants.

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It's a matter of time and effort that you spend on one application, but also about what it says about the company.

I assume that you don't apply at one company only, but at several. So eight hours unpaid work for one company could easily turn into ten days, if you apply at ten places.

On the other hand, how much is the company investing into interviewing you? If they have an eight hour homework question and give that to 20 candidates, they would have just asked for 20 days of unpaid work, at no cost to themselves.

So my rule would be that the effort they expect from you must be matched with effort by the company. A ten minute phone interview to throw out useless candidates costs both sides ten minutes time. Inviting you for a four hour interview costs you four hours, might cost the company actually more. If you get the impression that they don't care about the cost for you, then remember that they will have the same attitude once you work there. Dump them. If the company puts effort into the interview process, you match it.

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