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I have been making a renewed effort to find permanent work with my computer science degree. I have been doing retail work to pay rent etc. but now am focusing on finding a position that I can advance with. I find constantly applying and not getting a response to be very discouraging. Recently I applied for a job that had a 20 minute aptitude test and a 20 minute personality test as part of the online application process. The aptitude test was designed to have more questions than there was time for. Some of the questions were a bit strange, such as "do you always pay your bills on time" or find the out of place image in the pattern.

I applied to another job and right after I was invited to do an assessment. I asked how long the assessment was. They said there's no time limit but it is timed and normally takes 8-10 hours. The grading rubric states time affects the score but is the least important factor.They did indicate to include if you have other responsibilities like work. The instructions suggest to familiarize yourself with a specific library from one of the available languages the assessment can be done in. This was described as a "junior" level job and did not specify any number of years of experience required.

The company I applied to appears to be using some sort of 3rd party recruiter who is administering the assessment and says they will give useful feedback. For example if the company I applied for was XYZ the test is done through ABC.

I find this stressful and I have not even started. Is it normal to have assessments this long for entry level positions? Should I try to contact the company directly and ask if they really intend for the recruiter to be screening everyone with an 8+ hour assessment? If I'm not going to do the assessment anyway this wouldn't be burning any bridges. I would feel a lot different about investing this much time if I first had an interview.

Since I'm new and having trouble getting my career started I don't mind jumping through hoops, but is this more a waste of time? If I don't do the assessment then I would have wasted the time I spent applying to the job in the first place. How much time is reasonable to spend on a job application before getting an interview, especially for entry level?

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    Pretty sure the answer to the question pictured is "E". It's the only one with a white square instead if a white triangle. These sorts of visual pattern recognition questions are fairly common in IQ tests, IIRC.
    – nick012000
    Jan 8 at 22:13
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    Job hunting when you are unemployed is stressful any way you slice it. The more you go through these screenings the less stressful they would become. If you believe you have more productive ways to spend 8 hours of your life, by all means use the alternative.
    – PM 77-1
    Jan 9 at 1:14
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    @PM77-1 in 8 hours you could easily apply for 8 other positions elsewhere including spending time researching the organisation and tailoring your cover letter, your resume.
    – HorusKol
    Jan 9 at 4:50
  • Note that psychological tests often contain questions that are not evaluated at all, to make it harder to figure out what the tester wants to hear. And many companies never pay any bill on time.
    – gnasher729
    Jan 9 at 7:54
  • 2
    This is country specific. Different in France and in California Jan 9 at 20:14

12 Answers 12

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8-10 hours is excessive but not unheard of. It's also possible that this is an attempt to scam you into free work (this would become more apparent when you saw the task and there are questions on this site about dealing with it).

The application process is as much for you to find the right employer as it is for employers to find the right candidate. If either wasting your time or, as you seem to believe, contracting out their recruitment process and having no idea what's going on, is a deal-breaker then don't apply.

A simple:

Hello,

While I am interested in this role, I am unable to invest 10 hours in a single application at present and will not be proceeding.

will suffice.

Don't expect the company to turn around and change things. You're not going to get them to overhaul their entire process and unless you have something unique they're not going to make an exception for you. What you can do is use the time you've saved to make other applications.

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    Not worthy of a new answer, but it might be worth adding that often, longer exams/demos are required for juniors/fresh grads, especially if they don't have a portfolio. If OP has something else to show, a reasonable company may drop this project requirement. On the other hand, I've had companies fly me out for tours+interviews, which sums up to muuuuch longer than 8 hours.
    – Mars
    Jan 10 at 6:06
  • Depending on the assignment, sometimes you can get away with shortening it. For example you could just outline the solution and not implement it, document your thought process and minutely explain that to the hiring manager. For me that has more merit than a completed task, as it shows how you think, not just if you can complete an assignment.
    – jwsc
    Jan 10 at 8:22
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    @Mars, a fly-out and in-person interview day also costs the company. Automate assessments have far lower marginal costs, so that the company is asking for a lot from the job-seeker, with no cost on their part. And IMHO the other big thing is that this is at the earliest stage of the application funnel, where the applicant's chance of getting the position is extremely low (single digits?). Jan 10 at 17:26
  • @Mars Even then, most assessments for junior positions I've encountered were not that long. For several companies I've interviewed with, the interview process (including assessment and multiple rounds of interviews) was in total less than 8 hours. If a company flies me in for the interview process (with expenses paid), then I wouldn't mind an 8+ hour interview process.
    – zmike
    Jan 10 at 23:41
  • @BarryDeCicco I turned this into an answer after all. There isn't any mention that this is an automated system, only that another company is administering the test (I don't know if that just means they sit and watch a screen for cheating, or if they actually review it and provide feedback. it sounds like the latter). Never the less, it doesn't sound cheap--when I screen candidates I can spend an hour or so reviewing their code and then another 0.5~1h discussing it. I wholly agree that at this point in the process, it's not worth the risk!
    – Mars
    Jan 11 at 0:33
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It’s ok as long as the company puts in the same effort as you do. If different people interview you over eight hours, then you and the company both put in eight hours. Which demonstrates that you have a good chance of a job - they won’t do that with more than say three candidates.

If they give you a duplicated sheet with a ten hour task, they expect you to put in ten hours of work with zero effort on their side. That’s something they’d do with everyone so worst case you are still one of 200 candidates at that point. Waste of your time, but worse, it demonstrates that they don’t value their employees at all. Big big red flag.

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    Agreed. I find it especially onerous if the assignment is machine gradable (various "code challenge" sites that also sell their services to recruiters). Candidates spend considerable time to cross the FIRST hurdle, just to be filtered out by algorithm. A company that only is interested if one can get to the right answer irrespective of the method, may not be such a good employer to work for. Also, if I were to hire juniors, I'd be more interested in their ability to learn instead of just what skills they already have - i.e. their value to me is their potential.
    – frIT
    Jan 10 at 12:14
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    200 candidates = 1 man-year of free work! Jan 10 at 20:31
  • Generally, I am profoundly against processes that require excessive effort as a candidate. I think it shows that the involved people are just not very good in judging candidates and also, that there is a great power imbalance in the process (i.e. you want to be hired? you better do everything we say). But you have an interesting point (same effort investment), that I have not though about yet. However, I think there also is a caveat here: The people involved are being paid for participating in the process (especially, if those are mostly HR people). You are not.
    – mc51
    Jan 12 at 11:39
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They expect you to study a specific library and produce 8-10 hours of work, and this even before interviewing you?

Run, and don't look back.

This is a company that A) is fishing for desperate candidates or B) is trying to exploit them in doing work for free. Possibly both.

A company like this is not respectful of the candidates' time. And you do not want to work for a company that does not respect its employees.

In the words of Alison Green:

Here’s how to know whether or not an interviewer’s request for a sample work project is reasonable:

How much time will it take you? Asking you to spend an hour or two on an exercise is reasonable, but asking you to spend a day on a project generally isn’t.

At what stage of the hiring process is the request being made? If the employer hasn’t even interviewed you yet, asking you to do a short 15-minute writing sample is probably reasonable, but asking you to invest two hours in a project isn’t. Once the employer has invested real time in talking with you and determined you’re a promising candidate, and you’ve had the chance to ask your own questions about the job to determine your interest level, they have more standing to ask for a bit more of your time.

How does the employer plan to use the work? Employers should use hiring exercises for assessment purposes only, not as a way to get free work from candidates. If you’re unsure how an employer may use the work you produce, it’s okay to ask. (You can say, “Can you tell me how you’ll use the work I produce? Is it for assessment purposes only?”) If an employer ends up liking something you produced enough to actually use it, you should be paid for that work.

Does the employer seem considerate of your time? Good employers will be thoughtful about the amount of time they ask you to invest in their hiring process. They’ll make a point of streamlining exercises, and they won’t assume that you can give instant turnaround on a work sample without advance notice. It’s a bad sign if an employer seems to assume that you can produce a work sample immediately, with no consideration of the fact that you may have other commitments in that time period.

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OK my 2 cents that are based on my limited experience:

A 8-10 hour take home test is excessive and a waste of your time. Just send an email to that affect and move on.

Don't bother trying to contact the company directly as they 100% know that the recruiter is doing this. They will have instructed the recruiter to do this. You sending emails will not make them change there stance or surprise them in any way.

For the future, if they are asking you to use a third party lib then if it's an open source popular lib (Say like react if it was a frontend job) then that's fine. If it's something specific for the type of software they sell then they might be looking for free work. The test should be something super generic i.e. something that any programmer could do it shouldn't require any domain knowledge if they are asking for domain knowledge in doing the test then I would stop the process.

Only do take home tests after you have had a initial interview. If a company is doing them as an initial screen (a lot are now-a-days) then it's a waste of time they most likely will never even get back to you.

The aptitude and personality test is something that large corporate companies do. It's insane, old fashioned and a waste of time but often is stipulated by the investors of the company that they do these. If it's a small company doing these then I would run a mile as they are clueless and probably run by someone who doesn't know what they are doing. If it is a large corpo then it's just part of the process a box ticking exercise but note that large corpos have a lot of useless jobs that are essentially exactly that .

Entry level positions seem to have the highest barrier to entry. That's because there are a lot of people applying to these jobs to get a foot in the door. Most of these people are woefully unqualified to even be in the industry. Once you get a job and have a few years experience there is less competition.

The process you are going through is normal for the tech industry now-a-days the interviews do actually get harder as you go up the ladder as there is higher expectations for someone with experience. Is this right or wrong is another age old discussion but regardless this is the current situation.

In terms of interviewing there are 4 main types of "technical" test that are often performed:

  • "whiteboarding" - which is where in an interview you are made to code/design/fix/explain a technical problem on a whiteboard live in front of your interviewer(s). It's just about the most stressful thing that occurs in the programming world and a lot of people struggle even though they are decent programmers.

  • Direct questions - where you are asked a series of programming questions live often over phone / zoom. This might be in the form of a simple question that can be answered in a sentence by anyone who knows the basics of the language e.g. what's the difference in == and === in javascript or what's the difference between pass by ref and pass by value. There will be a list on different topics and these are to be answered quickly i.e. maybe 30 seconds each if you don't know then you just say don't know. No one will get 100% of these normally 80%+ is an exceptional candidate especially for a entry level job

  • Assessment - where you are left for 20-30 minutes in the interview with a list of questions. These will be trivia and can be accompanied with a programming exercise. This exercise can often be done either written as part of the questionnaire, in some kind of online IDE/ maybe even just a shared google doc or if in person they can leave you with a computer that normally has all the software installed that you need to complete the assessment. Google interviews like this with NP hard CS problems some companies copy this style to be more like Google. These are often automated in systems like leetcode or hackerrank.

  • Take home - You've seen this first hand. A test that is either explained in person or over email and then you are left to complete the test in you own free time. Some of these are timed in that a imaginary timer is started as soon as you see the test and the quicker you give a response the more favourable you are looked upon. The idea here is that you have time to do the normal things a programmer would do which is think through a problem ahead of time or google solutions all that jazz rather than be sweating in front of someone who's asking you to balance a binary tree live

These will come at various stages sometimes earlier sometimes later. I remember when take home tests started to appear in the tech community, it was something that was suggested that would supersede all other technical interviews but unfortunately what's happened is that companies are now using these as initial filters as doing phone interviews as initial filters drains the companies resources. Any company that is doing these at the initial stage has a lot of people applying for their job and is trying to use this before you get into their normal interview i.e. phone interview / onsite which will involve direct questions, assessments and whiteboarding. I think if it's further on in the interview process then they might be trying to use it instead of whiteboarding but I haven't seen that at all. If companies ask me for these I generally just move on as it slows down my application process. I would say if it's something short like 1-2 hours then probably that's OK.

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  • Neither you or the OP knows if the "company 100% knows they are doing this"
    – James
    Jan 11 at 12:42
  • @James you're right 100% is hyperbole but I'm very very very sure. Recruitment companies would not hand out take home tests themselves. It's a barrier to candidates which would reduce there sales (e.g. placing candidates)
    – Dave3of5
    Jan 12 at 19:42
  • You do not make it clear that the intention is "hyperbole" as you stated quite firmly "they 100% know". You could state for example "it's highly probable/likely". Agencies do all kinds of shady things in the name of getting money and you don't even know which agency it is to do a basic review of them on the internet. For all you know, they might have just made a typo and meant to put 4-6 hours, or perhaps someone at the agency decided there's no harm in putting a few extra hours. I'm not being picky, you simply don't know and it's a false statement (I didn't downvote FWIW)
    – James
    Jan 13 at 7:45
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Apart from all the other good answers:

  • Do you really have better things to do?

If yes, then don't take the assessment. If no, then do.

Machine gunning applications is not a better thing to do (this rarely works). Since with a targeted approach you have probably around 1-3 application per week; so is there time to do the assessment? Also if you do it, maybe you learn about a useful library used in industry, which, while you might not take this job, might help you with the next job interview.

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    I interviewed at a company who used a programming language I was unfamiliar with. They still asked me to do an assessment in it. I had a fun weekend learning Golang and got some good feedback on my code. Did not get the job, did no regret spending 8 hours on the assessment Jan 10 at 12:46
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    @SirDuckduck I interviewed at a company who deliberately used a programming language I was unfamiliar with, but the test was only 30 minutes, and they provided a manual for the language. I did get the job. The goal was to see if I was willing to try - many of the interviewees just sat there because they didn't know the language. Jan 10 at 16:42
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Is it normal to have assessments this long for entry level positions?

Normal as in "more than 50% of companies do it"? No. Completely unheard of, also no.

Should I try to contact the company directly and ask if they really intend for everyone to do an 8 hour assessment?

Doing this (especially with the language you've used here) will make you look like an entitled prick. You can be pretty sure they do mean for people to do this.

That doesn't mean it's a good idea, but it's their company and they get to choose how they run their recruitment processes. If you don't like it, just politely decline and move on.

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    @ComicSansSeraphim an ideal outcome would be to leave the test until a later stage in the interviewing process or use one that isn't more than a couple hours. Jan 9 at 1:55
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    @Pelgriminal Because you're either demanding special treatment or expecting them to overhaul their process for every applicant. Do you understand that the former isn't going to happen without a good reason and the latter isn't practical? Jan 9 at 2:13
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    @Pelgriminal Well what do you want then? If they were to change things so you automatically get an interview and everyone else had to do the assessment, you would be getting special treatment. If they give everyone an interview, they're overhauling their process. Is there another option I'm not seeing? Jan 9 at 2:33
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    @ComicSansSeraphim: I think the counter-question here is "why not send such a query?" What does it hurt in the 99% of cases where the company gets overly offended by a reasonable question if there's a 1% chance they're able to give the OP a better way to apply? (Presuming the plan is to simply refuse over such a long assessment, in which case you'd definitely not get the job.)
    – MichaelS
    Jan 9 at 12:12
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    @MichaelS Because from what I've seen, OP will get into a long and pointless email chain with their HR that will take more than 10 hours. Jan 9 at 12:47
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The answer to "how much time should be spent on applications" depends on how much pre-existing evidence of your skill do you have. Typically, if you have a portfolio or impressive work experience, you won't be required for as much scrutiny.

On the other hand, if you have nothing for show at this point in your career, many companies will want a thorough evaluation of your skills. If you think from their point of view, you'll recognize that an engineer with no record is a high risk.

As a few data points for reference, my current company requires a portfolio or a ~2hr project and about 3 hours of interviews. The shortest I've had was 2 hours of interviews and the longest I've had was easily over 40 hours if you include travel time.


Regarding your current situation:
8 hours investment before an interview or two is a huge risk on your side as well. I would mention that to your point of contact with the company. They may rearrange the order of events for you.

Unless you're very interested in this company you would likely be better off spending those 8 hours on other applications or developing your portfolio.

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  • " The shortest I've had was 2 hours of interviews and the longest I've had was easily over 40 hours if you include travel time." But a flyout is effort and money on their part. This means that you're in a small finalist pool. What the company in question is doing is demanding a lot of the applicant up front, at the 1 or 2% chance of getting a job. Jan 11 at 2:18
  • @BarryDeCicco I've had companies fly me out after the initial application (paper screening), but that doesn't really affect your point ;) Note that I agree that in this particular case, OP is better off taking another approach.
    – Mars
    Jan 11 at 4:35
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This question has a very simple answer, and it has nothing to do with whether or not you believe the company will spend 8-10 hours reviewing your responses, or whether or not you believe that you're doing free work for them.

The simple answer is: Let's say you do this assessment. That is 8-10 hours of your life you're not going to get back. You could be doing literally anything else you want with those 8-10 hours. You could be sending out more job applications, you could be researching new technologies, you could be brushing up on your skills, you could even be doing other things not related to job searching such as hanging out with friends, watching tv, or sleeping. But instead of doing any of those things, you're doing this skill assessment.

Meanwhile, this company has some number of applications that they are considering, and some number of job vacancies that they are looking to fill. Given that this is a junior position, the number of applicants is likely far greater than the number of vacancies, meaning the probability that you will get this job is less than 1 (i.e. it is not guaranteed), and is likely many degrees of magnitude smaller than 1.

So here's the extremely simple question which will decide your path: How bad will you feel if you spend 8-10 hours of your time on this assessment, and then the company does not pass you to the next interview stage, or in the worst case the company outright ghosts you? Since there are (likely) many orders of magnitude more applicants than there are vacancies, this is the most likely outcome. Will you feel like the "experience", such as it is, was "worth it", or will you feel like your time was wasted and you should have done something else? If this result would be unacceptable for you, then do something else with your time; if it would be acceptable for you, then proceed with the assessment.

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You didn't indicate a country, and this might be country/culture specific.

Over here (western Europe) I would consider that as "company is trying to get free work out of you". Especially making yourself familiar with a library beforehand sounds like they have a specific task to solve, while I personally would think how quickly you can learn to use a library would be a valuable assessment result.

Assessments of any kind for entry level positions are very rare here. They are used for management-level positions and other specific jobs, but in 25 years of work history, I have never had an assessment, not for entry level jobs, not for my current high-end jobs. I don't do management (I'm a tech guy, I've had leadership roles but never explicitly applied to a management job, came into them organically).

I have heard of assessment centres being used for low-level jobs when there is a large number of applicants for a small number of positions. I can't imagine that being the case in IT currently, every company I know is looking for IT people and the headhunters that call me have lots of open jobs.

But again, that may be a cultural thing. I heard in the US, for example, assessments are much more common.

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  • I've had assessments but they were mostly the standardised multiple choice "suitability tests" which are really veiled IQ tests (veiled because actual IQ tests are illegal during job application processes). Which are pretty much a sham as they don't test anything beyond test taking skills and are not specific to any one job.
    – jwenting
    Jan 11 at 9:48
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10 hours seems excessive for any level job, and so do the other hurdles they put up. Of course for some job categories it may be a good thing to weed out "undesirables" based on such things, but those are typically not jobs you'd apply for as a junior.

Then again, I've been subjected to such "aptitude tests" mostly when applying for junior positions and they're laughably stupid. I've never passed them, mostly because I keep finding errors in them and pointing them out to the auditors, which probably doesn't make me many friends with them as they religiously believe in their accuracy in finding the perfect candidate for any job (with the exact same test being applied to every job out there, in every field, with the exact same grading criteria as well).

Then again, this is an outside agency doing the work and they probably get paid by the hour and "feature" they shove into the process so they're making a handy sum for putting candidates through all this.

If you're interested in the job, ask them about the exact nature of the work you're supposed to be doing during this "assessment" and then decide whether it seems reasonable compared to the work you'd actually be doing were you to be hired.

They may indeed be trying to get applicants to write production level code for them for free, but if so they're not a company that's interested in producing quality products. If that's the impression you get on seeing the actual assignment, walk don't run and don't even bother turning in any work as you won't be hired whether you do or not and even if you were to be hired you'd not want to work there.

If it's a real skill test and no more, see it as a learning experience more than anything. If you're good enough to meet your own standards and it's a reasonable amount of work required you should be able to do it in under a day of thinking and coding you'd otherwise spend playing computer games or going to the pub, not a bad way to spend your time.

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The company I applied to appears to be using some sort of 3rd party recruiter who is administering the assessment

Given "8-10" hours is a full days work, I suggest first reaching out to the company, if possible, and ask them to clarify if they are aware of this requirement and if the time scale is accurate. There's a lot of "maybe" and unknowns, which you need to clarify.

Whether it's "excessive" or not is subjective, especially with numerous unknown factors:

  • Perhaps the company has had a lot of poor staff and/or applicants in the past and want to avoid a repeat by making the recruitment process more strict
  • Perhaps their suggested time is an over estimate and most people take between 4 and 6 hours
  • Perhaps working for this company is a privilege and they have amazing pay and other benefits and training schemes
  • Perhaps they are no better or worse than other companies, who have a more reasonable 4-6 hour assessment
  • Perhaps the job demands high end code and a long assessment is simply a necessity to identify potential candidates are up to scratch

Ultimately, only you can determine if you feel "you" want to spend this time or not. Consider:

  1. How many other applications you have and the time they demand
  2. How much you want to work for this company
  3. How many jobs are available for you to apply for
  4. If you are happy to spend 8 or more hours on this requirement

On a subjective note, I think 8-10 hours is excessive if the company doesn't have anything enticing beyond other companies. Most I've ever done is 6 hours on an estimated 4-6, and that was me titivating after spending 5 hours.

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Considering that you're searching for the first job and don't have a recent experience, 8-10h is a very realistic timeframe for any type of assessment.

I assume that you target one technology, so spending 8-10h doing the assessment (of course, if it looks like a test exercise, and not like free work for the company), and getting your code reviewed afterwards, will, generally, benefit you in a longer run.

Generally, doing well home assignment like "create an application that..." will take you around 4-10h of time (depending on feature set and amount of details that you want to dive into). Also, don't forget that you can use open source templates, they usually significantly save time :)

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