A recruiter calls me and says that I seem like a good candidate and he'd just give me a test task, if i do it i get the job.

While he was talking I understood that this "test" task was actually something they are working on. So basically I would be doing almost 20 hours of free work for them so that I can get the job.

I currently have the task done, but I am hesitant to hand it to him. because

1- he can just take it and never respond again.

2- even if i did get the job, I have lost 20 hours of my time for nothing.

note: I did the task before asking here what should I do because I had time and I just thought it would be a good learning experience doing it. But I wouldn't like someone to take advantage of my work with nothing in exchange.

edit: I am in California.

The recruiter is from the company itself.

  • 17
    Hate to point this out but if you have done the task then those 20 hours are history
    – Ed Heal
    Commented Oct 26, 2015 at 17:26
  • @EdHeal Well, I can use them to my advatnage and make a product out of them. Commented Oct 26, 2015 at 17:27
  • @JoeStrazzere Unfortunately, no. It's not that big of a project that someone would be lost with one missing component. Commented Oct 26, 2015 at 17:47
  • What country/location are you? Depending on the locale, this may be explicitly a violation of labor laws (such as in the united states) if they actually do use your code.
    – Joe
    Commented Oct 26, 2015 at 18:04
  • 3
    so what happened?
    – user42272
    Commented Dec 17, 2015 at 0:52

7 Answers 7


If you are unsure about handing it to them, set up a remote meeting (webex, gotomeeting) and show it to them. They may be able to see what they want done, and at the same time you are not giving them free work.

Also, I see no reason for them to let a good developer go, if they are in need of one. Enticing candidates into performing such tasks seem to me a weird way of managing resources for a project.

  • 9
    Also consider, what is your response going to be when they say, "Looks great, send us the code so we can review it and we'll get back to you." Commented Oct 26, 2015 at 18:20
  • 11
    @DoubleDouble - "I'll gladly do it after we have signed our contract"
    – user1220
    Commented Oct 26, 2015 at 18:33
  • 5
    I'd add the condition that unless the 20 hrs is paid, they don't EVER receive the benefit of the work you've done.
    – Xavier J
    Commented Oct 27, 2015 at 20:24
  • 2
    Send it over with a non-commercial-for-review-only license attached - that will prevent them using the code legally, and if your recruiter queries it then you have your red flag, as the license should not matter otherwise.
    – user34687
    Commented Oct 29, 2015 at 12:46
  • 1
    @Moo if they are so sleazy that they are handing out work to applicants to get it done for free, I doubt they are going to pay attention to the license. I'd go with showing it to them, and they get the code after the first paycheck
    – DaveG
    Commented Jul 30, 2019 at 14:44

We can't really tell you what to do, but since you completed the task, it seems you don't have much to lose by handing it over. You say that you lose 20 hours of your time (which are already lost) for nothing, but that's not really true, since you learned something from the exercise.

It's not unusual for companies to give tests or small projects as a way of verifying candidates. Only you can judge whether the recruiter seems legit. How do you know the recruiter is tricking you?

Even if you get nothing from it, consider it a lesson learned, and use it to help you judge recruiters in the future.

Regarding the actual use/ownership of the code, I wouldn't worry about it. Significant contribution toward a valuable product would require much, much more than 20 hours.

  • 1
    +1 for "lesson learned". Assuming the recruiter is as shady as he appears (rather than just incompetent), that's the best takeaway for the OP.
    – Lilienthal
    Commented Oct 27, 2015 at 12:21
  • I don't think the company will use the code, they are just being very disrespectful of OP's time. In fact the recruiter may just be trying to keep OP busy until the recruiter has a role available. I am happy to spend 1 hour alone on a tech test. Otherwise I think it is respectful (and better for the company) if I sit side by side with their programmer. Are they happy to pay for their programmer to sit beside me for 20 hours while I do this task - great we both have skin in the game.
    – teambob
    Commented Oct 29, 2015 at 3:46


  1. You have done the work so either way it does not cost you to give it over as no renumeration was talked about
  2. 20hrs of work is not really going to be of any further use for you
  3. If they use this work for a product can you afford the lawyers and how do you prove it?

So I would just give the work to them. Might end up with a dream job. Otherwise you have lost an extra ten mins for writing an email


I doubt they are going to have a fake "test" task just to get free work. It was probably something they are working on because those are the exact skills they want to test.

Can you obfuscate the .exe and not send them the source? If you obfuscate the .exe they cannot (easily) use the code - it would a fake "test" that they need to reverse engineer. It would be more cost effective for even a unethical company to just pay for actual code.

If you are going to treat them like they are out to get work for free you are not likely to get the job. Either they are really trying to get work for free and there is no job or there is a job and they don't like being treated like crooks.

  • Come on down vote what is the problem?
    – paparazzo
    Commented Oct 26, 2015 at 19:47
  • 7
    I didn't downvote you, but this does happen, and my alarm bells are ringing for this case in particular because 20 hours is way too much to spend on an interview task. Commented Oct 26, 2015 at 22:13
  • @jpatokal Why does this answer in particular make you ears ring? Did I say it does not happen - no I did not. Other answers also suggest it is not likely fake. I address how to combat fake (obfuscate) and acknowledged that fake is a possibility. As for 20 hours that is 20 hours that has also been spent.
    – paparazzo
    Commented Oct 27, 2015 at 19:21
  • I did downvote. This is not an answer. It's just a comment filled with conjecture and opinion. Commented Oct 27, 2015 at 19:27
  • @JoelEtherton How is send an obfuscated .exe not an answer? It is not much different than the accepted answer of a remote meeting. They don't get source code (free work). For that matter you can modify the code to give a wrong answer so it is not usable but still demonstrates your ability.
    – paparazzo
    Commented Oct 27, 2015 at 19:37

Test tasks that take a couple hours are not uncommon in my experience (US, high-tech). I've seen some that are a little longer, but a test that takes more than about 8 hours to complete is unusual. They might be using the process to get "free work", but remember that it's not really free for them either -- if they don't hire you then you won't be maintaining it, documenting it, extending it, etc.

I'm assuming from some of the discussion here that this is a "digital" task of some sort (code, design, graphics, etc). If you are reluctant to just give it to them, you can publish it yourself, with a license you specify, and give them a link to a github repository or similar. In most countries of the world you'll retain the copyright regardless. Meanwhile, they can look, download, try out, but -- assuming you license it for non-commercial use only -- not productize it.

Some answers have suggested that you instead offer a demo and discussion, but that might not fit into their hiring process. At my company, for example, a developer reviews the test answers before we decide whether to proceed with a phone screen; if somebody says "I've done it and would like to meet to demonstrate it" we're probably going to say no. From the hiring company's point of view, you aren't doing what you agreed to. This is not a way in which you want to stand out from the pack.

  • If they don't hire you (or even if they hire you), you're the copyright holder, and they have no right to use it.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Jul 31, 2019 at 0:22

There are companies that do this kind of thing in order to get free work. I would consider anyone doing this an absolute lowlife. There may be companies who are so thoughtless that they think it's Ok is if you waste 20 working hours just to get an interview. If they are that thoughtless, I wouldn't consider them for imployment.

If a decent company thinks about employing you and really thinks that they need a 20 hour programming task to be sure to get the right employee, they will offer you payment for your work. Like a 2 1/2 day trial.

Obviously you have the copyright on your work. So either you get an interview, where you bring your laptop with your work, and no copies ever change hands. If they ask you to hand over your work, you ask for a signed letter where they acknowledge that it is your copyrighted work, and that any use beyond evaluating the code would be without your permission and copyright infringement.

  • 7
    It's also possible that this is about an hour of work for someone with the right skills so they didn't think it was a big deal. Commented Oct 26, 2015 at 21:12

It is extremely unusual for a recruiter to do this sort of thing. Usually the recruiter will ask you to take tests at one of those testing web sites and each test will last no more than hour. So it is very unlikely that recruiter is being honest with you. It really depends on how desperate you are to work for that company. If you are very desperate and you are willing to face the possibility of being taken advantage by that company then send the recruiter the work you did.

But you have to ask yourself if you really want to work for a company that employs this kind of a recruiter. If this is how they treat their prospective employees how do they treat those that they employ?

If you are not desperate then it is better to tell the recruiter that you have done the work as you found it interesting but this recruiting method is very unusual and that you would prefer a more accepted method like taking tests at a testing web site and do not send them the work you did.

  • Take-home coding exercises do exist, I've administered one myself on the hiring side at a previous company and we got a much better signal from it than any test website could possibly provide. However, candidates had to pass an initial screen first, and we specifically instructed them to spend no more than (IIRC) 4 hours on it. Commented Oct 27, 2015 at 4:30

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