I was discussing with a friend the research that most hiring managers are particularly bad at evaluating an applicant. They are swayed by irrelevant factors like "do I like this person? Are they like me?", etc.)

I've only hired contractors so it's always easy to just give them a small 1-3 hour (paid) task.

My friend pointed out that this is hard for corporations to do. I suspect he's right and that's the motivation for paid Internships (which, ironically, is a much more expensive option). I can see that maybe hiring is handled by HR, but I'm wondering what other obstacles there are.

  • 2
    This is why we have probationary periods
    – HorusKol
    Commented Aug 14, 2016 at 0:24
  • With a contractor, that person can subcontract the work. To you, that's not a problem as long as the task gets done. But if you want to hire that person full time, you have no idea if they did the work themselves, and so you'll probably want that person to come on-site to do the work, and so be prepared to pay a premium for them to do so. Also, there could be issues related to EEOC, or affirmative action, that HR deals with, but that you're not aware of. And last but not least, 3 hours is not a lot of time. So you may be forced to over-simplify the problem or make the problem more contrived. Commented Aug 14, 2016 at 0:38

3 Answers 3


The question is not is the 1-3 trial task an appropriate way to find a new employee. The question is what barriers are there to most corporations doing this via paying for a 1-3 hour task.

The first is money. The company knows it costs money to find new employees. They know that they have to pay the HR person, they have to pay the hiring manager, and everybody involved with he interviews. Now you are asking for the ability to cut checks for $X to Y people to determine who should get the job. You will have to decide is this done to take everybody who passed the interview, or is it used to determine who will get an interview.

You will have to also spend time designing the task, and evaluating the task results. Which has to be paid for.

You will need to address internal applicants. If all finalist are being evaluated via the paid task, you will have to pay current employees also. Or only do this for positions not open to current employees. Which brings up other EEO issues.

You have to address how the pay will be processed. The applicants are now contractors. You will need social security numbers for everybody who gets paid. There will be tax issues - for both the company and the applicants.

Are you going to pay everybody. If I was unemployed and I could find enough people to pay me 3 hours to write a hello world program I might survive. Which brings us to unemployment benefits. To keep them I have to apply, but will the payment end the benefits because now I have worked for money.

Many of these are US centric issues, but similar issues might apply to other countries.


Corporations need to factor in much more than technical aptitude. They need people who fit into a company in terms of their group in many other ways both in terms of social and professional skills. You can't tell that from a short 1-3 hour task.

The most irascible, dysfunctional psycho can be on his/her best behaviour for a few minutes at start and end of a task. But not so easily for months 8 hours a day.

  • Isn't that a reason to do longer testing than just a 1 hour interview? I.e., you could hire the person for a full day and give them a well crafted assignment that is stressful, or provides an opportunity for the applicant to lie/cheat (in a way that can be deteced)? Commented Aug 15, 2016 at 6:31

I'm not convinced a 1-3 hour paid assignment is really going to be of much more value than the same amount of time in a conventionalish coding interview.

Meanwhile the bureaucratic logistics of paying someone as a contractor for a few hours in a larger company are probably fairly substantial on the interviewers end.

On the interviewee's end the biggest concern is probably that anything out of the ordinary is a red flag; and for people looking for a salaried job this is unusual enough to qualify.

For some people policies at their current employer could be an issue as well. I'm required to report any other paid work I do to the ethics office to make sure it's not a conflict of interest problem for the company. As a one off I couldn't credibly claim I was doing occasional small projects in the evenings/weekends for beer money; and if they asked for details about it it might become obvious it was a disguised interview question.

Another headache for the interviewee is that being self employed may significantly complicate taxes. For a short assignment like this as someones only self employment income: In the US the additional cost of either more expensive tax prep software or additional time cost from doing taxes by hand is likely to absorb most of the notional benefit.

A 1 or 2 week trial period would be long enough to gather a lot more useful information about a potential employee; and be a long enough period to minimize the incidental costs to the interviewee. The flip side is that it's too long to be practical for someone who's currently employed.

Presenting it in the way you suggest would still have the looks weird problem, but I suspect similar goals are behind employers who use contract to hire with new candidates. You'll still have issues with a smaller pool of potential applicants going this way because a significant fraction won't want to go without benefits (particularly healthcare in the US) for an extended period of time.

  • Don't you mean "the flip side is that it's too long to be practical for someone who's currently employed" not unemployed?
    – emory
    Commented Aug 14, 2016 at 11:02
  • @emory oops yeah. Commented Aug 14, 2016 at 14:51
  • I actually did do the two week "test". (Both my future employer and I both wanted it that way). I just took 2 weeks vacation. Commented Aug 15, 2016 at 6:34

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