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I'm a young software developer, with two years working experience and seeking (without urge) for a new job.

I applied for a job to a company in my area. I was contacted after few hours by a recruiter, asking me to complete a code assignment. The assignment is not completely clear in its description, so it could be a 5-minutes task or a more involved little project in case they want a GUI to be developed, but this is just to give some more context, not my real question.

My question is: Is it common for an applicant to have to solve assignments (thus devoting his time for this task) before having the opportunity to meet in person or just over phone with a member of the company?

It looks to me like a way to apply a first filter on the applicants without taking company time to do a meeting. Of course I'm willing to spend my time to go through the recruitment process, but I would like to get to know the company more than what I can do through its web page, before.

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    It is quite normal to get a test assignment. Just so they can have some basic insight in your problem solving skills and choices in structure. You should go all overboard on it though. – Totumus Maximus May 18 '17 at 15:11
  • It's possible they are used to people who are actively looking for a job with urgency and don't consider the "get to know the company" part until later. It's hard to say, but nice that you were contacted so fast. – curt1893 May 18 '17 at 15:21
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    I obviously meant should NOT go overboard on the assignment. My bad.. – Totumus Maximus May 18 '17 at 15:26
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    @Totumus Maximus may be delete and recreate your comment? :) – Sebastien DErrico May 18 '17 at 18:31
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Yes, it's very normal. In Canada, anyway, and I would assume in the US as well.

In my personal experience, I've usually received a "phone interview" where someone calls and asks me a series of questions about the technology they use, prior to being invited for a proper interview. I have on occasion received an email with a little test assignment, instead.

This sort of "pre-screening" is intended for exactly the purpose you surmise - to save the time of the interviewers by filtering out people who clearly don't know what they're doing. Don't forget, the people who conduct the interviews (usually) have their own jobs to do as well, and interviewing is just another thing on their plate.

Complete the assignment. Be as thorough and professional as you can be. Even if you have to spend an hour on it, that's nothing compared to the amount of time you're already spending in general on the job hunt, right?

Don't be shy about using the internet to find answers to stuff if you're not clear, but also don't blatantly copy code from online sources. The interviewers have access to Google, too, and if they can see that your entire answer was just cut + paste from a question on Stack Exchange, they might not look so well on it.

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    Good point on the "don't blatantly copy code" - A candidate once replied back to my technical quiz with answers so blatantly copied and pasted he'd left the formatting from the original web page in. Needless to say he did not get called in for an interview! – motosubatsu May 18 '17 at 15:35
  • I am also from Canada, multiple companies are sending assignment. It usually take an hour to complete. It is to filter out people that do not know how to make a for-loop. Somehow, there is a lot of people filter out by this process!! During the interview, we ask question about why you have done like this and not like that. There is no good answer if the candidate can defend his position. – Sebastien DErrico May 18 '17 at 18:35
  • Thanks for the answer. I would never copy/paste somebody else's code, not without having understood it completely to such a point that I could implement the same solution with my own programming style. A subsequent question: Do you think it gives a bad impression if I leave several days (say three days) pass between the assignment and handing in the solution? I would assume everybody could understand that I could be busy with my current job, but it could also sound suspicious for a programmer to take several days to accomplish a task which requires just one hour of work. – Spiros May 18 '17 at 20:45
  • @Spiros I don't think a delay of a few days will make you look bad, no. However, a different candidate who submits the answer faster would of course look better, in comparison. I personally wouldn't delay the completion of the assignment any longer than absolutely necessary, but you need to weigh it against the other priorities in your life, of course. If the delay makes you feel uncomfortable, you could contact the recruiter to ask if it's acceptable to delay for X days - however - if you decide to do that, make good and sure you get it done within the time you ask for. – Steve-O May 18 '17 at 20:57
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Is it common for an applicant to have to solve assignments (thus devoting his time for this task) before having the opportunity to meet in person or just over phone with a member of the company?

In my experience, it would be unusual to be asked to solve an assignment without first having any knowledge of the company at all.

Of course I'm willing to spend my time to go through the recruitment process, but I would like to get to know the company more than what I can do through its web page, before.

If you think the recruiter's requirements are excessive, just say "No".

Tell the recruiter you would like to get to know more about the company before you commit your time on this assignment.

The recruiter may then give you the information you need, or may just move on to a different candidate. Either way, your time won't have been wasted.

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Assuming the task doesn't cross the line into "free work" territory then this sounds pretty normal to me - I've experienced this frequently when I've been the candidate and I've applied the same strategy on several occasions when I've been the one recruiting.

By establishing a candidate's technical bonafides (even in a cursory) before you get them in for an interview helps avoid the annoying situation where only discover at interview that they are far below the standard/skillset you require which wastes not only the interviewer's time but yours as well. It also gives you an early indicator of how serious the candidate is about coming to work for the organisation, if they won't spend an hour or so doing a technical exercise then they probably aren't that motivated and assuming they aren't badly written the job description/advert and the company's website should be enough to motivate the candidate to do a short exercise, otherwise I'd potentially question whether their motivations for applying weren't rooted in them wanting the job (e.g. interview practice, avoiding unemployment benefit sanctions etc).

FWIW I fully understand that these sorts of practices happen, and generally for good reasons but (and I can only speak for myself here) if a candidate is applying to me for a job I'd expect them to at least act as if they want the job!

  • How do you get enthousiastic and motivated about a company you don't even know though ;) – Totumus Maximus May 18 '17 at 15:39
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    @TotumusMaximus Assuming both aren't badly written the combination of the company's website, the job description/advert, a bit of google research on the company and hopefully a hunger for a new opportunity should be enough to at least motivate the candidate to do a short technical test. Reading my answer back I don't think I expressed that very well so I'll have a go at editing. – motosubatsu May 18 '17 at 15:47

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