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I used to firmly believe in coding challenges because I thought, if I demonstrate to them that I know how to do it, that speaks for itself that I am the correct candidate.

Unfortunately, I have begun seeing a pattern that I need to break. I have employers who give me a coding challenge and they just go away to never be heard from again OR they tell me I need to work on it ASAP OR after I complete it they say I passed, then still go with another candidate.

That was hours of unpaid time that I do not have to offer for free. For one thing, I do have a small part-time business that keeps me busy enough, but not enough to live off yet and that is why it is a part-time business.

I am conflicted as to whether I should state in my cover letter that I do not do unpaid coding challenges or not. I am looking for a senior developer to assist me with this answer when it comes to navigating such murky waters as dealing with employers of all kinds.

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    There are a lot of other elements that go into determining whether you are the right fit for a job. I tend to be outgoing and like to interact with my coworkers as much as possible, and that might make me a very poor fit for a company that is filled with lots of independent workers. I think it is important to keep in mind that all you can do is to present yourself in the best way possible, and understand that there will be situations where you just don't fit with that position for reasons you cannot control. – magerber Aug 26 '17 at 21:12
  • Some employers will skip the coding challenge if you provide them with some sample code, for example a link to your github profile, so if you're not already doing that I recommend it. – Mel Reams Aug 27 '17 at 0:15
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    @joestrazzere I thought he was trying to promote his book too. Only the post certainly makes me think he's not an authoritative source on his subject matter... – Paul Aug 27 '17 at 3:47
  • @Paul, what is my subject matter? I don't recall stating what it is in this post. – Daniel Aug 27 '17 at 4:07
  • @JoeStrazzere, I was not promoting my book. I reference my book often when talking about the world of work since I have written a couple of books on the topic. Looking forward to reading Paul say I am not an authority on my life experiences again since I have yet to speak on the subject matter specific to these books. I blame myself, I always get these weird responses from people when I mention I have written books. Like I am being pompous, not sure where that attitude comes from. I love to read and write as well as code, I mean how else does one learn? – Daniel Aug 27 '17 at 4:10
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Since you are looking for a senior developer, I feel qualified to try to help.

I suggest not to write this in your cover letter. A cover letter is meant to tell the employer how your previous work experiences and skills qualify you for the job. It is not the place to put in your interview expectations and other irrelevant information.

I understand that you are frustrated with the "unpaid coding challenges" from the past, but do not give up your professionalism just because someone else was unprofessional (or you perceive them as such).

Avoid projecting bad past experiences on to future actions. Your next job application is completely independent of all your previous ones. The people reading it do not know of your past experiences, and neither should they care. A line like this in the cover letter would make them wonder, "What does he mean by that? Is he implying that we put our interview candidates to work for free?" Even a company that does not have a coding challenge will not have a positive impression.

Coming to your actual goal of avoiding these unpaid coding challenges, you can back off from them professionally when you are presented with one. That way, you still leave the door open to companies that don't have coding challenges, as well to unpaid coding challenges that you might be willing to take. It is almost always a good idea to keep your cards close to your chest.

  • Masked Man, I decided to check your answer as the one because although Joe has a good answer as well, what struck me about yours is that you convey the idea of being positive and professional and not project past experiences onto the next experience. That is such an undervalued point. I just worry sometimes that I may be doing something that is creating a pattern for me that invites others to undervalue my time. – Daniel Aug 26 '17 at 18:44
  • I am glad I could be of help. Good luck for your job search. – Masked Man Aug 27 '17 at 1:14
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I am conflicted as to whether I should state in my cover letter that I do not do unpaid coding challenges

Don't be conflicted. This is easily solved.

Do not put such a statement in a cover letter. It won't come across well to many prospective employers, and may seem arrogant.

Instead, just decide on a case by case basis if you wish to accept an unpaid coding challenge or if you'd rather just drop out of the running at that point.

You may come across some attractive jobs where you would be willing to spend a few hours of your time coding. Or you may decide that the particular job isn't worth your time.

The key is to avoid announcing it to the world and turning potential employers off. Announce it to the hiring company only when the time is right.

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    I would also add to this - the option of contacting the employer to let them know that you have done many of these in the past, and offer to show one from a previous job application, or some other work sample in order to demonstrate whatever they might be looking for. – Ben Cottrell Aug 26 '17 at 17:02
  • @BenCottrell, the part I do not think I mentioned is that, in lieu of doing an unpaid coding challenge I have created over a dozen and counting YouTube videos where I demonstrate my skill and problem solving live bugs that were unexpected on video. I mean I am solving problems live on video, problems I did not expect to have. I thought that would seal the deal. – Daniel Aug 26 '17 at 18:41
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    @JoeStrazzere: I would assume that if I work on a coding challenge, that I am the sole copyright holder of that code. Unless I was paid for it. – gnasher729 Aug 26 '17 at 22:38
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You're obviously perfectly entitled to say "sorry, I won't do coding challenges", and if the "challenge" looked like it was doing a piece of production code that they'd actually then use, I'd agree 100%.

Equally, they're perfectly entitled to say "sorry but this is our hiring process and we won't hire people who don't complete it".

It's your choice based on how much you need that job vs. where you think their test falls on the scale of what you think is reasonable, but you will be losing some job offers if you're dogmatic about this.

To follow up Joe's answer, I do agree you shouldn't state this in your cover letter. It comes across as somewhat prima-donna.

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Saying this in your cover letter will put some companies off that never had any intention of setting you a coding challenge. So you will lose some job opportunities. Better to wait until they request you to do unpaid work, and then you can still say "no". And at that point you can make a better decision, based on how much you like the job opportunity, and how much work is involved.

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The problem with stating this on the cover letter is twofold:

  • "I won't do X" on the cover letter looks quite unprofessional. This is no different from stating "I won't wash dishes" on the cover letter. No matter if the company asks you to do this or not, it's extremely unusual to state the things you won't do on a cover letter.

  • Language is tricky, written language is trickier. "I won't do unpaid coding tests." probably means you've been burned before, but can be read as "Doing FizzBuzz is below me", or "I can't even do FizzBuzz, please don't test me".

The sentiment is ok. If they ask you to do a coding assignment that takes multiple hours, that is the time to say, in person "Due to some unfortunate past experiences which I would not like to discuss, I no longer do such large amounts of development work free of charge as part of an interview. I absolutely don't mind doing short tests no longer than X minutes, but for prolonged development work my hourly rate is Y." At that point you already had a chance o impress them, and more importantly it is an answer to a request rather than a preemptive refusal.

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