Never ask job candidates to do unpaid assignments as part of your hiring process

Written by Vu Le

Over the past several years, I’ve noticed a marked increase in organizations listing the salary range (or just salary number) on their job postings. There are a few who still don’t, but since job postings are usually public, they often get swift feedback. There have also been more laws passed to ensure transparency and to stop the gross and unethical practice of basing candidates’ salary offer on their salary history. Overall, we’re doing much better on this front and should celebrate! Soy vanilla ice cream topped with Luxardo cherries and truffle salt for everyone! (You may have a different way to celebrate).

Now we must turn our attention to a horrible, no-good, very bad hiring practice that many of us, even the ones who disclose salary on job postings, are still perpetuating: Asking job candidates to do unpaid work as part of the hiring process. I’ve mentioned it briefly earlier—it’s the first item on this list of “Crappy hiring practices that need to die, and some awesome ones we need to adopt”—but it’s gotten so bad that it needs to be called out on its own. Here are some ways it manifests:

  • Requiring job candidates to create a fundraising, evaluation, or communications plan specifically tailored to your organization.
  • Making candidates write you a sample end-of-year appeal letter based on your org’s mission
  • Having candidates analyze your organization’s current website and provide suggestions for improvement.
  • Demanding candidates create and deliver a presentation about how they would approach some topic relevant to the job.
  • Requiring candidates to write and then act out a pitch to a potential major donor
  • Asking candidates to create a detailed work plan for how they would do their job if they were hired.
  • Having candidates to show up and “volunteer” at your program to see how they do.

There are tons more examples. My friend and colleague Irene Nexica, an equity-minded recruiting and hiring expert, wrote “I received an assignment as the second round for something that they described would take 3 to 4 hours (already too much to ask), and actually took me more like 16. The assignment was basically designing the first 30 days of the job for this new role.” (Irene was also forced to endure SIX rounds of interviews, proving that this organization is completely incompetent and no one should ever work there).

The practice of asking candidates for unpaid labor is awful and anyone who does it needs to stop immediately. Here are several reasons why it’s bad:  

It is inequitable. Many of these assignments take hours of researching, planning, thinking, drafting, reviewing, etc. You’re asking job candidates to spend time that they may not have, when they could be doing other things that would actually earn them money. This is not just annoying, it’s also inequitable when you consider that many job candidates aren’t currently employed, and many are people of color, disabled people, women, older adults, neurodivergent, etc. Every unpaid hour you require job candidates to engage in special assignments as part of your hiring process is another hour of your organization furthering inequity.

Read full article here.

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About the author

Vu Le

Vu Le (“voo lay”) is a writer, speaker, vegan, Pisces, and the former Executive Director of RVC, a nonprofit in Seattle that promotes social justice by developing leaders of color, strengthening organizations led by communities of color, and fostering collaboration between diverse communities.

Vu’s passion to make the world better, combined with a low score on the Law School Admission Test, drove him into the field of nonprofit work, where he learned that we should take the work seriously, but not ourselves. There’s tons of humor in the nonprofit world, and someone needs to document it. He is going to do that, with the hope that one day, a TV producer will see how cool and interesting our field is and make a show about nonprofit work, featuring attractive actors attending strategic planning meetings and filing 990 tax forms.

Known for his no-BS approach, irreverent sense of humor, and love of unicorns, Vu has been featured in dozens, if not hundreds, of his own blog posts at NonprofitAF.com.