Will Work For – Nothing
By Paul Alagna
Boy, I sure hope this outrages you as much as it does me! There are some companies out there, who shall remain nameless, that are using the interview process to try to get you to do some real work – for free!
Here’s how it works: they test an applicant’s knowledge by giving her some typical work example then ask her a question, such as: “How would you solve this problem?” It really makes you wonder what companies are going to come up with next.
Look, all our lives, at one point or another, we have become accustomed to being tested. We’ve had to take tests in high school and college. We’ve had to pass tests to become certified in our respective fields. And, if you’re old enough to remember – and you know who you are – you may recall that companies used to give job candidates pre-employment tests. Back then, they were an integral part of the interview process.
But, pre-employment tests quickly went out of favor in this country. The reason: the federal Department of Labor (DOL) asked themselves one question: “How valid are these tests?” At that point, it was put up or shut up time for the companies that were actually doing the testing.
Naturally, these companies, in turn, pushed this question down to the testing companies they hired. When the testing companies could not ensure, to the DOL’s satisfaction, that the traits being tested could be accurately measured, and, when each industry could not agree on how to grade all the different tests that were out there, the philosophy and the method simply died off.
When it comes to this kind of chicanery, one of my grandfather’s favorite adages was “this is America – there must be a law.”
In this case, there is no actual law, but, there are guidelines for companies to follow, but, they are only guidelines. Visit http://www.onetcenter.org/dl_files/empTestAsse.pdf to see what I am talking about, here. Not a whole lot is said about internally created tests, except to say that, for companies with over 100 employees, there should be a signed record of the actual test given to each job applicant.
So, when it comes to this kind of testing, your mantra has to be this: if it feels like real work, it probably is. But, how should you proceed when an Interviewer ask you to take one of these tests? What are your options?
First, know that the test should be formalized with a header for your name and a footer for the Appraiser’s score. If either is missing, it’s a strong clue that it’s not a real test. Second, the company should allow you to sign something that says you are agreeing to take this test.
For me, the strongest clue that it isn’t a real test is if it isn’t administered by the Human Resources (HR) department. (Name any department in a company that knows more about laws concerning employees!)
So, if you are presented with one of these tests during an interview, examine it closely and answer the questions below before you take it.
- Is the test copyrighted from a bona fide testing service?
- Did you sign a test agreement?
- Assure for yourself that the company is treating this examination like a real test.
- Will the company give you a written copy of the test once you complete it?
- Will the company give you a written evaluation of your score?
- Will they return all original work?
If you are satisfied that you answered all the questions (above) sufficiently, then, by all means, take the test and good luck to you. If not, then be prepared to push back.
I know, I know, you have high hopes of working again, perhaps even higher hopes of working for the company that is asking you to take the test. Plus, everybody is always telling you to be polite and respectful during an interview. So, be polite and be respectful, but, be firm and fair to yourself, too.
Essentially, the question before you is this: “Are you willing to work here for nothing? That is, can this company call you in to take yet another “test”? How you answer this question for yourself determines not whether you’ll work for this company, but, whether you will receive a paycheck for working there.
Do you have to put up with these shenanigans? No, you can always ask the company if they would be willing to contract you for this work. A 1099 form is easy enough to fill out and doesn’t obligate them, or you, in terms of future employment.
Finally, be prepared to leave the interview, if necessary. And, if you decide to take the test after all, and feel as though you have performed unpaid labor, send a copy of the test to the appropriate industry association and immediately file a complaint with the federal labor department.