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  • Joanne Rencher

Candidate Labor is Not Free

Some years ago, I had my feelers out in the market and went through an interview process with a well-respected organization.

The search process appeared to be robust. I received a favorable response to my candidacy via email. And, that's where the neon-flashing red flags started to go up...a few of which I explained away.

What was most notable was their request of me to provide a hiring exercise.

On its face, this request is totally reasonable. I've made it countless times on the other side of the hiring table. These are valuable assessment tools in determining a candidate's ability to operate in the actual role. It moves interview discussions beyond the theoretical to the practical. The fact is that some people interview poorly and turn out to be rockstars. Others interview like rockstars and turn out to be more like the opening acts. We need objective assessment tools.

However, my own experience in that search years ago was fraught with problems. In effect, this organization was simply looking for free intellectual property. Here are the key takeaways from that wacky episode (one person's disappointment is always another's learning manual!)

Communicate early and well

Hiring exercises provide assessments on one's fit for the role and the culture. The request made of me was an exhaustive hours-long project requiring extensive research and an in-depth presentation. I received this request via another email. I'd not yet interviewed with anyone. I pushed back, professionally. Their response was to schedule me for an "interview" with the HR leader. There's a reason that I placed interview in quotes. That "interview" conversation could only be described as '8 different ways to humor someone without sounding like it.'

Takeaway: Participate in a hiring exercise only after you've had the opportunity to assess the role with a functioning human being who represents the organization well. Once you do, be sure to discuss the amount of time required to complete it. If it appears too onerous, you can negotiate for a modified product and/or provide samples from your work portfolio which you can walk through during the interview.

Intellectual Property Burglary

Truly reputable organizations will let you know what the exercise will be used for, by whom and whether it will be memorialized. In my case, these "leaders" (see what I did there?) were opaque and slippery about the use of my intellectual property (IP). The most candor they exhibited about the interview process was getting me to submit the work product.

Takeaway: Protect your IP by submitting your work in PDF format, and place your name on every page. This is not foolproof, but it certainly helps. Another way to protect your IP, is to skimp on your submission. In other words, don't give away the entire barn. Provide written information at more of a 30,000 ft. level, then use your notes to 'wow' them during the actual presentation/interview. Think, movie trailer v. entire onscreen performance.

Walk Away

I could kick myself for remaining too long in what was clearly a flawed process. Once I submitted the product, too much time elapsed before I heard about the next steps. When I followed up, I received a hollow-sounding note, followed by a longer letter from the HR leader two days later. This leader had the temerity to tell me that the position had been filled, thanked me for my time and suggested that I apply for another role!

Takeaway: Don't quiet that booming voice that says....walk away! I sometimes take my need for follow-through to the extreme. This was one case when following-through was folly. The signs were there from the beginning and I should have heeded them. (I sent the HR leader a snarky note afterwards to make myself feel better.)

Again, hiring exercises are important tools in the process. They benefit both employer and prospective employee. That said, they should be used judiciously, efficiently and respectfully by employers seeking talent - particularly in a heavily disrupted marketplace due to the COVID-19 crisis.

On 5/27-29, 1 hour a day, 3 sessions an hour - TedTalk style - we're offering a complimentary virtual conference on The Radical Transformation of HR necessary post COVID-19. Sign up here.

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