Spec Work BEFORE An Interview

This is a first for me…applied for an advertised position and received a response asking if I would be open to completing a task BEFORE I’ve been interviewed.

Has this happened to anyone else?

I’ve done spec work in the past AFTER an interview, even if it’s just over the phone. Even been stung by it when it transpired the company was using the spec project as free concept work and the designer they hired some years down the line using the layout and custom illustrations from my presentation in his own online portfolio.

Am I being difficult by not wanting to do this task before having the opportunity to see if my future plans for growth are in line with what their plans for the business is, if they can pay me what I expect to be paid or we’re both a good fit personality-wise?

Move along. You don’t want to work there.


yikes, yah, red flag for sure. When I was at Nike back in the early 2000’s they wold ask some applicants to do a test project, and I remember legal put a stop to it because of the potential liability.

Is this a dream job type situation?

Curious what was the specific brief you were asked to complete?

I only ask because having gone into UX, design exercises are more and more common. But the question of the level of complexity they expect you to see, or the nature of the work they are asking for can vary wildly. Some are clearly just to see the thought process, while some are obviously tied to the specific product. I had to do one for my last job, and then wound up working on that exact same project after I got the job.

If it’s clearly actual spec work - meaning something they are going to use commercially without paying you, by all means walk away. But if it falls into more of the “design exercise” camp, then you have to evaluate what it is and how much time they expect you to sink.

It hasn’t gotten to the point of them briefing me on the project yet as I’ve pushed back and requested an interview/chat before taking next steps.

I’m expecting (and hoping) it falls under design exercise, as you say, to asses thought process and how I’d respond to the brief.

I guess it’s just the first time it’s been requested when the only communication is a few lines of email sent from someone in HR. I just don’t want to commit time to do work before having some form of human interaction and making sure we’re happy there’s a good fit on both sides.

To answer Michaels question, it’s not a dream job but would find it interesting which is why I applied. Even for a dream job, starting the process this way would raise an eyebrow but I’d probably be more inclined to just get on with it.

Can appreciate spec/test projects for grads/junior levels but I’ve got a good chunk of experience with products in production so if they’re unsure of my capabilities, at least be open and say it!

If you do it I would be clear that you will own the rights to any IP you produce unless hired.

If you haven’t talked to anyone then I would say tell them you would consider it only after seeing a brief AND getting a full list of steps in the hiring process.

If they have a fixed number of steps and this is step 3 or 4, then that’s an OK sign. If this is step 1 and you can’t talk to a hiring manager at a minimum before hand that’s a bad sign.

I dealt with this problem heavily in my last job where the company culture required all employees do an exercise, so I would always ask this of candidates during a hiring manager screen. 95% said yes but only about 20% would complete it, so later on the recruiters began asking right up front and it would only be a last step (after the onsite).

I actually had to do a little work prior to getting a job once, but they treated it as freelance and actually paid me hourly for the work, so it didn’t feel as shady. I signed an NDA ahead of time too, so it was basically like being an employee on trial run (and I did end up working there ultimately). Any significant amount of unpaid hours seems like a real deal killer though and I feel like you should be able to express your concerns to whoever is doing the “hiring.” If they got annoyed at your being concerned about it, that’s a huge red flag…

A paid trial project is totally respectable… sometimes called a “bake off”

Surprisingly when I explained this concept to my previous boss his response was basically “tough, if candidates aren’t willing to put in the effort of work to show they want this job badly enough we aren’t going to consider them”. Then I got fired when filling the positions took too long. :man_shrugging:t2:

Again this was not for an ID position but I’m curious how pervasive this tech culture mindset is pervasive. In software you almost had to use a code exercise to try to prove people were presenting original work.

I think it’s one of those things where it basically devalues the industry. We all know the steep curve for gaining employment, getting people to respect design to pay what it’s worth etc. Disheartening to think another designer who has been through all of this would think it’s ok unless it was the idea of another department.

Also arrogant of the company to think they’re so hot that people need to really jump through hoops to be there rather than the employee being an asset.

If you want to do this type of thing, I think for me the process should be: 1) email from HR arranging a phone interview 2) phone interview with hiring manager 3) if there is a test project then this is to be done as prep for the on-site interview.

I’ve seen other examples of this on the boards where someone was given a test, like are you as good at CAD as you say you are…here are 20 minutes to make XYZ in Solidworks scenario.

Or in terms of fee for spec work someone once said “I’ll charge X for this work and if I’m hired you take it off my first month’s paycheck, if not I keep it”

Oh also, I didn’t hear anything from them today. Last email was later afternoon on Friday.

The “I’ll charge x and if you hire me you can take it off my first paycheck” is a pretty baller move. Hadn’t heard of that before. Likely that would come out of HR’s recruitment budget which is also kind of genius.

I’m almost certain I saw this on a thread here over the years and also thought it was you that wrote it haha! I may do some digging.

If I wrote that then I was only fantasizing, but it makes sense.

It’s very common here in India but it’s only a kind of short task that you’re given. I’m not sure what employers are looking for when they do this, I’d assume it’s just to confirm that your skills match those displayed in your portfolio. I had given such a test for one firm in particular and it did feel like they were fishing for free ideation, I guess it’s circumstantial. But I almost always expect a task when applying for an industrial design job here, maybe that will stop after you’ve landed your first job.

Interesting to hear how it is in different cultures, so was this task done ahead of your interview?

That’s what my main rub here is. I’m not shocked to be asked to do a task but what does shock me is to be asked to do one before speaking properly to someone at the company that wants to take the time to get to know me as a candidate.

It can’t be about time because a portfolio is a barrier to weed out those that aren’t a good fit. I can understand in other industries where all anyone comes with is a list of past experience on a sheet of paper but for us, we have that airtight document visually showing what we can do.

It’s about building a relationship, you don’t ask a potential partner to test their skills before you take the time to get to know them… Well, some people do I guess!

dude, that is wild… people.

I did have to do an onsite test once right out of school. I did an interview and they asked me to come back the next day to do a “test day” … a little shady maybe but I’m glad they did because if they offered me the job I would have taken it (having just graduated and needing a job of any kind!) but 3 hours into the test day I realized the place was terrible! The next day when they called me to tall me I didn’t get the job I was relieved.

That’s crazy, I also wish you had interviewed them as well!

I have wondered if there has ever been instances where someone has pulled work from someone else’s online source to pass as their own.

For recent work where it is very much a massive team effort, I have endeavoured to list the names of all those involved in the development because we all know it doesn’t go from the tip of our pens, to the factory and on to shelves without many different hands being involved.

A friend once told me she was interviewing someone and he was showing my sketches in the interview… not a good idea. I wish I could have been there when she told him we were friends.