"Test" Projects during interview process - Opinion

Hello everyone. I am a recently unemployed Industrial Designer who has been working professionally for 4 years. I ws laid off a few months back because of “cost cuts” and the poor economy.

It has come to my attention that employers seeking designers seem to be making prospective candidates work on a “test” project before making any kind of commitment. I have come across this a couple times so far on my job hunt.

I find this new trend disturbingly unethical. For one, if someone is applying for a job, but currently holds a design job elsewhere, they could possibly be in legal trouble for breaking their contract with their current employer. It also bothers me to see the scope of some of these projects as well. It pretty much amounts to 20-40 unpaid hours of work and sometimes this is even before they ask you to come in for or are guaranteed an interview. I also do not think it is an accurate portrail of someone’s deisgn skills because you are not privy to proprietary information the employer giving you the assignment has (costs for materials, vendor relationships).

Am I just being old fashioned here or does this trend worry anybody else?

As a student, I’m not really yet out there “hunting”…But when I applied for a part-time position at a small local company (after looking at my portfolio) I was asked to do one of those “test” projects. Nothing too time consuming, a pile of sketches and maybe some small mock-ups …but what bothered me was the fact that they would get to keep all my work even if they decided not to hire me.

I can’t afford being picky, but that was just too shady for me and I chose not to do the “test” project…I knew that several people applied, and that only one of them would get the job, so probably the company ended up with a bunch of free concepts.

I realize that the work of a student doesn’t worth that much, but I bet they got a couple of pretty doable ideas from all of those “tests” that they got to keep. I find it very unethical and unfair, as I cannot find any examples of a similar practice in any other field of work.

If they want to give you a test contract that’s ok, but the free test projects are bogus. My friend found his ‘test’ product being developed, but this was after he got the “sorry we decided we’re not hiring anyone right now”.
He approched them with this and they pretty much said "these were logical design decisions it’s a co-incidence that we came up with the same solutions. :unamused:

keep copies and document your ‘test’ projects. If you are not paid for them, there’s no reason why they aren’t your designs.

If they want you to do a ‘test’ project that requires the amount of time you stated I would quote them your hourly rate.

I remember when I was in school a company had me (and one other guy) do a test project. They paid us both.

I am pretty sure that doing work for free is against the IDSA’s code of ethics. Doing work for free actually devalues what we do.

Along with 13 other applicants, I was given a “test” project by a company out in Santa Cruz. Won’t name them, but if you know anything about bikes, you’ll figure it out. Anyhow, they requested scale, foam models (they supplied the foam), but the project was a lot of work. I already had a full-time job, so fitting in an extra 4 hrs a day for 2 weeks was quite a stress. Created a nice presentation for the design, even modeled it up in the computer. I later found out that I was runner-up, but regardless, that didn’t get me what I wanted. All I have to show for it was a decent portfolio project…and this lousy T-shirt! Just joking. They didn’t even give me a T-shirt. In the very least, they could have sent me one of their products for free.
And another more recent project, I took a weekend to develop a product for another unnamed company. Looks good in the portfolio, but still failed to land me a job. I don’t think I suck, but then again, maybe I do…

The point I am trying to make is that you WILL NOT be able to ask for reimbursement for your time. Shoot, the job out in California still would have left me under the poverty line. It’s not like I was trying to be Donald Trump’s apprentice! Just a low-paying, stressful but kinda fun design job. Unfortunately, companies tend not to value designer’s time. I can’t imagine a auto engineer being asked to develop an instrument panel for a “test” project. It’s an obvious lack of respect, and I for one, will probably never do one again. Total waste of time and effort.

If you are applying for a position in an industry where you don’t have alot of experience, I think it makes sense for the prospective employer to test your design skills on their related products. Industrial design is such a diverse field, just because you have extensive knowledge in one area, lets say, toy design, does not mean you are ready to design medical equipment, sporting goods, cars, furniture, etc. Hiring recent grads is also a big risk for any employers since training them takes time and money.

Ultimately, designers should have enough sample works of related products in our portfolios so there won’t be any need to prove our skills after an interview. If the prospective employer still insists on a test project, you will probably have to do so on your own time (no-pay), but you can still protect your design.

Don’t design for free :slight_smile:

Thanks everyone for the insight! It is good to know I am not alone in thinking this trend stinks.

Even while I was still employed last summer, I was approached by a Dallas, TX based retailer who “Imports” products from around the world. I was asked to do a test project which took me the better part of a week to finish while I was up to my neck in work at my day job. They didn’t even bother contacting me in person to tell me they were not interested in bringing me in for an interview - instead they had the third party recruiter who I was working with contact me.

I do realize it is an employer’s market now, but I firmly believe what comes around goes around. You simply can’t treat college educated people this way.

“Test” project… totally unethical. Fook dat! Why bother? You can’t be so hungry that you’d geive away a week or more of your time.

Keep looking…

I had to do that for one company. They said if they like my designs they’d hire me. It was an upstart company that was getting into the business of WiFi but were trying to “raise capital” so they all of a sudden couldn’t go ahead with the project.

Agree ( as usual ) with Lauren on this one. Tests are ok, just make sure you get paid. Otherwise they suck. Can’t they just look at your book and decide if you can do the job or not?

“Only monkeys work for peanuts”.

This is what happens when there’s an oversupply of hungry designers on the market, it sure as hell doesn’t increase the perceived value of a profession already suffering from an image problem.

The practice has been around for many more years than you think and, yes, it’s really about getting a few free concepts and work on relatively minor projects usually, and is most frequently practiced by smaller firms you probably wouldn’t want to work for anyway.

At the very least turn their “test” into a paying contract for you and demand at least 1/3 upfront. If they object remind them you don’t just “test” merchandise from a retail outlet taking it home for free.

Or be a sucker and build a portfolio this way.

“Only monkeys work for peanuts”.

What about elephants?..

i’ve had tests like that, but i was only given 15 minutes to sketch out some designs from the design brief.

i found out later they were checking to make sure i could sketch and follow directions.

made sense to me, but i was surprised be it.

20-40 hours is BS.

There are only a few ways that ‘testing’ should be done- the first way is actually the only way it should be done; freelance work paid on an hourly or set fee basis and this should be under the mutual understanding that if things work out you will be hired full time.

The only other way testing can/should be done is through and internship, which is actually not that different in the end, just a position of lower experience. No company should make its decision by having a handful of applicants work to prove themselves- thats what a portfolio is for. They need to decide on one person, work with them, and if it doesn’t work out, get in touch with another applicant. A good employer understands that a job is a commitment for both parties, and should respect the applicant as well.

If you are really hungry and are confronted with this scenario, voice your concerns, tell them why this is wrong, and see if they are willing to negotiate or compromise. If anything this should help as it will show a level of professionalism and communication if you handle it correctly. If they aren’t willing to listen, then there’s a good chance you don’t want them as your boss/co-worker.

I’ve interviewed before and had to do some on the fly sketches and actual written tests just to make sure that i knew what I was doing- this didn’t bother me, though I think employers should give notice in advance before interviews.

The only reason work-for-free ‘test’ projects exist is because there are people out there willing to do them. Giving away your work for free is basically the same thing as saying your time/services/skills/talent/experience are worth nothing. And how does the company look when they engage in such unethical practices?

You guys are misinformed: Most of the tests that the poster is referring to are not usable projects–they are exercises used to level the playing field for the applicants. Design is a tough profession to hire for, I’ve personally been burned by hiring someone based on their portfolio, only to learn that they took liberties (and implied credit) for work that they were only a small part of.

At Motorola we have recently been administering short in-office tests to our Interaction Designer applicants. Likewise Cooper Interaction is famous for their 2-part test (which hundereds of designers have taken off their website.)

A BFA or BA today is just not enough credibility for many of today’s design groups. I would argue that as Design gains legitimacy, accreditation/licensing becomes more likely… We’re probably experiencing the beginnings of that.