When they steal your ideas ... but don't hire you

The Wall Street Journal's Joann Lublin tackled another slight often aimed at prospective job seekers: the would-be employer who asks for sometimes extensive "homework assignments" and then either never acknowledges the job seeker's time and effort, or worse, steals his or her ideas without acknowledgement or compensation.

Click here to read Lublin's column. FYI, I'm the "Chicago PR woman" quoted in the article and the healthcare concern is the Chicago-headquartered Alzheimer's Association. There's been significant change in the association's ranks since my bad experience with them (both the HR manager mentioned in Lublin's article and the hiring manager, who was then VP of Communications, have moved on), so let's hope this kind of thing isn't continuing to happen to the organization's job candidates.

After this experience with the Alzheimer's Association and one that wasn't quite as insulting last year with Google.com (which requires at least some of its non-technical job candidates to complete extensive writing exercises), I recently withdrew from a job search that was also requiring candidates to complete an extensive original communications campaign before being interviewed. After submitting that campaign and undergoing several interviews, I would then have been expected to complete another written exercise related to the campaign, and then would have been queried by a panel about my campaign and follow-up exercise.

I sat down the Saturday morning before my Tuesday interview to complete the voluminous exercise, and I just didn't have the stomach or heart to spend my entire weekend working on such an assignment, knowing it was entirely possible there would be little or no constructive feedback about my work. And, I has some other work to do for which I was actually being paid.

Do I think employers have the right to thoroughly assess a candidates' skills? Definitely. Do I think they have a right to ask for original work? Balance is the key there. When I evaluate candidates for open positions I'm seeking to fill, I've drawn the line at expecting the following:
  • That they do some research on the company and have some educated opinions about the communications challenges facing it.
  • That they review the job description and give some thought to past problems they've faced and solutions they've implemented that have relevance or applicability to my position.
  • For certain lower-level jobs, that the candidate would agree to complete a basic writing/editing test (during the interview) that would give me insight into their baseline skills.
So, to ask the question again: should prospective employers ask job candidates to complete extensive and original materials as part of their interview process? They can - and will - ask anything they want. HOWEVER, in determining whether they should fulfill such a request, job seekers should assess how much they want the job and how much they trust the prospective employer.

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