Should You Do a Free Work Sample “Test” in an Interview?


A recent LI post from a recruiter I follow (Lauren McDonald, to give due credit) said (in part), something that caught my attention. She wrote:

DO NOT GIVE OUT IDEAS FOR FREE DURING INTERVIEWS – answer the question but don’t feed them with ideas. It’s complete BS. If they want to pay you for freelance – then you give them your ideas. YOU DON’T DO “TAKE HOME TESTS” – what is this 9th Grade? If you’ve worked with me, or read my posts you know I’ve battled HR departments and hiring managers for oh 25+ years who had accomplished writers, marketers, content folks, and designers “request” ” a test” as a part of the interview response. My response was always a HELL TO THE NO they’re not doing that. WHY? bc they don’t hire you and they steal your work. Stop putting these job seekers through the paces!!! ….. if you want a freelancer call and find yourself one – DO NOT ASK PEOPLE TO WORK FOR FREE. You people who do this disgust me year after year after year. CUT THE NONSENSE. COME UP with your own ideas, hire a freelancer, or hire a consultant…..

IF you’re reading this and someone asks you to do a project – tell them to take their tap dance request elsewhere and CONTACT THEIR COMPETITORS.


If this has been you, sadly, you are not alone. 

The comments section was full of job seekers with these kinds of stories: 

One reply: “13 page business plan…Before that, it was an IQ test. The things we do to get a job these days.”
A comment to that reply: “Check them out in a year, and see how much of your biz plan they’ve implemented. You’ll be pissed off.

Another reply: “It sucks when you are out of work you don’t have any other options and you have time. I once had someone have me redesign their sign up page as part of the first part of a four separate one on one interviews. I got through two interviews and then they canceled the rest of the interview, and used my designs to update their signup page 3 months later. Glassdoor revealed to me I was not the only one that had this happen to them. Its really shady out there.” (Glassdoor, Indeed, and a few other sites ARE good to use to check out reviews of employers if you aren’t doing this already).

Another:  “There was  this niche brand now worth MILLIONS who had the same handful of job posts running for like 6+ months, a few years back, and I realized that they were extracting ideas to grow the brand and not hiring anyone!! If a company asks you to do a project make sure it’s very hypothetical and nothing that can be inserted into the brand marketing or strategy in-real time.

And one more example: ” (I got) hired on an unpaid internship basis for three months where one of us would be hired full time at the conclusion of the “hunger games”. “

I’ve also heard of this from my own interview practice clients sometimes, and, it happened to ME once, too (I personally decided not to do the project requested in the application process, but applied anyway (it was ages ago, I can’t remember how I addressed the requested project that I didn’t do though. I did not get called for an interview, just FYI.)

WHAT SHOULD YOU DO, THOUGH? It’s a tough one for sure.

I’m with Lauren that companies should NOT be asking for this free work disguised as a “test” or “sample”.

She says walk away. But like many job seekers have said, understandably, too, they feel like they can’t afford to say no, and while maybe it IS better to not even want to or try to work for a company that treats their applicants this way (so how much better are they likely to treat their employees, right? They are already showing you what their expectations and culture are like, so be aware/heads up!)

So, ya, you might want to walk away. But it’s not what I’d probably suggest to my own clients.


Here’s what I’d suggest trying in this situation:


If we were discussing this in an interview coaching session, I’d say:

When they ask you to do XYZ. If it’s a project to send in, submit a portfolio item you already have that addresses your ability to do whatever the project is supposed to show you can do.

If it’s a live interview question, ask questions back to clarify what they want to know you can do (skill-wise), then tell them about a time (behavioral interview/STAR/SAO style story telling answer) that you addressed those issues and showcases the skills you’d use to answer whatever they are asking you about FROM YOUR PAST EXPERIENCE.

If pressed, then I might say short & sweet, “I demonstrated the skills I’d use in that (project/question), however, I don’t (do that work/consult) for free). And/or, you could add: “For example, I had a client that ….” (some story about over-reaching, unreasonable expectations, trying to get work outside the contract specifications, etc.) and then how you handled that.

Your ability to say no and handle the uncomfortable situation with tact and grace, to the RIGHT employer, should speak volumes about your professionalism (and perhaps, cleverness).

Worth a shot.

Or, walk away, and keep believing that a *respectable and respectful* employer IS out there, waiting to hire you!

Here’s a video on my YouTube channel

that addresses a related topic:

You’re Interviewing THEM, Too:

First Impressions & Instincts in an Interview


It’s one part of a 25 minute FREE e-class:

“Interview Insights” – check out the whole playlist!


Want to practice how you might handle this situation in an interview, or other interview related questions or dilemmas? 
Contact me for a recorded Interview Coaching & Practice session!