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When You’re Stuck in the Middle of a Workplace Battle

  • January 15, 2022

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I’ve been interviewing for senior jobs in the nonprofit sector. I’ve been a finalist for three different roles, each of which has had four rounds of interviews. Each organization has asked me to draft between 15-20 pages of original responses to screening questions, hypotheticals and to develop advocacy and legal strategies. Sometimes I get the feeling I’m doing free labor as I give them all my great ideas, hoping to be hired. I understand that organizations need to evaluate what a candidate can offer, but this process is burdensome and feels inequitable as they request sophisticated work product on a short time frame without pay. Is it OK for employers to demand so much of applicants? Is there any way I can challenge this dynamic?

— Anonymous

Having to jump through an excessive number of hoops to get a job can be incredibly frustrating. It seems like the interviewing process is getting more and more convoluted in many industries. And there are employers out there who are exploitative, essentially demanding unpaid labor from job candidates and they get away with it because they can. Some employers will offer compensation for work product expected during the vetting process, but they are few and far between.

This is a challenging problem because, as you note, employers do need to find ways of determining if a given candidate will be a good fit. A new hire, especially for a senior position, is a significant investment of resources; hiring the wrong person only increases that investment. While some things can be learned from a series of interviews, there are criteria that can be assessed only through work product. Within reason, it is acceptable for an employer to make requests of potential hires. The limits of that reason are quite subjective, unfortunately.

I really empathize with your frustrations — so much work with no guarantee of success. Employers hold all the cards, or they did, until the Great Resignation began. You may, perhaps, challenge this dynamic by asking if there is compensation for the work being asked of you but that is risky. I do hope, in time, that employers find a more reasonable way of vetting potential hires and I wish you the very best in your job search.

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