Skip to Main Content

Red Flags to Look for When You're Given a Post-Interview Work Assignment

By The ZipRecruiter Editors

The post-interview work assignment has been increasingly popular. While tasks can offer insights into a candidate's skills and work ethic, they can also be exploitative and used unfairly.

As you are interviewing for positions, it is important to distinguish between a legitimate test of your abilities and potential red flags. Here are eight things to look out for when given a post-interview work assignment.

8 Potential Red Flags in an Interview Assignment

Not all post-interview tasks are created equal. Some are more about benefiting the company than assessing your fit for the role. By recognizing these red flags, you can avoid unfair practices and find an employer that values your skills and contributions.

1. Unreasonably Long Assignments

An unpaid post-interview assignment should take a few hours at the most. If given a task that would take longer, this could be a sign that the company is trying to get free work out of you.

A legitimate assignment should be a snapshot of your skills, not a full-blown project. A more extended project may be warranted if the employer is paying you for your time and effort.

2. No Transparency or Follow-Up

A legitimate post-interview work assignment is part of an ongoing investigation of your fit and skills. It should be offered to the top few candidates after one or two rounds of interviews with a clear structure for feedback on or analysis of your project.

If the employer failed to mention an assignment while you were interviewing and then reaches out a few days later requesting you do a task, ask them about their interview process. This may be part of their hiring process, but you want to ensure they are interested in you rather than looking for free work.

3. Vague Instructions

Interviewing is a two-way conversation between you and the employer. They are assessing you, and you are evaluating them. While vague instructions may not indicate unfairness, they can signify disorganization or a lack of clarity within the company.

4. Requests for Proprietary Information

Be wary if the assignment asks for strategies, insights, or trade secrets related to your previous employers. This inappropriate request could indicate unethical practices and put you in a tough spot.

5. They Surprise You with Work over the Weekend

Some companies expect employees to work long hours and put in time over the weekends. This high-pressure culture may be okay with you, especially if you are well compensated.

However, if you are interviewing with a company and they reach out over the weekend with a short-notice project or give you an assignment on Friday they expect to be done by Monday morning, you have a preview of that organization's culture. If that's not a good fit for you or the position doesn't pay enough to be worth that level of commitment, take that as a warning.

6. They Ask for Multiple Projects While Interviewing

It's reasonable for a potential employer to ask their top candidates to complete a task that takes a few hours, but one is enough. Multiple projects might indicate that the company is trying to get more work done without any commitment or compensation.

It can also be a sign of indecisiveness or disorganization. It's a red flag if an employer doesn't know what they want or have an effective hiring process. A company that values its employees will respect your time and boundaries.

7. It's More Than a Test of Skill

Your post-interview work assignment should be a test of your skill and an opportunity for your potential employers to see how you work. It should not be a project they should hire someone to do. You can see the difference in these examples.

Social Media Manager

Genuine Test of Skill: Draft tweets or social media posts for a fictional event or product launch.

More Than a Test: Create and execute a social media campaign for an upcoming event, including graphics, scheduling, and engagement strategies.

Software Developer

Genuine Test of Skill: Write a simple program or script based on a problem statement to test coding skills.

More Than a Test: Develop a functional application or module that could be integrated into the company's system.

Financial Analyst

Genuine Test of Skill: Analyze a set of fictional financial data and provide a brief report on trends and anomalies.

More Than a Test: Prepare a detailed financial forecast for the next fiscal year based on the company's financial data.

8. Why They Want the Assignment is Unclear

A company with a well-structured hiring process and your best interests in mind will have clear goals and expectations. They can tell you why they want the skills test and how they will evaluate your project.

They will readily answer the following questions:

  • Is this assignment the final assessment, or will there be more interviews afterward?

  • How much time do they expect the assignment to take you?

  • How will your ideas or work be used?

You Can Always Say No

Getting work assignments while interviewing is common, and it can be an excellent opportunity to demonstrate your skills and work ethic. Your project could be what gets you hired.

However, it's okay to say no if you suspect an employer is trying to take advantage of the hiring process to get people to work for free.

Ask questions if you see any red flags during the interview process. Remember, you're interviewing them, too. If they are unscrupulous during the hiring process, they probably aren't a great place to work.

The ZipRecruiter Editors

At ZipRecruiter, our mission is to connect employers and job seekers with their next great opportunity. On the ZipRecruiter blog, we use insider experience and data derived from our AI-driven jobs marketplace to provide advice and insights on topics such as the job search process, interviewing, and labor market trends. Start your job search or post a job today and connect with us on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn!

The information in our press releases, blogs, articles, testimonials, videos and presentations should be considered accurate only as of the date thereof. We disclaim any obligation to supplement or update the information in this type of content, and any links or references therein to third party articles or other third party content does not constitute our endorsement of that third party.

Read Related Articles