Late last year I was up for a dream job. A headhunter got in touch with me for a position at a major news network (not this one). The gig would have meant about double my current salary, benefits, and a fancy new title. The interview process for the gig lasted three months. During that time I went through two rounds of meetings, prepared half-dozen sample segments, and performed a screen test. In the end the company went with another candidate. The fact that I didn't get the job was disappointing, but those feelings were compounded by the fact that I had put in weeks of free work for nothing. I’m hardly alone in feeling this way.
Despite a low unemployment rates, competition for full time work—jobs with a decent wage, benefits, and weekends—is fierce. Employers have potential workers jump through all sorts of hoops to prove their worth. It’s a reality that young people, who don’t have long resumes and big networks, have little leverage with prospective employers and may feel they can’t walk away from exploitative practices. Recently I asked some people the worst thing they’ve been asked to do in a job interview. You can read their answers below.
Kaitlyn Cinovskis, social media
When I applied for the role of social media manager I did a Twitter audition where I had to tweet about [this company’s] conference from my personal account. A bunch of my friends were like: dude. This went on for two weeks.
Kyle Erf, programming
A startup asked me spend an entire week working on a programming project for them as a test. Sure, it would have been a good test of my coding abilities, but it was also a test of my willingness to work full time for a week without getting paid. This kind of thing can be common at smaller tech companies, and it's difficult to imagine anyone with a family or other life obligations being able to work for a week for the mere chance to get a coding job—possibly by design. Obviously, I said no.
Michael D., tech writing
I had been called for a job interview by a technical writing firm. I was asked to pay $1,200 to take a course in their particular method of tech writing. They wouldn’t hire me without it. It was then explained that even after spending $1,200 on the course, there was no guarantee I’d be hired because I might not truly grasp their method. It was so blatantly insane that I was confused by it for a few hours. Then I just ran away screaming.
Tristan B., serving
I wanted to work at this place as a waiter and they required me to do a free bartending shift. It included washing up in the dish pit and giving my tips to the owner at the end of the night. They didn’t end up calling me back.
Natasha B., massage therapy
I’m a practicing massage therapist. A spa I applied to said I needed to massage someone from their team to prove I knew what I was doing. There was another time I was asked to lift a 50 pound bag of flour to prove I could lift a 50 pound bag of flour, though that had nothing to do with massage.
Carolyn Winter*, government job in finance
I had to take eight hours of psychological assessment tests on my own time. Seven hours of timed intensive psychological testing on topics from management style to analytical skills, plus a one hour interview with a psychologist. All unpaid, obviously.
Jaclyn Ping*, restaurant job
One time during a job interview the [restaurant] owner of a restaurant asked me to stand on the street. He wanted to see if I was capable of ushering in random passerbys for dinner. The owner said if I could get them in then I could get the job. The same guy used to slip me 20 bucks if he liked my outfit that day.
Kat Letwin, bar job
We were asked to do improv games in a group interview. Before we started they screened a clip of Whose Line is it Anyways? just to get us up to speed. The job was working in a bar.
Rouvan Silogix, ad agency position
I had to do a week-long unpaid ‘trial’ at an ad-agency after which they asked me to continue on for another week unpaid ‘trial.’
Courtney Baka, finance job
I was 20 and feeling the sudden pressure to get a grown up job. I applied for some random finance job that I had absolutely zero qualifications for. For some reason they asked me to come in for an interview. What I didn't realize is that it was a group interview. Little old me with my nose ring and my cleanest black T-shirt sat down at a table surrounded by about ten men with suits and briefcases. These men had experience, business degrees and clean urine. The only skill I had was not getting busted for smoking weed on my break. Half way through the nightmare they released us for a break, and I got in my car and never came back. The company later got in a bunch of legal trouble for fraudulent business practices, so it's a shame I missed out on all the fun.
*Names have been changed.
Graham Isador is a writer living in Toronto. @presgang