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Ask the Headhunter: If you’re expected to jump through hoops to get an interview, here’s what to say

Nick Corcodilos started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979 and has answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community.

In this special Making Sen$e edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards or salary negotiations. No guarantees — just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.


This is my 250th Ask The Headhunter column for NewsHour, which debuted five years ago in October 2012. Thanks to all our readers for your provocative questions and comments about job hunting and hiring!

Question: I really enjoy your direct and honest feedback to job hunters each week. I’d like to get your thoughts on jobs that make you do “assessment tests” to prove you are qualified.

My favorite was for a company in the San Francisco Bay Area that needs to fill a marketing and web content position. Two hours before the phone interview, the marketing director sends me an email saying that I need to prove my research skills and she will send me a question 10 minutes before our interview time. I have to research the question and have it submitted before the interview.

I was ready to walk but did it just to see if I could. (I succeeded). After the talk, I was unimpressed with her abilities and withdrew my application.

READ MORE: Why employers can afford to be rude to you

Recently, during my first in-person interview for another job, I was asked to write a five-page press release by the next day. I politely told the manager that my extensive work experience speaks for itself and I would be happy to send links to my previous press releases. She said that wasn’t good enough and I said, “I’m withdrawing my application.”

As you can tell, I’m ready to walk away from imposing situations like this, that, for the most part, waste your time. What is the proper way to say “no” to these assessments? Thanks!

Nick Corcodilos: My compliments for walking away from these kinds of abusive hurdles. Such employers undoubtedly think what they’re doing is a clever “pre-assessment” of job applicants. That is, they want to assess whether it’s worth their time to meet and assess you. They lay the burden on you, while they avoid putting their own skin in the game.

READ MORE: 5 tips for avoiding terrible employers

My guess is they add this step because some HR consulting firm charged them a bundle for “best methods” in recruiting. But there’s nothing “best” about abusing the job candidates those same employers complain are in short supply! Talk about trying to appeal to a candidate!

Assessment tests are often bogus
Job assessment tests come in many flavors. Tests and assessments can be useful tools for employers and job seekers. But more often than not, they’re misused. Some assessment methods are transparently ridiculous and unreasonable — and they’re not assessments at all. They’re bogus. (See “An insider’s biggest beefs with employment testing.”)

I think the way you’re dealing with unreasonable demands is just fine. And I don’t think anything you say to employers or recruiters is going to make them stop insisting that you jump through hoops, participate in totally one-sided “interviews,” and do free work. These employers have established a policy and a process. You’re not likely to change any of it. But it may be fun to make a point to them — a point that may hit home after they lose lots of good job applicants to their competitors.

(For an in-depth look at this topic, see Dr. Erica Klein’s short book, ”Employment Tests: Get The Edge”.)

READ MORE: How to win any job

I love your story about the marketing director. I wonder if she instructs her company’s salespeople to pre-assess potential customers by making them submit a five-page statement about “Why I’m worthy to listen to your sales pitch.”

It gets worse
Readers recently shared stories of pre-interview demands for all kinds of extensive “screening” — all to be done by the job seeker on their own time with no pay while the employer does nothing.

  • One employer tries to cajole applicants with this phony challenge, “to help us find the top 1% of talent,” then tells the job seeker to spend ”8 to 10 hours” on a “sample project” prior to moving on to the next step of the selection process. When the applicant fails, they are directed to a “partner company” that will sell them “training” to bring them up to the 1 percent level.
  • Another job ad — for an administrative assistant — requires you to spend an entire week performing sample tasks to qualify for interviews. With no pay.
  • Yet another reader got suckered into producing several pieces of sample work that required several hours of her time. She had never even had a real interview — just three phone calls. She was ready to do even more to get the highly prized “in-person interview.”

But you asked me how to say no to these “assessments.”

When you’re asked to jump through hoops that you think are unreasonable, be ready to respond. Here are my suggestions about how to say it, ranked by snarkiness. Decide how far you want to go.

Meet, or beat it.

How to say it:

“I’d be happy to invest my time to meet with you so we can determine whether we should work together. If there’s serious mutual interest, I’d be glad to show you how I’d do the job profitably. But without a corresponding investment of time from a serious employer, it’s just not prudent for me to do what’s essentially a one-sided assessment. I’m currently in discussions with three other employers and I expect to choose one in the next X days. If you’d like to meet to explore working together, I’d be glad to come in on one of these dates and times: [list 2 or 3 dates]. If those are not convenient, please suggest some others and I will look forward to talking shop.”

That’s pretty assertive, but so is an employer’s demand that you do work before just a phone interview. I’m a big believer in showing how you’ll do the work to win the job — in a face-to-face meeting. But if the employer isn’t investing its own time and effort, it’s presumptuous of them to expect you to do so.

Pay me for the work.

Sometimes it helps to put a price on what the employer is demanding. (See Why employers should pay to interview you.)

How to say it:

“Just as I’m sure you don’t charge prospective customers to do a sales call, or to provide product samples for their evaluation, I don’t charge for interview meetings or samples of my work. I’d be more than happy to meet with you. But if you want me to work solo while you attend to other matters, my hourly rate is $X. If you’re willing to invest a couple of hours of your time, I’ll invest mine, too — no charge.”

Don’t do free work.

I’ll do it if you’ll do it.

Sometimes it helps to put the shoe on the employer’s foot. You’ll win only the most honorable fans with this, but please understand that this is the shoe the employer is trying to get you to walk miles in.

How to say it:

“Attached is a psychological assessment test to be completed by the manager I’d be working for if your company were to hire me. If you’ll please have him or her complete it, to help me ensure I’d be working for a properly qualified manager, then I’d be glad to take your assessment, too. Since you already have my resume, kindly forward a copy of the manager’s resume so I can review it. Since time is of the essence, please be aware that I’m at the offer stage with two of your leading competitors.”

I don’t perform tricks.

This one’s pretty snarky but, hey, would you go on a blind date with someone who’s not going to show up?

How to say it:

“An interview is called that because ‘inter-‘ means between, mutually, reciprocally, together — not one-sided. I’m looking for a good employer, and that means one that respects me enough to invest time together and reciprocally. I don’t jump for treats. Do you really have so many great candidates that you can afford to ask them all to do tricks before you’ll interview them? I’m ready to interview you if you’re ready to interview me.”

You’re not worth my trouble.

This one requires no explanation.

How to say it:

Talk to the hand.“

Why do employers do this?

You know such jump-through-the-hoop job assessments are inappropriate and usually offensive. So do I. Why don’t employers know it?

It’s pretty simple. These are employers who don’t know how to recruit job candidates. They want you to do the work, preferably with no investment on their part. These employers want you to incur costs before they do. They want you to pay for hiring managers’ (and HR’s) ineptitude. They’re all telling you one thing: “You don’t want to work here because we have no idea how to hire.”

Dear Readers: What are the most ridiculous or offensive “pre-interview” hurdles you’ve been asked to jump? How have you responded?


Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth “how to” PDF books are available on his website: “How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you,” “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps,” “How Can I Change Careers?” and “Fearless Job Hunting.”

Send your questions to Nick, and join him for discussion every week here on Making Sense. Thanks for participating!

Copyright © 2016 Nick Corcodilos. All rights reserved in all media. Ask the Headhunter® is a registered trademark.

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