Applying for jobs takes a lot of time—to network, research companies,browse job postings, pull together your materials, prepare for interviews, and follow up. And then there’s also the mental aspect of psyching yourself up before each stage and then waiting to hear back.
Which is why you’re not all that excited when the hiring manager asks if you could complete a take-home assignment as well. It feels like a lot to invest even more time and effort into a job that you haven’t even landed yet.
But before you see it as just one more hoop to jump through, you should know that it’s not just for the company’s benefit. It helps you, too.
How Interview Assignments Help You
As an applicant, two of your biggest concerns are showing you can do the job, and beating out the competition. A take-home assignment gives you the opportunity to do both.
The hiring manager’s picked a task to weed out anyone who exaggerated on their application. So, think of this as an opportunity for you strut your stuff.
Anyone can say they’re detail-oriented, or that they think outside the box, or that they know how to code, but an interview assignment gives you the chance to demonstrate it. It really is worth taking your time to show that you’re (literally) up to the task. Turning in a perfect edit test or some ideas for how you’d take an initiative in a fresh direction can be just the thing to distinguish you from other candidates.
Additionally, these tests are reflective of the kinds of projects you could expect in your new role. So, if it’s incredibly hard, you have to get a mentor’s help, and it takes you all weekend to complete something you feel good about, it could be an indication that this role isn't going to be the best fit on your end—which is a valuable lesson for you to learn before you sign on.
Unfortunately, not every assignment is above board. I should know: I got tasked with a major project to have my work stolen.
This misuse of the interview assignment is not normal, but it does happen. So, don’t ignore a gut feeling you’re being asked to work for free. One thing you can do if you think you’re being taken advantage of is to ask someone in the field whether this seems like a reasonable task. (You can also follow these strategies to protect your ideas.)
More often than not though, this assignment is there to confirm you really could do the job. So, take it as the opportunity it is, and hit it out the park.