Employers get free work from job candidates

In this competitive job market, employers can ask just about anything of job candidates.  In the last couple of years, however, we are seeing a new trend, especially for job seekers in the writing and editing field. That trend is the rise of the writing test.

The writing and editing test can be a useful tool for employers to weed out candidates in an entry-level position where candidates have not built up much of a portfolio, but it doesn’t serve much purpose for middle management positions or positions requiring experience.  Some employers, though, are now using specific assignments to procure free work from their extensive pool of job candidates.

Here’s a specific example:  Salem Health, a hospital in Salem, Oregon, recently posted a job for a copywriter/editor with experience in health care marketing.  Rather than ask for writing and editing samples or giving a writing test, the marketing director of the hospital sent out an email to “the most qualified candidates” asking them to complete the following assignment from an 18-page information booklet about the Bariatic Surgery Department:

  • Write a brief section for the hospital website encouraging readers to click through the bariatric web pages and motivate them to sign up for a free community information session.
  • Write a longer article for their quarterly newsletter to encourage readers to go online for more information about Baratric Surgery services.
  • Develop a sample print ad, “approximately 3 columns x 8 inches in size, 50-75 words, to compel readers to call or go online to sign up for a free community information session.
  • Write a lengthy article for a trifold brochure.

After completing all these “assignments,” the top candidates would then be contacted for an on-site interview.

Obviously, the marketing director will be able to pick and choose the best writing assignments from this pool and use the samples for the hospital.  Why pay for an advertising copywriter when you can get the work for free from desperate job seekers?

I charge a minimum of $75 an hour to clients to develop these same materials for their websites and brochures, yet an employer wants these services for free.  I’ve been a writer for more than 30 years, and have managed marketing assignments and coordinated work from advertising agencies at two hospitals, but I refuse to do free work for an employer who will not compensate me for material that will end up on the company’s website.

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Are job openings real?

Many job seekers wonder if the jobs they apply for are real openings. Every day, we see listed openings online for positions that perfectly match our background and skills, only never to hear any response from the employer.

What I’ve discovered is that many employers post jobs that they have no intention of filling.  Why?  They want to see what’s out there; what kind of talent pool they can call upon when the economy rebounds and they are prepared to hire again. 

Of course many job seekers have interviewed for jobs that subsequently closed because of budget cutbacks.  I’ve received a few letters from employers I’ve interviewed with notifying me that the position I applied for has been closed and will not be filled. For example: “At this time, we are working on some organizational changes and we are closing the search for a director. Thank you for your continued interest in our organization. Should our revised search meet your qualifications and interests, we would welcome your application.”

Yet many positions are closed before you even apply.  Some companies state in their employment policies ‘that completion of this application does not mean a job opening exists.’  I’ve applied for jobs that I later discovered were never filled.  For example, last summer I applied for a position at an ad agency with an outstanding referral from a high-ranking employee in that company.  Although the company was looking for a “self-starter” to coordinate media plans, I had the experience and training needed to do the job.  I never heard back from the employer, and my colleague there moved on to another agency in another city.

Now, one year later, I read in the local Business Journal that the company has downsized and only the two principal partners remained, “with limited administrative help.”  I go online to the agency’s website and find a listing of several “employees,” who are in reality probably working temporarily part-time from home. The agency’s  principal partner said he hoped “the firm can carry on as more of what he calls a virtual agency, sometimes collaborating with former staffers to handle work.”

A friend of mine believes that the Great Recession has made us all into good liars.  Many small business owners are putting up a good front about their business; some even posting jobs they will never fill and listing non-existent full-time employees on their websites.  Their businesses may be crumbling, but they would never admit that reality to anyone.