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.

Recruiters and HR directors don’t get you jobs

After spending nearly two years unemployed, I may join the ranks of those long-term unemployed individuals who ‘give up’ on their job search.  After this long struggle, I now understand why qualified professionals reach the end of their ropes.  I may be at that point.

In this blog, I’ve highlighted some of my frustrations with the way employers treat prospective candidates.  I’m lucky. I get calls back. I get interviews.  I’ve networked with colleagues, friends and associates. I’ve filled out hundreds of applicaitons and sent more than 600 tailored resumes. For a long time, I felt it was something I did or said in those interviews that was the reason I did not get an offer.  The reality is that employers already have someone in mind for these jobs, and there’s nothing the candidate can do to overcome that mindset.

Let me give two examples.  Late last year, I had a recruiter call me back about a management job in Colorado. During our conversation, she said I was a “perfect match” for this job and she would be in touch after looking at other candidates for the employer.  She called back and conducted a long interview.  We emailed each other several times and she indicated to me that I was a top candidate.  Finally, she said the employer would select the top four canddiates to fly them in for an interview. 

A few days later, I receive this curt email that job seekers are all too familiar with:

     “Thank you for your interest in the XXXX position at XXXX.  Your resume and accomplishments are impressive, and have made the selection of our initial candidate pool a difficult choice.  At this stage, only a limited number of candidates for the position will be moved forward in our process.   The client is focusing on candidates who are in Colorado or have a connection to the area.  Should that change, I will be in touch to discuss next steps. I have enjoyed our conversations and hope that you have found them productive as well. I look forward to working with you again in the future.”

Of course, I felt like responding: “No, I did not feel our conversations were productive, and why did you waste my time?  Why didn’t you know that your client only wanted local candidates?  Is it because you’re paid to select a certain number of candidates to present to your client?

A few weeks later, I receive a call from an HR director of a local company (in a nearby county). She schedules a phone interview with me and conducts a very detailed, extensive interview.  She calls me back and wants me to interview with the hiring manager.  Excited, I research the company, prepare my portfoilo, and arrive at the facility, where the HR director conducts another interview with me. She tells me the pay scale and gives me the company’s benefit summary for managers and directors. Now, all I have to do is seal the deal with the hiring manager.

When I meet the hiring VP, I discover she hasn’t even bothered to look at my application in depth. Instead, she spends the first few minutes asking me to wait until she looks over “my file.” She takes two phone calls during the interview. She focuses more on why I was let go of my last job  (I was downsized in a corporate restructuring effort that included the CEO, COO, and CFO), so I try to discuss my achievements and successes and what I can bring to the table. I know my chances are lost when she says ‘Well, we were really looking for someone who does not have experience in this field because we want this candidate to think out of the box.”  Uhh?  She wants someone who is NOT qualified?  Clearly, she already has someone in mind for this position.

All job searchers read about “expert” advice from headhunters and recruiters designed to get you in the door; to get noticed by the employer.  But the rules of the job market since the recession have changed. It doesn’t matter if you get your foot in the door, because in this economy the hiring manager has someone else in mind for the position.  I had one recruiter conduct an extensive background check on me; interview my references at length; interview me twice, and pump me up about my candidacy, only to fail to get me “in the door” to interview with the hiring manager.  What’s worse, she wouldn’t even let me see the results of the reference checks so I could use them for future job searches: she said that was “proprietary” and not releasable (I later had a reference fax me the sheet she said was “confidential”). Why do recruiters go through this exhaustive process of background checks and reference interviews if they fail to land you the real job interview?

I understand why people are giving up their job search in this market.  To read what it feels like for older, experienced workers to be ignored by hiring managers, see this poignant letter in the Dallas Morning News:

http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/opinion/localvoices/stories/DN-stanfield_15edi.ART.State.Edition1.14be30f.html