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Is this spec work?

almost 3 years ago from , Owner, Folyo

I wrote an article on hiring web designers that suggested companies not rely solely only on portfolios and resumes when hiring.

The example I used was Basecamp, who instead ask for a custom application from designers talking about why they want the job via video or another form.

Someone on my list responded saying this was spec work.

Your tip sounds an awful lot like asking a designer or agency to do spec work in order to win a contract. There are many reasons why spec work damages our industry (check out nospec.com), so I'm really surprised to see you promoting it.

The question is, is asking applicants to produce a video telling you why they want the job spec work?

And if so, doesn't that make it impossibly hard for companies to hire a designer?

Also where does it end is filling out any job application spec-work? meeting a client at starbucks to discuss an upcoming project?

These take more time than the example I used.

What do you think?

18 comments

  • Selv GrimmSelv Grimm, almost 3 years ago

    My opinion: It's not spec work.

    It's also nonsense or at least "bad practice".

    Let me explain: I've been a designer at Amazon, Riot Games and other companies in the Tech industry, both big and small. Worked a lot around recruiting, and I'll tell you one thing - you'll loose a lot of good candidates this way.

    Why? Because the same or better (a lot better) result can be achieved via a video interview. A good recruiter will get a loooot more from an 45 minute talk via skype than from any self-made video, website or "effort" as you call it.

    For me, this would be a clear signal from the company that "we don't want to waste our time on you scheduling and conducting calls". For a beginner designer, this might be ok but you'll loose people with experiance and market awarness, since they'll already be in other recruiting loops.

    If you, as an employer or recruiter, want to find talent, the effort needs to be on your side. A good recruiting loop is: Resume + portfolio review -> phonescreen -> video interviews -> onsite interviews. You get a lot of opportunities to do some whiteboard exercises, design reviews etc. If you don't get what you need from that, either there's something wrong with the candidate or the interviewing skills of your employees/recruiters.

    8 points
    • Nelson TarucNelson Taruc, almost 3 years ago

      In Basecamp's defense, they're a small, well-managed company, so they get a lot of responses when a design position opens up. They're not requiring anyone to make a video or do anything special when applying. That said, their process makes it easier to find applicants passionate enough about the company and creative enough to make their application stand out. Is that really bad practice?

      0 points
      • Selv GrimmSelv Grimm, almost 3 years ago

        Not saying it's "Bad" in terms of harmful or evil in any way. Just not a good recruiting process.

        On entry-level positions sure, it might work, especially when candidates mostly have few projects of their own that they can talk about in terms of successes or failures. Those "straight-out-of-collage" or "design-mostly-for-dribbble" people, that have the software know-how and some knowledge, but not much experience. Although, even there showing an approach resembling the "American Idol" formula can push some better candidates away.

        Think about the recruiting process as you would about any other service you design in terms of user experience. The goal is "to find the best fit for the job", for both the candidates and you. To achieve that, both sides need to obtain as much information as possible, in a short amount of time. Do you really think a pre-recorder video or a website is the right approach?

        For instance, someone unemployed will have hours or days to work on this kind of assignment, while someone with a full-time job they want to leave won't have this luxury. The final outcome of their application will be very different, but will this tell you anything about their skill level? Knowledge? Past experiences? It will mostly tell you who had more free time in the days/weeks before applying. And it will cost them time, as well as you (as you need to see and review what they've done).

        If you want to hire and maintain good employees, experienced specialists, you need to sit by the table as equals, have conversations, get to know the other person and let them know you. Not make them jump through hoops and hire the last man standing. That will mostly leave the desperate and the determined on the field, and those aren't necessarily the best candidates for the job.

        2 points
  • Jon MyersJon Myers, almost 3 years ago

    This is not spec work.

    It is a convoluted hiring process - I can't imagine why any designer with basic skills would submit to that kind of nonsense unless they're desperate.

    5 points
    • Account deleted almost 3 years ago

      I got one of the best jobs I've ever gotten through exactly that process. In Berlin I saw it happening often. And yeah, it is a convoluted hiring process.

      2 points
      • Aaron Wears Many HatsAaron Wears Many Hats, almost 3 years ago

        On the flip side, I work with some incredibly talented engineers that would laugh at this and move on to the next job application. I would too - however I feel that I'm at a point in my career where a company should want to employ me instead of me having to grovel to them.

        2 points
        • Account deleted almost 3 years ago

          I don't see it as grovelling really. In my case I got hired from New Zealand to work in Germany and I guess they wanted to see that I could do what I said I could before they paid for work visas and recruiters.

          0 points
          • Aaron Wears Many HatsAaron Wears Many Hats, almost 3 years ago

            I guess they wanted to see that I could do what I said I could before they paid for work visas and recruiters.

            I do understand that. However I feel that a coding interview is a standard practice, but building a spec project for the company is just insidious.

            0 points
  • Taurean BryantTaurean Bryant, almost 3 years ago

    when someone starts to provide designer services without compensation in the hopes that they might get compensated in the future, it becomes spec work. Generally I don't like creating new things when interviewing places but as long as it takes me an hour or less I don't mind too much.

    With that said, part of why I don't like doing it is because it doesn't give a whole lot of insight as to how valuable that designer is. Divorced from any real context (biz requirements, user feedback, collaborating with other designers, real-world process), theres no way to gauge the quality of design decisions.

    To me, a useful design exercise would be one that tries to emulate a real-world environment as closely as possible. For example, you could create a hypothetical situation in which X business is running into Y problem and is strongly considering Z feature/approach to alleviating that problem. You could then ask the designer what questions they would seek answers to and why those questions are important. How would that inform their design process? At that point you're able to talk about design decisions/process/flow in a more illuminating way.

    5 points
  • Wentin ZWentin Z, almost 3 years ago

    Whether that’s a video of you introducing yourself or making us a custom website — that’s all up to you.

    quotes from you article, a video of introducing yourself is not spec work, it is like an alternative way of doing job interview. However, "making us a custom website", that is straight up spec work. The fact that "it is all up to you (the applicant)" sort of makes the hiring company innocent of soliciting unpaid spec work, but doesn't make the work not spec work.

    3 points
  • John Jackson, almost 3 years ago

    The example you provided isn't spec work. Perhaps the person who responded simply misread your example. I've applied for positions in the past that either encouraged or required applicants to record a video explaining why they were interested in the position and how they could add value. Sometimes they have asked for the video in the actual application and other times it comes a little further in the process, just after an initial phone screening.

    Is it inconvenient and awkward? Sure, it can be. Am I being asked to do something ridiculous? Not at all. It may not necessarily be the right approach to hiring -- I don't have the answer to that -- but, in my opinion, it's perfectly acceptable.

    2 points
  • James Thompson, almost 3 years ago

    i like your content

    1 point
  • Alex HoffmanAlex Hoffman, almost 3 years ago

    It worries me if a potential new employer doesn't want to do some sort of homework project. As a designer, I feel like it's an opportunity to see what kind of feedback they'll provide, it sheds a lot of light on what it will be like to work there.

    That being said, it's not spec unless you ask them to work on a real project. One of the most common one I've seen is design a time-machine app. Stuff like that is more than acceptable and ought be expected.

    1 point
    • Taurean BryantTaurean Bryant, almost 3 years ago

      genuinely asking, what kind of feedback would an employer give to newly created work they couldn't also give to existing portfolio work?

      0 points
      • Alex HoffmanAlex Hoffman, almost 3 years ago

        I think it's more of a contextual situation. Assuming you're actually presenting it to them either in-person or via video chat/screenshare, you get to see how they react to something they requested that you create for them, opposed to something you created in the past for someone else. Ideally they give you good constructive feedback, but maybe they don't and are irrational and emotional about their feedback.

        0 points
        • Taurean BryantTaurean Bryant, almost 3 years ago

          I only ask because the only time I've ever received useful valuable feedback on work I've done has been on work done for someone else (which makes sense, it's the work I was able to genuinely prioritize and think about as well as work on in a real environment instead of a hypothetical vacuum).

          0 points
  • Mihnea ZamfirMihnea Zamfir, almost 3 years ago

    I've been through a similar system. Similar in the sense it involved recording myself answering questions. Even more intriguing is that it only involved videos. Each interview question required a 1-minute recording with me answering the question.

    It works.

    0 points
    • Selv GrimmSelv Grimm, almost 3 years ago

      Why wasn't that a video interview? A discussion, rather than just reciting answers to a couple of questions? This is no better than those ridiculous "letters of intent" that sometime still pop-up in the industry. Compared to a normal interview, that video doesn't work.

      Hell, I'll take a phone screen over a form of candidate presentation that doesn't allow me to follow up on something they are talking about.

      0 points