What's your thought on design tasks for a job application?

almost 3 years ago from , UX Designer - Feminist | Say hi@anmolbahl.com

I often face certain companies who give me design tasks to prove my skills before making a decision on hiring.

I do have a portfolio and live projects but when I get asked to do these tasks, I feel paranoid that the prospective companies might rip off my work and not hire me.

What are your thoughts?


  • Andrew C, almost 3 years ago

    I generally disagree with the majority here.

    Design is the only profession in tech that seems to give a shit about this. While I realize spec work is a thing being asked to do an exercise as a work sample is the same kind of test a programmer typically takes (pair programming, an algo, etc) or a PM has to take (work structure breakdown, onboarding teardown, user outreach, etc). It's usually beneficial to you in the end—because it means you're working with people who live up to their resumes. If you want the job, that's the reward.

    It's different if you're freelancing and looking for work that way, of course. But if you applied to a promising company looking to be their product/ux designer... that's a fair task to be asked of you.

    We designers like to bitch about A LOT of stuff that other people wouldn't think twice about.

    16 points
    • Tim Kjær LangeTim Kjær Lange, over 2 years ago

      Agree. I would see it as a red flag if a candidate asked for compensation for doing an assignment that could land them an interesting, well-paid job.

      3 points
      • GOOD LUCKGOOD LUCK, over 2 years ago

        Kindly disagree.

        As a candidate, we should be careful with companies who didn't offer some money for that kind of "tests". The "we'll pay you for the time" should be included in the first sentence of the conversation. And no, there is nothing wrong with the tests itself, they help evaluate how the candidate thinks.


        1 point
        • Andrew C, over 2 years ago

          Genuinely asking: Why should you be compensated for this? It's a simple demonstration of your ability the same as anyone else does?

          If it's an assignment that can't be used afterwards there's zero risk of it being spec work.

          1 point
          • GOOD LUCKGOOD LUCK, over 2 years ago

            Hey! sure, I will try to explain my perspective.

            Let's start from that I have no issues if the results of those test will be used or not, I would even prefer that someone can use them in some way (a small satisfaction at least).

            Doing job tests for free is no different than participating in "popular" competitions for 99designs (and similar websites). Same rules, one winner (fulltime position | job for $100), multiple players. In both cases, people's time is taken from their lives.

            What if this is the "opportunity of a lifetime"? For me, a simple answer - NOPE!, because I know already who I dealing with and I definitelly don't want to be part of that organization. But I understand some people doing the opposite, there are lots of different contexts.

            So, as an employer, you show a lack of respect for the future employee, doing the same thing what your clients doing to you (SPEC prospect jobs). It is a circle that needs to be stopped or at least minimalized.

            By offering paid tests you show that your intentions are serious (we are really interested in you) and give positive vibes to the future employee, who definitely appreciate it and willing to give you better services in the future, as well as the tests results. What you showing is that you respect people and their time, and this beneficial in many ways.

            Since the test might be a good way to evaluate candidates, I feel the proper way is to take the person and put it in the team for a couple of weeks, only then it will be clear if this is a good fit or not. The "how he thinks" might be ok (evaluated by tests), but "how kind of person he/she is" might be a totally differetn story.

            Hard subject as you know. For me, free tests are the RED light. Fortunately more and more companies doing this in a proper way by paying people. ;)

            I wish all of us can experience that kind of treatment in the future. Peace!

            0 points
    • Gokhun GuneyhanGokhun Guneyhan, over 2 years ago

      This. Exactly the same thing what I told to a friend who spent 2 days on a task after a very positive interview and got frustrated after he was rejected.

      If you're a freelancer, it's a different thing - but if it's a fulltime position at a company you really want to work for, then it should be ok unless you spend more than a day or two. It's also good for the designer to see what kind of tasks you're going to deal with when you get the job. It's annoying to get rejected even if you deliver something good, but well, shit happens.

      I personally try to give tasks that wouldn't take more than a day. Sometimes it turns out (especially with less experienced designers) the designer comes up with a better design than I expect compared to her/his portfolio and I immediately stop my search to hire her/him.

      The important bit is to measure if the position/company is worth your effort. If it's the right company, they'll pay you back in experiences that are more valuable than 8 hours of your life.

      4 points
  • Scott Liang, almost 3 years ago

    It makes total sense from the employer's perspective to simulate a work experience with you prior to hiring. However, there's a pretty clear line between a fair request and making you do unreasonable work to assuage their fears.

    If it's a design task that directly contributes value to the company (e.g. "redesign our onboarding workflow"), I would not do it unless I were paid for the time. Even if they don't rip off the deliverable, they will still benefit from your process & ideas.

    It wouldn't hurt to respond with a cordial request for comp citing the above reasons. If they decline, it's a red flag regarding their company culture.

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

    Reading through the comments here, there is maybe one or two people who I would consider hiring in my team. I would imagine other employers would feel the same. I have just hired two new angular developers, everyone who applied undertook the same task I set them. It's standard practice in effectively any professional position these days.

    The rest of you sound far too self-important. If you are applying for a role at a company, you are expected to prove you are suitable for the role. Keep in mind, this is not spec work. This is you demonstrating your ability to a prospective employer.

    If you get shirty about wanting payment for a practical interview, well I've got news for you, buddy.

    4 points
    • Adam Fisher-CoxAdam Fisher-Cox, over 2 years ago

      There is a difference between a practical interview and doing work for your company without being paid. Far too many design tasks are just "work on this project we're working on."

      If the task is a hypothetical constructed specifically for the hiring process that is of no use to the company, other than to judge your abilities, then that is fine. But it should be judging something you can't get from the portfolio, it should be specifically time and scope limited, and it should be absolutely clear that it will not benefit the company's bottom line.

      0 points
      • Aaron Wears Many HatsAaron Wears Many Hats, over 2 years ago

        I agree, practical tests shouldn't be contributing to IP - though a good company would know better than that.

        At the same time I've had enough years of hiring people to know that pretty portfolios don't necessarily mean someone can complete a deliverable in a particular timeframe, or work to processes or directions. Hiring someone purely based on their portfolio - unless they have some killer references - is usually a recipe for disaster. (Of course there's always exceptions, but you know.)

        0 points
        • Adam Fisher-CoxAdam Fisher-Cox, over 2 years ago

          Right, but a lot of those things you point out are what an interview is for. Ask about their process in building their portfolio pieces. Ask about timeframes, their experience with different types of management, etc. None of those things really demand a test, and I think it serves the company to be more aware of the interviewer's time and to recognize that it's unlikely that this is the only company the applicant is interested in.

          0 points
  • Nicholas BurroughsNicholas Burroughs, almost 3 years ago

    You should be paid, regardless of whether or not the task relates directly to their company, product, etc. If they don't want to pay, then they need to learn how to better judge talent and skills whether that's from looking at work examples, or (gasp) actually speaking to a person about their process, personal design theories, etc.

    3 points
    • Anmol Bahl, almost 3 years ago

      Thank you for the insight, I am not sure how many companies will through this request since I currently live in India and companies might be wary of paying for such a thing, however, I will keep this in mind.

      Thank you, Nicholas, for your time and comment.

      1 point
    • Taylor PalmerTaylor Palmer, almost 3 years ago

      Can you share any insights about how to better judge talent and skills through words only? Because, IMO, it's pretty hard.

      I've seen a lot of candidates that can talk a good game, but you once you get down to a design challenge/task/exercise you find out they were just using all the words they learned from the book they recently read.

      0 points
  • Nelson Abalos JrNelson Abalos Jr, almost 3 years ago

    upon looking back on my career, I wish I would have asked to be paid for my time to work on such tasks. That way, if the work is ever used and I'm not hired for the position, at least I was paid for that work.

    3 points
    • Anmol BahlAnmol Bahl, over 2 years ago

      Good point, Nelson. What confuses me that sometimes these tasks are not directly related to what the company does but are design tasks based on fictional scenarios.

      Like, please show us your approach to designing an ATM for kids :/

      2 points
      • Jason LiJason Li, over 2 years ago

        Companies do this on purpose so that there's no conflict of interest. It's to learn more about your process and design thinking in a way that doesn't make you paranoid of them ripping off your work.

        8 points
  • Pascal Briod, almost 3 years ago

    I'm a startup founder currently doing the job of a designer but looking to hire someone better than me to take on that role (while I focus on product management).

    I got a lot of insights from this thread, thanks for that.

    We have a "take-home challenge" for all our new hires (being for a software engineer position or a paid marketing one), with usually a time-cap of 4-5 hours and a project that is non-related to our industry or product.

    I was naturally thinking to ask our UX/UI candidates to go through a "take-home challenge" as well, and the insights I got from this post make me think I need to be extra-cautious in the way I introduce it.

    Other than not asking candidates to re-design our product, are there any other red-flag I should be worried about?

    2 points
    • Adam Fisher-CoxAdam Fisher-Cox, almost 3 years ago

      Be explicit that the work they create will belong to them, not to you - that it is a hypothetical prompt, not related to any current company products or problems. Demonstrate that you understand the issues with spec work and are trying to avoid those issues as much as possible. I think this will get you far on the good faith side of things.

      1 point
  • Jordan BJordan B, almost 3 years ago

    I take a No!Spec approach.

    2 points
    • Cristian MoiseiCristian Moisei, almost 3 years ago

      For freelancing that is definitely the case, I used to always ask to be paid whenever I was freelancing. But when looking for a permanent role, it's usually about finding out how you think and the focus is on a tiny (sometimes fictional) problem.

      2 points
      • Jordan BJordan B, almost 3 years ago

        That’s true, I should clarify. Recently someone asked for me to complete a design test that consisted of redesigning a page from their company presentation deck that confuses their clients. I chose not to participate. But I can understand an exercise where a client/company wants to see how you solve a particular problem, related to design but unrelated to any actual pain point they are having.

        0 points
  • Matt C, almost 3 years ago

    Seems like most responses here are from the perspective of freelancers or remote contractors. Through that lens I can see being skeptical of design tasks - specifically ones that have you work within the same field of the employer (ie: a health insurance company asking you to design a plan selection page).

    When it comes to full-time gigs, however, you'd be hard-pressed to find a potential employer who doesn't require a take-home design task, a whiteboarding session, or both. For better or worse it's SOP at this point, so you might as well get used to it.

    2 points
    • Adam Fisher-CoxAdam Fisher-Cox, over 2 years ago

      Whiteboarding is a whole different ballgame and is very helpful for seeing how you work with existing employees and think through a problem. Take home tasks are often poorly designed and don't prove much beyond what a portfolio can prove.

      0 points
  • Ruban KhalidRuban Khalid, over 2 years ago

    A good read, from Google designer https://medium.com/startup-grind/dont-fool-yourself-testing-job-applicants-on-your-own-product-is-unethical-and-ineffective-8ac6affd73a7

    1 point
  • Myriam C.Myriam C., almost 3 years ago

    I think it's important to be tested - because for an employer, your book can be pretty, but he has no idea of how it was done (di you work with a team, what did you really do, how did you manage your schedule, etc). With a test, even without a lot of specs, you have an idea of the creativity, reflexion, and delay a candidate has.

    Otherwise, I think it's really important to trust the company. I mean, there is some companies for whom I won't do a test since I know they will use it without my consent (well I don't apply for this kind of companies but well).

    At my current company, we both signed a document that attested the confidentiality of the specs and the no-use of the work I produced. I think that's how things should be done every time.

    1 point
  • Cristian MoiseiCristian Moisei, almost 3 years ago

    I actually think it's a good idea, because I get to judge the company and how they think design works just as much as they judge my skills and process. For example, one company once asked me to redesign their entire dashboard to see what I could come up with - no further instructions, no details, no specific goal in mind, so I dropped out right away and dodged a bullet there. But at the same time, there were also more than a few companies who asked for a very small and very specific problem (reimagine the location search in our signup process) and they were looking more for my thoughts on it and would be happy with wireframes or simple concepts - they wanted to see how I think and how I approach solving problems, and in those examples I think it's a good opportunity for me to show my strengths.

    So if a company asks you for something small and is more interested in how you think about the problem rather than getting any actual work, then you don't need to worry about them using it, it's a tiny part of their design needs. If they ask you for a whole page on their website and are vague about the requirements, then that is work they could use, but you should stay away from the company anyway because they do not understand design and working there will suck.

    This gets asked every so often on DN so you should try doing a search for it and see some more answers.

    EDIT: All I said applies to design tasks during the interview process for full time roles. If you were asking about freelancing, then never ever do it. The client will otherwise start thinking it's easy and will find it harder to truly value your time and skills. Always charge for your time and be clear about the terms of your relationship.

    1 point
  • Taylor PalmerTaylor Palmer, over 2 years ago

    It sounds like there might be some discrepancy in the comments between full-time and freelance positions. As a full-time in-house designer, I can't even imagine asking to be paid for my time during an interview.

    0 points
  • Johan Ronsse, almost 3 years ago

    I give people a small design and a small coding task in our hiring process.

    The design part is something that can be completed in +-4 hours, the coding part +-1-2 hours. The candidate can choose how much time to spend on the task.

    Portfolios can lie. Design is almost group work by definition. So the candidate might put lots of agency work in their portfolios when it was actually done by other people.

    With the skill test, it's hard to fake it. I ask the candidates to give themselves a deadline, and to talk about how they got to the end result.

    The test has nothing to do with our production work and is meant for hiring purposes only.

    0 points
  • Ade-Lee Adebiyi, over 2 years ago

    I only take on the design task if I really want the job and I can use it in my portfolio at a later date. They tend to be a really fun challenge though :)

    0 points
  • Todd FTodd F, almost 3 years ago

    At tech companies, hiring is done by people who have never designed anything in their lives and only know buzz words. Ask them any question about the history of graphic design - they don't have an answer. If you don't either - congrats, you're a perfect fit.

    0 points
    • GOOD LUCKGOOD LUCK, almost 3 years ago

      "history of graphic design", well if you are hiring for University then sure, otherwise this is just a BS.

      4 points
  • Mattan IngramMattan Ingram, almost 3 years ago

    You should get paid for your time if it's longer than an hour, the work should not be related to the company's work, and ideally it should be a short prep for an actual interview where you go over the work together and explain your thinking and where you would go with it if you had the amount of time you would usually dedicate to a real project.

    Unfortunately you can't make places change to that, but if they do all of the above it's a good sign they respect your time and design process.

    0 points