What’s reasonable to ask a candidate to prepare to qualify for a position?

It’s been common practice for some time now for some companies to ask candidates to prepare presentations, cases, or even full plans to submit with their application or to bring with them for (often one of many) in-person interviews.

While, of course, this strategy is beneficial in helping you, the company or department hiring, see exactly what working with this person looks like, it’s often an unreasonable request.

As experts in executive recruitment, we’ve seen or heard it all, and the question that always arises is: when is this simply a way of taking advantage of people or testing how far they’ll go for you? It’s a grim way to think about it, perhaps, but it’s a question that needs discussing.

What’s Unreasonable to Ask (and Why It Can Turn Great Candidates Off)


“Please do X for us, even though you’ve already shown us examples from your portfolio.” This is a common instance, especially in marketing and advertising positions. While it’s certainly reasonable to want someone to prove that they can truly do the transformational work they’ve told you they can, it’s unreasonable to essentially ask for something for free.

If you wouldn’t do it to a freelancer or company you outsource to, don’t do it to your candidates. Many great candidates will simply walk away, deciding you’re not the right fit for them, especially if they’re looking at a senior role. If you’re truly worried, implement a short trial period at the beginning of their employment instead.

“Please prepare a plan for X for when you come to meet us.” This alone isn’t entirely unreasonable, but you should consider being very clear that it doesn’t need to be something ready to implement, that it can essentially be something in their head when they come to the meeting, and that you won’t simply take it and walk away (because there’s a very good chance a senior candidate will think that).

In fact, one candidate asked her C-suite friends what they thought of a request for a 6-month marketing plan, and here are some of the responses:

  • ‘Just brought this up in a c-suite meeting. Everyone thought it was silly and there’s a high likelihood they would take your expertise without offering you the job.’
  • My field (UX design) does these homework exercises, too. I dislike them as a hiring manager and a candidate.’
  • ‘I hate this approach. Plans aren’t just whipped up. With limited research and understanding of their company, it’s hard.’
  • ‘Would they ask a candidate for general counsel to review a pending legal action and make recommendations? It’s the same.’

As you can see, this can be easily misconstrued, and many high-level executives dislike this approach when it asks for so much in such a casual fashion.

“Hi Ben, we loved our chat with you last week, and we’d love to continue working with you to ensure you’re the right fit. Please prepare X, X, and X and send it back to us by next week. Oh, and have a Merry Christmas!” The problem here? You’re asking for a lot, and it’s over the Christmas period. Here in Europe, most people get at least 1-2 weeks away from work, so it shows you don’t have any respect for their time with their family.

Think Before You Ask


If you’re in a hiring position, you need to think carefully about the assignments you ask candidates to do, what they are, and how they will be perceived by that candidate. Asking an entry-level candidate to take a shot at some examples you will later train them on is one thing, but asking a candidate for a senior role for something similar will turn them off, and you’ll likely only have desperate candidates make it all the way through your hiring process.

If you want the best, respect your candidates. If you are looking to hire in the near future, we’re here to ensure you don’t make any of these mistakes and land world-class talent. To find out more about what we do here at Execruit, click here.


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