I know you have addressed this in the past but it’s the first time I’ve encountered an employer that wants me to do free work to earn a job interview. I applied for a senior marketing position and, after an initial phone interview (with HR, who couldn’t talk about marketing), I was told that the next step would be an in-person meeting with the department.
Instead, I was sent three assignments to complete, all due in two days with “no late assignments will be accepted” thrown in. Having many years of senior-level experience, I was insulted. Very nicely, I told them I would share examples of previous work and even talk to marketing department members to show how I could increase revenue. I ended stating that, if that was not acceptable, that I would withdraw my application. I heard back that I was (surprise!) “No longer in consideration.”
Do you have any good ways for job candidates to express to employers how insulting it is to make people do free work for them in the hopes of maybe, possibly, getting a job?
Love your column! Thanks for all the great advice.
I don’t know one company whose executive team, or board of directors, ever reviews the recruiting practices of their HR department. They have no idea how many good candidates they’re losing over poor practices. This is why in many instances good headhunters decline to work with companies via their HR office — they’re not going to waste perfectly good candidates.
Can they ask me to do free work?
While testing your skills and knowledge shouldn’t be a problem, no employer should assign substantial work tasks to job candidates in whom the company has not yet invested any of its own time!
So, what do you, as a job seeker out there on your own, say in that situation? Here are a few suggestions.
I don’t do free work
How to Say It
“I don’t work for free. But I’d be happy to do your assignments at my normal $1,000/day rate, and if you hire me I’ll credit that against my salary.”
If you’re willing to compromise in exchange for a talk with the hiring manager — before you do any of that work — this could give you a substantial edge if you ever get the interview. However, you must be ready to ask a pithy question or two that will impress the manager.
How to Say It
“I’d be happy to do the assignments but I have a few questions about X, Y, Z [where X, Y, Z are highly technical marketing issues that HR could not possibly understand.] If the hiring manager would call me, I’m sure they could provide the information I need in about 5 minutes. No, I can’t submit the questions in writing because that would just result in more questions and require more follow-up information.”
One of the best responses is exactly the one you offered: “If that’s not acceptable, I will withdraw my application.”
Be ready to walk away
I give you credit for being explicit about withdrawing your application. HR already wasted your time in the screening call simply because HR is not qualified to discuss marketing. More to the point of your question, you have no idea who is going to review your “assignments” or even what they’re really looking for. There’s just too much chance you’ll be dismissed by an unqualified judge for the wrong reasons!
You must be ready to walk away if the employer is intent on violating your ethical and professional standards — and if it is wasting your time. The next step is to find a more worthy employer.
Ask about the free work policy
If you have no future designs on this company, I’d send a brief e-mail to the CEO or chair of the board describing what happened – with no complaints or recriminations, just the facts. Close with something like this.
How to Say It
“I wish I’d had a chance to meet with your marketing manager so that I could present the mini-business plan I created showing how I can do the job to add more profit to the firm’s bottom line. In today’s economy, when filling important jobs is so difficult, do you keep any metrics on how many excellent candidates you lose because HR doesn’t know anything about marketing when it conducts screening calls?”
Too busy to do free work
To avoid a “next time,” don’t agree to be screened by HR for any job. Tell HR you’d be happy to talk with them after you and the hiring manager have determined there is a mutual interest in investing more time.
How to Say It
“As a senior professional I’m extremely busy. I’m interested in your job opportunity, but my time is limited. I’d prefer to talk with a marketing peer at your company before taking time for discussions with HR.”
Fielding solicitations from recruiters and HR does not require that you suspend your standards of what’s reasonable, or that you jump through hoops or that you do free work to earn a job interview. I think you already know exactly what to do because you already did it! Again, my compliments. The loss is theirs.
For most employers, it’s a long way to acquiring the skills necessary to go out and find the best candidates who are worth recruiting, enticing, cajoling, seducing and convincing to take a job. What candidates like you are subjected to is embarrassing. That employer wants you to do all the work of assessing whether you’re worth talking to. The shame is the HR clerk’s for rejecting you because you won’t do their work for them.
Thanks for your kind words about Ask The Headhunter!
We’ve discussed doing free work before
I think they expect me to work for free
And my good buddy Suzanne Lucas (a.k.a., The Evil HR Lady), offers some perspective, too: Job Interview or Bake-Off?
What’s your experience with “Do these assignments first!” Have you ever refused? Have you done the assignments only to get rejected without an interview at all? Where do such interview practices belong in the hiring process?
Nick, Is HR Department, in todays hiring paradigm so detached from the company’s value proposition objectives?
Who is the puppet master who hires and trains these HR puppets? Is one of the qualifications for the HR puppet position include a Tik Tok public persona, to enthrall potential candidates?
I am disturbed by most HR intentional devaluation of every qualified and over qualified individual who has the Universal Right to Earn a Living.
Nick, who is the puppet master behind HR business practices?
This is my question, too. What do they teach these people in colleges – where people actually earn Bachelor Degree’s in Human Resources – that almost all HR departments work in this nutty way? I have never, not once, gotten a job interview via the HR department. It seems like they took the HUMAN part out of “human resources.”
I have been sent the form rejection from an HR dept, then later be called by the hiring manager, who got my resume from a colleague, for an interview. That has happened more than once, including a job where I ended up working for seven years, with two promotions.
My resume is stellar, but I often suspect that my foreign-sounding name takes me out of the pile by the HR hack.
@Garine: I learned the hard way early in my search career. I tried to “follow the rules” and work through HR, only to learn the hiring managers were never told about my candidates. Turned out the managers preferred working with me directly. I’ve placed many people that HR had already rejected.
I was unaware that there even WAS an undergraduate degree in Human Resources until a few years ago. I’d love to see the syllabus for the required courses for that major to see what’s being taught. (Maybe not… seeing what they’re being taught may be cringe worthy.)
Most “recruiters” that I encounter on places like LinkedIn seem to have previous jobs like pizza shop manager, health club front desk staff member, etc. I can’t recall seeing anyone touting a degree in HR.
@Bernadette: Like headhunters, about 95% of HR people aren’t worth spit. The good ones are precious and hard to find. They do most of the work in recruiting. The rest are bureaucrats at best.
Who is the puppet master? I don’t think there is one. I believe it’s easily explained. I think the problem is one of avoidance. The rest of the C-suite and the board of directors look at the HR function in their companies and say, “Ick!” They want nothing to do with the convoluted regulatory quagmire of HR. Consequently, they rarely stick their noses into HR’s business. The result is poor hiring at the very top of HR in **most** companies, and cheesy personal and personnel politics in the HR ranks. I’ve seen first year HR clerks badly mishandle top-level job candidates that their companies spend loads of $$ to recruit and cajole into considering a job. All the hiring manager hears when the candidate walks away in disgust is that “they weren’t qualified.” If any job is in need of an audit, it’s the HR clerk and manager and how they handle the talent they’re trying to recruit from their professional community.
This has allowed HR to operate with little if any oversight except perhaps from corporate legal departments that are more concerned with regulations than running a smart business. (I don’t fault anyone for compliance, but the lawyers can get ridiculously heavy handed because their licenses to practice are at risk.)
What I’ve seen is this. HR workers that move to the HR exec level soon quit to start HR Consultancies. These outfits produce “white papers” and “best practices manuals” that they sell for top dollar to the companies they quit. This pricey “guidance” is then adopted without critique because corporate boards are usually unschooled in recruitment and hiring. It’s the rare board that has a truly talented member from HR. So boards let HR run wild. Failed HR execs prosper by becoming the hidden hand that delivers procedures and policies that stymie truly good, responsible recruiting.
If Sales VPs operated like HR VPs, entire sales departments would be rewarded for dissing prospective customers day in and out. What the HR world seems to not understand is that the professional community a company needs to recruit from is as valuable as the company’s customer base and market. Imagine a sales rep regularly disrespecting the companies the rep is trying to sell to. The Sales VP would fire them. In HR, it’s SOP.
When I go off on this kind of rant, HR folks claim I just don’t get it. I offer thousands of comments and stories from readers of Ask The Headhunter over the past 20 years, who tell horrific stories about their experiences. HR is broken. The question is, are the few competent HR practitioners able to salvage the profession? Those few are a credit to their field. Just wish we had more of them.
It’s time the C-suite and the board of directors start sticking their noses farther into HR’s private tent.
I work for an IT firm. I got my job by NOT speaking one word with HR. I was interviewed by the manager I work with. It took two weeks. After a harrowing two years of disastrous interviews, I was almost in shock when an offer was extended. We have become so accustomed to being treated like garbage; it shouldn’t be this way.
Unfortunately our HR department is starting to interfere. Our Design team is in desperate need of an additional associate. Since my job requires working with them, the team manager told me they are losing candidates because HR wants to add an extra layer of interviewing. I cringed!!!
Shocker another “I’m butt hurt because of HR” response. So exactly how do you know HR is not following the wishes of the hiring manager or dept head? You dont. So your advice is to shoot the messenger. Really you gotta get over your “HR hurt my feelings” advice, the buggy whip ain’t coming back buddy.
Shocker. Another apologist for deplorable corporate etiquette.
If, as you say, HR represents the corporate culture the question arises:
Do you really want to work for a company that demands free work, ghosts emailers, and acts as if employees are queued up to work there?
HR is the face of an employer. If that face is ugly as sin, then that’s a clear sign to cut your loses and walk. All the shilling for HR doesn’t change that fact.
@Adrian: My advice is to ignore the messenger and go straight to the hiring manager.
I had an experience about 15 years ago in which I had an interview with a non-HR manager at a large biotech firm. After the interview was over, the manager asked me to take home a “take-home” editing test with a due date and instructions to spend no more than X (maybe 2-3?) hours on it. I did not meet her expectations on this test and don’t remember whether I ever asked her for feedback. That experience stung me. I wish that they had given me a shorter test at the company (notifying me before the interview) instead of asking me to take the test home. I guess that’s one way to see my work, but that was 2-3 hours of “free work.”
Oh ugh, mine was similar. Worst experience I’ve had with this was an interview with a large firm for a design position. They up front requested an ‘assignment’ that involved illustrating a process, but they wanted it to be ‘release ready,’ in other words, not a workflow, mockup, or wireframes, but a release ready front end UI. They also said “oh don’t spend a lot of time on this” ~ needless to say I spent a LOT of time on this project, both figuring out the best design along with photoshopping the whole UI. ~ probably about 6 hours all told because I wanted it to look really good. Ended up staying up VERY late the night before the interview making final tweaks. Interview itself was a 5 hour long affair with 5 different people.
The last person I interviewed with was one of the hiring managers. Pretty sure he thought this whole process was a great idea. He told me I “did what a lot of people did” in terms of designing this solution. They were looking for something ‘unique.’ In reality, I’m pretty sure if you ask 25 designers to come up with a design for a specific scenario, and many of the designers hit upon the same ideas, then that IS THE BEST IDEA, dude.
Completely ghosted after the interview, no feedback, nothing. I called back multiple times seeking feedback.
@Kitty: Managers can be just as guilty as HR in this. But I’m afraid job applicants bear some of the responsibility. When a demand seems unreasonable to you, it’s up to you to call the employer on it, not to acquiesce. This is not directed at you personally, but when will job seekers realize they’re being abused and used? When will job seekers stop fearing employers that mistreat them?
Most job interviews go south for a reason: there was never a good match to begin with. Unfortunately, HR’s “best practices” has brainwashed job seekers into believing “it’s a numbers game” and that applying for more jobs is better. HR does that because HR is mostly inept at enticing, pursuing and convincing the right people to come work for their company. So HR uses the cattle car approach, herding cows and telling them they’re all the same — like that manager told you. Of course all those candidates will be rejected. HR counts on it!
Here’s what irks me the most. HR will explain that they can’t possibly get back to all applicants with feedback or personal rejections “because we process thousands!” The reason they can’t get back to everyone is because they recruit far too many of the wrong ones to begin with. HR is broken. Job seekers need to stop trying to ride that broken horse.
I think the shift in job-seeker strategy is simple: Apply only to companies where you have developed a personal connection with managers, employees, and other people that do business with the company. Please: Forget about automated, cattle-car job applications. If a company disses you, walk away and find a better company to talk to. This only works if you’re willing to do the work to develop good relationships. There is no easy path, but my way you stand a chance — and you’ll make lots of new friends in the field you want to work in.
There were a few more things at play here: One was that I was 50 yrs old, and the whole team of designers were 30-somethings. I felt the winds of ageism in this process as well. Also, this wasn’t a cattle car application, it was an inside referral from a developer I personally knew. But I ended up in the cattle car anyway. Really crappy hiring practices from both management and HR.
@Kitty: Can someone in HR explain to us why a candidate referred by an “internal” employee is relegated to the cattle car? Aren’t internal referrals potentially the most valuable, and doesn’t treating them poorly discourage further referrals?
After a twenty-year design career I threw in the towel as I realized there was simply no way to get hired anymore as every design job now requires some form of “testing,” whether it’s the “prove everything in your portfolio isn’t fake” design project (and don’t expect them to complete your creative brief or have a conf call with you to clarify the details, gotta use guesswork which is just a setup for failure) or the even more insulting intelligence/personality testing bs. After getting burned as you did on more than one occasion I simply refuse to subject myself to that nonsense anymore, especially when chances are high that the job is completely fake and they’re just fishing for free ideas/inspiration, I’ve seen more than a few stories about how the applicant eventually discovered their “test project” being used on the company website (here’s one, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T0jzOwckZOk). You can’t walk into a Super Cuts and demand a free haircut because you want to be sure they know how to cut hair or go into a Jiffy Lube and demand a free oil change because there are so many auto garages and you can’t figure out which one to use, not sure why this kind of crap is acceptable in hiring…
WOW, thanks for your insight here. If a 20 yr portfolio isn’t good enough, something is terribly wrong!
I had an experience with a firm whom we’ll call “Owners” for lack of a better name. At the time my copywriting portfolio was a little thinner than it is today, so I went along with their request for:
– Two disparite short-form Twitter ads.
– One long-form blog post.
– Done in Google Slides.
– Submitted in a short time frame.
So I did the assignment, submitted the items, and tried to follow up a couple days later. Except I’d obviously been ghosted, and all “Owners” email addresses bounced.
Next time I’ll be happy to direct someone to my online portfolio, and if they have an assignment, I’ll be happy to submit a proposal based on standard entry-level copywriter rates.
I did this for a pharmaceutical company years ago. I didn’t consider it free work, but it was a considerable amount of time since I wasn’t from the industry and had to research the terminology in order to complete the assignment. I also had no idea if I had done it correctly. I had to present a Powerpoint deck and forecast a drug product.
First, I spent the morning interviewing and solving puzzles and answering technical questions, which was ok, since that required no preparation and I either knew it or I didn’t. Then, I gave the presentation. Then, I went out to lunch with a few people. Then, the afternoon was more regular-type interviews. It was a long day.
When I called for some feedback, I was just directed to HR and all I got was a voicemail to “Call if I had any questions”. That’s one step from being ghosted. I commuted with people who worked there and I was probably just as well off not to have gotten the job anyhow from the stories I heard about the place.
30 years ago today my Sales Manager told me…
“when you walk in to see a customer , your time is just as important as their time”
When an employer is trying to sell you a position, that still holds.
@VP Sales: Hey, I think I invoked you in another comment on this column! You’ve offered a great test every job seeker should apply. If anyone at a company you’re talking with doesn’t treat you and your time as if it’s as valuable as theirs, it’s a signal to walk away. Don’t waste valuable time you could be spending with an employer that demonstrates respect.
This scenario triggered a memory of a similar episode early in my career. HR contacted me through a referral. I did a phone interview. That, in turn, led to a meeting with the Marketing/Sales VP. During that meeting, he gave me an assignment to complete. I don’t remember what It was. I had 15 minutes to do it while he stepped outside his office. I gave it a go, then thanked him and left. Never heard from him. Nor did I call him. Somehow the process seemed odd. Later I learned he only met me so he could tell my referral that he had. A waste of time to be sure. Luckily I didn’t need the job. Just another example of how not to treat someone and a story to share with my university students.
@David: I hope you reported back to the person that referred you. Why would they ever refer anyone else again to this company?
I’m in IT and we no longer allow HR to screen or interview our candidates. They were until we realized that candidates we should have been seeing weren’t being forwarded. They were resistant to change until an IT manager and the HR person went through the resumes together – it became apparent that HR didn’t know or understand IT terminology or relevant experience and was rejecting perfectly qualified candidates.
So now, HR creates the job postings, ensures that we are following the necessary requirements and procedures, onboards the successful candidates, and notifies the unsuccessful ones. Resume review, Q&A, and interviews are left to IT. This process has worked great and we know that we are able to select the best candidates.
And we don’t do the whole “work for free” thing
At a former employer, we had a dedicated HR person to handle IT recruiting. That position was a revolving door—we’d have a new HR rep every six months or so. The quality of the candidates that we received resumes from HR when we had open positions was almost universally abysmal and the team spent way too much time phone screening BSers. When we did receive a resume for a good candidate, HR would tell us they were too expensive. In one case, one of these “too expensive” had additional qualifications that would have allowed him to provide backup for some other team members. My manager was hopping mad that HR wouldn’t budge.
@Rick: So the tail wags the dog? HR tells the hiring manager in another dept. who to hire or not to hire?
I’d love to see the tables turned on HR–how about an IT manager be in charge of hiring HR staff, then see how far that goes.
Yes, I get that budgets are important, but no one ever considers the cost of leaving the job unfilled–the cost to clients/customers, to the business because work takes longer to complete or doesn’t get done at all, employees get burned out trying to do their jobs plus parts of the vacant job, etc.
No matter how sucky HR may be in a company, They won’t be stupid enough to tell a department who to hire & fire. Simply because that would make them culpable to that departments results. And if lucky take credit for them if it works out, stripping a department head of their glory.
I’ve noticed a tendency for employers in my career field to hire the best self aggrandizing applicant who either can’t do the job or won’t do the amount of work involved in the job. And this person usually talked a big game, or looked attractive, had that ability to snow people. It is one thing to ask during an interview about situations common to your company and ask the applicant to explain how they would solve the problem. If the hiring manager listens and observes and asks more questions, they will weed out the self aggrandizing ones. In my field of social services, the applicant is now being asked to participate in many interviews and this is for lower level not upper management. This is another type of irresponsible weed out because gainfully employed folks can’t take all that time off for long interview after long interview. Then they wait to hear any further information, hired or not hired and are most often ghosted. One person was asked to do a homework assignment after the 3rd interview and did not have the computer program at home or the time after work involved in making the public policy presentation required for this case management position. Again, this is lower level employment, not upper management. I don’t know anyone seriously looking or already employed who continues past the second interview with this system. They feel it is a waste of their time or they can’t take off work any more. So then who gets hired? The ones who can sell a good game about their skills and who will play the game of multiple interviews that go nowhere I guess.
Just to close loop in how crazy this gets. This week there is a meme circulating from a job posting ..
10 years experience in Carbon Programming required, no exceptions , C++ is NOT an acceptable substitute
Carbon was released July 2022
“Carbon was created to be a C++ successor.”
“If you are familiar with C, C++, and similar languages you’ll be familiar with Carbon syntax as well.”
There’s also the one of being rejected for being too junior in the programming language.
The person rejected was one of the creators of it.
Brilliant response, Nick. I especially like the idea to let someone “really high up” in the organization know about this egregious practice. Having been a (mid-level) manager myself, I know that even well-meaning employees can get a little carried away with their own importance. They may institute “policies” that haven’t been thought through, and the boss may not be aware of it. Any smart, professional leader welcomes sincerely constructive criticism, no matter the source.
Congrats on the rational and constructive response of the candidate. Employers need to upgrade the quality of their ignorant demands directly or via HR.
As a corporate recruiter, HR is not the only group involved in the hiring process. Respective groups dictate the hiring and interview plans. The very manager you want to meet may be the one requiring the “free work”. I agree with some form of presentation or skills testing but if it’s extreme, just imagine what you’ll be getting when you join the company.
When I was a Software Engineer, I had an interview where I was asked to write a program during the time I was at the interview. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but in retrospect it may have been an attempt to get free work, or solve a problem the company was having. I was desperate for a position at the time, so I don’t know if I would have refused even if I thought I was providing a free sample.
My dad, long retired, says HR is there to protect the company from their employees. If you look at it from that perspective, it explains a lot.
Through the years I have had a lot of silly encounters with HR. I call them Inhuman Resources. One clerk asked me if I had a degree when I applied for a position in Engineering. I wanted to respond, “No, I’ve been sweeping streets, but it’s not rewarding so I thought I might give Engineering a try.”
Nick, you are one hundred percent correct: HR is broken beyond repair and it doesn’t look like anyone in the company who can do anything about it cares.
@Larry B: Inhuman Resources is a good one. A few years ago someone on this site called HR “Hiring Roadblock”, which how I’ve thought of HR ever since. Yup, it is so broken that it is like Humpty-Dumpty and can’t be put back together again. I agree with you–no one else in the company seems to care, and that goes right to the top. It is too bad that the CEO and others in the C suite don’t care about the reputation of their company.
“Inhuman Resources” lol.
My late father was a machinist and an old WWII guy. He referred to HR as “frustrated psychologists”.
Your father and mine were cut from the same cloth, although my father spent time after being a 1-room schoolhouse teacher in the HR department of a company back when it was called “Salary and Benefits”.
Dad insisted that what became HR was at its best when it was “Salary and Benefits”, and concentrated on making sure that taxes were accurately calculated, the pay envelopes were correctly filled on Friday, and the company-provided insurance was paid up-to-date.
Anything else was outside of their scope and experience then, and the same is true today.
When I was an agency recruiter taking note of local job postings I took note of a company looking for an IT Manager. So happens a friend and guy I previously placed elsewhere applied. Part of the hiring manager’s process was similar to this example. Applicants were to prepare & present power points on their take on an “assignment”. But the HM wasn’t pulling the trigger & hiring anyone. some of applicants knew each other & compared notes and concluded it was obvious the HM was simply harvesting best ideas with no intention to hire anyone. Free consulting, The most loathsome of practices.
HR in this example is not totally the bad guy. I highly doubt HR directed the Hiring manager to harvest free labor. My view that in the best of corporate worlds, hiring managers are very pro-active in doing their recruiting with HR acting in a quasi QA role ensuring that sensible ethical, legal, PR, and decent treatment of applicants are consistently followed. Which doesn’t seem to be the case in this example. This HR is either accepting and supporting this HM’s scheme, or lacks the juice to say…Not here. I feel that the candidate was hearing from the HM, HR was the messenger.
In considering the question herein about doing free work as part of applying, the optimum word is “work”. And it makes the distinction between an opportunity to demonstrate your value by “doing the job” and free work. The former can work fine with the hypothetical , but the latter, produces something useable right now to the employer’s business. Like my opening example, this guy seems to be asked to do something real that the HM can harvest for their own benefit with none to the applicant. The writer has everything he/she needs to know. If for some reason applicants went through this drill and were hired, they could expect more insulting treatment on the job.
I recruited for a small company & we used the idea of giving people a chance to do the job with hypothetical scenarios. For example We’d invite promising drafting applicants in and give them a design assignment which was a past product/part. Give them the same work station, hardware, software, access to experienced peers/manager everyone else had and all day to do it. This worked well especially for people who are great at what they do, but don’t interview well.
I recruited some executives. They’d work for the owner, with several potential peers and some other key influencers. You can imagine the time consumed by them & us if we went through a traditional series of one on ones. So I’d collect questions from our people, add the usual general ones, and email them to applicants and ask them to send them back. Get that out of the way. Also sent them relevant backgrounder info (e.g. sales stats/history if it was a VP Sales/Marketing role).
Then set up a hypothetical staff meeting, just as if they worked there. Most of the questions were already asked and answered, so after some small talk and clarifications, it was their meeting. Overall it was the best use of everyone’s time and our execs could see the applicant in action. AND vs versa.
Of course there’d be 1 on 1 follow ups but the prep and context for them made them much more useful
You often see the same sort of idea kicking around with internships. Personally I think extracting free work is a bad idea all the way round. It’s strikes me as unethical, exploitive, and carries a legal risk. If an employee gains revenue generating and/or cost cutting value from the process, pay the person. in this case, pay a consulting fee & chalk it up to recruiting costs. in the case of interns, pay them the going rate for the job. It hardly presents a business toughy.
No one here has suggested the inevitable alternative to the “free work”: tell the HR to go through a temp agency to fill the position. The temp position can give HR a bird’s eye view of the applicant’s ability and skills. In addition, it allows the applicant to evaluate the environment and the work requirements.
You are not obligated to do the free work as part of the interview process. Ask nicely if this is legal – it sends the HR scurrying away.
Can I work for someone for free?
Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938, any employee of a for-profit company must be paid for their work. However, interns are not considered employees under the FLSA.
For-Profit Private Employers Cannot Accept Free Labor. Most for-profit organizations cannot accept volunteer, unpaid labor without running afoul of the FLSA. https://hrdailyadvisor.blr.com/2018/01/04/can-accept-volunteer-labor/
Be intelligent and creative in pushing back at the HR and some hiring managers who follow the HR script.
I’m guessing that a lot of companies are looking for free labor; they never had the intention of hiring anyone to begin with. They only needed someone to complete a one time job and made up a help wanted ad to fool someone. I’m just saying what no one else here will say.
“Go play in traffic” would be my response to being asked to do free work.
“But that’s not professional, waaaaaah!” I hear people getting ready to bleat.
Yes, it’s not. Neither is asking for free work, especially under the guise of a job offer. We call that a scam. Scammers deserve to be mocked and harassed.
Call them out for their bad behaviors and post notice wherever you can. Websites like Glassdoor, Indeed, etc. can warn off others that they do these practices. This sort of action has to have gone through multiple management levels and legal reviews and been signed off on. That’s more than just one or two bad actors, that’s a foundational problem.