As friends and colleagues transition into new careers or into new positions, I have started to see more organizations asking for original work samples during the interview process. This is disturbing on multiple levels.
To be very clear, not only would I, as a hiring manager or an interviewer, never ask for this, but I also don’t believe it is an accurate way to evaluate a candidate beyond a style test or an editing test IF and only if that is applicable to the position.
More than 10 years ago, requesting work prior to a second interview was common practice for graphic designers and often included a request to show how the designer would redesign the newspaper, magazine, annual publication, etc. This was almost always a red flag and revealed more about the organization than the hiring manager likely intended.
Usually, the end result was the organization would choose the design but ultimately hire someone with little to no experience to “recreate it.”
This practice infuriated me then and it still does now particularly since it has expanded to other communication roles. As a hiring manager, I know in a first conversation if the person is a good fit for the team and organization and as long as the person meets the minimum qualifications I can provide them with the tools to do the job.
That said, I have advised anyone in this situation to respond to the request with a customized version of the following:
“Are you looking for original content specifically around this topic? If so, the timeline and scope are in line with my freelance package X [if you don’t have one make it up based on similar offerings] and will be billed at Y rate [again, check industry standards]. As your requested turnaround time adds what I would typically bill as a rush rate, that adds an additional fee of Z. I am willing to waive these fees if I am the final candidate and am offered a position however if I am rejected I will be sending an invoice for my time and the produced work due on receipt. If you are not looking for original content and would prefer to review my current portfolio it is available at [website]. Please let me know how you would like to proceed.”
Most organizations assume you won’t actually bill them, but you absolutely should.
Here’s what I have used in the past:
Thank you very much for considering me for the position of [position] with the [Organization]. After careful consideration of the responsibilities and time requirements [or other two elements that may not make this a good fit] as indicated in the interview, I would like to withdraw my application for the job. I sincerely appreciate you taking the time to interview me and to share details about the position and the mission and goals for the [Organization]. I wish you luck in finding the right person for the position.
How you respond to the interviewer or recruiter asking for more information is completely up to you. I’ve provided additional detail in some instances and not in others. How you respond depends on what the interviewer or recruiter is asking and if ensuring the relationship needs to be positive (because for example, the community is small and you might run into them regularly, the person is very well known in the field or you might be interested in another position with the company in the future).
If you get a burned bridge response and you don’t need to keep the relationship positive, count your lucky stars you did not continue in the process as the company has revealed quite a bit about how they work with employees.