When Are They Asking for Too Much?

August 26, 2010 at 1:45 am Leave a comment

These days, job candidates who get an offer — or even a rejection letter — after only an interview or two can consider themselves fortunate that they got off easy. Many job seekers face a test, or sometimes a battery of them, plus a tryout, or perhaps must provide a critique of a publication and even write an essay about why you’d want to work there.

That’s all fine and well and most of the time, hiring managers would tell you to comply. If you refuse to take the test or prepare the critique, it’s a little like telling the nice policeman that you’re not interested in the Breathalyzer: They’ll wonder what you’ve got to hide. And that could very well be the end of the hiring process for you.

Yet increasingly, news organizations are asking candidates — sometimes after only a cursory interview — to give them pages-long beat reports, detailed story idea lists and critiques that mimic business plans. And this raises obvious questions for the candidate: What is the organization going to do with this? Will my ideas soon turn up on their Web site and in their pages? And will this really help me get the job?

It can be a tough call, but sometimes they may be asking for too much. Here are some suggestions about how to handle a request during the hiring process that you think goes too far:

*Figure out how serious they are about you. If you’re likely to get an offer for a well-paying job after jumping through a hoop or two, it may be worth pulling the proverbial all-nighter or giving up your weekend to write a sterling proposal. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? But if you are just one of a dozen or so candidates being asked for a detailed beat memo and you don’t really stand a chance, it probably doesn’t make sense to sign up for some unpaid work for an organization you’re unlikely to join anyway. Do a risk/reward analysis of the project. Also, see if you can put it off until you’ve determined where you stand in the hiring process. You certainly don’t want to have to do this all over again for another hiring manager in the same organization a few weeks or months in the future.

*Determine whether this is being required of all candidates. If this is a regular part of the hiring process for all finalists for a position (and a finalist actually means that — just a few candidates), it’s going to be hard for you to say no or to negotiate the terms of the project. Yet if it appears they ask this of candidates who came to them rather than those they sought out, for instance, you’re probably standing on firmer ground to reject the request. Figure out whether the rules are being applied fairly — this will also tell you something about the organization. If they play fast and loose at this point, what would it be like if you actually worked there?

*See if you can alter the scope of the project. Years ago, as a candidate for a magazine editing job, I was given a new mission statement and set of goals for a magazine publisher undergoing a redesign, and was told to come up with a 10-25 page critique of the old magazine with a focus on what could be done in the new one. The search firm I was working with quite strongly suggested I comply, so I did. Not only did I not get the job (or even a polite brush-off) but months later, to my disbelief, I saw many of my proposed concepts  — down to the exact phrasing — in their redesigned magazine. Sure, I was a fool — but only once; I vowed never again to turn around a major proposal like that for free. A friend, recently burned by seeing her very specific ideas in a beat memo turn up weeks later in the words of a columnist for that organization, is much more wary these days — she tells organizations she will give them a story proposal or two with which to judge her work. Of course, you don’t want to appear defensive or frustrated when you try to adjust the terms of their assignment but if it will take you a long time, you can tell them you’ll need a longer deadline or a shorter project. If they’re reasonable, they’re likely to listen.

*Turn it into a freelance or consulting job. Organizations that have a valid reason for a project — such as determining whether you can adjust to their writing style, for instance, or seeing how you handle deadlines — often will agree to pay you for the project or for your time. That’s often a good sign that they’re serious about you; they wouldn’t necessarily fork over money if it wasn’t going to have a potentially bigger payoff for them. And not only will you feel better about the assignment if you’re being compensated for it, but in handling a freelance or consulting project for an organization you’re likely to get to know them better and gain more information about whether this job might be a good fit for you.

*Though in this economic environment it’s tough to get a big merit raise and it’s even tougher to negotiate a better salary with a new employer, there are other perks or bennies you should consider going after. Remember that employers often have more “wiggle room” with non-salary compensation, so decide what you want and seek it. Here’s some good advice from marketwatch.com:

Job perks that don’t cost much

*Consider these new job leads or pass them along to others:

*CyberCoders in D.C. is looking for an account executive in social media:

Account Executive – Social Media, Digital Ma…CyberCodersWashington, DC, 20001 >2 Years
Posted today

Account Executive – Social Media, Digital Marketing jobs in Washington, DC Account Executive – Social Media, Digital Marketing, Strong Writing Skills If you are an Account Executive with Social Media and Digita…
See details or apply

*The Midtown Group in D.C. is hiring for a contract job expected to last four to eight months for a writer-editor to compose a security manual for a government agency:

Security Manual Writer – Contract/TEMPMidtown PersonnelWashington, DC
Posted today
Writer / Editor for a Federal Government Security Manual Requirements Federal Government Agency has an immediate need for an experienced writer/editor to compose an Agency-wide security manual. The manual is comprised of three (3) sections, each o…
See details or apply

*Path Technologies in D.C. has an opening for a technical writer/editor:

Posted today
Compensation is firm. This is a full time salaried position with very generous benefits including health care, holidays, vacation, bonus, 401k, etc. Please no third parties. We seek a well-rounded, talented technical writer to join our team workin…
See details or apply

*With a hat tip to poynter.org, for these next two openings, Foreign Policy Magazine in D.C. is seeking an art director:

Art Director

Foreign Policy Magazine

US – DC – Washington

The ideal candidate would have at least five years’ design experience, a passionate desire to translate big ideas about the world, and a keen interest in web as well as print design.  Exper…

*The Center for Investigative Reporting in D.C. is looking to hire a researcher in D.C. for a contract position on a homeland security project:

Researcher for homeland security project

Center for Investigative Reporting

Sample Tasks for ResearcherCreate revolving door database – Build a spreadsheet of former homeland security officials who now work for government contractors and vice versa. The researcher wou…

*And last but not least today, and courtesy of paidcontent.org, TBD in Arlington is looking for a local sales manager:

Local Sales Manager
Arlington, VA (Washington DC…

Happy hunting!



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