By Robert Pagliarini

When you are interviewing, can a prospective employer ask you to do too much to get the job? Employers have every right to test, interview, poke and prod in order to find the best job candidate, but sometimes they cross the line. A friend of mine who's been unemployed for nearly two years told me about a situation he's experienced several times that shocked and infuriated me.

This is such a horrible time to be out of work and trying to get interviews that some unemployed are giving up. The number of discouraged workers -- those who want a job but have stopped looking -- hit a record 1.2 million last week. When you're out of work, you'll do whatever it takes to get an interview and to land the job. And that's where our problem begins. Employers know they have the upper hand. They know there are 200 (or 2,000!) other candidates desperately waiting in the wings for their chance. They know that they can take their time, and for some sleazy companies, they know they might even be able to get free work from some unsuspecting job candidates.

My friend, who requested to remain unidentified because he is still looking for work, is a graphic designer. He designs logos, websites, company brands and marketing collateral. Even though he's in a highly competitive industry, he's managed to secure several interviews over the past couple of years. He claims that a handful of the companies he interviewed with were not only deceitful about the position, but asked him to create custom designs (e.g., logos, stationery, marketing pieces) under the guise of needing to see his skills to "get a feel for the work you can produce."

While it's certainly not unreasonable for an employer to know what it's getting, it is unreasonable to take advantage of a desperate workforce. Requests by employers like this can take 30, 40, or more hours of work and are unwarranted when a candidate has a large portfolio of work an employer can easily review. Did my friend comply with the request anyway? Of course he did. The "hiring manager" told him to meet him in the parking lot to drop off his work and not to bother coming up to the office. When he heard that he immediately knew he'd been taken because months earlier he'd experienced a similar situation, and, shockingly, saw his work being used by the company a few weeks later!

I'll be honest; although he's a friend, this all sounded a bit far-fetched. Maybe a better explanation is that he's a disgruntled job seeker who's become angry and bitter (or paranoid?). Or maybe this experience is unique to him. To get some answers, I posted a summary of this column on titled "Taking Advantage of Job Hunters?" and was flooded with tales of similar experiences from job hunters in various industries across the U.S. Many reported of being asked to spend hours or weeks producing custom work, not getting a callback, and then seeing their work used. One copywriter said she was asked to rewrite the text for a company's website to "test her writing abilities" -- only days later she saw her work posted on their site.

From small companies to large, from Los Angeles to New York, job candidates are being scammed and used. If you're in this situation, there are no easy solutions. You don't want to jeopardize a job offer and you don't want to seem unreasonable, or worse yet, contentious with a prospective employer. At the same time, the 40 hours you spend creating custom work could be invested courting a new (and legitimate) employer. Here are a few tips:

1. Make your portfolio available.

Encourage interested employers to review your portfolio of work online and/or in person during an interview if asked to create something that will take you a week's worth of work to complete.

2. Offer to review/critique existing work.

Instead of producing something new, offer to analyze their existing work and offer advice on how they might improve it.

3. Charge a reduced hourly fee for custom work.

Let a prospective employer know that you would love to create custom work for them and that you are willing to reduce your hourly freelance rate.

One job hunter asked me, "Did the Miami Heat make LeBron James shoot free throws and three pointers before they made him an offer?" Probably not, but you're not LeBron. Do whatever is necessary to get the job, as long as they're not crossing the line.


Robert Pagliarini is a CBS MoneyWatch columnist and the author of "The Other 8 Hours: Maximize Your Free Time to Create New Wealth & Purpose" and the national best-seller "The Six-Day Financial Makeover: Transform Your Financial Life in Less Than a Week! ."

Available at

Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements

Me 2.0: Build a Powerful Brand to Achieve Career Success

What's Next? Follow Your Passion and Find Your Dream Job

Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, about Anything


Careers - Taking Advantage of Job Hunters?

Article: Copyright ©. All rights reserved.