Should I Complete Startup Interview 'Homework'?
Many startups ask job candidates to complete a piece of work as part of the recruitment process. You could be asked to do a number of different things, including presentations, written reports, financial models and analysis, content and design work, or customer acquisition challenges.
This trend is especially prevalent in the FinTech industry with some leading startups including Zopa, Funding Circle, Monzo, Revolut, and Behavox known to undertake this practice. These are all businesses that have raised in excess of £20m in investment, yet they are asking candidates to complete up to 4 days of full-time work as part of the recruitment process.
Although it is not uncommon to be asked to do similar tasks in established industries is the trend in startups something more sinister?
Working for nothing
I have taken part in a number of investment bank interview processes where numerical and verbal tests are commonplace. However, many of these are standardized, with set time limits and tasks managed by a 3rdparty that are backed up with historical evidence that assists in recruiting a certain type of candidate.
The problem with many of these startup recruitment challenges is that they feel more like unpaid work than a test. In the case of Revolut, the task set was to actually go out and acquire new customers for the business.
The other startups listed above asked more strategic questions, which may or may not have been relevant to the business at the time of the interview, but based on experience and feedback my guess is that in some cases they were using prospective candidates to do some form of unpaid work.
If you see roles advertised that remain open for a long period of time, then you have every right to be concerned and should ask yourself the following questions:
Is the company fishing for knowledge?
Is there any intention to hire?
Do they know who they want to hire?
Do they lack an ability to judge candidates using tried and tested interview techniques? How much time and resources do they expect people to spend on these tasks?
The following are some examples of the types of tasks startups have asked prospective candidates to complete:
Zopa asked candidates to create a new product and show all the steps and processes required to take it from idea to launch. Candidates had to deliver this via a presentation to the senior leadership team including the chief customer office and chief product officer.
Funding Circle asked for a complete working financial model and presentation to their capital markets team for a warehouse facility. This included Excel modelling and VBA coding, plus a PowerPoint presentation.
Revolut asked for the design of a functioning budgeting tool with drawings and sketches, database code, front-end and back-end development, and product management.
Behavox asked for a piece of competitor analysis, including a full financial model and recommendations to senior leadership and shareholders. This had to be presented on both Excel and PowerPoint.
Monzo asked for a written report that could be sent to leadership. The report needed to include their current regulatory capital position, the possible impacts of regulatory change, and a recommended course of action including a capital raise.
What should I do?
Even if startups feel this is the best way to identify the best candidates for a particular job, it is not showing the candidates any respect, or assessing if they have the potential to evolve into more senior leaders.
I would also argue that these kind of ‘homework’ tasks and challenges are flawed as they are testing not only whether candidates have the skills for the job, but also how much time candidates were willing and able to dedicate to the interview process. Those without family commitments or who had acquaintances they could call upon to help with the task are more likely to perform better.
You can suck it up and complete the task. If you really want the job, then you are going to have to spend sufficient time and effort on the delivery to ensure you are on a level playing field with other candidates. So be aware that this option may well be very time-consuming.
The second option, and one I hope more people decide to pick, is to just say no. Ask if you can do the challenge at the company’s office with a fixed time limit. This removes the question of how much time the task should take and encourages the company to set up processes that will not take days to complete. If more and more people opt for this choice, then these new employers should start to realize that in order to attract the best talent you have to show more respect to their human capital.
Senior managers at startups often have little experience. They will be under pressure from founders not to hire the wrong person. And coupled with that lack of experience may feel that making the interview process so task-oriented is the only way they can get the right person. For those of us who have worked for larger organizations we know that this is not the case.
Have you got a similar story about an interview with a startup? Let us know in the comments below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to hear from you.