Can we call a ‘time’s up’ on the toxic culture of free interview projects already? There are no other industries that require a 50-80+ hours of free work to be hired, some would even say it’s illegal (and they’d be right!) let alone having to do this type of work to then not even be hired. It’s insulting to our experience, our intelligence, and our talent. We have resumes and portfolios for a reason. If a hiring manager cant see someones talent and ability from those 2 things then they shouldn’t be in a hiring managers position at all.
I have never heard of or assigned a project that takes 50-80 hours and think that’s absurd. I respectfully disagree, I think projects are extremely valuable and offer an opportunity to show work that’s different from your past and exactly geared towards your client. There is a line of professionalism that should not be crossed with the scope and size of a project and never forget that you have the final say in what you are willing to provide. If an employer gave me an enormous project for an interview it would be a huge red flag on what working for them would be like. I would politely decline and withdraw myself from the interview process.
Edit: added never
I have certainly had companies ask me for projects that involved that much free work - jobs I really wanted or needed, so declining the project and removing myself from the process wasn’t an option. A lot of people are in a position now where they’ll be essentially at the whim of the company; if that means completing a huge project, an unpaid test day, or something else…I think a lot of people will find themselves in the position where they have to accept the terms just to try to get a job. Any job.
Real change has to start with hiring managers. I’ve had interviews where I had plenty of experience in the specific product category/market and am still asked to do a big project because it’s “part of the process.” Yikes.
Yikes is right, @asmodeusish. It’s manipulative and exploitative because they know if you really need/want the job you have no other choice. And they can use your work and never pay you or hire you, you have no control in the situation. Now post covid wont it become worse? At what point do we put our foot down and demand more ethical treatment? A lot fo it does come down to the hiring managers, but if all candidates say no to doing them they’ll have no choice but to stop asking for them.
Almost 75% of fashion industry job seekers have had their work stolen by a potential employer. This is a BIG issue…
Yes!!! This was going to be my next post but you already brought it up. Totally agree with you. I have had to do projects for every job I’ve ever had, and many jobs I didn’t get. In the beginning when I was starting out, it made sense and I had no problem with it. Now with many years under my belt and a portfolio of work, it’s very irritating to do essentially free work. Years and years ago I did a project to just get an interview with Urban Outfitters, and later on saw some of my work on their site when I was online shopping. I let it slide because I was young and dumb, but if that happened now, it would be a different story. We have to collectively put an end to these people who take advantage of designers.
Projects are ABSOLUTELY a problem. It doesn’t matter if it takes you 10 mins or 10 hours it’s still your time and creativity given away for free. Designers already spend so much time putting together a portfolio and resume that it makes no sense for a company to ask for more. To think that these projects are not being used for anything other than the interview process is pure delusion in my opinion. I don’t mean to be harsh or mean, I’m just being real. It’s been reported about and I know people who have had their ideas stolen. We definitely need to stand up to this and stop being bullied into giving up our time and creativity for free.
I have done many projects. Most of them are short and I don’t mind – ‘sketch a 3-4 piece group with a small mood board’ is plenty of info for them to see how you would interpret their brand, and can be done easily in 2 weeks. I did have one brand ask me to design 5 full groups once. They gave me one weekend to complete. I was young and stupid and I did it. I didn’t get the job, and I felt horribly used afterwards. Don’t know if they used my work, or threw it directly in the garbage.
Once I got older, I started saying no. Never directly, but I’d offer alternatives to what they’d asked for, that they would usually be ok with. I’d tell them I am excited to show them what I can do, but given the short timeline and my obligations to my current employer, I’m afraid I won’t be able to give such a large project it the attention it deserves. Would they be open to me presenting a smaller project, and then maybe interviewing with the design team instead? Usually, they’d just say ok to the smaller project. Most people don’t know what they are asking for, and will back down if you push back a little. If they still insist on an 80 hour project, something is wrong. Either they are trolling for free work, or the person interviewing you doesn’t know what they are doing.
A 50-80 hour project is considered spec work in other industries, and if the project takes that long to complete, they should be paying you for your time.
I’ve noticed a new trend in free projects- you apply to a job (on style careers, indeed, etc)- and you get a form letter asking for a project. This is before an interview… or even a phone screen!
I don’t have a problem with doing a small project, if I’ve had an interview, met the key players, and been able to ask questions about the company and the brand. Yes, I have over 17 years of experience, and I have a portfolio and website, but I do understand that sometimes people need to see how you apply your taste level to their company. But I put my foot down in essentially doing free work, without even an interview.
When I have emailed companies explaining this, they have written back that is their policy, and essentially I am out of the running. Which makes me think that it’s probably not a company I’d want to work for in the first place. (Looking at you Lulu’s and S by Serena)
Agree to all of the above. I think a much more fair thing to do is a paid trial. I’ve done this with multiple hires and it always gives you the best idea of who to hire. And they get paid! I only tend to do this with the final 1-2 candidates if I really am unsure.
I’ve been doing projects that are then held in my tablet. If there are swatches and prints involved, I will have them with me, but explain that everything needs to be reviewed together. I use all of my own prints, which are part of a vintage collection. I explain I won’t be able to leave the prints with them, since they are for sale. I don’t leave anything with the company. If they explain that so-and-so is in a meeting and that I need to leave my project there so they can review, I tell them that I’d rather talk to that person in person to go over the project. So far, so good. I am usually given another appointment to review my work with that person.
AGREED!!! As if given a project to do now, I would have to pay for month of AI just to do the project.
I try to do something that can be added into my portfolio. Its also awkward to be asked, if I have any work from the last company…you’re ok with what I had to steal off the server?
I even had one company ask to keep my portfolio, to show Mr. [Sean] Combs. I agreed to it.
When I was younger, I did accept to work on projects to be considered for a job. After a couple of times with no response from potential employers I understood that they are just collecting free designs.
I will never work for a brand that doesn’t pay for a project.
@SCHMEGGLES- I can’t agree with you more. If a company cannot see through the experience and portfolio, i don’t know why they can see through a project that is done in a few days. It is exploitive. I have been in the industry for almost 25 years and i still got asked to do “projects”. It is insulting. Sometimes i think the hiring mangers are so green and young that the only thing they know is to ask for a project.
I think a project is OK to see from someone who has less experience in the field, to get an idea of their thought process. That’s where I’ve gotten value from seeing a project from a potential hire. I’ve done projects before (I don’t spend more than 2-3 days max on it) and every time I’ve done one, I’ve gotten the job. If a project is required, it should really only be for the final candidate. Maybe picking between 2 if you have 2 strong candidates… but it’s wrong to make multiple applicant do projects early in the interview process. That’s so wasteful!!!
I wholeheartedly agree. It is an absolute insult to ask those of us who have been in the industry for a long time to do these “projects.” I have a variety of examples from different market categories over the span of my career. I am not a newbie. I wouldn’t apply for a job for which I did not feel I was qualified to do. Then there is the whole ageism thing, too, with those of us who have been in the industry for a long time and being asked to “prove” ourselves. Our work history, our skills and knowledge should be valued.
Projects should only be assigned for very senior/executive design roles where the designer is being brought in for a re-branding or bringing in something completely new. C-Level executives should discuss the expectations before any project is executed; and at this level they should know what they are looking for. There’s really no point in having anyone below the senior designer level execute projects. Anyone below this level will be interpreting the work of more senior designers and creating tech packs, flats, updating line lists, etc… which can all be shown in a portfolio.
I agree, with a stong portfolio, there’s no reason. It’s a power trip.
A former employer that I worked for for 8 years (?can you belive that?!) asked me to do one for a consulting gig he had open, same product categories that I was currently designing for better more contemporary companies. I was insulted and declined and didn’t get the job, of course, but then remembered why I had left.
Now are we expected to submit digitally so that the work can be appropriated? My answer : I’ll be happy to, my fee is X amount. Or, how about if you pay my day rate and try me out? Thank you.
We need to have some pride and stop working for free or on the cheap. Especially in LA where our pay scale is already low. Btw we are the most expensive city in the US now, surpassing SF.
The free “Interview Projects” need to stop. It’s abusive, illegal, and an attempt to get free designs from experienced designers. Regarding seeing someone’s design potential, that can be obtained from looking at someone’s online design portfolio. Also, if employers are going to ask for an Interview Project - make it simple 2-3 designs. I was once asked to design 5 handbag collections (5 designs per collection = 25 total designs) for an Interview Project. After I emailed the completed Interview Project to the VP Design, I didn’t even get a “Thank You”, zero response, and never heard back regarding the position. Even 2 follow-up emails were ignored. I wouldn’t be surprised if they used the designs for products. So my advice to headhunters and hiring managers: Our time is valuable and our time is money. Be respectful - we are not “slaves”.
Absolutely agree! Once they are able to verify my experience and see the portfolio, there is no need for me to do a “project”. If the company really wants to see how I fit in with their team or design esthetic, they should hire me temporarily for a week or two and pay my rate.