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Job Hunt Homework: What to Do When an Employer Asks You For a Work Sample

Many of us assumed that once we were done with school, we were done with homework. Gone are the days of stressing over assignments that dictate whether we fail or pass at life. We said goodbye forever. Or so we thought.

More and more employers are implementing creative, enlightening ways to assess the skill sets of their pool of candidates. How are they doing this? Work samples.

Why Are Employers Asking for More Work Samples?

According to the Harvard Business Review, employers use work samples to measure the extent of a candidate’s skills & competency required for the role. “It’s become typical for employers, as part of the applicant vetting process, to ask candidates to work on or complete a project, or in some other way demonstrate what they can do and how they do it. It can even be a way to be more fair to applicants who don’t interview well, or whose resumes are less credentialed.”

So, What are Work Samples?

Work samples are tangible examples of your work employers can request to gauge your level of skill as it pertains to the role you’re applying for.

Work samples can be categorized as either past work you’ve previously completed or specific new assignments that potential employers ask you to complete during the selection process.

In this blog, we’re going to focus on the latter by digging into 4 essential questions you should ask to determine how to approach a new work sample request.

1. Do I Want to Do the Work Sample?

If you find yourself asking this question and you’re leaning towards no, more likely than not, you’re not really interested in the job. If this is the case, contact the employer, thank them for their time and let them know you’re no longer interested in the role. This frees up your time and energy to focus on roles that you truly care about.

2. Can I Actually Do the Work Sample?

After you decide that you want to take a crack at the work sample, assess if you have the experience and/or skill required to actually complete the project.

Gain a clear understanding of the scope of work and what is being asked of you. Evaluate whether you’ve had sufficient experience with this type of work before to complete the request. Identify the parts that will come to you fairly easy and which parts will be more of a challenge. If the project seems to be beyond your capabilities (because of lack of experience), then you may not be the right fit for the role. Don’t be afraid to own up to it – it shows self-awareness. Communicate your situation with the employer and see if they would still like you to do the portions with which you do feel comfortable.

When you affirm that you’re professionally capable of doing the works sample, evaluate if you have enough time to complete it.

Clarify the deadline for submitting the work sample. Generally, employers will try to work with your schedule but keep in mind the hiring team has their own deadline to hire and onboard. Before committing to the work sample, consider the amount of time you have available, the anticipated time you imagine it will take to complete the project (plus some padding to be safe) and the employer’s deadline. You should agree upon a timeline that will actually work for you and your commitments. If the turnaround time is too soon, tell them you won’t be able to meet the deadline and ask for more time.

It’s helpful to know employers are not looking for perfection if they place a limited amount of time on your project. They simply want to gain a sense of what you can do. Regardless of the amount of time provided, the materials you turn in should be complete with no typos and on-time.

3. How Do I Approach Completing a Work Sample?

Don’t Disqualify Yourself

If you feel yourself talking yourself out of completing the work sample because you have a million other things to do aside from completing an extra assignment, don’t. A good percentage of candidates drop out of the race after answering questions 1 and 2. As a result, you have fewer competitors and more room to shine (if you put in the work). Remember, it’s mind over matter. First dedicate your mind to the project, then dedicate your time.

Establish a Point of Reference

Dig up the most relevant and successful projects you’ve done and use them as a reference point during your assignment. If you don’t have access to your old projects or it’s your first time completing a project of that nature, research examples to get a better feel for what you’re supposed to do. Utilizing these resources can decrease the amount of time and energy you’d spend guessing and allows you more time to adequately structure the concepts you’d like to highlight in your project.

Pace Yourself

Break your assignment down into bite-size pieces and focus on completing certain parts at a time within the allotted time frame. Breaking up your project in pieces helps increase your focus, makes the project more manageable, and keeps you from becoming overwhelmed.

4. How Can I Make My Work Sample Stand Out?

Give Them What They Want

Another easy way to disqualify yourself from the race is to only submit something the Employer didn’t request. Meet their expectations. Make sure you understand their instructions, what they’re looking for and the format they want the project in. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification before and while you complete your assignment. Periodically review your project throughout the process to make sure you’re still on track to deliver what the employer requested.

Keep it Clean

Never underestimate the power of an orderly and well-thought-out presentation. It displays a high level of professionalism. Make sure all of the items in your document are structured and even. If you’re going to use color, don’t use more than 3 and make sure they complement each other so everything is pleasant to the eye. Double check for grammatical errors. Depending on what you’re turning in, it’s best to save your assignment in a pdf file so your work isn’t subject to unwanted changes or edits.

Make it Personal

Find creative ways to incorporate your knowledge about the company in your project. If you’re submitting your project after the initial interview, think about the conversations you’ve had and the feedback you’ve received thus far. Accentuate that information in your submission to spotlight your listening skills. Neatly include their logo on the cover page and in the header of your assignment so the team can visually imagine your work as theirs. Research how your project can practically impact the company and the department in a positive manner and include it in your email when you submit your project. These small gestures can show an employer that you’ve gone above and beyond to demonstrate you have a deeper understanding and appreciation for the organization and the requirements of this role.

Here are a couple of other great articles that offers more insight on work samples and how employers implement them in their hiring practices.

U.S. News Today: Should You Do Free Work at a Job Interview?

Career Contessa: How to Send a Work Portfolio That Will Land You the Job

We hope you can use this information to excel in your next job interview! And speaking of jobs.

If you’re looking to transition into a non-teaching role at a value and mission-driven organization in the education sector, consider becoming a WorkMonger JobSeeker. We help you simplify and streamline the job searching process in the education space. Our team works with some of the most dynamic education organizations in the country who are looking for great talent like yourself! We evaluate our opportunities, match them with your personality, preferences, and profile, and introduce you to the hiring managers when both you and the employer are interested – all for free.

Does this sound like something you’d like to be apart of? If so, complete your WorkMonger profile today!

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Until next time, stand out & do good!


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