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Job candidate resents given projects as tryouts

DEAR J.T. & Dale: Twice now I’ve had companies ask me to do huge, labor-intensive projects as part of their hiring process. These take many hours and provide them with a lot of valuable insights. In both cases, I didn’t get hired, and I can’t help but feel like they got free consulting out of me. What can I do in the future to stop this? – Kay

J.T.: Yes, there is a new trend of having potential candidates do projects as a way to get a sense of whether the person would fit in. In theory, this makes a lot of sense. But in practice, some companies are abusing it. You are not the only person I’ve heard talk about having put in a lot of effort only to not get the job and see the company implement their work. I find this disgraceful and unprofessional. My advice going forward is to get more clarification around what they plan to do with this information if they do not hire you; this sets the ground rules that your work not be used. Additionally, I would consider asking that if they don’t choose you, you get compensated for your time. These are two ways that you could flush out whether they are really serious about hiring you. All that said, you will run the risk of having them say “no” and moving on to the next candidate. So I think you have to evaluate each experience and ask yourself how badly you want to work for that company. If they are your dream employer, you just may want to make the extra effort!

Dale: In a case where a company is using job applicants to fish for free consulting insights, then I’m with you on the “disgraceful” conclusion. However, if a company is truly trying to pick from the top two or three candidates, then I’m more open to the idea. Maybe that’s because I owned a market research company for years, and we often got asked to do proposals for potential projects. Often, this took many days of work, and we didn’t always get the assignment. That hurt … or would have if I let it, but I was always reminding our team to be grateful for the chance to compete. That same time commitment in the face of uncertainty is true if you’re an actor going on auditions or a point guard trying out for a team: You can balk at the work required, or you can embrace the challenge. In fact, if you’re going to resent the tryout, you’re going to lose anyway, so you might as well turn it down. Either be grateful for the chance to compete, or walk away.

Dear J.T. & Dale: I recently came in second for a job at my dream employer. They said they loved me but the other candidate had more data science experience. I love this field and am thinking about getting a certification. There are two top certifications. How should I determine which one employers will value more? – Andrew

Dale: You always should make use of your runner-up status. Make it clear to the employer that if things don’t work out with the first choice, you want to be the backup candidate; plus, you’re standing by if another opening comes up. In other words, keep the dialogue open – and that leads to the logical conclusion of to whom you should direct your certification question.

J.T.: Yes; since the employer really liked you and said all you needed was more of this experience, why not circle back to them to ask which of the programs they think would be a better certification for you to acquire in order to be a fit for their organization? That way, they will know how committed you are to the idea of getting more experience in this area, and they can advise you on which one they would like to see you have. Who knows? This could lead to you landing a job with them and maybe even having them foot the bill for the certification.

Jeanine “J.T.” Tanner O’Donnell is a professional development specialist and the founder of the consulting firm jtodonnell. Dale Dauten resolves employment and other business disputes as a mediator with Please visit them at, where you can send questions via email, or write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., 15th Floor, New York, NY 10019.