Take-home assignments have significantly increased in popularity over the past several years across a wide range of sectors and job functions, going beyond technical evaluations to become a normal part of the hiring process for many businesses. There are several plausible explanations for this rise in popularity. According to studies, take-home assignments provide a greater evaluation of candidate abilities compared to interviews alone and enhance the ability to predict job success. Additionally, well-designed projects provide applicants a realistic sample of the work they would complete, allowing them to judge if the job and the business are a good fit. Take-home assignments are also essential in reducing prejudice in the recruiting process since they focus on the candidates’ output rather than unimportant aspects like looks or kinship with the interviewer.
Unfortunately, the proliferation of poorly designed take-home assignments poses a detrimental impact on candidate experience and can impede efforts to achieve diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) goals. In this article, we aim to elucidate the principles of creating effective take-home assignments that facilitate the selection of the most suitable candidate, treat all candidates fairly, and enhance overall candidate experience.
Crafting Meaningful Take-Home Assignments
The foremost criterion for a take-home assignment is its ability to enable the hiring team to evaluate the key competencies required for the role. Dispensing random, inconsequential tasks to candidates only wastes their time and fails to reflect the actual responsibilities they would encounter in the position. Recruiters and talent acquisition leaders can add substantial value by encouraging hiring managers to create meaningful exercises that truly assess candidates’ abilities.
Upon devising an exercise, it is imperative for the hiring manager to develop a rubric that outlines how the assignment will be scored. Creating a rubric assists in determining the assignment’s relevance. If crafting a rubric becomes a challenging endeavor, it indicates a lack of clarity regarding what the hiring manager seeks, thus suggesting an inappropriate assignment.
As a recruiter, it is essential to engage the hiring manager in a discussion centered on the competencies the assignment is intended to evaluate and the characteristics of a “good” answer. These inquiries serve as the building blocks of an inclusive hiring process.
Designing Equitable Take-Home Assignments
Take-home assignments should not place an excessive burden on candidates. Assignments that necessitate more than 1-2 hours of work present an equity issue. Not all applicants can spare five hours of unpaid labor during evenings or weekends, particularly individuals with caregiving responsibilities. Lengthy take-home assignments impose additional burdens on underrepresented candidates, who often need to apply for more jobs to receive an offer compared to their counterparts in the majority.
We advocate for implementing a 2-hour time limit for nearly all roles. For lower-paid and entry-level positions, it is advisable to allocate even less time, considering that candidates pursuing such roles typically apply for a higher volume of jobs and possess fewer resources. For instance, a 30-minute to 1-hour take-home assignment suffices for Sales Development Representative (SDR) positions.
In the event that the hiring team insists on an assignment exceeding the 2-hour threshold, it is imperative to compensate candidates for their time. At Peoplism, we adopt this approach by remunerating final-round candidates for dedicating 10 hours to a project. Even if such compensation might not be feasible presently within your company or for high-volume roles, incorporating this practice serves as a powerful exercise, as it compels hiring managers to confront the extent of unpaid work they request from candidates.
An important question to pose to hiring managers is: “What type of work would you be willing to pay for?” By compensating candidates for take-home assignments, organizations are less likely to assign irrelevant tasks that fail to evaluate the requisite skills for the job. Moreover, it sends a strong message to candidates that their time is valued and respected.
Furthermore, it is vital to thoughtfully consider the stance on time limits. On one hand, unlimited time frames can result in disparities in the effort and time candidates invest in the assignment. It becomes challenging for hiring teams to fairly assess an assignment that one candidate spends 10 hours on while another completes it within the recommended 2 hours. Conversely, imposing strict time limits can create undue pressure and fail to mirror the real-world dynamics of work.
Prioritizing candidate experience, we recommend utilizing recommended time limits rather than enforcing strict deadlines. To ensure fairness in this approach, the following measures should be taken:
- Confirm that the assignment can be successfully completed within the recommended 2-hour time limit by having someone in a similar role undertake the assignment as a trial.
- Transparently communicate expectations to candidates. For instance, the assignment instructions may include the following statement: “At our company, we prioritize fairness and strive to treat all candidates as equitably as possible. Therefore, we kindly request that you adhere to the 2-hour time limit for this exercise. We are not secretly evaluating whether you will surpass the recommended time. ” Naturally, this expectation must genuinely align with organizational values, necessitating clear communication with all hiring managers as well.
Lastly, it is crucial to grant candidates an adequate amount of flexibility in choosing when to complete the take-home assignment. We recommend allowing candidates a minimum of 2 weekends to finalize the task. Additionally, it is advisable to request candidates to promptly notify the company if the proposed 10-14 day period poses any difficulties.
Five Key Takeaways for Successful Take-Home Assignments
To summarize, the following guidelines are recommended for the creation of effective and equitable take-home assignments, which foster an inclusive and efficient hiring process:
- Develop assignments that measure 1-3 specific, pre-identified skills or competencies essential for the role.
- Impose a time limit of 2 hours or less for the majority of positions. Have a member of the hiring team complete the assignment to ensure its successful completion within the designated timeframe.
- Allocate a 10-14 day window for candidates to complete the assignment, which encompasses at least two weekends.
- Clearly communicate expectations to candidates, explicitly stating that the organization does not seek candidates to exceed the recommended time limit. This expectation must align with the values of the company, necessitating consistent communication with all hiring managers.
- Utilize a rubric to ensure uniform evaluation of candidates based on predetermined criteria. Provide clear guidance on what constitutes a strong response to the assignment for the individuals tasked with evaluating it. If multiple candidates are being evaluated, anonymize the grading process to mitigate bias.
While take-home assignments have become commonplace, few organizations adhere to best practices in this area. Consequently, many candidates find themselves burdened by irrelevant and excessive assignments. By implementing these guidelines, organizations can foster fairness, enhance candidate experience, and increase the likelihood of hiring the most suitable candidate for the job.