Why We Pay Candidates for Interview Projects

Should your organization pay candidates for the trial projects you ask them to do as part of your hiring process?

It’s common practice these days for employers to include a trial project as part of the hiring process. Less common, though, is for organizations to pay candidates for the time they spend completing those projects.

At Datapeople, we pay candidates for the small projects we ask of them as part of the hiring process. It’s something we do out of respect because we recognize that their time is valuable. It’s something we do to create a more equitable hiring process.


Why ask candidates to do projects

It’s no secret that the classic recruiting process has some wrinkles to iron out. Basically, it doesn’t tell the whole story. 

Interview teams aren’t necessarily well prepared to assess talent. They may write job posts quickly, use generic scorecards, and receive little to no interview guidance from the hiring manager. Interviewers may repeat the same questions about the candidate’s work history and never paint a clear picture of the role for the candidate. The team may end up learning no more than what’s already on their resume. Or, worse, they may formulate judgments based on biased and superficial interpretations. And even the best teams struggle with doing it well at scale. 


Because the cost of making a bad hire can be high, many businesses are gravitating to data-driven measures instead of relying solely on traditional approaches of assessing applicants such as conducting one-on-one interviews, checking references and considering college pedigrees. The reasons tryouts are gaining favor include the following: 

Interviews can be misleading. Many people can make a good impression for a short period…Past experience doesn’t accurately predict future performance…Trial periods add a layer of transparency to the hiring process—for both sides.

Society for Human Resource Management

A trial project is an opportunity for us to see a candidate’s work product. Not just past work, which may lack relevance to what we do, but current work based on exactly what we do. (Our products are fairly nuanced, so we often choose projects related to our work.)

Projects also give us a chance to learn how a candidate thinks and approaches problems. We can see how they like to work so we can judge whether they’re a good fit for our team.

But projects also give candidates a chance to assess us as a team and a company in return. They can see up-close the kind of work we do and how we work to gauge whether they want to join us.

Plus, not everyone is great at putting together a sparkling resume or knocking people’s socks off during an interview. Even if you’re normally a great interviewee, it’s still possible to have a bad interview.



Questions to consider

There are lots of ways to structure trial projects and many ways to pay candidates. Trial projects can be as small as a two-hour project or as big as a trial week or temp-to-hire arrangement. 

How long should an interview project take?

Is the project something a candidate can do on the side while still working at a full-time job? We try to keep our projects to something candidates can get done on a weekend afternoon.

When to ask?

Most hiring teams will naturally wait until later in the hiring process to ask for such a commitment. By the time we ask a candidate to do a project, we may already want to work with them. This is the final step before we make an offer, and the candidate is either the only candidate left or in a group of two or three at the most. 

What type of work?

Assigning projects unrelated to your actual industry is one way to assure candidates that the company isn’t trying to get free or low-cost contract work. These tasks also tend to be immediately accessible to candidates.

Assigning related projects, on the other hand, can show you how well a candidate grasps your work and can give the candidate a clear view of that work. This is particularly important if the work your company does is full of nuance and subtlety. If you choose an already-completed, real-world project, you can compare the candidate’s solution to your existing one. We choose projects related to our work, although not already-completed ones. And the projects are purely for assessment purposes. 

How much to pay candidates?

The amount you pay candidates depends on many variables, from duration of the project to recruiting budget. We pay candidates a fair market freelance rate for this interview step.

(Note: Just to be clear, we’re not talking about salary here. This is only payment for the small projects you ask candidates to perform as part of the hiring process. Salary is another consideration entirely, dependent on factors unrelated to those of trial projects.)


Why pay candidates for trial projects

We pay candidates because we want to respect their time and because we feel it’s important for a fair hiring process. 

Application processes vary by organization, but it’s common for someone to spend an hour on an application and the accompanying questions. Essentially, they’ve already given up some of their time. And not all job seekers have time to devote to extra work, especially work that isn’t paid. The cost isn’t a large burden for the company, but it can be valuable to the candidate. 

Also, the balance of power in hiring already tilts toward employers. Many candidates will understand implicitly that they have to do the project to get the position. The balance of power is tilted even further for candidates who are out of work and don’t really have a choice. With pay, they at least get something in return.

Finally, paying candidates shows respect and helps establish a level of trust. Candidates who appreciate the offer may put more faith in the company. They may also value the work and put more thoughtfulness and effort into the finished product. 


Pay candidates for a better candidate experience

Trial projects are likely here to stay. They offer an opportunity for employers to assess whether a candidate is a good fit for their type of work and their working culture. Also, they enable a candidate to gauge whether they want to work for the company. 

Paying candidates for projects provides a better overall candidate experience. It takes putting yourselves into a candidate’s shoes and adjusting your hiring process to provide a more equitable experience. But we think it’s worth it.

Phillip R.

Phillip R.

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