Master's in Information Systems Management Program

How to Avoid Job Application Test Scams

Having to look for a job can be discouraging enough. Finding that someone has scammed you brings the experience to a new low. There are those who would prey upon people with an information systems degree. Not though the work-at-home email phishing schemes, but more directly by convincing people to undertake unpaid work.

Someone recently posted a question on a programmers’ Q&A board about an employment test. It is common at many employment interviews for IT professionals to answer detailed questions and even be asked for example code to solve a problem. But what the developer who posted the question faced was far more extensive.

After an hour interview, he was asked to take a test that would require between six and eight hours of work and take place through a virtual machine.

The task was to implement a search page in a web project that requests data from the server, displays it on the screen in a table, has a pretty complicated search filtering scheme (there are about 15 statuses and when sending the search to the server you can search by these statuses) in addition to the string/field search. Additionally, they want [scalable vector graphic] icons to change color on certain data values, and some data represented differently than how it’s structured in the database.

They promised the person $50 an hour for six hours of work, so the company didn’t ask for a complete favor, but as the developer found out, the project was far more complicated than described. After between 13 and 14 hours of time, some things still weren’t acting correctly and now he was expected to do bug fixes, because “my work is apparently going into a production application.” They had asked him to check it into a code repository. The developer had “noticed a few anomalies in the code where it looked like others had coded all of one functionality but hadn’t touched anything else.”

Anyone applying for a job needs to be wary. There are companies that will knowingly take advantage. But even if a business has no explicit ulterior motives, finding that some test task becomes more than you bargained for should hardly be a surprise. Between working with an existing development framework, dealing with tasks you might not have done before, and the usual problems that can enter into any project, it would be surprising if there were bugs in a first pass of code. Many companies are also terrible at accurately estimating the amount of time needed to complete tasks.

In addition, there is something unsettling in the thought that you might be asked to contribute to a company’s products or systems for a small amount of money. Contract help in development or IT administration would run far more than $50 an hour.

When applying for a job, you must look out for your own interests. Consider your experience and what seems to be standard practice in your industry. If someone asks for far more than any other employer has, perhaps it is best to pass on the position. And if someone wants to make commercial use of your work, a proper contract and reasonable level of pay are in order.

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