Never complain, but do explain: How to handle job tasks in the hiring process, whether Gen Z is involved or not

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This publication recently covered the uproar caused by a CEO’s reaction to a candidate opting out of the hiring process for an analyst role at an investment fund. When the candidate refused to do a financial modeling test, the CEO rejected them and then tweeted about it. 

And it seems to me that there’s a little too much complaining—perhaps on both sides—and perhaps not enough explaining.  

For the record, I agree with Stanfield, as the CEO refers to himself on X, that a financial modeling test is an appropriate way to evaluate candidates for an investment role. But that’s not the point.

Stanfield refers to the candidate as “Gen Z applicant” so, naturally, much of the debate that followed on social media was focused on the trials and tribulations of Gen Z, as was the subsequent article. So let’s just put the whole Gen Z thing to bed right now because it’s a red herring.

Every generation thinks the generations that follow it are entitled, spoiled brats who have it too easy, don’t work hard enough, and expect the world to feed them with a silver spoon. It’s probably true and I, for one, hope it continues to be true forever because it means life is getting better. I’m glad that, instead of walking to the well to draw water, I can click a button on my phone and get DoorDash to deliver sparkling water from the alps.  

The real issue, and where I believe the debate should be centered, is the gap between what employers expect of candidates when they apply for a job. 

Hiring is fundamentally a game of information asymmetry. Employers need to find out as much as they possibly can about total strangers who might want to work at their company—emphasis on might—and they prefer to do it by exerting the minimal amount of effort. 

Most candidates don’t have a problem putting time and effort into a job evaluation process—yes, that includes Gen Z—so long as two things are true. First, it needs to be a job they really want. And second, they need to feel they have a reasonable chance of actually getting the job. 

There are zero issues with using tests as part of a hiring process, when used fairly. But nobody, and I mean nobody, wants to feel like their time is being wasted or, worse, taken advantage of.

I can say this confidently because I deal with this issue every day.

I lead a company called Vervoe that helps employers evaluate the skills of job candidates. David Weinberg (cofounder and Chief Product Officer) and I started Vervoe precisely because we wanted to give candidates the opportunity to showcase their skills as an alternative to being disqualified because of their background. Our company’s mission is literally to make hiring about merit, not background.

We learn from our clients—and their candidates—every day, and we’ve developed a set of guidelines for how to test skills in a way that helps employers make good decisions and gives candidates a positive experience.

First, let’s start with why it’s important. While I think chastising the candidate as “a Gen Z applicant” was unnecessary, I don’t see any issues with Stanfield insisting on a financial modeling test. Stanfield asks: “How is an employer supposed to know if you have the skills to do the job?”. And he’s 100% right. There is ample evidence about how unreliable interviews are for predicting job performance, so it’s no wonder companies are increasingly insisting job candidates prove their skills by doing tasks. 

However, just as Stanfield is entitled to insist on a test, so too is the candidate within his rights to refuse to do it. With one exception, while I’ll get to in a minute, we believe it’s mostly a question of supply and demand. Employers can design their own hiring processes and, depending on how much they want the job, candidates can decide whether to oblige.

The exception is when a candidate is being asked to transfer their intellectual property for free by doing work the company will directly benefit from. For example, if an employer asks candidates to write a blog post as part of their evaluation, and then uses it on their website. In situations like that, the employer should categorically pay candidates for their work.

Beyond that, it’s about having a hiring process that’s appropriate for the role. The most important factors are how sought after the role is, how well the role pays, and how likely a candidate is to be successful. Let’s look at some examples.

A data science role justifies a longer and more rigorous test than a lower-skilled role in hospitality. Conversely, the data science role is likely to have fewer applicants, all of whom have multiple alternatives, whereas the grocery store role may attract more applicants. 

This is where the likelihood of attaining the job comes in. In Stanfield’s case it wasn’t necessarily the length of the financial modeling test that caused the candidate indigestion. Their exact response was: “Without knowing where I stand in the process, I’m not comfortable spending 90 minutes in Excel.” Had they been told they’re one of a handful of shortlisted candidates, perhaps they would have responded differently. 

So in the data scientist situation—a role that’s typically hard to fill—it may be appropriate to ask candidates to do a (robust and lengthy) skill test a little later in the process, after they’ve had a chance to “opt in” so to speak. Conversely, for the hospitality role, candidates could do something shorter (7-10 minutes) and mobile-friendly as soon as they apply. Hence it all being about supply and demand. And this is exactly what we advise our clients.  

I do believe that if the effort being asked of candidates is disproportionately large in comparison to a normal interview process (more than a few hours in aggregate), then it’s appropriate to pay for their time, regardless of whether the company is directly benefiting from their work. For example, if an employer is asking a candidate to spend a few days doing a job trial—which is a fantastic way to hire by the way—then the candidate should absolutely be compensated.

And in all cases, candidates are free to “opt out” if they don’t feel the evaluation process is fair or gives them a reasonable chance of being successful. When that happens, employers will then need to decide whether their process is unfair or that candidate isn’t motivated enough. And that’s exactly what Stanfield has done. 

The key is to set expectations at the outset, and communicate clearly with candidates throughout the entire process about where they stand. That’s all (most) candidates expect.

In other words, if you don’t explain, don’t complain.

Omer Molad is the cofounder and CEO of Vervoe, an AI-powered skills assessment platform that helps companies hire the very best by focusing on who can do the job, not who looks good on paper.

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The opinions expressed in commentary pieces are solely the views of their authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of Fortune.

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