As a freelance writer, I’m often asked to complete a test assignment. Sometimes companies offer compensation, sometimes they don’t. Here’s my answer to such a request, and why.
Why Freelance Writers Should NEVER Write a Free Test Article
Last week, I submitted an application to a company seeking a content writer. A friend passed the ad on to me, and the company looked interesting and well-established. The ad didn’t say how much each article assignment would eventually pay, but the professional tone of the advertisement was encouraging. So too was the fact that I had impressive publishing credentials in exactly the space the potential client worked in – and magazine clips to submit on the exact topics he wanted someone to write for. It seemed like a slam-dunk, a home run.
The potential client responded within 24 hours. “Congratulations! You’ve made the first cut. You’re among 25 writers we’re considering for this vacancy.”
You’ve narrowed it down to…25? Are you kidding me? Already I had that prickling feeling on the back of my neck that warns me a potentially bad situation is looming. But the next paragraph clinched it for me.
“In order for us to select the best writer, we require you to complete the attached questionnaire and submit two sample articles. Each article will be keyword-rich and 1,000 words. Submit your articles within 24 hours to us at…”
How long does it take a professional writer to research keywords and topics, then write a really solid 1,000 word article? I would say at least one hour per article. So essentially, this company wanted two free hours of work from each of their 25 potential writers. Then, and only then, would one lucky writer be chosen to work with them. And by the way, they still didn’t mention how much they planned to pay.
So I emailed them back and politely let them know that while I would be willing to complete a test, my rate for completing such a test is X, and I accepted PayPal and bank check.
They seemed absolutely flummoxed by my response. I received another email back, letting me know that it was standard practice within their company to ask applicants to complete tests. Writers, designers, computer programmers, whoever was going to work with them, they wanted a lengthy test.
Now while I can see such a test for a full-time position, for freelance work it is absurd. It is especially absurd when you consider that I had submitted published magazine articles on the EXACT topic requested in their test article.
I declined to write the test, and explained my reasons to them in this manner.
“Would you ask a lawyer to prepare a free legal brief for you so that you can assess his skills? Ask a physician to commit two hours at no charge to you so that you can assess his surgical skills? Ask a dentist to install a free filling and a crown so you can test his skills? No. So why are you asking writers to give you two free hours of their time?”
Their only response was to tell me that this was their standard method of assessing freelancers and so far, no one had complained but me. Well, I have news for them. The reason they haven’t heard complaints yet is because the better writers packed up their keyboards and went elsewhere.
The sad fact is that many writers probably DID complete their test assignments. What guarantee do we have that the company won’t use the two free articles produced as part of the test? None. Just their word that they have given the same writing prompts to all 25 writers and therefore couldn’t use the resulting articles. After all, no one would want to publish, let alone read, 25 articles on the same topic. Right? Well, maybe…
Now I am not saying that this particular firm intended to get free content. It has been my experience, however, that companies who want lengthy free consultations or to “hear your thoughts” on their pressing problem before they hire you as a consultant are hoping to get free work out of you. Why companies think it is okay to do this with consultants and creative freelancers, such as designers, writers, photographers and others, is beyond me, but we (the creative types) do seem to get hit with this more frequently than say, other white-collar professions.
As a freelance writer, my experience is simply this: the best companies I work with are the ones who paid me a fair rate for a simple test assignment. Many paid me to participate in short online training courses to learn the ropes for their particular clients or content platforms. They paid me for my time.
If you are a freelance writer and a company asks you to complete a big free project, ask yourself (and yes, ask them too) why. Why do they want a test assignment? Offer clips of your work, links to it online, or a short paragraph if they truly want to assess your writing skills.
But don’t give your time and talents away for free. You’re worth more than that.
No, freelance writers should not complete test articles at no charge.
This article was written by Jeanne Grunert, president of Seven Oaks Consulting, and “The Marketing Writer“. Jeanne is a 20+ year veteran of countless meetings which could have been handled by phone calls or emails. Her experience includes leading marketing department, writing books and magazine articles, and pushing cats off of her desk. Jeanne does not write free test assignments but she’s happy to give you a satisfaction guarantee on your first project with her. If you’re not happy with her writing, you’re free to cancel and go elsewhere with no hard feelings and not a penny owed to her. For more information, visit www.marketing-writer.com, Jeanne’s website.