The hiring process is one of the most crucial functions for any company. It directly influences the quality of your workforce and, by extension, your company’s success. One essential component of this process is the interview task. Designing an effective and fair interview task can be challenging but immensely rewarding. This blog aims to guide employers in creating acceptable and beneficial interview tasks, ensuring they attract and retain top talent while maintaining fairness and efficiency in their hiring process.

The role of interview tasks in recruitment

Tasks within the recruitment process are a legitimate tool for assessing a candidate’s skills and capabilities. Asking for a candidate to do an unpaid project or task is reasonable, and this assessment method is common, especially at the final interview stage. These tasks help employers evaluate candidates’ real-world abilities, offering insights beyond what a traditional interview or resume can provide.

According to a survey by the UK’s Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), 67% of employers use tasks or assessments to better gauge a candidate’s suitability for a role.

Designing effective interview tasks

While interview tasks are valuable, it’s essential to design them thoughtfully to avoid potential pitfalls. Here are some key principles to consider:

Avoid free consultancy

We advise employers to ensure any tasks given should not be viewed as an opportunity to get free consultancy from a specialist. Tasks should be focused on assessing a candidate’s capabilities rather than solving a current business problem for free. This distinction is crucial to maintain the ethical integrity of the recruitment process. Candidates are often wary of tasks that seem like they are being used to generate ideas or solutions without compensation.

The CIPD highlights that 58% of candidates have declined offers when they felt their work was being exploited during the interview process.

Keep tasks manageable

Tasks cannot be too onerous for the candidate. They should be time-bound, include specific questions, and be well-defined. it is recommend that the task should include a maximum of 2 hours of preparation and can be presented within 10-15 minutes. This time limit should be clearly written in the task description to set clear expectations and ensure fairness.

Research indicates that nearly 30% of candidates abandon the hiring process if they perceive the task to be overly time-consuming or irrelevant.

Respect personal circumstances

Each candidate has a different set of personal circumstances—family, work, care commitments, etc.—and they shouldn’t be at a disadvantage because of these commitments. If a candidate sees a task that could take days to complete, the best candidates will simply drop out of the recruitment process. This means that employers will likely lose the best person for the job, given that these top candidates are likely in several recruitment processes at the same time or being headhunted by competitors.

According to a LinkedIn survey, 52% of job seekers in the UK have declined further participation in a hiring process because the interview task demanded too much time, highlighting the need for reasonable and considerate task assignments.

Types of interview tasks

There are two types of common tasks that we advise our clients to use:

Reflective tasks

A task looking back in time, for example, “Give us an example of when you have done this?” This type of task doesn’t include a lot of research time for the candidate but allows the employer to assess their approach and strategy behind their work as well as their critical thinking skills. It provides insight into the candidate’s past experiences and how they have handled relevant situations. This method is effective in gauging a candidate’s practical skills and problem-solving abilities based on real-world scenarios they have encountered.

Analytical tasks

A task that is looking specifically at the business, for example, “We have a particular problem in this business, how would you approach it?” This type of task requires more research from the candidate into the business. For this task, it’s even more important that the employer includes a time limit. Analytical tasks test the candidate’s problem-solving abilities and how well they understand and can apply their skills to a real-world scenario. This type of task is particularly valuable in assessing how a candidate can contribute to the specific challenges your business faces. However, ensure the task remains within the 2-hour preparation limit to avoid overwhelming the candidate.

Read our guide to Executive assessments to identify high-potential leaders.

Ensuring fairness and transparency

To maintain a fair and transparent process, employers should:

  1. Communicate clearly: Provide clear instructions and expectations for the task. Include the purpose, time limit, and how it will be assessed. This transparency helps candidates understand what is expected and reduces anxiety. According to Glassdoor, candidates who receive clear communication about interview tasks are 20% more likely to have a positive view of the company, regardless of the outcome.
  2. Avoid overburdening candidates: If a candidate feels like they haven’t got enough time to do the task, they should feel comfortable declining politely, by stating clear reasons. We advise employers to clearly understand the purpose of the task, which is to assess a candidate’s capabilities, not to receive a free business plan. Overburdening candidates can lead to frustration and dropouts. A study by Indeed found that 42% of candidates withdrew from the application process because they felt the interview task was too demanding.
  3. Protect candidate work: If a candidate is not hired, there is no way to know whether their work is going to be used by the company or not. The only thing a candidate can do is to ask the employer not to record the presentation. Employers should respect this request and ensure that candidate work is not used unfairly. Ethical considerations in this regard are critical to maintaining a positive reputation and trust with potential hires.

The impact of poorly designed tasks

Poorly designed interview tasks can have several negative consequences:

  1. Candidate dropout: Top candidates may drop out of the process if they perceive the task as too time-consuming or irrelevant. This can lead to the loss of potential hires who are in high demand. A report by the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC) found that 40% of candidates cited overly complex or lengthy tasks as a primary reason for abandoning a job application.
  2. Negative reputation: Unreasonable tasks can damage your company’s reputation. Candidates talk, and word can spread quickly about companies that are seen as exploitative or inconsiderate in their hiring practices. Glassdoor reviews often highlight negative experiences with interview tasks, which can deter future applicants.
  3. Unfair assessment: Tasks that are too difficult or unrelated to the job can unfairly disadvantage candidates who may excel in the actual role but do not perform well in artificial test conditions. This misalignment can result in missing out on otherwise highly qualified candidates.

Best practices for interview tasks

To ensure your interview tasks are effective and fair, consider these best practices:

Align tasks with job requirements

Make sure the task is directly related to the skills and experiences required for the job. This alignment helps ensure that the task is relevant and meaningful. According to the CIPD, tasks that closely match job requirements are 30% more predictive of job performance.

Balance depth and brevity

While it’s important to assess candidates thoroughly, balance this with brevity to respect their time. A task that can be completed in 2 hours with a 10-15 minute presentation is typically sufficient. This approach ensures you gather enough information to make an informed decision without overwhelming the candidate.

Provide feedback

Give candidates feedback on their tasks, regardless of whether they get the job. This shows respect for their effort and can leave a positive impression of your company. According to a survey by Talent Board, 70% of candidates are more likely to apply for future positions if they receive constructive feedback after an interview.

Positive candidate experience

Remember that the interview process is also an opportunity to showcase your company’s culture and values. Treat candidates with respect and fairness to foster a positive candidate experience. Positive candidate experiences can lead to better employer branding and a higher likelihood of referrals.


An acceptable interview task is one that is fair, relevant, and respectful of the candidate’s time and circumstances. By following the guidelines and best practices outlined in this blog, employers can design tasks that effectively assess candidates’ capabilities while maintaining a positive and ethical hiring process.

In summary, tasks within the recruitment process are a legitimate tool for assessing a candidate’s skills and capabilities. By ensuring that these tasks are not too onerous, clearly defined, and time-bound, employers can attract and retain the best talent. Remember, the goal is to assess, not to exploit. With thoughtful design and clear communication, interview tasks can be a powerful component of your hiring strategy, leading to successful and lasting hires.

View more employer advice here.

Interview Task