Some employers ask prospective hires to create free elearning samples before being hired. Should you ever do free work? I think people deserve to be paid for their time and effort. However, in some limited circumstances, creating free elearning samples make sense.
The problems with free samples
Doing free work sends the signal that you’re not worth paying. If they don’t value your work when they’re trying to hire you, they won’t value it if you take the job either.
Unscrupulous organizations have been known to outsource work to a bunch of different people to save money. This happens more in fields like graphic design and editing than elearning, but I’ve heard of some sketchy things in our industry. I especially worry about people being asked to create templates as their free samples, as those are more likely to get used without actually hiring the creator.
Do short paid projects instead
If a requested free elearning sample will take 10+ hours for you to build, use this response (feel free to edit it for your own language and pricing):
Hi! That sounds like a great short project. My rate for a project of this scope is $500. If that’s in your budget, let me know and I’ll send over an agreement.
You’re not telling them “no,” you’re telling them “yes, and.” That is, “yes, and here’s how much it will cost.” I’ve done short paid projects like this as a sample.
It’s expensive and risky for companies to hire people, as full-time employees, contractors, or consultants. It’s also risky for you to agree to work with someone new. A short paid project doesn’t commit either you or the organization to anything long term. You can both figure out if this is a working relationship you want to continue.
Legitimate companies will pay for this work. If they push back on paying you, that’s a red flag. You can try to negotiate for a smaller project. If they won’t pay, and they won’t negotiate the scope down, it’s probably better to walk away–with a few exceptions noted below.
Less than 1 hour
What about elearning samples that can be completed in less than 1 hour? I think that’s a reasonable amount of work to do for free. I usually do a free 1-hour initial call with new prospective clients after initial screening. A sample of this scope feels about the same to me as that 1-hour call.
A 1-hour project gives employers a chance to have a consistent project to compare candidates, but it also respects your time.
What about if you’re brand new to the field, or you don’t have any samples of past work you can use in your portfolio? In that case, I’d consider doing a free project if it will end up giving you a new portfolio sample.
If the requested project uses a company’s proprietary content, you probably can’t use it in your portfolio. If they request something generic, you probably can reuse it.
I recently did a sample that took 2 hours (instead of my usual paid project or 1 hour limit). I’ll be able to use that sample in a future blog post. It might end up as part of a new portfolio sample eventually too. Because I personally benefit regardless of whether I get hired for that project, it was worth the effort.
What do you think?
Do you ever do free elearning samples for prospective employers or clients? Do you set any conditions for your free work?
If you’re an employer, how do you handle this process? How much do you ask prospective hires to do?