Job seekers are always encouraged to “do their homework” on a company – to know the company’s business inside and out before they sit down for an interview. But that may not be the only homework associated with your job interview: Be prepared for a prospective employer to turn right around and ask you to do a formal assignment as part of the interview process.
Such projects can range from a simple writing assignment to a complete business plan, and they offer an opportunity for you to showcase your skills and enthusiasm for the position.
Homework assignments are also a clear indicator of the type of role you’ll be filling. Most companies are after a commoditized skill set and a person they can add to their existing structure with minimal effort. Companies that ask candidates to complete an assignment, however, are generally different. They’re looking for individuals who are appropriately disruptive. These employees both challenge the status quo and know how to use disruptive ideas within the context of the organization and their team -- they’re innovators, but also team players.
Here’s how to show you’re both forward-thinking and collaborative through an assignment:
1. Be Creative
Employers often make homework assignments deliberately open-ended to test a candidate’s abilities. Good candidates complete the assignment or ask for clarification. Excellent candidates go beyond, do additional research without prompting and display an enhanced understanding of the subject.
2. Show, Don’t tell
Demonstrate through the language you use how you would make an open-minded employee. Ditch the formal language traditionally reserved for employer-candidate communications and let your personality shine through, whether you’re easygoing or driven.
3. Tie it all Together
It’s great that you can write a business plan in three hours flat, but what then? How would you work with other departments and your future coworkers to implement suggestions or present to a client?
On a basic level, assignments serve as another way to screen candidates. While an interview allows an employer to see how you think under pressure and learn more about your personality, homework assignments give employers a glimpse into your creativity and how you’ll interact with your future coworkers. When completing assignments for a potential employer, don’t hesitate to put your skills on display. Be assertive and confident, but remember the role that you’re auditioning for.
The most difficult part of an interview from the interviewer’s perspective is imagining how someone will integrate into a team. An assignment gives you the opportunity to make that connection for an employer. Take advantage of it.
Sabrina Parsons has served as CEO of Palo Alto Software since 2007. She and her husband, Noah, founded a UK software distribution company in 2001 that was acquired by Palo Alto Software in 2002. As CEO, Sabrina is a staunch supporter of entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial organizations.