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my patronus is a basilisk jeliza
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question for job hunters/hirers
I have more people on my "interview-worthy" short list than I want to actually interview.  Is it legit to request a writing sample from the shortlist to narrow it down, when it isn't something I mentioned in the ad at all?

ETA:  Thanks for everyone's responses! The job requires writing a lot of 2-3 paragraph e-mails comparing options, so that's what I ended up asking for.  Realistically, if/when I have to hire this position again, I should ask for that up front, since not everyone sends a cover letter that is sufficiently revealing.

Yup. Position I'm about to interview for did exactly that. I wasn't offended in the least.

To expand on this: they framed it as a skills assessment. Gave me some documentation to read and a series of hypothetical inquiries to write responses to based on my understanding of the documentation. That way they could see how well I both interpret & craft responses, and I could see what kinds of things I might be dealing with.

That's very helpful, thank you.

It's legit to do so, but I would make sure of two things - preface it with the information that there are too many applicants, so this is another test to pass, and don't make it too long/difficult. You want something that requires work and will show skill, but you aren't paying them for this so a 10-page paper is right out.

I figure you probably know that, but wanted to state it anyway just in case.

I didn't actually know that first part. Thank you -- I ended up putting in my request explicitly that this only went to the top 10, and would be determining who would go to interview. The sample itself is only a couple of paragraphs, barely any research required.

That way they know why there's something added (and too many applicants is not surprising, in this economy) and won't feel like you're doing a Columbo one more thing at them.

I get the Columbo thing at work a LOT and it drives me nuts, so... :)

If it's something that is a requirement, and you would check on it before hiring anyone, then I'd say it's legit to do it now, depending on how much you're asking of them.

From the interviewee's point of view, if they're going to get filtered out, it's appreciated if that can happen with as little wasted time investment as possible. It's no kindness to take someone's time for an interview and only then filter them out because they can't write a brief sample. On the other hand, if you were for some reason needing them to spend a lot of time writing it, that would be unpleasant to ask before any interview filtering. (Even if it's tempting for the less scrupulous employer because you could probably read those much faster than they wrote them.)

When an employer asks for too much up-front work from candidates, they tend to lose the ones who have other options, and only get people who are desperate for the job. You'd rather people can afford to be picky; it's a gift to you if they can turn down the job if it's not a good fit and you don't pick that up but they do...

Perhaps luckily, the job is mostly writing 2-3 paragraph customer e-mails, so hopefully this won't be too onerous a task. Given that half the potential interviewees live an hour+ outside Seattle, it seems unkind to do the interviews first.