How to Tackle the Take-home Task

EdSurge Updates | Jobs & Careers

How to Tackle the Take-home Task

By Sam Peterson     Dec 4, 2018

How to Tackle the Take-home Task

Once an expected (and often dreaded) follow-up item for all aspiring programmers, take-home tasks have become the new normal in job interviews for all types of roles these days.

The good news? Being asked to complete a take-home assignment means you’ve already moved into advanced rounds of the hiring process. (Congrats!) This lets you formulate a less spontaneous, more thoughtful response than may be possible in a live interview. More importantly, you now have a chance to test your actual fitness for the position and check some of your assumptions about the company’s expectations.

The bad news? There’s a possibility that you’ll devote hours of your time and a bunch of creative potential to acing this challenge only to be rejected at the end. And we’ve heard our share of stories about unscrupulous hiring managers who claim ownership of the ideas resulting from such challenges without ever giving credit (or a job) to the interviewing candidate. But we’re realists with optimistic tendencies, so let’s focus on what you can control and leave the rest up to faith in the human spirit, shall we?

Here’s a simple recipe for success:

PREP: discussion, brainstorming, research [~1 hour]

Read through the entire assignment, and ask clarifying questions to ensure you understand exactly what’s required of you. Unless it’s a timed assignment, ask the hiring manager how much time they recommend spending on the task. Even if you technically have a couple of days to complete it, set a strict, realistic time limit for yourself at the outset, and stick to it. If you’re right for the job, this should not require exhaustive research on your part. If necessary, allow time to go back and make revisions after you’ve finished everything.

Note: Generally speaking, this should not take more than a day to complete (a few hours, really). If that doesn’t seem possible with a given task, it may be a sign that the company’s expectations are not realistic or fair.

COOK: analysis, conclusions, presentation [2-3 hours]

Get to work. Remember, you already know how to do this; you just need to prove it. This is less about providing the one right answer than demonstrating your creative thought process and problem-solving ability. Outline the main ideas necessary to complete the task, and consider how you’ll present the material. Don’t get bogged down in details. Even if you’re actually enjoying the work, limit the time spent to avoid exhaustion. If all goes well, you’re very likely to be doing it all again in the near future. Reserve some of your energy and talent for the real work to come.

Note: If you’re concerned about IP theft when offering up original ideas, you have the right to ask a company to sign an NDA to protect your work. Be aware, however, that this complicates the overall process and could be perceived negatively. It’s also worth mentioning that if you don’t feel like you’re being treated honestly at this early stage, you may want to take your talent elsewhere.

SERVE: final review, corrections, practice [~1 hour]

It's time to review. Start by completely rereading the assignment itself, going over all the details with a fine-toothed comb. Don’t allow for the possibility of rejection based on a simple failure to follow the directions.

Did you respond to each portion of the task? Is your grammar/logic/craftsmanship solid? Can you explain each decision you made throughout? Good. Now, rehearse your delivery.


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