It’s time we pay interview-stage job applicants for their time

[Image description: Four string puppets standing in front of a yellow background flanked by blue curtains. Three appear to be wearing dresses, one with a shirt, pants and boots. All have beady, soul-less eyes, their arms outstretched as if they’re beckoning to be hugged. Image by epicioci on Pixabay]

Quick note before we start: Join me for “Friends with Money: A Fireside Chat for 501c3s & Philanthropists” on Wed, June 9th, 5pm to 6pm EDT. Free via Zoom. We’ll be discussing philanthropy, equity, power dynamics, etc. Also, several groups across the country are putting on a PEEP (Party to Enhance Equity in Philanthropy) event around the summer solstice. I’ll list the ones I have information about at the end of this post. If you’re planning something, please fill out this form, and I’ll mention it next week.

Over the past few years, I keep hearing horror stories from people applying for jobs. Someone had to go through eight rounds of interviews. A friend had a four-hour interview that included an essay followed by a one-hour PowerPoint presentation. A colleague had to come up with a marketing plan for an organization, didn’t get the job, but found that the org had used their ideas without asking for permission. Another person mentioned having a personality test and six interviews that culminated with them writing and performing a one-act puppet show to demonstrate their creativity.

OK, I may have made that last one up, but it wouldn’t seem out of the ordinary considering the crappiness that employers force on job applicants. Several people reported being ghosted by employers after putting up with similar time-wasting shenanigans. The level of disrespect for job candidates is ridiculous. Yes, there are also plenty of obnoxious job seekers, but it’s not the same when we remember that employers have the upper hand in these power dynamics.

Why do so many employers think it’s OK to require job candidates to follow their process, no matter how thoughtless and tedious? Power dynamics for sure. I am also blaming a phenomenon I’m calling the Asymmetric Requirement of Gratitude (ARG!). This is when one party is expected to be grateful to another party, even though both parties are needed for something meaningful to happen. The asymmetry mainly favors whoever has money and power. Job candidates and staff are expected to be grateful to employers. Retail workers are expected to be grateful to customers. Nonprofits are expected to be grateful to donors and funders. Etc. The gratitude is often expressed in thank-you notes, deference, and putting up with bad behaviors.  

There is so much inequity in all this. Job applicants are often vulnerable people. I remember earlier in my career spending months applying for dozens of positions, watching as my savings dwindled down to nothing, worrying about rent and food. Not every job seeker is in this situation, of course, but many are.

Those of us who are secure in our jobs sometimes also forget how expensive it can be to look for a job. People have to take time off from existing work. There’s gasoline, bus fares, and other transportation costs. Parents and caregivers have to find childcare or other forms of support in order to do interviews. There’s costs associated with looking the part, including dressing in business clothing and having a society-approved hairstyle, etc. All of these barriers disproportionately affect people of color, LGBTQIA, lower-income, and disabled people.

It is inequitable to ask already economically vulnerable people to spend hours doing multiple rounds of interviews and preparing a presentation or other assignments FOR FREE while people on the hiring team, who are often other staff and thus are compensated, get paid for their work of conducting the interviews, reviewing the assignments, and making decisions. And while we pay consultants and consulting firms to help with the search process.

It’s time to change all this. To cut down on all this disrespectful foolishness and to increase equity, we need to start paying job candidates for their time. A couple of weeks ago, colleague Marvin Webb (@marvinwebb) posed this question on twitter: “Have you heard of paying final round of candidates a small stipend? These folks present visionary #PowerPoint. I think it’s a heavy lift of their time. Thoughts?” He linked to this article highlighting a job applicant who was surprised to get a $150 stipend after doing interviews and a final project.

I like it! It is an idea we need to start implementing. It’s time for us to more seriously deal with the asymmetric expectation of gratitude, power dynamics, and inequity of our hiring processes. Here are some things we should do:

Designate funding to pay job candidates who make it to the interview round. Build it into your budget. Anticipate how many rounds of interviews you may have, how many candidates for each round, and estimate how much it would cost to pay them. The more rounds you have, the more you need to pay. If you require that much time from job candidates to make your decision, it’s only fair you pay for it.

Set aside funding to pay for special assignments you require: Respect candidates’ time and expertise. If you ask for a bespoke assignment like a development plan or a presentation, be clear upfront how many hours you anticipate it would take, and designate funding for each hour for each candidate. Some candidates will exceed the hours, so be clear in the beginning that you will only pay for five hours of work or whatever. The important thing is that you are clear and that you pay.

Determine rates of pay based on the position you’re hiring for: You might be wondering how much to pay job candidates. This is something we’ll need to figure out, but maybe one solution is to determine the wage based on the position. So if the job you’re hiring for pays $28 per hour, and you ask a job candidate to do three interviews and a five-hour assignment, that’s eight hours, plus two more for travel, etc., so that’s $280. I’m still kind of iffy on this formula, so I’m open to other suggestions.

Reimburse job applicants for transportation and other expenses: Mileage, bus fares, and other transportation costs should all be reimbursed. And I don’t think many job candidates expect it, but if you offer to reimburse other costs such as childcare, it would be extremely appreciated, help balance out the inequity in the world, and bolster your organization’s reputation.  

Be aware of power dynamics: If you decide to offer job candidates compensation for their time or reimbursements for expenses and you leave it up to them to choose, they might not take it because of the inherent power and other dynamics. They may think declining may increase their chance of getting the job, even if they really need the money. Be thoughtful about that. One way is to be transparent why you’re compensating people.

Spell out your process and limit what you ask people to do: It is frustrating to go into a job search process not knowing how many round of interviews or what assignments are required. Spell it all out at the beginning. And even if you can afford to pay people to go through six rounds of interviews and write and perform a puppet play, consider whether you should do that. Besides having less financial resources, candidates from marginalized communities also have less time.

I know this is not something we’ve been doing, so it may seem weird at first. But let’s face it, many of the hiring practices we’ve followed have been highly problematic, such as not disclosing salary information, still requiring formal education when most positions don’t need it, not giving candidates with prior conviction records a chance, and being ableist as hell by requiring candidates to be able to drive or lift 25 pounds when these are not essential functions, etc.

It’s time for change. Let’s stop treating people like puppets. Let’s make gratitude a two-way street. And let’s make compensating job candidates a common equity practice.

And while we’re at it, it’s not a bad idea either to send job seekers a thank-you note for going through our laborious process instead of always expecting them to follow-up with the thank-note and punishing them when they don’t.

Related post: Hey, can employers stop treating job candidates like crap?

PEEP (Party to Enhance Equity in Philanthropy) is a time once a year where nonprofit and philanthropy leaders get together to hang out and break down some of the pervasive power dynamics in our sector. It happens around the Summer Solstice (so around June 17th and 18th this year) and is designed to be fun and not taken too seriously. Here are a few that are going on below. If you are planning an event. Please fill out this form, and I’ll add it to the list.

Pittsburgh. Friday, June 18, 2021, 11:30am-1:30pm EST. “A virtual brown bag convo opp for nonprofit and philanthropy leaders to chit chat casually over lunch about equity and power dynamics in our sector.” Register here. Contact: Melissa Ferraro (

San Jose. June 17th, 11:30am to 1pm PDT, at San Pedro Square Market (outdoors), 87 N. San Pedro Street, San Jose, CA 95110. “Bring/buy your own lunch. Dessert provided by the co-hosts! Co-hosts: Angie Briones, Castellano Family Foundation; Anne Ehresman, Shortino Family Foundation; Anne Im, Silicon Valley Community Foundation; David Onek, SV2; and Maria Garcia and Michele Lew, The Health Trust.” Contact: Michele Lew (

Seattle. June 18th from 3pm to 5pm, likely some sort of picnic at a park somewhere. Co-hosted by Nonprofit AF, Philanthropy Northwest, Progress Alliance, Satterberg Foundation, and United Way of King County. Sign up here and we’ll send you details as we have them. Contact: Vu (

St. Louis. June 17th, 4:30-6pm CST. “Join us for this year’s event with the theme “2021:Here Comes the Sun” which encompasses the general feelings of summer, the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ for the pandemic in our community, and the increased (though belated) focus on justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion across the nonprofit landscape. The event will be emceed by Maryanne Dersch of Courageous Communications and will feature a poem by Grace Ruo, 2021 STL Youth Poet Laureate. Attendees will then have the opportunity to join two breakout rooms on a topic of their choice (both personal and professional topics will be included), and the evening will close with a performance from the Red and Black Brass Band.” Register here. Contact: Rachel (

Vancouver, BC. Friday June 18 at 3pm Pacific. “A PEEP event for Vancouver-area fundraisers, though everyone from outside Vancouver is also welcome! Join us for an informal discussion about the power imbalances and systemic inequities within the non-profit sector. We’ll also begin to imagine together what change could look like!” Register here. Contact: Sarah May (

Pacific Northwest: “I’d be interested in hosting a later summer event on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday for folks who would value some time connecting in a beautiful spot in nature (my house with a large patio fronting the White River, 8 miles from Mt. Rainier National Park) while enjoying snacks and beverages. (I realize M-F is best but I’m 1.25 hours from Tacoma and 1.5 hours from Seattle.) Pre- or post-event hikes or road/mountain cycling could offer endless choices from casual fun to serious vertical within a couple of miles of my place and an epic, scenic, accessible ride on the Mt. Rainier Gondola at Crystal Mountain Resort is just 17 miles away.” Contact: Keneta Anderson (