Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Just Say "No" to Spec?

Today friends, is a historic day in the life of this would-be Happy, Healthy, Well-Adjusted and Popular gal. Today is day seven of my new job with a fabulous downtown nonprofit! One week, and so far, so good. I enjoy what I do, my new co-workers and my office (Yes, I have an office! With a door! And a window!). I fully support the organization's mission. It's a dream.'s the caveat: it's part-time. I know there may be an opportunity to become full time at some point in the future, assuming the organization has the financial means, and of course, that they like the work I do. It's a powerful motivator, this potential future full-time position. I find myself trying to walk faster, think bigger, and work harder than ever in order to prove myself worthy.

Some might call this period of part-time work "spec" - as in work done for a company during the interview process designed to establish a potential employee's knowledge and skills but without said company having to commit to a hire. While I see very few real similarities between my situation and actual spec work, it does make me wonder, has the down economy birthed a hire-er's market where extreme caution is exercised by interviewers and in which spec work is the norm? Are we really looking at creating a standard practice where one professional feels entitled to ask another to work for free? Should the young workforce resign themselves to a future of test after test in the search for employment?

I decided to ask around. Seems most young interviewees are frustrated that their degrees and resumes are no longer enough to establish their credibility (I mean really, diplomas are just given out like candy these days, right? Or wait, did I get my diploma in EXCHANGE for candy? I forget...). They also fear their intellectual property may be stolen or that they will not be properly reimbursed for their time. Unfortunately, at least among those I spoke with, these fears are too often realized. Maybe it's time those entering the workforce pick up a legal degree in their spare time. I have one highly qualified friend who was asked to create an entire marketing plan for an organization's recruitment initiative only to lose the job one. The position is still open. She doesn't know what became of her marketing plan, and if I were her, I wouldn't want to know: the possibility that her work may be in use while she decides whether to collect unemployment is just too painful.

Some outspoken opponents of spec work admit that while they don't support the idea itself, it is hard to refuse when jobs are scarce and talent is plentiful. And it isn't just new graduates who face this difficult crisis of conscience. On a flight a few months ago, I sat next to an experienced creative director who was in the process of a large, involved spec project for a well respected West coast company. We talked at length about Gen Y's sense of entitlement (see Jenavi Kasper's explosive post on Phoenix Ad Blog) and the value of "bringing the goods" to an interview in addition to your resume's fancy words. I heard recently that he got the job (way to go fellow traveller!) and I have to assume that he was proud of the spec he "brought."

Whether or not spec work is fair, it does get the job done - often for both parties. A friend recently told me about a three hour interview where she was given a complicated design task to complete on the spot. It was through this process that she realized that she didn't want the position - saving both herself and the company the headache that would likely have occurred had she taken a job that wasn't a good fit.

In theory spec work is funny, but when it comes down to it, I think most of us see spec work as a seed of hope - a chance to grab hold of that elusive corporate ladder and demonstrate that despite whatever obstacles have kept us from entering (or escaping) The Rat Race in the past - given just a little time and space we too can produce quality work that will make the world a better place.

1 comment:

Aaron Stiner said...

Congratulations on your job Megan! It's tough stuff out there right now for nonprofit job seekers. You've landed with a great organization and I am sure your work will shine through. Good luck turning this into a full time permanent gig.

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