Our Daily Bleg: A Way to Show Employers What You Can Do Before You Get the Job

Here’s an interesting concept from blog reader Todd Palmer, who wants reader opinions as to whether his concept can work in the marketplace; and he also needs a good domain name.

Todd’s idea:

The site would function as a recruiting network, giving students and corporations an entirely new dimension of access to one another. Corporations would post tasks, real or simulated, for students to work on. These tasks would be organized by subject area or industry, such as computer science, mechanical engineering, journalism, marketing, web design, etc.

Already Been Blegged

75 ThumbnailHere’s what Freakonomics readers have been blegging for lately.

Students would create individual or team profiles and work on selected tasks, submitting their completed work in the form of text, images, videos, power point, audio, or any other format that can be uploaded. Companies will have the ability to rate submitted work, allowing students to accumulate a “work score.”

The benefit for the corporation would be their new outlet to recruit students who have a proven ability to excel at the type of assignment they will be faced with on the job.

They will also find that they have a large audience of well-educated students who are quite motivated to impress them with their submissions. This will give them the power to bleg. They will be able to post tasks that they are unable or unwilling to pay a single individual to do, and they will get at least a few surprisingly high-quality submissions due to the nature and size of their audience. They will be able to tap into the creative minds of the masses at their will.

The students will be able to showcase their skills while still in school full time, and they will also be able to build a work portfolio that can be integrated into their resume. Each top-notch project that they complete for a corporation will get them noticed, and make them more likely to be hired upon graduation. This format could even allow for students to go pro early, meaning they could get recruited while still in school and get a jump on their careers while their new employers pay for the remainder of their education.

This new site could be to summer internships what online education has become to on-campus education. It would give students exposure to real-world scenarios and assignments without the face-to-face interaction of an internship.

Todd asks the following questions:

— Would corporations and students spend the time and effort to participate in such a site?

— If all parties participated in the site as hoped, would it create a win/win situation for companies and students?

— Could it have a large enough impact to alter the traditional college curriculum by encouraging the teaching of material more relevant to the real world?

— What could be added to make the site more useful to all parties?

— What would a good domain name be?


Are you kidding?

Only a web-based extension of the "unpaid internship" or free labor. Even apprentices under the feudal system were paid in food.


Solid idea! It might also be important to have a system for students to rate the companies (like buyers rating sellers in online marketplaces). That way, the companies that give adequate consideration and feedback on submitted work will have more favorable ratings than companies that merely abuse the free student labor!

Domain names that don't currently have any serious content:
(this is why I'm not in marketing)


What an idiotic idea... Like not too many people work almost for nothing or even free. Corporate America and bloodthirsty capitalists want you to solve their problems for free? Well go to McKinsey & Co., Deloitte Consulting, BCG... or ask law firms to solve your problems for free...

Another point: Companies ask and insist to know how much you are being paid by another employer. It is not their f*6&n business. It is your personal matter and do NOT tell them. Don't lie - just decline to tell them. It never works for an individual who is competing in a labor market - but only for a corporation who tries to underpay you. If everyone show a bit of a backbone - we are all better off.

John Squire

What's the proposal regarding ownership of IP rights in the work product?

If the students have to assign rights to all submissions, whether used or not, they're giving up rights to derivative works (refinements or improvements used for other bleggers). If only the "winning" student has to assign rights, what's to stop her from requiring payment at that point in the process (or scaring off a possible user with that threat)?


Examples of real world assignments would be very valuable for students. When I graduated college I found the real corporate world work environment to be very different than what I was led to expect in classes.

Not sure how helpful this would be to most businesses unless for publicity reasons. Most completed work is not judged on merit, but on who submitted them. The efforts that get pushed forward are not necessarily the best ideas, but instead who has the most political capital to push them to completion. I can see there being real benefit to small businesses who cannot afford high priced consultants, and it could be helpful to larger corporations if they fully commit to program participation.

I think there could definitely be benefit to the students if not the curriculum. I would hope the course material, especially in business school, could catch up to the real world. At the very least it would be helpful to teach some additional classes on real world concepts in addition to the classics. I would say at least 50% of my education has not been useful in my career.

An online meeting place for video/phone conferences would be very helpful. Tasks change or expand as they progress and the impacts need to be discussed. Also, often a quick meeting can clarify requirements and produce better quality results.

domain: www.trialbyfire.com


Jerry Cordaro

How about www.try-n-buy.com?

Gabriel Wolf

Question 1, I don't think that corporations would a. want to spend the time and b. many firms have sensitive information that they wouldn't want to give to a given student, or "student" (read: competitior) on the internet.

Question 3, see Northeastern University in Boston

Walter Wimberly

It would also (potentially) require a lot time on the students behalf, which they may not want to give while working, attending class, etc.

Which would mean instructors would have to endorse/require it for projects. As an instructor, I wouldn't necessarily recommend to my students - although we do encourage them to develop portfolios of their work (marketing plans and pieces for marketing students, advertisements for designers, web sites for web designers, etc). This would seem too much like a way for companies to get free work, without having to provide anything in return.

As for part 3 - which in my opinion is the more important aspect, I cannot say. I've met too many instructors/professors who were happy teaching their way, and haven't updated books or lesson plans in years because they feel like they can reuse the same info as much as they want. (They are not measured on the success of their students after they leave the class.) The good instructors were changing curriculum yearly or even by the term. However, there is little reward for instructors to do this, so quite often they burn out/stop. To get instructors to teach more relevant work - there needs to be a reward for them to do so.



The major problem with this idea is that a lot of companies would probably use it as a way to get work done for free, without bothering to actually hire any of the participants.


A key consideration is that applicants be able to take their portfolios with them and reuse them in different contexts. That is, if the portfolio is owned exclusively by the company asking for the work, there is no benefit to the applicants (other than the possibility of getting a job, but that already exists).

An additional win would be features that make it easy for applicants to remix existing portfolios for new applications.


I don't see why more corporations simply give trial work as part of the interview process - nothing crazy, but something that demonstrably shows whether the person has skills, talents, ingenuity, and the like.

A professor of mine who taught more for kicks than anything does this for his small accounting firm - giving them simple tests to start off an interview. Nobody has ever declined to take it, and he's easily weeded out numerous candidates who otherwise seemed good.


That screams exploitation.


This is brilliant--I'd use it now if it was available (as someone just starting their career, not even a student). So many jobs are gotten via networking because people don't like to deal with 'unknowns'. If you had a creditable portfolio behind you already, it might help you get roles that you otherwise could only have gotten by 'knowing someone'.

I can see where this would help companies too--by widening their pool of available talent. I'm sure they don't like to solely rely on networking either, as that almost assuredly misses talent (especially folks who may be awesome at their jobs, but awful at people skills--computer scientists, anyone?).

Why create a new domain--pitch the idea to LinkedIn as a new segment of their site. This would go hand in hand with networking.


In the computer industry, this already exists... it's called "working on open-source software" and includes coding, graphics, documentation, web administration, and more. Not nearly as many people work on it as they could, even though it offers the opportunity to create a very public portfolio. Somehow, even among the unemployed, there's a distaste for doing work for delayed and intangible benefits.


How about www.slavelabor.com? How would I, Joe College get paid for project x? how would I defend my IP rights against megacorp who is right now using my PowerPoint to sell the next big thing?

Perhaps you should contact Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts and see how much fun it is when Mary the Artist shows her work to megamart and they say no thanks and six weeks later her idea is on the shelf for $8.99 but made in China?


Realsume - real world experience for your resume.

Trevor L

As a college student in the midst of looking for a summer internship, this idea seems wonderful and useful. However, a problem I could foresee is one in which potential employees abuse the system. It would be difficult to monitor the task at hand; Is the potential employee using a friend, a father, etc.? Also, I would imagine that employers like to see more tangible items. This potential site provides job-seekers the opportunity to make themselves look good; however, if I was an employer, I would still look for those with beefed up resumes.

Neeraj Agrawal

Speaking as a project oriented student who loves the concept of crowdsourcing, I have to say this is an intriguing idea. My GPA certainly does not reflect my potential as an employee, and I feel like such a site would help someone like me gain the recognition I might never achieve just from my transcript.

That being said, I feel that it will be extradorinarily hard to motivate my peers and I to participate in a service like this for no compensation. Perhaps if corporations put up a cash prize for the best entry, as well as some sort of guarantee for attribution, more students would get excited about focussing their time and energy on a project.

Victory in such a competition would have to be worth more than a fluffy bullet point on my resume. I would need the promise of money to help fuel my wasteful collge lifestyle.

If you are good enough at something to beat competing teams, why do it for free?


Peter S

Great idea with huge possible, unintended consequences. Assuming the model took off we would replace a stable workforce with an unstable pool of "consultants". Very few would have a steady paycheck and income would swing with the economy wreaking havoc on mortgage payments and so forth. With strong safety nets and universal, single-payer health insurance a model like this may be excellent. But as many commentators have pointed out this gives corporations a lot of leverage and forces workers to prostitute their ideas in a competitive marketplace.


In the software world this sort of already exists. Developers who are serious about their craft often contribute to Open Source projects to:

1) hone their skills
2) work on tools or projects that are interesting to them personally
3) improve tools they're already using, maybe even using at work (this one gets iffy for IP, but some companies are onboard, like IBM...)

On the flip side, interviewers who are looking for seriously good talent can ask about Open Source portfolios. People in the company can pull the source from the open space, read the developer's blogs, etc.

I submit that this is the minority of software people, but for really really good software people collaborating on Open Source projects are a near must. Best of all, it has the best qualities the poster asked for:

- Anybody with skill can participate (Open Source projects care about skill, not previous degrees or certs)
- It's free
- Open Source projects are providing tangible products to nearly every corporation already (you might not see it, but it's in the backbone infrastructure at least).

The only piece missing is that corporations/companies are not requesting specific work. I would offer this observation, though: Open Source is more efficient. If 100 people submit similar things to a company request and only 1 is used, that's lousy economic efficiency. Much better if even half of the effort could be put to use after it's submitted.