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?


I like this idea a lot as it vibes well with the most recent generation of college grads. The newest generation of grads does not believe that privilege and credentials are privy to results and performance and this new way of interviewing subjects through simulation of work speaks to their strength. The idea needs refinement but I could see this as being revolutionary to the way companies choose efficient employees.


Ok, there are way too many of you dogging this idea as slave labor.

First off, companies who actually think there might be something to an idea aren't going to put out detailed information on it. They're not going to put out company specific info. They're going to put out something vague. If they did, it would lead to competition and stealin'. They're simply not going to post work that leads to actually work being completed.

Second, does anyone here know what it takes to EXECUTE on an idea? I can sit around and have 500 ideas a day, but I don't own any of them any more than I own the air I breathe. Even if I sit down and make a presentation on my idea, that's not necessarily the work that needs to be done to execute. We have a similar presentation creation process for a management trainee program where I work, and we've never taken a single idea from them because A) the applicant has no idea about our business models, plans or any industry-specific knowledge and B) the amount of resources it takes to properly execute on idea created without any knowledge of A is huge.

At its base, this is a way for students to work hard on a portfolio of projects that can help demonstrate aptitude. Nothing more. Good idea.



It seems that many of these commentors are far removed from the college experience...

-Not only would the ambitious college student jump at the chance to prove their abilities to a corporation, but they deserve it! How fair is it that the student who can best polish their 15-minute job interview and often-thin, single-page resume gets a call back?

-Slave labor?! Good students often work longer hours than many professionals, and last time I checked most of them expect to PAY for it. So don't tell me that giving students side projects with the possibility of original work and recognition constitutes enslavement.

Once again, I applaud Todd's idea for providing alternatives to the highly restrictive process of interviewing for a job out of college.

Kevin H

interesting idea. It is a lot like an unpaid, web-based internship. The web-based aspect makes it nice, allows for decentralization, and the ability to essentially work on as many internships you want at the same time.

The bigest downside I can see is that if the company is going to put up real work for the people, they are essentially making all information needed for the task public. This could prove to be a non-starter for a decent amount of businesses, especially in certain fields.


This has a similarities to rentacoder.com . The idea being that you can outsource work that you need done to the internet.

As for a name, perhaps use "RiseOfTheAchievers.com"?


I think the biggest roadblock of this idea is that it could potentially cost more to figure out which "Student's" work is the best than it would to just hire someone with a reputation for good work. Checking for originality and accuracy are the two main concerns, especially among a ton of entries. Also, for drawings and videos this might not be that time consuming for the judges, but for many other tasks it might take weeks.


It initially sounds like a good idea, but there are several problems with this.

In the college I go to, I am so fully caught up with real-life projects on campus that I wouldn't have time to participate in a virtual project. Wouldn't it be better, anyways, to spend your time in college making meaningful changes in your own community first, before serving the purposes of corporations? College isn't just meant to feed into corporations, with the early pro, but an opportunity to learn a variety of skills. And I think that we should allow students to remain students because you can spend time developing skills.

Internships provide a learning experience for students where they can be mentored and learn the political/social dynamic of the workforce. This type of project eliminates that mentoring aspect of working.

As noted by other comments, I don't want to be working for free for corporations.

Which leads to my final point that students who are working to earn money in college, while keeping up their academics might not have a chance to participate in such a program. And if corporations begin to judge students on whether they have participated in such projects, doesn't that leave these types of students at a disadvantage?

I would much rather have corporations allow students to participate in short stints of work experience, unpaid during short breaks or something, which will allow students to gain real world skills before internships or the workforce.

I just don't think this is the right way to approach bridging the gap between the university and corporate world.



I don't think people are going to want to work for free. People are selfish and don't like for their time to be consumed by something that may not benefit them. Also what happens when an individual does all kinds of work and others start stealing it? That's a bunch of crap and id be pretty angry. I don't think corporations would waste their time with this and I am really not sure that it would be beneficial. In theory it sounds good, but who knows if it would work out. Don't you think that companies would use this effort by students to get work done for free? I mean they wouldn't need to hire anyone if people were just doing the work for free. I just honestly see this ending badly.

Raul Aliaga Diaz

I think the closest thing I've seen to this is http://www.innocentive.com/

But it's not exactly to showcase students skills, rather a place for really hard "crowdsourcing"


I can't see companies actually using anything they get from the site dues to IP concerns. Even if the site granted them full rights there is no way to prevent students from using copyrighted material. With the rampant cheating that goes on in schools and consistent lying on résumés I'd be surprised if 50% of the submissions were legitimate.


From a company standpoint (most of the responses seem to be from student standpoint) I don't see this working too well. There are some cases (ie: artistic, etc, that doesn't require much knowledge) but for others they would require specialized on the job experience, access to private information (customer information, security standards, proprietary future plans) that would limit its usefulness. Also if we were to submit a job for someone to make our database or website or something, whose to say if they were to engineer in some backdoor or other illicit information in the document or project that would be against company policy - not discoverable until later (ie: a time bomb or something). Yeah its kind of out there, but just a perspective from the corporate world.


This is an excellent idea. People would be forced to work as hard as they can and give their very best if they really want the job. Since lots of people will be competing, then all of them should work very hard to defeat all the others. With this system of employment, the job will be given to the people who really deserve it (the people best at the task given) and the company would prosper because they would get people capable of doing what they want their employees to do. This gives employers a sense of what their employees are like, before they even start working, so they would chose the person they need the most; while before this, employers had first to employ the person, see how they work and then decide if they were good or not. Too many time was lost in the process of deciding the new employees.


Unfortunately, this idea might succumb to a problem of timing. The first few entries to this blog encapsulate the general suspicions and politicization of the corporate environment in economically unstable periods (i.e. territorial, paranoia of exploited labor and protectionism over all contributions).

BUT Assigning 'sample' problems to 'students/applicants' will be the next revolution in application procedures, because what is currently in place for applications are often perfunctory ('public' universities in california are required by law to host job fairs but percentage wise have nothing to do with where the hires actually come from but are a procedure required by the states)

Even standard tests and resumes, reflect little on the candidate as most applicants study the test taking skills or tailor the resume to include 'catch all' phrases. The LSAT is an example of a test that has more to do with the applicant's ability and function once admitted.

Question 3: Frank W. Olin College. Featured in the nytimes.com a year prior, is exactly this 'project' based method encroaching upon the 'standardized' curriculum of 'breath' requirements. Engineering students
are given the opportunity to be 'on site' solving structural problems with other engineers but are not 'required' to know the breath of all engineering models.

The company should label jobs 'available' and then give a 'sample' test, possibly from the companies current history, to see how they would have solved it (since by then the company might have little to gain or already know the gradation of possible solutions or have little to lose in the way of public sensitive information)


Leigh Caldwell

In the software discipline, http://www.topcoder.com/ does something very like this.

They have a frequent (2-3 times a week last time I looked) programming competition where people compete to prove their ability. Scores are public so you can use them to demonstrate your skills to potential employers. I don't know if it was explicitly targeted to students at first, that is who has ended up using it mostly (including a lot of high school students from eastern Europe, who probably don't have a lot of other ways to demonstrate their worth to companies). Recruitment is a big part of their business model so I'm sure there are some lessons to learn by looking at what they do.

There is also a crowdsourcing element - I'm not sure if that works so well, but it will be interesting to see if they generate a revenue stream from it.


also it should be stated that general paranoia, although a healthy mechanism when in 'dangerous' situations, is simply a molar version of the general 'credit' freeze. This very blog is already enacting a procedure of 'idea' sharing and problem solving, which cannot be overlooked. here is an example that may at least give us hope that although the prize may be big, only through sharing could these 'teams' come closer to the solution....



The cost benefit for a student isn't in line with the cost benefit of the employer. The student inevitably does a ton of work, and likely will not be rewarded with a job. 10 Hours of work on a project, 1000 applications, and 5 jobs, isn't not a winning idea in my mind as a potential employee. A student could just as well apply for 50-100 jobs during that time and actually land a single job and have to do nothing further.

If you want to sell this idea, sell it to those firms who believe there is no difference between a Yale Graduate and a Eastern Kentucky University graduate, or better yet form a case competition to help companies identify new areas of untapped talent.


Sounds to me like a thinly veiled scheme to get work for free out of credulous college students. If they have the best students in the country doing all these projects for them, why would a company ever bother to actually HIRE any of them, when they can just delegate next year's tasks to the next batch of dewy-eyed CV builders?

Zach Ringer

As a student, I really like the idea. I currently am having trouble developing a relationship with a person/business in the financial industry so I can get a summer internship. I definitely think students would work hard for free because they realize the value of getting the job in the coming months.
The only problem might be for students to pay others to do the work for them which would create problems. Or businesses not following through by hiring people and instead just taking advantage of a free work force.


I was was assigned a task in a job interview. Unfortunately, I was so busy in class at the time that I didn't get around to finishing the assignment. Either that or I didn't want the job that much. Well, maybe both.


I like the idea myself. I say, try it. Those who say it's unworkable: stay out and watch, ready for the bad ending you're predicting. Those who see value: give it a go. If it works out, great. If it doesn't, fine. But at least it's original and it would be a fun experiment. Who knows? It could turn into a profitable one too.