I recently applied to an economics pre-doctoral RA opportunity at a North American research university. I was asked to do a 7-hour empirical exercise, which I did (took me closer to 10 hours). Unfortunately, I was not asked to proceed in the interview process.

I did ask for feedback (or just the solution set for the empirical exercise), because I wanted to figure out where I went wrong and how I can do better the next time around, but the hiring manager informed that they aren't able to provide any kind of feedback.

I found this to be extremely frustrating and somewhat annoying -- I don't care that I didn't get the job, but I think it's wrong to ask applicants to perform many hours of uncompensated labor and not even provide an answer key! Is this the wrong way to think about things?

Really appreciate any insight or guidance you might have.


  • Questions on workings of academia belong to academia.se, even if you are an economist. This question is being migrated there. – 1muflon1 Jan 20 at 18:08
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    That sounds reasonable to be frustrated about. Economics research can be tedious especially with such a large exercise. It seems really valuable to you for confirmation of your work as it would be helpful to you as an economist moving forward in other opportunities. I didn't realize pre-docs were so much work to apply to! – Brennan Jan 20 at 21:16
  • You can and should name and shame. As things stand, supply greatly exceeds demand, so they have the power to indulge in such inconsiderate and indecent behavior. They could make life much easier for applicants if only they were willing to expend just a little thought and effort, but clearly they have no need to do so. By naming and shaming, you might make them that tiny bit more hesitant to repeat such behavior in the future. – user10885 Jan 21 at 8:14

Unfortunately for applicants, academic job environment is very competitive: there are tens, hundreds or sometimes thousands of applications per post. The employers (Universities) are often overwhelmed with the number of applications. Their recruitment processes are designed to optimise their own convenience, not the one of the applicants. To put it bluntly, they have too many people who want to work for them to care about the feelings of those who is not successful this time.

Universities often make it clear that they won't provide feedback for candidates who were not shortlisted for the post (i.e. not invited for the interview). You could assume that they are supposed to provide feedback for those who bothered to prepare and attend the interview at least --- but in practice it happens less often than not.

Even though this behaviour is common, you are right in thinking that it is wrong. It is very frustrating to spend 10+ hours preparing the application, several days preparing to the interview and actually attending it -- just to never hear from them again. The good news is (at least) that if this place has a selfish and unfriendly attitude to candidates, you probably don't want to be there anyway.


Having applicants do a 7 hour empirical exercise seems unusual to me, in academia, but setting that aside, I don't think them not sharing feedback on an exercise for a job application is a problem. Consider:

  • The purpose of the exercise is for them to decide if they want to hire you, not to educate you further.
  • If they're requiring something like this, I presume the position is fairly competitive. In that case, there could be a lot of applicants doing this. 10? 100? Do they all get feedback?
  • If they give feedback, and the information is put online (which seems like an inevitability), then future applicants can essentially cheat on their exercise, unless every new hire gets a completely new exercise, which is a ton of work for precisely zero gain for them.

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