How to Decline Writing A Marketing Plan As Part Of The Interview Process

How to Decline Writing A Marketing Plan As Part Of The Interview Process

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Marketers, Do You Like To Work For Free?

This is not a trick question. We are seriously asking; would you like to put in a few hours, or days, of work and not get paid, maybe by writing a detailed marketing plan?

We assume you have bills to pay. So even though it not a trick question, it is a pretty stupid question. Of course, you want to get paid, right? What would make you work for free then?

The lure of a job, or the possibility of signing a new client, has marketers work for free.

This has to stop! It is more common than you might think. This has to stop as hiring managers in the digital marketing industry have been asking for anything from writing samples, to portfolios to 12-month marketing plans!

Incredible as it seems, we are getting more and more reports that social media managers and marketers are now required to ‘work for free' by writing a marketing plan as part of the hiring process.

In this article, you will find tips on how to

  • notice red flags during the interview process
  • set boundaries of what you are willing to provide for free during a job interview
  • firmly decline writing a marketing plan for free

Spotting Red Flags During The Interview Process

If you are currently, or soon to be, in the interview process for a marketing job, you can expect to be asked to show a portfolio, maybe present a case study, show past work or provide a sample of your writing, just to name a few things that we feel is within the boundaries of what is acceptable. Make sure your online presence reflects the job you want; your LinkedIn profile should be updated and ready to be viewed. You should have several LinkedIn recommendations and/or testimonials on your website from past internships or clients.

What is not acceptable and should be a red flag are the following real-life examples of what has been asked of marketers, including being asked to write out a complete, detailed 12-month marketing plan.

Read the excerps below.

Can you relate? Has this happened to you? Were you as upset as these marketers? Keep reading because we are offering several solutions to this problem!

“I interviewed and advanced to the top two and they asked for a pitch presentation at their annual meeting. I honestly almost bailed right then. I did end up doing the presentation and was pretty irritated when I didn't get the job and they hired someone with less experience for less money.”

“When I interviewed, per their request, I came up with a marketing plan. Then they requested me to pitch their services to three people on LinkedIn. I didn’t get the job. I also wasn’t told if my pitches worked or not. Never again.”

“I once provided a great plan as requested during a second interview. Then the next day, I saw the CEO present these direct ideas when he was being interviewed on CNBC. Yet he didn’t hire or compensate me.”

“A huge beauty brand with millions of Instagram followers used my copy almost word for word lifted from the content examples they requested from my work sample. Once I had delivered it they told me that I was overqualified and they were going to be hiring a more entry-level social position.”

“I had this happen to me twice last year, both companies ended up not hiring me, both companies ended up implementing parts of my strategies.”

“I had one person tell me “I'm not paying you to tell me what you think I should do.” It was very telling.”

“I was interviewing for an agency and for the second interview they wanted me to put together an hour-long presentation for a fake company with a full marketing plan. I didn't get hired and I felt completely taken advantage of afterward.

“I've had this happen once. They asked my advice on something and because I was still excited about the newness of social media back then, I filled them with all sorts of ideas. I was never hired, nor paid for “what I thought”. Lesson learned.”

“I was excited about the possibility of working with them and gave them three pages of notes that they loved. Then they didn't hire me. Won't make that mistake again.”

“I did this fairly recently. My gut was “screaming” at me the whole time. I completed a five hour project, put my heart and soul into it after three phone interviews and one bangin' in-person interview. After I sent it, radio silence. I felt so dumb that I didn't even try to reach back out to them.”

“Yup. Did it once. They hired another agency cheaper and got them to implement the plan I'd created. Never again.”

“I had a meeting once with a potential client and she picked my brain. She used my strategy and got an intern to do it.”

“Had a company do this to me, didn’t get the job and they used what was in my test proposal. Never again.”

What are the lessons learned from these examples with regards to the interview process for a marketing position?

It goes without saying that you should never, ever deliver a full detailed 12-month marketing plan to a company that has not hired you!


  • listen to your gut; if something doesn't feel right, bail the process altogether
  • less is more; don't give them everything
  • never pitch or interact with an agency's current clients before getting hired
  • refuse presentions; this is your intellectual property and your time is worth money
  • go into the interview process with a prepared portfolio
  • always make sure the company is actually hiring; check to find a job application online
  • know your worth and be confident

It's up to you to decide what you are willing to do to get the next gig. Are you up for confrontation?

If You Aren't Willing To Say ‘No' Is Compromising An Option?

We asked the social media managers in our Facebook group how they got out of writing a marketing plan for free during the interview process. Sadly, just about everybody told us that they performed the tasks and requested projects when asked, despite not feeling like it.

Yet a few marketers found a way to compromise; these two pieces of advice came forward.

“Don’t give it all away. There’s a careful balance between showing enough to demonstrate you know what you’re talking about vs. leaving them wanting more.”

“Gracefully pivot by developing a multiprong proposal for one specific fictitious campaign, and when presenting emphasize the fact that you've got a lot more tools in the bag that adapt to various campaigns.”

But is this enough? What if you really want the gig or the new client? Should you walk away from this great opportunity?

Our stance is yes! Stay firm and say no.

Know your worth and do not give away everything for free; most likely you do not want to work in an environment and for people who think that this is an alright tactic!

How To Firmly Decline Writing A (Free) Marketing Plan During the Interview Process

For us who are really done with these outrageous and horrible interview tactics, we did find an expert who gave us some great advice.

Liz Ryan, a Forbes contributor, offered a great tip in a recent article about this topic.

She says

Because it is so common for job seekers to run into outlandish requests on the job search trail it is a good idea to practice responses to scenarios like the one you ran into. The more you practice your response, the calmer you'll be if you should be asked to do something outrageous on a future job interview.

We think this is a brilliant idea.

You could role-play these scenarios with a friend, or spouse before your next interview. Here is the script Liz suggest you practice with.

writing a marketing plan

Reality is, there might not even be a real job opening. Hiring managers have been known to use a fake interviewing process to get marketing ideas without paying for them.

In this forum, we found some additional advice on how to not write that marketing plan!

One piece of advice I received is to write an Executive Summary of my recommendation and then tell them they can have the full report if they hire me.

We really like this idea as well.

In the end, we recommend you trust your gut! After reading this article, you should never be surprised or ambushed again about being asked to work for free. Have a prepared answer, and stick to it!

we teach the business of social media management

Ten Tips To Use For Your Next Marketing Interview

We couldn't leave you without a few additional interview tips.

Do you really, really want that next marketing job?
Read and implement these 10 tips via Forbes!

We challenge you to at least  #3 and #7; in doing so you might be less likely to be asked to write a marketing plan!

Let us hear it; how did your last job interview go?

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