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Secret Test of Thieving Skill

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When someone looks to hire a capable thief/burglar/hacker/etc. and sets up an "aptitude test" where potential candidates have to steal something from them as proof of their abilities. Oftentimes, the candidate won't even be aware that they are being tested, convinced instead of pulling off a bona fide heist right until the moment they're approached with a job offer. At other times, the future employer may not be actively looking for a thief but is sufficiently impressed with an act of theft to offer its perpetrator a job.

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Depending on how high the required qualifications are, The Guards Must Be Crazy may be in effect to varying degrees. The job offer itself is often framed as An Offer You Can't Refuse, as the potential employer now knows who the thief is and has enough dirt on them to have them locked away if they don't comply.

If a potential employer instead makes the thief prove their skills on an obvious patsy or even an inanimate training mockup instead, it's a Training Dummy, not this trope.


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Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Bubblegum Crisis: Supplemental materials (such as a music video) mention that Nene was recruited to be the Knight Sabers' hacker when she managed to get into a specially-made top-security site that Sylia had set up for such a purpose.
  • Naruto: The first part of the Chuunin Exams (at least the version our main characters take) is a written test with extremely difficult questions that only one taker (Sakura) in a room filled with aspiring Shinobi could actually answer without cheating. To complicate matters, proctors are posted around the room for the express purpose of keeping an eye out for cheaters, and five strikes meant disqualification. As many of the takers realize, stealing the correct answers is the REAL POINT of this test; the head proctor in the room later confirms that there were guys posing as test-takers who were meant to provide the answers for anyone smart enough to steal them without being caught. Only the most skilled cheaters (or Naruto, who never realized any of this and was never caught cheating simply because he didn't) lasted long enough to still be in the room for the final, fate-deciding question.

    Comic Books 
  • Downplayed in Lucky Luke: In "Fingers", Luke learns to pick pockets from a borderline Impossible Thief with an unfortunate habit of taking things without thinking about it. While he doesn't have to steal from him to gain the apprenticeship, he does so to impress his teacher later on:
    Fingers: You're a skilled student, Luke.
    Luke: Thanks. And if you give me back my revolver, I'll give you your wallet back.
    Fingers: A very skilled student!
  • An early Hitman storyline had him being hired to break into Arkham Asylum and kill the Joker, which turned out to be an aptitude test set by somebody really unpleasant.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The heist at the beginning of Inception turns out to be one of these, as the mark reveals that he knew the protagonists had been hired to rob him and decided to let them try to see how good they are. He's impressed enough to offer them a job, which leads to the main plot of the movie.
  • In the Antman movie, Scott steals the Ant-man suit from Hank Pym's house after being tipped by Pym himself. Hank lets him keep the suit and asks him to perform an ever bigger heist.
  • Played with in Tower Heist, where Slide is training the other characters in stealing. Before any lessons, he makes sure that the other characters are capable of stealing at all by having them steal $50 worth of merchandise from a mall. He makes them leave their wallets with him so that he knows they didn't just buy the stuff. And perhaps subverted when he reveals that while they were gone, he stole all the cash in their wallets.
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    Gamebooks 

    Literature 
  • Labyrinth of Reflections opens with Leonid breaking into a high-security Cyberspace facility of a pharmaceutical corporation to steal corporate secrets for his client. He gets intercepted, however, and learns that his client is the same corporation who set up a fake heist that only a Diver like him can pull off, because they are in dire need of one and want to offer him a much bigger job.
  • In the Modesty Blaise novel Sabre-Tooth, Modesty and Willie are captured by a villain who wants to see if their reputation for inventiveness is deserved before recruiting them. He locks them in a cell but deliberately leaves a means of escape to see if they will discover it. They do, then decide that is too obvious and must be a trap, and proceed to invent their own means of escape. The bad guy is very impressed, and makes them an offer they can't refuse.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Leverage: Archie (Parker's mentor and the world's greatest thief in his day) explains that he discovered Parker when she picked his pocket as a young girl. He taught her everything he knew and "unleashed her on the world."

    Video Games 
  • Towards the end of A Dance with Rogues part 1, a Dhorn nobleman looking for a capable burglar for a high-profile heist captures the Princess as she is breaking into his castle and locks her up in a dungeon... without confiscating any of her tools. So, when the Princess makes her way right out of said dungeon, he waits for her just outside with an offer she can't refuse.
  • In the Thief series:
    • Garret was taken up for training by the Keepers after (almost) picking a Keeper's pocket as a kid—a feat considered impossible, as Keepers are Invisible to Normals.
    • The first game also has a wealthy lord, who is actually the Big Bad, hire Garret to steal a sword from him through a proxy, in order to test his worth for a job he has in mind (and also to give him the sword as a down-payment).
    • At the end of Deadly Shadows, he takes on an apprentice in much the same way: after she almost picks his pocket.
    • Thief (2014), a reboot (and possible Stealth Sequel), indicates that Garret's apprentice met him in a similar way to the girl at the end of Deadly Shadows.
  • In Octopath Traveler, Therion the Thief's story starts with him deciding to steal from a local noble family's mansion after hearing a rumor from the local barkeep, only to learn that it was all part of a test set up by said noble family (including the barkeep who was in on it the whole time) to find a thief for a job.
  • The very first mission of Watch_Dogs 2 centers around Marcus Holloway breaking into a local CTOS server farm to erase the digital files Blume has on him, files that were used to convict him of a crime he was suspected in wanting to commit. After hacking the server, and escaping the building he's welcomed into DedSec, a gang of subversive hackers, and kicks off the game's main polt.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Queen of Thieves, while they don't have her (knowingly) steal anything, the heroine's encounters with the members of the Gilded Poppy throughout most of the prologue are one long audition for the role they plan to offer her in their next job. Nikolai assesses her artwork at her stand in Central Park, Vivienne tests her ability to recognize fake jewelry, Zoe confirms her knowledge at the art gallery, and Zoe and Jett both test her willingness to take risks and flout authority.

    Web Videos 
  • In Acquisitions Incorporated, Viari manages to secure The Intern's position for himself (where many other applicants died during tests) by pretending to show a card trick to the world-famous Master of Illusion Jim Darkmagic and picking Jim's credit card from his pockets while he's distracted.

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