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Making Sure Interviews Don't Turn Into Free Consulting 232

Posted by Soulskill
from the anything-worth-doing-is-worth-doing-for-money dept.
We've talked in the past about what kind of questions should be asked of potential developer hires, and how being honest in exit interviews probably isn't worth the potential damage to your career. We're also familiar with the tricky questions some interviewers like to throw at people to test their thinking skills, and the questionable merits of gauging somebody's skillset through a pointlessly obtuse math problem. But there are also shady employers who conduct interviews to try to mine your knowledge and experience to find free solutions to their current problems. An actual job may or may not be on the table, but if they can get what they need from you before hiring, then at the very least your bargaining position will have gotten worse. Have you dealt with situations like this in the past? Since you can't know for sure the interviewer's intentions, it's tough to provide an answer demonstrating your abilities without solving their problem. "Before asking about the fixes they’ve tried, start by acknowledging the depth of the problem and find out whether the manager has the resources to solve it. Then, just like a consultant, use their answers to highlight your experience and explain the approach you’d take." You could also try explaining how you've solved similar problems, which won't necessarily help them, but will demonstrate your value. Of course, one of the biggest challenges is determining when somebody is getting a little too specific with their interview questions. What red flags should people keep an eye out for?
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Making Sure Interviews Don't Turn Into Free Consulting

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  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @06:01PM (#42802767) Journal

    "Before asking about the fixes they’ve tried, start by acknowledging the depth of the problem and find out whether the manager has the resources to solve it. Then, just like a consultant, use their answers to highlight your experience and explain the approach you’d take." You could also try explaining how you've solved similar problems, which won't necessarily help them, but will demonstrate your value. Of course, one of the biggest challenges is determining when somebody is getting a little too specific with their interview questions.

    Is this serious? Here's a big red warning sign for me: if my job can be jeopardized by twenty minutes of talking, I'm probably in the wrong industry. I can tell you how to implement a solution but it's the actual work and planning and care that should be paid for cash money.

    What red flags should people keep an eye out for?

    Here's a red flag: What company out there is so full of morons that they go to interviewees for direction? Man, if I ever got that feeling in an interview, I wouldn't want to work for them anyway and I'd walk away laughing when they try to turn small talk into a business plan! Is this why "consulting" is so stupid? They can have all the free advice they want, it's still going to shit out half way through when they go, "Okay we have hadoop and lucene, what was that 'blur' thing he was talking about?" or "Okay, we've built a rails app with the generator and scaffolds ... now what did he say about creating database migrations?" and on and on.

    I mean, are there actually people out there that feel their job can be compromised by handing over thirty minutes of talking to a potential employer? The only thing I'd be worried about is if they started asking me to name names for other people they could hire.

  • by YodasEvilTwin (2014446) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @06:05PM (#42802805) Homepage
    This. Article is retarded.
  • by pushing-robot (1037830) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @06:14PM (#42802899)

    Bingo. If a company is desperate, sleazy, and stupid enough to use job applicants for free consulting, they're (a) not about to hire you as a full-time employee and (b) not somewhere you'd want to work anyway.

    If it's pertinent to your job, do what the interviewer asks. If they treat you like this, consider yourself lucky you learned about their methods before you accepted the job. Meanwhile, you won't ruin genuine job offers with your paranoia.

  • by DragonWriter (970822) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @06:14PM (#42802903)

    An actual job may or may not be on the table, but if they can get what they need from you before hiring, then at the very least your bargaining position will have gotten worse. Have you dealt with situations like this in the past?

    Yeah, that's not going to happen in the real world, because it would require their pre-interview screening process to be so good as to effectively select, without an interview, the people whom it would be worth their while to get free consulting from under the guise of an interview.

  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @06:15PM (#42802915) Journal

    I think the goal is to avoid wasting your time waiting to see if they're going to offer you a job, or to avoid accepting a job by a company like that if they do make an offer.

    Um, yeah, no. Conversely you might have just sat through a potentially great job interview acting like you think you've got a royal flush and being careful not to show it. Yeah ... I'm not taking that risk. If you ask me in a job interview "How do you solve X" I am just going to turn on the firehose and let you have it to show you that I've got ideas for solving problems, I can openly confidently communicate said solutions well and I have dealt with problems like this in the past. If you can write all that down fast enough and follow through on something that normally takes a team six months to implement then good for you, you deserve that hail Mary pass that you somehow caught. Good luck on building a career off of hilarious asshattery like that. Your life must be "Weekend at Bernies" nine to five.

  • by AxemRed (755470) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @06:18PM (#42802959)
    Does it really seem likely that a company would take the time to go through resumes and hold interviews just for the purpose of extracting "free" information from interviewees about their specific problems? Or does it seem more likely that a company would ask interviewees about their specific problems so that they can hire the one who has the best solution to it?

    When I get asked specific questions in interviews, I'm happy to give the best answers that I can give.
  • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @06:35PM (#42803131)

    I encounter this kind of attitude all the time: People who want to fight tooth and nail to hold on to whatever vital information they think they have, so they can't be replaced. They want to make sure nobody else learns how to do it, because otherwise they think they'd be laid off.

    Thing is? They are often right, because they aren't very useful outside of that.

    Personally I think it is silly. My boss always says we IT types should be trying to work ourselves out of a job. He doesn't mean he wants to get rid of us (he's a tech guy, not a PHB) just that we, including him, should always be working for better automation, working to solve problem, working to streamline and make service better.

    The thing is that won't end up with us being out of a job because there's always more to do. There are things people would like us to do, but we don't have time for, and if we free up more time we can move on to that.

    Not everyone operates that way though. They want to hold on to whatever little niche of knowledge they have, believing that is all that makes them valuable.

  • by Missing.Matter (1845576) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @06:37PM (#42803145)
    Yes, this goes back to the saying that ideas are dime a dozen.

    I used to be involved with a group that offered free help for university startups to match them up with potential investors, help them with government and regulatory related nonsense, and overcome hurdles a startup commonly encounters. It was always so funny to me when some of these entrepreneurs seeking our help had the audacity to actually refuse to talk to us unless we signed an NDA.

    Their thought is obviously "I have the best idea ever and I don't want anyone to steal it!" The thing is, if the only thing guaranteeing the success of your business is that no one else has the idea, you're doomed to fail because I can tell you a) someone else has already had the idea, you're not special; and b) once you start becoming successful it will be copied immediately. When I was working with my own startup, I freely shared what I was doing. My philosophy is if you want to copy my business idea, more power to you, I'll see you in the marketplace. But I've got the contacts, I've got the funding, I've got the patents, I've got the prototypes, I've put 3 years into my idea, and I've been through the actual development of the idea and worked out all the wrong ways to do it. Think all it takes to take me on is an idea? Have fun with that.

    So before this seems to far off topic, let me bring it all back: what makes a successful company is the execution of a good idea, not just a good idea. In the interview room, if you think the major bargaining chip you're holding is that great idea, you're wrong. It's the execution and experience you will be able to provide on that idea, and they can't steal that from you in a 20 minute interview. They'll have to hire you for that.
  • by wisnoskij (1206448) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @07:13PM (#42803457) Homepage

    "your bargaining position will have gotten worse"

    If you just solved a real world problem for a company in a interview and made them lots of money, you bargaining position has just gotten a whole lot better.
    If the only work they needed doing can be completed in a 30 minute interview than they simply do not and never had a job to offer you.
    And no one would actually do this, it would be an incredibly huge waste of time. You actually think that some company is going to interview 20 people until they get the guy that is capable of solving their problem in 30 minutes? They have just spent a week of work getting a 30 minute answer.
    If a problem is solvable in a interview setting then the company could of just spent 30 minutes posting a detailed description on some forum somewhere, where they would of gotten an even better and more detailed answer than they could ever of hoped for from an interviewee.

    If you provide the answer to a current real world problem in an interview and do not get the job, then it is probably because someone else gave a better response.

    And do you really think playing games with the interviewer is going to improve your chances of getting a job? If the person asked you a question they want an answer to that question, not to another question.

  • by drolli (522659) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @07:41PM (#42803691) Journal

    Exactly my thoughts. I am a consultant.

    If you are doing consulting right, then you give away a part of it for free, which will be your "free interview". If i figure out that a job can be done by talking for twenty minutes over lunch (happens), then i will just do that and tell the guy who i am should a real job turn up.

    The result of this is that i am bounced around from interesting project to interesting project (in a big department) - and paid for doign real work - and i got involved in most of the projects by doing small things, which demonstrated my skills and where wtriting a bill would have been more work than doing it "for free". If you solve a thing where the manager thinks its big (but in reality its a 1h job), just do it, dont negotiate. If the company isnt worth it, then dont show up again, otherwise the manager will think "wow" the technicians will think "okay, this guy can be on the team" and you will be happy and respected, and wont have to worry about them bitching around about every hour.

  • by Overzeetop (214511) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @09:09PM (#42804339) Journal

    It was just to find out about a project and give them a quote. It turns out that I solved their issue in about 30 minutes, including chit chat, and told them everything they needed to know to fix their problem. I even made notes on their materials for them.

    You know what I charged them? Nothing. I told them if they had to come back and have me do everything, it would be about $X, but that I thought that they had enough information to do it with the people they already had on board. They're a client I'm unlikely to ever see again because this is an unusual problem for them. They're not going to be repeat freeloaders, and doing this work full-up won't get me a bigger job with them later.

    I figure that if I can solve your entire problem in 30 minutes, it's not something that requires my skill or justifies my fees. I'd rather have a happy non-client telling their friends that I was extremely helpful (yes, I made them promise not let people know I just gave them the info for free), than clients who just spent a healthy dime because they felt they had no other option. I do have "regulars" who have stupid issues like this on a recurring basis. I charge them full rack rate every time.

  • by asmkm22 (1902712) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @09:16PM (#42804385)

    As a consultant, there was a brief period where I would have an existing client start asking for some very specific information about "how" to do things, like instructions on how to add users to Active Directory. Eventually, I got over the instinctive insecurity of giving away job secrets, especially when it's stuff that they could just google up answers for anyway, and found that promptly providing it only serves to strengthen the business relationship.

    I haven't gone to an interview in ages, but I can't imagine getting too ruffled over one where they would basically be asking me how I'd fix a particular problem. Even if they came right out and said "we have a problem with this application and are looking to hire someone who can hit the ground running with ideas. What would you do to fix it?" The fact is, they aren't going to retain very much of anything that gets said anymore than I would retain asking a mechanic what he'd do to fix my hypendupulator pump. He get as detailed as he wants, and it wouldn't get me very far.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 06, 2013 @06:30AM (#42806883)

    You don't think your reply is a little self-serving?

    They offered you a job so clearly they really were hiring - i.e. your assumptions are demonstrated false by your own story.

    It's THIRTY MINUTES. Does it matter if a company gets thirty minutes of value from the interview? If you really do charge SO MUCH for thirty minutes' work then presumably what's on the table is a freakin' mountain of cash which you turned down (which is why I suspect you in fact don't charge that much for thirty minutes' work).

    If you are so precious about yourself that you're unwilling to do actual work in an interview situation, only when being paid, the problem is not the company. The problem is you.

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