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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&gmail,com> on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @07:01PM (#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 @07:05PM (#42802805) Homepage
      This. Article is retarded.
    • by Scutter (18425)

      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.

      • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn&gmail,com> on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @07:15PM (#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 lgw (121541)

          Well, you just said everything I was going to, but I'll add a dash of pity: if some interviewer is so desparate they need to stage fake interviews to get advice, I'm not going to feel too terrible about giving them some. Better to be honest and get the same over luch with less time wasted, of course.

          • yes, some companies are total jokes and are filled with children (young adults, but they act like spoiled brats) and they show it. a lot of managers are very young and inexperienced, too. and worse, since a lot of work is being outsourced, the 'solutions' they get are utter crap and it shows.

            so, yes, I've seen this 'mining for the real answer' before. my field used to be in-demand locally but now its all outsourced since its not considered 'creative work' or worth the cost for local talent. it pisses me

          • by gmack (197796) <gmack@NOsPAM.innerfire.net> on Wednesday February 06, 2013 @07:36AM (#42806907) Homepage Journal

            This. Just because they now have a possible idea of what the solution is, does not mean they have the expertise to fix it. Years ago we had a company show up at our office offering to pay us a rather large amount for our software and they interviewed me extensively on the internals of the software I wrote. In the end they didn't take the sale and we later heard they were trying to redesign their internal software around my design including (gasp) using a daemon to handle the internal state and only using the database for storing account data and game history.

            How well did that work out for them you ask? It didn't. A couple of years later their entire project was dead. My design wasn't all that innovative to someone who actually knows how to code but It turns out that programmers who only know how to do make wrappers for databases couldn't replicate any of it.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          In my experience, it isn't questions like "How do you solve X?," it is stuff like: We set up an old version on our "test" server with some bugs in it as a real world test, see if you can find the bugs. They want you to check code or some server config for bugs, as a test of software maintenance ability. Only it turns out to be their production server, and the software is something cobbled together 5 years ago and mostly functional, so they don't see any need for a full time person, just a bug or two that

          • At that point, you are sunk anyways, right? The time is wasted. What are you going to do? If you can't catch it on the phone, you're already toast.

        • by SQLGuru (980662)

          It's kind of like all of those people who have "great ideas" and want you to sign an NDA, have you do all of the coding, and split the profit 70-30 (in their favor).

    • by pushing-robot (1037830) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @07:14PM (#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 unixisc (2429386)
        From the interviewee side of the equation, if I were the guy being mined for insider information, I'd simply state some basic things that are pretty much public knowledge, and then add that 'Beyond that, this information is confidential, and I'm not at liberty to share it'.

        Sounds pretty simple

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @07:25PM (#42803015)
      I know of a mom and pop computer shop that, when they got behind on repairs, would run an ad for a technician. The "interview": We have a bunch of broken PC's in the back. Stay as long as you want, and fix as many as you can. When your done, let us know. Well look at your fixes and let you know if you got the job.
      • by jd659 (2730387)

        We have a bunch of broken PC's in the back. Stay as long as you want, and fix as many as you can. When your done, let us know. Well look at your fixes and let you know if you got the job.

        This is a great setup for insanely fun practical jokes.

      • by mysidia (191772)

        Stay as long as you want, and fix as many as you can. When your done, let us know. Well look at your fixes and let you know if you got the job.

        Asiding from being illegal... it's also unreasonable, and creates a risk of seriously bad PR, when the community inevitably becomes aware, if the practice continues; and work quality may be seriously poor as a result of having the potentially inexperienced working on customer equipment without adequate supervision.

      • by mwolfe38 (1286498)
        haha this is an awesome idea.. Call them interns and it's legal!
    • by Synerg1y (2169962)

      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.

      Couldn't have said it better myself.

      I do have a story to share though: I was interviewing for a non-profit housing assistance program, and the interview was set at 2 hours... 1st, I'm never doing a 2 hour interview again, if they ask, and there's no technical test involved, they can go shove it. Anyways, the entirety of the people I interviewed with were well over 50, one talked about "server side" javascript... ??? ??? ??? But anyways, these folks didn't have a fuckin clue as to what's where and where's w

      • by Georules (655379)
        "server-side" javascript: probably talking about Node.js
      • by Molt (116343)
        Why didn't you just Google for 'server side javascript' when you got back to find out if it existed and was something you'd not heard of yourself?
      • by DarkOx (621550)

        That does seem like good solid interviewing advice. Having conducted an few interviews myself (literally three) as an interviewer I would actually rather hear about your past track recorded of success with work or problems I'll be able to see as similar to the work or problems I might be hiring you to solve; than some off the cuff action plan not based on analysis of any kind.

        Actually if you immediately launch into "solving" my technical problem, I am going to be wondering if I am speaking to technical pro

    • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @07:35PM (#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 lgw (121541) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @08:15PM (#42803469) Journal

        My boss always says we IT types should be trying to work ourselves out of a job.

        To put that a little differently: someone will eventually automate your current job, and if you're the one who does then you've created your next job - handy, that.

      • by mooingyak (720677)

        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.

        Amen to that. My wife got nervous when I described how things were going at work. We had a team of four, lost two people, hired one to replace them. We don't feel any need to hire more even though we're actually handling more responsibilities now than we did as a foursome. I'm currently reworking some legacy code that's been a timesink for us to constantly dance around. She asked me "Won't that come to a point where they don't need you?" I thought that was kind of funny. There are ALWAYS other projec

    • by asaul (98023)

      I believe my former boss encountered this actually. He actually stopped them part way through the interview and said "from now on, this is consulting" when their questions started getting too detailed.

      I worked for him under the two execs that did the interview, and I have no doubt one of them was the sort of guy who would take an idea he thought he knew and try and ram it through as his own (he was not IT literate, technical in his field but knew nothing of enterprise level IT infrastructure). We freque

    • by Jonathan (5011) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @08:04PM (#42803379) Homepage

      Of course it's real. Why, I remember a case where clearly the interviewer needed some insights into animal transportation. As if I am going to help them figure out how to keep their cabbage from being eaten by a goat while crossing a river for free!

      • by dgatwood (11270)

        Helpful hint: the wolf may not particularly like to eat cabbage, but he'll darn well eat you if you leave him on one side of the river with nothing but cabbage to eat. Just saying.

        • Bastard always ran away when I left him with the cabbage. Sometimes he came back with fresh rabbit, sometimes he just stayed gone.
        • that wolf process you talk of: is that on the client side or server side?

    • by jd659 (2730387) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @08:22PM (#42803543)

      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.

      It's not that the “job can be jeopardized” but rather a good and creative solution can be obtained without even intending to hiring the person.

      I work in design industry. There not many people who can quickly come up with elegant solutions. I once was asked to have the fourth (!) interview with the same company that “didn’t make up the mind” and wanted to have all the VPs present just to make sure that we are the right fit. We talked about the experience and the past designs, but then they gave me the printouts of their current product that needed to be redesigned and asked me to take 30 minutes and then present my solutions. Having many years of experience in the field, I can usually spot most of the non-trivial issues right away. A half hour design session with a top designer can cost a lot of money, but the company wanted to do it for free as an “interview”. Needless to say, I just stated that this is “not ethical to ask such a question” and I will be happy to demonstrate my skills by redesigning any other product that is not done by that company. They were shocked and tried to save their faces by stating that everyone else they interviewed for the position completed this task. And I said “fine, hire them.” At the end, the company made me an offer, but I declined.

      There are many people who have a huge experience and can charge thousands of dollars for essentially one hour of work. If you are good at debugging, you may be flying to a client who cannot figure out some problem in the production system. Guess what, you may come there and say “clear the cache” to resolve their issue. And it will cost them thousands of dollars. Yes, it can be that expensive. Can this company afford you? No. Would you want to work there? No. But they might be very likely be interested in getting some work done for free disguised as an interview.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by drolli (522659)

      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 project

    • by mysidia (191772)

      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.

      In other words, they had problems getting people to come interview, so they need free referrals from you, for people to compete against you, for more employer-favorable negotiated compensation / employment terms? :)

      Is this serious? Here's a big

    • If the problem to solve is trivial, then perhaps offer a solution. If its hard enough that you'd worry about doing free consulting, then switch tactics and ask questions, deep probing questions to make sure you understand the whole picture. The interviewer should be able to determine from the questions you ask that you know what your are doing, or at least you know what you don't know which is also valuable to solving a problem. If they keep pressing for a solution, then they're either unethical or incompet
    • by rnturn (11092)

      Years ago, I interviewed with a company that went through the standard technical questions, how one solved problems, etc. This was for a company that claimed they were putting together a team to pursue new business in a new area. When we got to the end of the technical interview and started discussing the next steps, they told me that their hiring process was to have each candidate put together a business plan that they would evaluate at in the next interview. Ri-i-i-ight. I politely declined to write their

    • by TheLink (130905)
      Yeah. Article is troll or stupid. As most of us here already know, most ideas are easy (unless you're the one-good-idea-in-a-lifetime sort). It's the frigging implementation that's hard. That's why most of us don't like all that vague patent bullshit - it just slows down progress and thus the amount of really cool stuff we get per decade. No single real inventor can make all the cool stuff he wants or can think of, so if you actually want more cool stuff, you are going to have to let others do some of it. N
    • by GizmoToy (450886) on Wednesday February 06, 2013 @01:30AM (#42805535) Homepage

      The article's author is being unrealistic.

      I recently interviewed with a new employer, and was assigned a "Homework Problem" between the phone and in-person interviews. My colleagues thought I was crazy for "working for free." I saw it as an opportunity to demonstrate my skills outside an interview.

      In the end, I got a completely unbelievable job and got to see the interview from the other side. We've gotten a couple nasty responses since I've been there. The most memorable was a note attached to an invoice for a week's work, saying we could view his homework result after we paid the invoice. The homework is on the order of 2-4 hours of complexity, so his resume went right in the trash.

      In reality, the homework problem has a couple basic but crucial concepts you need to understand for our work. If we benefitted from the candidate's homework output, we'd be bankrupt. It's basic stuff, but the number of candidates that can't grasp it is astonishing. Even then, it's no guarantee. We had one guy get to the in-person interview, only to be completely unable to describe what a function *was*, let alone how it worked.

      In summary, some kind of practical question or task can be an excellent tool to figure out if someone knows what the hell they're doing, and it's an excellent way for those who do to prove it.

    • 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.

      Spoken like a programmer. Its great you see value in what YOU bring to the table, but sometimes knowledge and wisdom is a valuable assett too. Wherever there is a decision, whether it be investing in a company or picking a direction for

    • 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.

      I have actually BT, DT, but in a good sense! :-)

      I went to an interview once where they did ask me some more or less general questions about how I would solve various problems that I believed might arise, and I spent maybe 10-15 minutes brainstorming about it.

      A week later I was invited back for a second interview, and this time they started by saying that "one of those ideas you gave us was so good that we have already added it to the requirements section in the Request for Proposal we have sent out to vario

    • 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.

      There are small businesses where there's only one guy who knows what he's doing. If he gets hit by a bus or falls out with the PHB and goes to join a commune the rest literally don't know where to start. Something goes pear shaped, they call around and

    • What _is_ that "blur" thing you spoke of?

  • unpaid internships can be the same and the office boy ones where are just doing copy's / coffee are more like general labor at $0 hr.

  • only programmers... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by retchdog (1319261) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @07:13PM (#42802893) Journal

    only programmers and IT geeks would be so conceited as to even think this is a possibility.

    • Yeah, no kidding. If you could solve a sticky problem in 30 minutes, that shows your value. If you're worrying THEYRE STERALING MAH IDEEARS! then you're basically a complete fuckup.

    • by Missing.Matter (1845576) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @07:37PM (#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 ediron2 (246908)

        Yup. I really depressed some friends who were priming themselves to quit corporate and start up when I asked what their 'moat' was? A: The WHAT? Me: The moat... the barrier to competition? What is your 'secret sauce' that keeps some megacorp from letting you do all the hard work defining your niche, then asking a team to reverse engineer your product? What's the secret they'll never master, the patent, the copyright? It's like a moat around a castle. A: Um... uh...

        They're still corporate drones, but

      • by k6mfw (1182893) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @08:25PM (#42803563)

        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.

        reminds me when Soviets got hold of a B-29 returning from mission over Japan that had to make emergency landing in USSR. Stalin ordered engineers to make a copy of it which became the Tu4 (I think, too lazy to look up designation). It was virtual copy but Soviets had to deal with and solve development problems Boeing had with B29 i.e. engine cooling (interesting program on History Channel when they used to show history). There is also what kinds of special tools and systems you got in your place the other guy doesn't have.

  • by DragonWriter (970822) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @07:14PM (#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 Culture20 (968837) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @07:34PM (#42803123)
      My guess is this stems from interviews where the hiring side asks questions about a problem they recently solved, then someone who gave a great answer didn't get hired because someone else was a better fit for the job. So the "great answer" person thinks the company was trolling for solutions.
      • by CAIMLAS (41445)

        Or, stated another way (and as I think is more likely to happen, given personalities), someone with a correct but minimalist answer gets turned down for the position in favor for the trainwreck of a candidate who provides an elegant, creative, orchestral answer which more closely coincides with the solution the company's best and brightest already came up with and implemented...

    • 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.

      Well... During the interview for my second real job, where one of the interviewers was one of my former college professors, they described an NFS problem they were having and I help them come up with a workable solution, which impressed my professor's boss. The job was with a contractor as a sysadmin for the super-computing network at the NASA Langley Research Center, which included several Convex and Cray systems.

      Granted, the job was real and they were hiring, but helping solve a real problem didn't hu

  • This is silly... It's like a car mechanic who will not diagnose your problem and starts talking about his skills and expertise. Most places give you a free quote to have you as a customer. Lawyers and doctors charge for the first consult too and you could take that approach by *BEING* a consultant rather than interviewing for a job. Or you could tell the interviewer to fuck off as opposed to taking your hour of consulting (worth $100 or so for a decently salaried position) and considering that an investment

  • by AxemRed (755470) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @07:18PM (#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 AxemRed (755470)
      On a side note, it seems like if a company really wanted to bounce some questions off of random geeky heads, it would be more productive to write up the questions and have the intern go ask them on tech forums. "Ask Slashdot"
  • 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.

    Why would you even want to work for someone like that? It's a warning, be glad they warned you before you got hired into a miserable situation. That company has low probability of success.

  • by ChrisKnight (16039) <<merlin> <at> <ghostwheel.com>> on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @07:29PM (#42803075) Homepage

    Strictly speaking, this wasn't an interview; but I think it applies.

    Many many many moons ago, a friend asked me if I would be interested in setting up a Novell network for his employer. I put together a quote and sent it off. He called me up, and said that he needed a detailed walk-through of the work involved in order to explain the quote to his boss. I explained everything that was necessary. A couple of weeks go by, and I haven't heard anything so I call him. After learning what needed to be done, he decided he could do it himself; and that was the route they were taking. Lost a 'friend', but gained a cautionary tale; I think I came out ahead. (Yes, Jeff; this story is about you.)

    • by erice (13380)

      Are you sure the back room conversion with your friend's boss didn't go something like this?

      Boss: That's it? Is there nothing more to it?
      Friend: Uh no. I think that's everything.
      Boss: Couldn't you do that?
      Friend: Um. Probably, yeah.
      Boss: Well, then, you have a new assignment.

      • If that was the case, I think he would have explained it that way. He was quite frank in telling me that after I explained it, he felt he could do it himself.

    • While many commenters have blown off the original article as a scam, this kind of "intellectual theft" is pretty common in one-off, temporary, contract job situations.

      For example, a few years back I had an "interview" for some subcontracting work with a former consulting firm I'd done some work for in the past. I needed any cash, so to ensure I got the work I ended up talking to them for an hour or more about about what I would do. The end client was there asking questions, listening and taking a few notes,

  • by alchemist68 (550641) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @08:13PM (#42803451)
    I'm a pharmaceutical scientist and have personally experienced this last year. A biotechnology company flew me across the country and picked my brain to explain how to setup and analyze and characterize proteins by liquid chromatography mass spectrometry. Different people asked me the same questions over and over again inquiring about setting up the mass spectrometer acquisition parameters. I even tried to explain other relevant experience, they didn't want to hear it, all they wanted was to know how to acquire the data to identify as many proteins as possible in a series of samples.
    • by tsstahl (812393)

      Mod parent up. This does happen.

      I've been in several sysadmin consulting situations disguised as interviews with mid size businesses.

      • by CAIMLAS (41445)

        I had to interview someone a while back for implementation of a (consultant) project on a very specific technology, and also to idiot check my 'design' work. It was straight forward enough in the interview (explain x to me, explain y to me, how does z work). It was a fairly specialized technology stack and there are not many people who know the specifics, so not many candidates applied. The key candidate interview had a lot of back and forth with me picking his brain, largely out of curiosity. I liked the

  • by wisnoskij (1206448) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @08:13PM (#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 Cloud K (125581)

    Any company relying on some random job applicants for free consultation and taking them seriously is stone cold retarded and deserves the damage they'll inevitably suffer.

    If they already know they're interviewing decent people then presumably they're only between jobs for a very brief time and wouldn't be daft enough to act as a doormat :P

    Story is silly.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I had an unpleasant experience interviewing with Google that left a bad taste in my mouth.

    I have a Ph.D. in Information Science, have worked professionally outside the university as an academic researcher, have published multiple books and peer-reviewed scholarly articles, and hold a technology-related patent. In research (contrary to the claims above that idea misappropriation isn't a problem), very often the idea itself is indeed the most valuable thing: out of the infinite attack vectors, which one you w

    • by russotto (537200)

      At my interview I was asked a number of generic questions, then suddenly was asked a very specific question about approaches to e-mail spam filtering. I gave what in my opinion were some pretty good ideas based on my recent academic work in the area. The mid-20s semi-anonymous interviewer (semi-anonymous because Google interviewers never give you their last name or a business card, the arrogant jerks) took diligent notes, and I never heard from them again.

      Obviously I don't know what happened in your case (s

  • An odd variant.. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Molt (116343) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @08:20PM (#42803525)

    One interview I had amused me. On paper it looked okay, a small art dealership was looking for a combined sysadmin/Perl programmer which was pretty much what I was doing then, and the pay was significantly more than I was on at my current place and as I was getting bored in the current job anyway I thought I'd go and have a chat.

    Went to the interview and it was one of those where the interviewer wasn't actually technical himself. He had a friend write a page of simple technical questions which I answered without any trouble, also corrected one of the answers he had. The interviewer seemed happy and we started talking about what the job actually involved, and here it started to go wrong. He wanted a basic browse-only shopfront, no actual payment, with basic message board capability, and some everyday web/email/DNS handling. He did vaguely ask how I'd do this but not in any detail at all. Listening to him I knew that I'd be bored by day two, but I did actually like the guy and knew that what he wanted really didn't need a full-time employee. I explained to him that these were basically things which could be done by using pre-existing software with a month of effort to get it up and running in the first place, and a day or so a month afterwards to maintain it. I jotted down the names of some software and companies that could help him, and told him what to ask them for.

    He was genuinely amazed. He thought that all of this web-stuff was so complex that it'd be a full-time task to keep his website running, thinking that every new art piece he added to the catalogue would need an entire new page to be written for it. Finding out about CMS was a revelation, and one he was grateful for, and all this took less time than the interview was scheduled for.

    In the end he went with one of the companies I'd recommended to him, they did ecommerce stuff and this was bread and butter for them, he was up and running in two weeks with everything he needed, as he let me know in an email. As for me I didn't have a new job but I felt good about myself, and the fact the chap had basically ended the 'interview' by giving me a few weeks worth of wages for saving him a lot in the long run was quite nice too.

    • by DeSigna (522207)

      I've had a couple of interviews like this. It really is a fantastic thing.

      Once of those interviews did in fact end up getting me a job by word of mouth back in my younger days, it was completely worth it. Fast forward to today where it *is* a big part of my job to do this for people - as a presales solutions architect.

      I did a double take reading TFS for this article, I can't imagine thinking like that. If you're asked a reasonable job-related question in an interview, you answer it. If you can solve one pro

    • And now you've got someone out there marketing your services for you for free to boot. Because your name will inevitably come up when someone is talking about anything even remotely related, and he'll gush about how helpful you were and that you're an honest businessperson.

      It's a good road to travel. I'll have been in private consulting for 10 years this April. I have so much work I'm turning stuff down. I don't advertise, I don't market, and my phone number isn't even in the white pages (google voice...it

  • ... and you can solve our problems, why would I want to boot you, potentially sending you to one of our competitors, instead of keeping you and making you solve more problems for us?
  • If I can solve a potential employer's current issues in just an hour, just imagine what I could do for them in a month or a year.
  • by Overzeetop (214511) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @10:09PM (#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 @10:16PM (#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.

    • 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.

      At the risk of divulging information that may cost me customers, fixing the Hypendululator Pump is a one or two step process, depending on whether you're using Imperial units or non-Imperial units. The first step is to apply the Hydrospanner to the pump's Hypen Bolt; but be sure you are running slower than light, as an improperly tightened Hypen bolt can cause catastrophic failure at faster than light speeds. This is probably a moot point, though, because if you're having to deal with this particular part

  • by kelemvor4 (1980226) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @10:52PM (#42804643)
    If a gig entails solving a problem that can be solved in the time-frame of an interview it wasn't much of a gig anyway.
  • I went on a few without realizing it.

    they asked some tech question and I could tell they really didn't know how to approach this problem and solve it with good interoperability (that was a key; and most always should be). I gave them a proper answer (it was right up my alley and was pretty obvious to me) and the hiring mgr did seem to like how I solved it.

    of course, I never did hear back from them.

    the worst, though, is the 'its not a job... FOR YOU' interview. they full well know they want to hire an h1b

  • This happened to me at Zynga unintentionally. We started talking scale, I made suggestions and then the notepads came out. Through "sources," I learned they implemented my ideas. Not as bad as it could have been, I ultimately turned them down.
  • Consultants charge several hundred an hour to offer advice. Prospective employees will do it for free. Beware of the shonky cheapskate small business types.The point of the interview is supposed to be for them to get a feel for you and whether you can do the job. That's all. Once that is established, leave. Limit your interview to an hour - or as short as practical. If they want to talk for longer they are just picking your brain. If they reassure you they are not picking your brain, then they are. If you
  • by Zontar_Thing_From_Ve (949321) on Wednesday February 06, 2013 @10:27AM (#42807947)
    In the late 1990s I had a job where I was a Unix system admin and our group needed to hire a replacement for the guy who left. The job required some marginal Unix/Linux user knowledge but most of the work would be repairing and building out PCs for our test group. Our PCs weren't the best and needed constant maintenance. The previous 2 guys who held the job were nuts. Guy number 1 was bipolar and told us on his first day of work that he was bipolar and that he saw no need to take medicine for it. It ended up being 6 months of hell where we basically had a guy who alternated between being a crybaby and Captain Angry All The Time. He left us to become some other company's problem, but we foolishly brought in his replacement before he left and had him train the new guy. Much to our surprise, he became BFFs with guy number 2 and he poisoned guy number 2 against our group. Guy number 2 basically had a permanent hostile attitude towards our group until he left us for another company. So we let guy number 2 leave before we ever started to look for his replacement because we were not going to repeat the previous mistake of letting a departing employee have a negative influence on his replacement.

    We interviewed several people and we actually flew a guy in from another state who seemed promising for an interview. I don't remember exactly what it was, but we had some ongoing problem related to our PCs that neither of the 2 previous crazy guys could ever solve. So after we interviewed the guy, my manager brought him into his office and asked him about the problem. He got it fixed on the spot for us within 5 minutes. He was hired that day. His ability to fix that ongoing problem on the spot clinched it for him. He was a fantastic employee for us. So while I'm sure that maybe some sleazebag companies are just trying to get free help, trust me, you don't want to work for them anyway. Some companies may just be using it to test your abilities and if you can solve their problem, you'll get the job. I've seen it firsthand.
  • by AnalogDiehard (199128) on Wednesday February 06, 2013 @12:20PM (#42809329)
    My reaction to a situation like this is to explain my relevant experience. Nothing more. If they insist on focusing on the problem at hand, then my decision has been made and I would no longer want to work for that company. I recognize free consulting when I see it, it is highly inappropriate during an interview, and I did not spend a fortune on college education and work years in a distinguished career to give away solutions.

An age is called Dark not because the light fails to shine, but because people refuse to see it. -- James Michener, "Space"

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