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Making Sure Interviews Don't Turn Into Free Consulting 232

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 Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @08:19PM (#42803513)

    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 would choose to address the problem?

    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.

    In pure code-monkey programming-related jobs, responses to interview questions may not have much value to the employer, but in research-related fields I think companies can and do freely misappropriate the ideas there. After all, what have they got to lose? Nothing.

    I'd be interested in hearing if my experience is commonplace.

  • 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 Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @10:17PM (#42804391)

    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 needs fixed. They aren't asking you to tell them how to implement something that takes six months, they are just getting an hour or two of free work. It is not like they have some team waiting on your words to implement, they probably have no-one with anything similar skill set, or one lazy person who got there through nepotism. The issue isn't worrying about how to get hired by them, the issues is not wasting your time, which for me at least, tends to be more the travel time than just the actual time sitting at the interview.

    Although, two times it happened to me directly, it was all pretty obvious up front once you got there in person. They were companies that lied about their size and nature of their system. They can't really hide how small or non-existent their IT or development teams are, although one tried pretty hard. Some of them were decent sized companies too, just not doing as much computer related work as they claim.

    Some seem to claim this can only happen to those that have really crappy skill sets, or are useless at doing real work... your ability is pretty irrelevant and it is mostly about luck. Such companies without any staff don't know what to look for, and will just copy what they see in other ads. A close friend caught one in a phone interview where their "head developer" knew nothing about the skills he was asking for and was just deflecting or agreeing to questions, even if they were BS. Pretty much in the end, it is just trying to catch someone with programming, configuration, or networking skills to give them a free tune up or fix a bug in an otherwise working or aging system.

  • by demonlapin ( 527802 ) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @11:41PM (#42804955) Homepage Journal
    Facebook moat: prestige. Started as .edu-only, which kept the user base limited to college students (k12's don't get .edu addresses, usually). No longer relevant but no longer needed; it was an intermediate step for them.

To be a kind of moral Unix, he touched the hem of Nature's shift. -- Shelley