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Assuming one left on good terms and enjoyed working with the former coworkers, I'm wondering if it would be unusual or unprofessional to only offer help if the former employer offers payment for effort. On one hand I would want to help my past coworkers, but on the other hand they are asking on behalf of the business and for my help as a professional, and I doubt the business would expend resources to help me if it were reversed.

Assuming something more involved than a quick answer (such as helping troubleshoot, or domain knowledge transfer that was overlooked etc), would it seem unprofessional to be willing to help but on a consulting basis?

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    youtube.com/watch?v=uYMnAUGFuG0 – Codeman Aug 14 '13 at 18:35
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    Helping your ex-coworker to paint their house would be a personal favor. Helping your ex-coworker to do their job would be a personal favor to your ex-employer. – Philipp Aug 15 '13 at 12:39
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Assuming something more involved than a quick answer (such as helping troubleshoot, or domain knowledge transfer that was overlooked etc), would it seem unprofessional to be willing to help but on a consulting basis?

No, it would be unprofessional to continue working for free. Professionals are paid for their work. I would answer an occasional "Where is" question, but if the question starts with "Can you look at...", the answer is "sorry, we would need to set up a consulting arrangement before I could do that."

  • Additionally, without a formal agreement, if your work is something creative (say, a library module), in the US, you own the result of your work (.... IANAL, so, roughly). In order protect themselves and their shareholders (regardless of how much they trust you), they'll need a contract of some sort, regardless os how much you get paid. – Clockwork-Muse Aug 15 '13 at 12:35
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Assuming something more involved than a quick answer (such as helping troubleshoot, or domain knowledge transfer that was overlooked etc), would it seem unprofessional to be willing to help but on a consulting basis?

I guess I'll have to disagree a bit with some of the other good answers. While professionals do deserve to be paid for their work, professionals also do a lot of unpaid work in many circumstances. It probably depends on how much of your time is needed for this type of help, and what type of work you do.

I've helped co-workers on numerous occasions over the years (still do), and would never think of charging my friends or family. I consider this part of my personal networking, part of my responsibility to my profession, and think of it as a "what goes around comes around" scenario. If I ever needed a reference or some help, I know I could count on them.

On the other hand, if they needed a week of my time, I needed to cancel a vacation to help them, or if I needed to postpone a paid consulting gig for their benefit, I would think about asking for a consulting fee.

In my case, I always considered it as "helping my friends". If instead, you feel this is more like "helping their business", you might view things differently. If your job is consulting for this sort of business, it probably makes sense to offer your consulting services more formally.

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    I think this is the best answer here. I also have done similarly, but generally it hasn't taken a whole ton of my time to help and has resulted in considerable time savings for those asking help. – enderland Aug 15 '13 at 10:29
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    +1 think of it as a "what goes around comes around" scenario -- When you look at it this way, you aren't working for free. You are trading directly and avoiding the middleman of "cash". – KOVIKO Sep 8 '13 at 18:35
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    I like the connection you point out between providing unpaid help and professional networking. – Carson63000 Mar 29 '14 at 11:44
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Nothing unprofessional about helping but you might consider making some sort of distinction between what constitutes help and what counts as actual "work" that might be potentially billable.

Making the difference clear at the start can eliminate a lot of potential misunderstanding down the road. It also makes it easier for them when they do want to pay you for your services (or for you to ask for payment) as a basic framework will be in place.

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As a software & web developer, I've done some paid freelance work for a former employer, and I've also provided a lot of help and advice for free.

Where I think it's important to draw the line is when you're touching and changing their assets (both physical and intellectual).

I'll give advice and guidance via phone and email or over a coffee or beer, for free. Even quite detailed advice. But if I need to check in code to their source control, or log in to one of their servers, then I need to have a consulting agreement in place.

I really, really don't want to ever be in the situation where something goes horribly wrong, and it's connected (or even appears to be connected) to me changing something "as a favour" to a former co-worker. That way real trouble lies.

Something to think about, anyway. As Kevin said, "professionals are paid for their work", there's nothing wrong with requesting a freelance agreement for any significant piece of work.

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