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After having my third interview with a company, this potential new employer asked me to attend a trade show on the company's behalf - without actually extending a job offer before the trade show. It may be used as a condition of employment.

This seems to me to be an unethical request. In addition, if my present company gets word that I was seen at a trade show representing a different company, this would be career suicide. The potential exists that I could lose my current job and still not receive an offer from the other company.

I am uncomfortable representing any company at a trade show without being employed by them. How do I effectively communicate this with the potential employer without risking a potential offer?

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    This site is a question and answer site, not a site for open-ended, opinionated discussion. I suggest you read this section from the help center. So beyond soliciting people's opinions, what is your question? For example, you clearly believe that this is a bad idea. Your question could be "How do I effectively communicate this with the potential employer without burning bridges there?" – mikeazo Oct 13 '15 at 14:03
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    @Mike: In an effort to get the question re-opened, I've edited it, pasting your comments into the post. Feel free to edit it yourself, if you don't like what I've done or want to say more. – GreenMatt Oct 13 '15 at 14:21
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    Are you certain they want you to represent them not just meet with their representatives and get a feel of the culture? – IDrinkandIKnowThings Oct 13 '15 at 14:43
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    Seems extremely odd that they would wand anyone representing them who isn't deeply familiar with and committed to their product line, unless you are specifically interviewing for a sales position and this is supposed to be a trial-by-fire. And if that's the case I'd think they ought to pay you as a consultant for that time. If things are really as described, I'd decline until/unless they gave me a credible explanation. – keshlam Oct 13 '15 at 15:20
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    How do I effectively communicate this with the potential employer without risking a potential offer? - I don't think this is possible. This employer wants free labor as a condition of possible employment, for you to represent them before an offer is made, and they want this to happen while you're still working for your current employer. This is not a reasonable request and so I doubt making a reasonable argument against it will sway them. You probably don't want to actually work for an employer with such poor judgement. – BSMP Oct 13 '15 at 20:49
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Short answer: Be very wary indeed!

In my 20+ years of working life, I have never, ever heard of an organisation wishing to send a potential candidate to a trade show on their behalf without them having a signed employment contract.

To me, this sounds like an organisation that's trying it on. They want to get a free representative at this trade show with the premise of an employment contract if you "do well". How is "doing well" measured? I strongly feel that once you've done this for them for free, they'll say that they weren't happy with you and have decided to not offer you a role afterwards.

As you have rightly pointed out, there is also significant risk to your current job. There are so many ways in which this would quite possibly breach your employment contract and you wind up terminated for no reward.

I would strongly recommend rejecting their offer politely, and finding a role elsewhere while you remain employed where you are.

  • All very good points, thank you for your feedback. – Mike Oct 14 '15 at 11:48
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Questions to consider:

  1. Who's paying your way to the show? Are transportation and a hotel required?
  2. What capacity are you going to be in during your visit? Are you expected to help the new company, or are you just there to see what they've got going on?
  3. How much time are you expected to spend there?
  4. Are you expected to dress a certain way?
  5. Is this absolutely the last thing you have to do in order to get this job?

Ask ALL these questions! Ethics does come into play. If you're working for your potential employer at the tradeshow, (a) you should be paid and (b) it is a conflict of interest if they are direct competitors. If you have to decline, you may lose the opportunity but you'll preserve your reputation.

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Is it acceptable? It's a grey area - they can ask, but it's certainly not usual and is suspicious to me, at least.

They may be seeing it as trying to get a freebie, but equally they may see it as akin to an interview task to see how you interact with others in a business setting. Frankly, they should already have an idea of this from your interview and experience.

Your question doesn't really have a single answer, but personally I'd simply state that my contract states I must not undertake any work outside my current employment, and that I would consider their request to be in breach of that clause. If they reject me on that basis, so be it.

Actually, personally I'd politely decline the request and withdraw immediately from the process, but I go with an 'I have a mortgage to pay and if there's even a slight question over proceedings, I'm not interested' approach.

  • My thought process tells me the interaction ability should have come from the interview as well. Thank you for your feedback. – Mike Oct 14 '15 at 11:49
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How do I effectively communicate this with the potential employer without risking a potential offer?

If this potential employer is as odd as this one sounds, I'm not sure you can decline without risking the job offer.

I've never heard of a company asking someone to represent them at a trade show as a condition of employment. I think you are correct to be wary of that. What if you do a bad job - is the employer okay with having their company portrayed in a bad light at this show? Very odd.

And I think you are correct that you cannot effectively be seen working for another company, while being employed at your current company.

I would suggest that you talk with the hiring manager. Indicate that you are not comfortable representing a company you don't work for at a trade show. Then be prepared to deal with the consequences.

It's possible that there is some confusion here, and that what you indicate isn't exactly what the hiring manager is asking for. It's possible that the hiring manager didn't think this one through, and will drop that as a condition of employment once you bring it to his attention. But it's also possible that this individual thinks it's okay to ask candidates to do this sort of unpaid work. You'll need to decide if this is a dealbreaker for you or not. (For me it would be, your mileage may vary.)

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How do I effectively communicate this with the potential employer without risking a potential offer?

If the potential employer is really as ethically-challenged as this suggests, you may be better off losing the potential offer. A job with them may be a constant stream of requests to do the wrong thing.

There is a chance they just didn't think it through. In some cases, the Golden Rule can be an effective communication technique. Ask the hiring manager how they would feel if one of their employees attended a trade show on behalf of another company.

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