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I went on an interview the other day, and it seemed to go well. The position was for a webmaster to maintain a site, improve the search engine optimization (SEO), all that good stuff...

In the interview the interviewer asked me some very detailed questions about how I would handle the SEO on a website. I entertained some of the questions while I explained that I would need to do more research on the site and it's current situation to better answer.

At the end of the interview she asked me to follow up with her after I examined the site more and provided more information as to how I would improve the sites SEO. She said that this would help her determine if I was a good fit for the position.

I found this a bit strange. As a freelancer I am not a stranger to potential clients trying to get information from me while I'm not on their dime, and this seems a lot like what was happening.

In my follow-up I wrote that I enjoyed the interview and would like to further discuss my possible employment with them. I also tactfully mentioned that I was not comfortable with giving her anymore information on my methods until I have secured employment with the company.

Has anyone else encountered a situation where an interview is used to gain information from them?

Was my response appropriate?

  • 3
    You might want to restate this so the question being asked is something we can answer, because as it currently stands, I am not sure how we can answer what you've asked. Did you do the right thing? That seems like your call. Do people use a job interview to get free consulting? IMO, that seems unlikely, but not impossible. Was that what was happening here? We don't know. – GreenMatt Jan 29 '16 at 14:22
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    @GreenMatt I added in more details in paragraph 3 as to what happened at the end of the interview in order to provide more clarity as to why I felt that I may have been used for consulting. – salad_bar_breath Jan 29 '16 at 14:34
  • Was this person in a technical or even marketing position or HR? – user8365 Jan 29 '16 at 17:47
  • @JeffO The person interviewing me was the marketing director. – salad_bar_breath Jan 29 '16 at 18:26
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    Interview candidates being used as "free consultants" is something I hear about from time to time, but it is very very hard to believe. It would be an incredibly inefficient way to get advice, but also, I've NEVER heard stores from the other side in which someone admits to using job interviews with candidates strictly as a pretext for free consulting work. – teego1967 Jan 30 '16 at 14:04
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This is a tough one to answer.

On one hand, running interviews is not typically cheap for companies: they have to advertise the position, have someone sort the resume's that come in, perform preliminary phone interviews, then organize in-person interviews, asses all the candidates, etc.

It's quite a drag, and most organizations would not subject themselves to this process unless they really have to.

On the other hand, you should never give up "professional secrets", and you should trust your instincts.

The knowledge and experience you've gained are not to be handed out for free - they're the tools you use to support yourself. There's a golden rule, even among friends: "Don't ask to be helped for free if the favor you're asking is the other person's livelihood." (roughly translated from my native tongue)

Had you been asked to sit down for a technical interview with the company's product manager, senior dev, etc. and they had asked for some insight into how you would approach the situation then that would be one thing.

But handing over a report on how you would improve their SOE, etc. is pretty weird.

At best, their interview process is flawed, which makes me wonder about the rest of their organization. At worst, they were trying to take advantage of you.

Either way, you dodged a bullet.

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    I thought it was really weird too. I was a little bit mad at myself because I felt like I said too much in the interview. But that last part of the interview where she wanted more information to my method really woke me up and raised a red flag. – salad_bar_breath Jan 29 '16 at 14:39
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    @Douglas_symb - I've witnessed some pretty dodgy behavior from some companies, so nothing would really surprise me at this point. Trying to get info out of a professional through a fake interview wouldn't even make the top 10 list of unethical things that companies do. – AndreiROM Jan 29 '16 at 14:43
  • You aren't lying about that, and I would say that this doesn't even make the top 100. The lack of ethics in companies in mind boggling. – salad_bar_breath Jan 29 '16 at 14:49
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    Out of curiosity: what's the original phrase you translated? – Lilienthal Jan 29 '16 at 16:16
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I have seen plenty of instances where a company was trying to get a free solution worked out for them with no real intention of recompensing the advisor. You did the right thing. If there is no guarantee of you getting the job. Then you could be doing yourself a disservice.

This is more prevalent with tenders and stuff like that where a fifty page technical tender can be turned down and then the exact same solution implemented. But I'd be wary in an interview such as you described as well.

  • What industry do you most commonly see these instances in? – salad_bar_breath Jan 30 '16 at 20:26
  • Networking solutions is the main one I have seen for tenders. But I've had plenty of people try and pick my brain for free in the same industry. – Kilisi Jan 30 '16 at 21:08
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    I have seen this done quite a bit in media, especially advertising. Marketing seems to be a Sargasso Sea of low ethics quotients, in my experience. – Wesley Long Jan 31 '16 at 16:26
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You will always find someone willing to learn more from potential candidates. If I were you I would've asked questions in return of giving answers. Their role is to get things done. Your job is to make sure you get hired.

If I were you, I would've asked what exactly happens, what exactly is their plan, and how insecure are they about the effectiveness of the candidates interviewed at the time. After that, you go straight to the money, contractual terms, rules on employment, time schedules, deadlines, expectations and so on. If they don't engage, it means you are wasting your time. If they do, voilà, problem solved.

A personal note: don't be afraid of sharing knowledge and secrets of yours. If you don't do this, how can one compare your greatness with the competition? And if you lose, you lose. One who shares has more to gain than one who doesn't.

  • That's what I was thinking and that's why I was pretty lenient on giving a few details of my methods in the interview. However, I became nervous when the interviewer wanted a follow up e-mail on some of my methods when I gave up plenty of info already during the interview. – salad_bar_breath Jan 30 '16 at 20:26
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    Next time don't throw away the towel. When someone asks you to follow-up with an email and give more information just reiterate what you already told them and you loose nothing by writing again and make sure they get informed about the great strategy they should here about once a step towards hiring you was made. If they don't try deceive you; they will follow-up without someone getting upset because you stopped revealing more. Be sure of this. – Avram Cosmin Jan 30 '16 at 21:56
  • On my personal note, I didn't throw in the towel I just tactfully explained that I wanted to focus more on my employment vs the methods and did not feel comfortable revealing methods. It seemed to work pretty well as I do have a follow up interview with them. So we will see how well that goes. – salad_bar_breath Jan 30 '16 at 22:10
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    This is great news. After all they prove not be a fraud. Keep us posted on how it ended. Good luck! – Avram Cosmin Jan 31 '16 at 16:15

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