Sunday, March 27, 2011

When does an interview become consulting?

I have thought about this post for years.  I have seen (and heard) company interviewers use candidates for more than interviews and am finally thought I should write this.

Years ago, in southern California, our company was invited to 'bid' on a very big account, Steelcase, providing all their temporary staffing.  We spent weeks investigating the challenges they faced, understanding where their current agency was not delivering and put together a magnificent proposal and presentation.   We didn't get the account, their current providers kept the account and from what we could observe, implemented all our ideas.  While reasonably disgusted, we had to do it and couldn't have done anything differently.  We had to go for it. Don't even mind using real names here.  Hope it bit 'em in the ass, too.  

A few years ago, I had a hiring manager ask each candidate interviewing for a marketing position to put together a comprehensive presentation on how each would overhaul our current marketing strategies, complete with logo and colors.  One applicant asked me if her $200 in required color handouts would be reimbursed.  Fortunately I was in a position to say yes.   The hiring manager thought it was reasonable for the applicant to pay for it;  I did not. 

Interviews are designed to help companies determine if candidates can bring not only knowledge, skills and abilities but new ideas, a fresh approach, unique perspectives.  But if you don't hire the candidate(s), is it ethical to use what you learn in the interview?   

I haven't seen much about this and wonder if you have experiences to share?  When does an interview cross the line?  


Kristi R said...

IMHO, the work should remain under the ownership of the candidate, even if he/she was reimbursed for cost. It crosses the line since they are not being compensated for the work that they produced and a company used to make profit.
And I would wonder why a company wouldn't hire a candidate who presented work great enough to be used in their campaign (assuming they are not a mass murderer.....).

Anonymous said...

This is not anything new. Google has been doing this for 6-7 years with their "interviews" for recruiters. They ask you what your top 20 best ways to recruit the most difficult position in the world are and after they finish writing it all down they thank you for coming in and you never hear from them again. You have to decide before you start these discussions if you plan to hand over your specific techniques or not. I personally will not make that mistake again.

Karen K said...

Great post. I remember Steelcase. I think about this quite often, as well as other requests to work for free under the pretense that it would be "good exposure." I won't do it any more. I've had to do a couple of interviews where presentations were required and I chose not to provide handouts for that very reason. In one case, I got the job and was given the handouts and ideas of another candidate on my first day.

Ben said...

Really interesting article - seems like quite the moral issue. I don't think its necessary unethical to use what you learn in the interview, but maybe some form of remuneration or future consideration should be provided for good ideas. This being said, the candidate has voluntarily provided their thoughts, and it may be unfortunate but sometimes it's just tough luck for them. The line is definitely being crossed, however, when an applicant is needing to prepare a presentation at their own cost.