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Making Sure Interviews Don't Turn Into Free Consulting

Soulskill posted about a year ago | from the anything-worth-doing-is-worth-doing-for-money dept.

Businesses 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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232 comments

Is This for Real? (5, Insightful)

eldavojohn (898314) | about a year ago | (#42802767)

"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.

Is this serious? Here's a big red warning sign for me: if my job can be jeopardized by twenty minutes of talking, I'm probably in the wrong industry. I can tell you how to implement a solution but it's the actual work and planning and care that should be paid for cash money.

What red flags should people keep an eye out for?

Here's a red flag: What company out there is so full of morons that they go to interviewees for direction? Man, if I ever got that feeling in an interview, I wouldn't want to work for them anyway and I'd walk away laughing when they try to turn small talk into a business plan! Is this why "consulting" is so stupid? They can have all the free advice they want, it's still going to shit out half way through when they go, "Okay we have hadoop and lucene, what was that 'blur' thing he was talking about?" or "Okay, we've built a rails app with the generator and scaffolds ... now what did he say about creating database migrations?" and on and on.

I mean, are there actually people out there that feel their job can be compromised by handing over thirty minutes of talking to a potential employer? The only thing I'd be worried about is if they started asking me to name names for other people they could hire.

Re:Is This for Real? (5, Insightful)

YodasEvilTwin (2014446) | about a year ago | (#42802805)

This. Article is retarded.

Re:Is This for Real? (5, Interesting)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about a year ago | (#42802897)

This. Article is retarded.

Not to mention, summary is really just a shameless plug for parent company Dice.com

Re:Is This for Real? (1)

recharged95 (782975) | about a year ago | (#42803723)

Good ol Dice...

There was a time not so long ago, (late 90's) when the name Dice.com was fitting (i.e. a roll of the dice).

Re:Is This for Real? (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42803125)

Would you show me how you would pump this woman's gas tank? 8-hours-later. Well, we will let you know.

Re:Is This for Real? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42803561)

The solution is simple. Don't say one word to the interviewers until they fork over that retainer.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-JBvfZTx-vs

Re:Is This for Real? (1)

Scutter (18425) | about a year ago | (#42802865)

I think the goal is to avoid wasting your time waiting to see if they're going to offer you a job, or to avoid accepting a job by a company like that if they do make an offer.

Conversely You Just Blew It (4, Insightful)

eldavojohn (898314) | about a year ago | (#42802915)

I think the goal is to avoid wasting your time waiting to see if they're going to offer you a job, or to avoid accepting a job by a company like that if they do make an offer.

Um, yeah, no. Conversely you might have just sat through a potentially great job interview acting like you think you've got a royal flush and being careful not to show it. Yeah ... I'm not taking that risk. If you ask me in a job interview "How do you solve X" I am just going to turn on the firehose and let you have it to show you that I've got ideas for solving problems, I can openly confidently communicate said solutions well and I have dealt with problems like this in the past. If you can write all that down fast enough and follow through on something that normally takes a team six months to implement then good for you, you deserve that hail Mary pass that you somehow caught. Good luck on building a career off of hilarious asshattery like that. Your life must be "Weekend at Bernies" nine to five.

Re:Conversely You Just Blew It (1)

lgw (121541) | about a year ago | (#42803411)

Well, you just said everything I was going to, but I'll add a dash of pity: if some interviewer is so desparate they need to stage fake interviews to get advice, I'm not going to feel too terrible about giving them some. Better to be honest and get the same over luch with less time wasted, of course.

Re:Is This for Real? (4, Insightful)

pushing-robot (1037830) | about a year ago | (#42802899)

Bingo. If a company is desperate, sleazy, and stupid enough to use job applicants for free consulting, they're (a) not about to hire you as a full-time employee and (b) not somewhere you'd want to work anyway.

If it's pertinent to your job, do what the interviewer asks. If they treat you like this, consider yourself lucky you learned about their methods before you accepted the job. Meanwhile, you won't ruin genuine job offers with your paranoia.

Re:Is This for Real? (2)

unixisc (2429386) | about a year ago | (#42803159)

From the interviewee side of the equation, if I were the guy being mined for insider information, I'd simply state some basic things that are pretty much public knowledge, and then add that 'Beyond that, this information is confidential, and I'm not at liberty to share it'.

Sounds pretty simple

Re:Is This for Real? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42802911)

THIS.

If your job is that easily sourced that you are worried about giving "free consulting", then you're either an egomaniac or you have an incredibly small skillset (and shouldn't really be picky about where you're interviewing).

I'm an IT Manager. If I'm hiring someone, I'm looking to may them many thousands of dollars for many years to be productive in my environment. If I have a tough problem that my team can't solve, I'll consult it quickly and get it fixed. My job won't survive me playing games with doing fake interviews to try and get answers which could have been obtained in an hourlong interview (and probably a Google search, by extension).

Terrible article.

Re:Is This for Real? (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42803015)

I know of a mom and pop computer shop that, when they got behind on repairs, would run an ad for a technician. The "interview": We have a bunch of broken PC's in the back. Stay as long as you want, and fix as many as you can. When your done, let us know. Well look at your fixes and let you know if you got the job.

Re:Is This for Real? (1)

jd659 (2730387) | about a year ago | (#42803631)

We have a bunch of broken PC's in the back. Stay as long as you want, and fix as many as you can. When your done, let us know. Well look at your fixes and let you know if you got the job.

This is a great setup for insanely fun practical jokes.

Re:Is This for Real? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42803017)

The only thing I'd be worried about is if they started asking me to name names for other people they could hire.

I had that happen to me. I had applied, but they apparently weren't interested in me, but they called me several times to ask me for other programmers they might like better. They actually got belligerent about it when I declined to provide any other candidates.

Re:Is This for Real? (1)

Synerg1y (2169962) | about a year ago | (#42803085)

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.

Couldn't have said it better myself.

I do have a story to share though: I was interviewing for a non-profit housing assistance program, and the interview was set at 2 hours... 1st, I'm never doing a 2 hour interview again, if they ask, and there's no technical test involved, they can go shove it. Anyways, the entirety of the people I interviewed with were well over 50, one talked about "server side" javascript... ??? ??? ??? But anyways, these folks didn't have a fuckin clue as to what's where and where's what and the wound up stating a lot of their problems (re-iterated cause I interviewed with 4 people 1 at a time) and asked me how I'd solve them... I wound up giving them the high level abstract solution of course, but I couldn't help feeling like these folks had no direction and needed direction as much as actual work.

Re:Is This for Real? (2)

Molt (116343) | about a year ago | (#42803275)

Why didn't you just Google for 'server side javascript' when you got back to find out if it existed and was something you'd not heard of yourself?

Re:Is This for Real? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42803283)

First, two hour interviews are actually kind of short for the industry. Most of mine have been near all-day events where I was flown or provided transportation to the site, and then interviewed over the course of a working day.

Second, for a non-profit, it's quite possible that they do need direction. I'm generalizing, but, because of the market, the "higher quality" staffing typically fills higher quality jobs - Google, Microsoft, Apple, etc - while the rest of the stratus layers get what they can. The budgets for non-profits are naturally going to be tighter than a multi-national and you may be expected to do more than one task for the organization. Personally, I prefer the "jack-of-all-trades" openings over the highly specialized and insulated positions at bigger corporations. Less likely to get bored, and your exposure to different things is greater. YMMV...

-- green led

There really are people like that (4, Insightful)

Sycraft-fu (314770) | about a year ago | (#42803131)

I encounter this kind of attitude all the time: People who want to fight tooth and nail to hold on to whatever vital information they think they have, so they can't be replaced. They want to make sure nobody else learns how to do it, because otherwise they think they'd be laid off.

Thing is? They are often right, because they aren't very useful outside of that.

Personally I think it is silly. My boss always says we IT types should be trying to work ourselves out of a job. He doesn't mean he wants to get rid of us (he's a tech guy, not a PHB) just that we, including him, should always be working for better automation, working to solve problem, working to streamline and make service better.

The thing is that won't end up with us being out of a job because there's always more to do. There are things people would like us to do, but we don't have time for, and if we free up more time we can move on to that.

Not everyone operates that way though. They want to hold on to whatever little niche of knowledge they have, believing that is all that makes them valuable.

Re:There really are people like that (4, Interesting)

lgw (121541) | about a year ago | (#42803469)

My boss always says we IT types should be trying to work ourselves out of a job.

To put that a little differently: someone will eventually automate your current job, and if you're the one who does then you've created your next job - handy, that.

Re:There really are people like that (1)

mooingyak (720677) | about a year ago | (#42803881)

The thing is that won't end up with us being out of a job because there's always more to do. There are things people would like us to do, but we don't have time for, and if we free up more time we can move on to that.

Amen to that. My wife got nervous when I described how things were going at work. We had a team of four, lost two people, hired one to replace them. We don't feel any need to hire more even though we're actually handling more responsibilities now than we did as a foursome. I'm currently reworking some legacy code that's been a timesink for us to constantly dance around. She asked me "Won't that come to a point where they don't need you?" I thought that was kind of funny. There are ALWAYS other projects to fill in the freed up resources.

It's the Pakleds (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42803133)

Geordi is smart. He will make them go.

Re:Is This for Real? (1)

asaul (98023) | about a year ago | (#42803363)

I believe my former boss encountered this actually. He actually stopped them part way through the interview and said "from now on, this is consulting" when their questions started getting too detailed.

I worked for him under the two execs that did the interview, and I have no doubt one of them was the sort of guy who would take an idea he thought he knew and try and ram it through as his own (he was not IT literate, technical in his field but knew nothing of enterprise level IT infrastructure). We frequently had to deal with him talking to vendors behind our backs and undermining the work we did to put in proper solutions because they clashed with his source of free event tickets. The engineers that were under him in his field copped it worse, because he would micro manage their projects and throw in whole new solutions depending on which vendor he could get something from.

So, I think this would come down to more the personality of the person conducting the interview, rather than being an outright plan on behalf of the company.

Re:Is This for Real? (4, Funny)

Jonathan (5011) | about a year ago | (#42803379)

Of course it's real. Why, I remember a case where clearly the interviewer needed some insights into animal transportation. As if I am going to help them figure out how to keep their cabbage from being eaten by a goat while crossing a river for free!

Re:Is This for Real? (2)

dgatwood (11270) | about a year ago | (#42803907)

Helpful hint: the wolf may not particularly like to eat cabbage, but he'll darn well eat you if you leave him on one side of the river with nothing but cabbage to eat. Just saying.

"the first hit is free" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42803465)

Seriously, if your "product" doesn't meet that standard then you will never cut it as a consultant. Just enforce the "one" rule.

Anyone who'd refuse to share technical information during an interview will eventually try to hoard their knowledge later and that isn't anyone you want to work with.

Re:Is This for Real? (4, Interesting)

jd659 (2730387) | about a year ago | (#42803543)

Here's a big red warning sign for me: if my job can be jeopardized by twenty minutes of talking, I'm probably in the wrong industry.

It's not that the “job can be jeopardized” but rather a good and creative solution can be obtained without even intending to hiring the person.

I work in design industry. There not many people who can quickly come up with elegant solutions. I once was asked to have the fourth (!) interview with the same company that “didn’t make up the mind” and wanted to have all the VPs present just to make sure that we are the right fit. We talked about the experience and the past designs, but then they gave me the printouts of their current product that needed to be redesigned and asked me to take 30 minutes and then present my solutions. Having many years of experience in the field, I can usually spot most of the non-trivial issues right away. A half hour design session with a top designer can cost a lot of money, but the company wanted to do it for free as an “interview”. Needless to say, I just stated that this is “not ethical to ask such a question” and I will be happy to demonstrate my skills by redesigning any other product that is not done by that company. They were shocked and tried to save their faces by stating that everyone else they interviewed for the position completed this task. And I said “fine, hire them.” At the end, the company made me an offer, but I declined.

There are many people who have a huge experience and can charge thousands of dollars for essentially one hour of work. If you are good at debugging, you may be flying to a client who cannot figure out some problem in the production system. Guess what, you may come there and say “clear the cache” to resolve their issue. And it will cost them thousands of dollars. Yes, it can be that expensive. Can this company afford you? No. Would you want to work there? No. But they might be very likely be interested in getting some work done for free disguised as an interview.

Re:Is This for Real? (2, Insightful)

drolli (522659) | about a year ago | (#42803691)

Exactly my thoughts. I am a consultant.

If you are doing consulting right, then you give away a part of it for free, which will be your "free interview". If i figure out that a job can be done by talking for twenty minutes over lunch (happens), then i will just do that and tell the guy who i am should a real job turn up.

The result of this is that i am bounced around from interesting project to interesting project (in a big department) - and paid for doign real work - and i got involved in most of the projects by doing small things, which demonstrated my skills and where wtriting a bill would have been more work than doing it "for free". If you solve a thing where the manager thinks its big (but in reality its a 1h job), just do it, dont negotiate. If the company isnt worth it, then dont show up again, otherwise the manager will think "wow" the technicians will think "okay, this guy can be on the team" and you will be happy and respected, and wont have to worry about them bitching around about every hour.

Re:Is This for Real? (1)

MangoCats (2757129) | about a year ago | (#42803785)

No job worth having will be threatened by this kind of thing.

On the other hand, I have seen "work from home" offers requiring a test to be executed and e-mailed in that would take several hours to complete, often using some esoteric knowledge not readily available in ordinary documentation. The one in particular I encountered came from the Philippines.

Re:Is This for Real? (1)

mysidia (191772) | about a year ago | (#42803951)

I mean, are there actually people out there that feel their job can be compromised by handing over thirty minutes of talking to a potential employer? The only thing I'd be worried about is if they started asking me to name names for other people they could hire.

In other words, they had problems getting people to come interview, so they need free referrals from you, for people to compete against you, for more employer-favorable negotiated compensation / employment terms? :)

Is this serious? Here's a big red warning sign for me: if my job can be jeopardized by twenty minutes of talking, I'm probably in the wrong industry. I can tell you how to implement a solution but it's the actual work and planning and care that should be paid for cash money.

I don't know about 'care'; but if the solution was simple enough to not require real work, AND if that person really has no other problems worth hiring someone of my calibre; then I might consider not getting hired a blessing in that case, as it would save me from getting bored -- and leave me free to pursue other jobs that would be a better fit.

Re:Is This for Real? (1)

peterofoz (1038508) | about a year ago | (#42803995)

If the problem to solve is trivial, then perhaps offer a solution. If its hard enough that you'd worry about doing free consulting, then switch tactics and ask questions, deep probing questions to make sure you understand the whole picture. The interviewer should be able to determine from the questions you ask that you know what your are doing, or at least you know what you don't know which is also valuable to solving a problem. If they keep pressing for a solution, then they're either unethical or incompetent so you should either walk away or raise your rates. We run into this periodically where during a bid tender and proposal process the customer is asking for the solution pre-sales. Then it becomes a game of chess - to demonstrate that you know what you are doing without giving away the cash-cow vs. winning the business/job.

unpaid internships can be the same / office boy on (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about a year ago | (#42802793)

unpaid internships can be the same and the office boy ones where are just doing copy's / coffee are more like general labor at $0 hr.

Re:unpaid internships can be the same / office boy (1)

gabereiser (1662967) | about a year ago | (#42802891)

but your gaining such valuable knowledge... ...how to operate a RICOH copier... How to use the K-Cup interface... ...How to not make yourself useful...

Re:unpaid internships can be the same / office boy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42803619)

Hey don't mock the how not to make yourself useful skill. It's an important Corporate survival tool that will often lead to promotion.

Pointless question not based in reality (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42802825)

This whole premise of this question is idiotic... why would a company go through all the trouble to interview someone for a free hour of consulting? And what job could possibly be valid that could be "filled" by getting a random applicant to answer a question?

Re:Pointless question not based in reality (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42803285)

I've heard of it happening in small business IT.

IT Guy: How would you solve such-n-such problem?
Applicant: I would install blah-blah and configure blah-blah-blah.
IT Guy: OK, thanks! That's all I guess. Don't call us, we'll call you.

only programmers... (5, Interesting)

retchdog (1319261) | about a year ago | (#42802893)

only programmers and IT geeks would be so conceited as to even think this is a possibility.

Re:only programmers... (1)

Beardo the Bearded (321478) | about a year ago | (#42803143)

Yeah, no kidding. If you could solve a sticky problem in 30 minutes, that shows your value. If you're worrying THEYRE STERALING MAH IDEEARS! then you're basically a complete fuckup.

Re:only programmers... (5, Insightful)

Missing.Matter (1845576) | about a year ago | (#42803145)

Yes, this goes back to the saying that ideas are dime a dozen.

I used to be involved with a group that offered free help for university startups to match them up with potential investors, help them with government and regulatory related nonsense, and overcome hurdles a startup commonly encounters. It was always so funny to me when some of these entrepreneurs seeking our help had the audacity to actually refuse to talk to us unless we signed an NDA.

Their thought is obviously "I have the best idea ever and I don't want anyone to steal it!" The thing is, if the only thing guaranteeing the success of your business is that no one else has the idea, you're doomed to fail because I can tell you a) someone else has already had the idea, you're not special; and b) once you start becoming successful it will be copied immediately. When I was working with my own startup, I freely shared what I was doing. My philosophy is if you want to copy my business idea, more power to you, I'll see you in the marketplace. But I've got the contacts, I've got the funding, I've got the patents, I've got the prototypes, I've put 3 years into my idea, 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.

So before this seems to far off topic, let me bring it all back: what makes a successful company is the execution of a good idea, not just a good idea. In the interview room, if you think the major bargaining chip you're holding is that great idea, you're wrong. It's the execution and experience you will be able to provide on that idea, and they can't steal that from you in a 20 minute interview. They'll have to hire you for that.

Re:only programmers... (2)

ediron2 (246908) | about a year ago | (#42803249)

Yup. I really depressed some friends who were priming themselves to quit corporate and start up when I asked what their 'moat' was? A: The WHAT? Me: The moat... the barrier to competition? What is your 'secret sauce' that keeps some megacorp from letting you do all the hard work defining your niche, then asking a team to reverse engineer your product? What's the secret they'll never master, the patent, the copyright? It's like a moat around a castle. A: Um... uh...

They're still corporate drones, but they did create the project as FOSS. It's doing ok, they're happy and busy and one of them parlayed that project into a good raise at another company closer to what he loves.

OTOH, I know another guy who embraced a project that went big. Megacorps are good at balancing 'how much to reengineer' against 'can we just hire/buy the underlying code and talent'?

Re:only programmers... (3, Informative)

k6mfw (1182893) | about a year ago | (#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.

Re:only programmers... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42803755)

But I've got the contacts, I've got the funding, I've got the patents, I've got the prototypes, I've put 3 years into my idea, and I've been through the actual development of the idea and worked out all the wrong ways to do it

Makes perfect sense, but the other guy may actually have all he needs. For example, just as the Winklevoss twins.

It's all about the information and how you use it.

Re:only programmers... (1)

Salvage (178446) | about a year ago | (#42803481)

Given how many other than alpha-numeric characters there are in the languages I use, I'm not sure I could describe more than a trivial script in an interview. And even that would sound like, well, I'm not sure what it sounds like to HR types; they always get this otherwise glazed expression with their eyes replaced by black voids.

Unrealistic problem (3, Insightful)

DragonWriter (970822) | about a year ago | (#42802903)

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?

Yeah, that's not going to happen in the real world, because it would require their pre-interview screening process to be so good as to effectively select, without an interview, the people whom it would be worth their while to get free consulting from under the guise of an interview.

Re:Unrealistic problem (4, Interesting)

Culture20 (968837) | about a year ago | (#42803123)

My guess is this stems from interviews where the hiring side asks questions about a problem they recently solved, then someone who gave a great answer didn't get hired because someone else was a better fit for the job. So the "great answer" person thinks the company was trolling for solutions.

Re:Unrealistic problem (1)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | about a year ago | (#42803205)

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?

Yeah, that's not going to happen in the real world, because it would require their pre-interview screening process to be so good as to effectively select, without an interview, the people whom it would be worth their while to get free consulting from under the guise of an interview.

Well... During the interview for my second real job, where one of the interviewers was one of my former college professors, they described an NFS problem they were having and I help them come up with a workable solution, which impressed my professor's boss. The job was with a contractor as a sysadmin for the super-computing network at the NASA Langley Research Center, which included several Convex and Cray systems.

Granted, the job was real and they were hiring, but helping solve a real problem didn't hurt my interview.

Show up drunk and high (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42802921)

Indicate that they are only getting a trial level of your intelligence for the interview period and if they wish production levels of sobriety they will have to pay.

Massive tasks (1)

srees (1290588) | about a year ago | (#42802923)

...like the time I was asked to code a PHP JSON to XML interpreter while the interviewer watched? Without using existing libraries...

Re:Massive tasks (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42803117)

I was once asked to crack a 512 bit otp while getting a blowjob from halle berry, so I can relate.

Re:Massive tasks (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42803185)

wasn't it rather a Blowfish ?

topper (2)

brainscauseminds (1865962) | about a year ago | (#42803305)

That's nothing. I was once asked to design & implement a space shuttle software in 30 minutes, which I did while undercover in communist Russia stealing their top secret documents. I also had time to prove that N=NP, create a simple script that passed the Turing test and create a machine learning method, that can predict exact date and time when you die with 100% accuracy. Anyway, this free consulting thing is a joke from Dilbert, so I would suggest reading less comics :D

I have found that (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42802931)

spilling knowledge like a colander is generally beneficial for my reception, reputation and employment.

Car analogy (1)

vigmeister (1112659) | about a year ago | (#42802937)

This is silly... It's like a car mechanic who will not diagnose your problem and starts talking about his skills and expertise. Most places give you a free quote to have you as a customer. Lawyers and doctors charge for the first consult too and you could take that approach by *BEING* a consultant rather than interviewing for a job. Or you could tell the interviewer to fuck off as opposed to taking your hour of consulting (worth $100 or so for a decently salaried position) and considering that an investment into your job hunt. Of course, if you are looking for a job, your time is probably worth far less to you, so make a grown up judgement call as to whether the odds of getting a job are worth taking the insurmountable risk of *gasp* working for free *gasp*!

Cheers!

Happened to me (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42802945)

I just spent six long days to prove my skills for a linux developer job. The home assignment was interesting and not trivial to solve. It did make me think they were fishing for a better algorithm.

I sent in a working program. They liked it and offered a job.

I ended up accepting a different offer, but it was a fun challenge. If they can use it in their product development, more power to them. My time wasn't wasted; it landed me a job offer, which gave me confidence to negotiate the parameters of the other job offer.

An alternate theory (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42802947)

It's not a red flag, but maybe a white flag - in that there's no problem. I've conducted a lot of interviews at my current job and some of my coworkers think it's humorous to give the candidate a hypothetical question which is actually the reality in the office. I honestly don't think they're hoping to get useful information out of the candidate, they're just trying to see if the candidate suggests doing what they did, or at least having a good laugh with them about their suggestion which we might have tried and failed. In short, maybe you're jumping to conclusions.

which seems more likely? (3, Insightful)

AxemRed (755470) | about a year ago | (#42802959)

Does it really seem likely that a company would take the time to go through resumes and hold interviews just for the purpose of extracting "free" information from interviewees about their specific problems? Or does it seem more likely that a company would ask interviewees about their specific problems so that they can hire the one who has the best solution to it?

When I get asked specific questions in interviews, I'm happy to give the best answers that I can give.

Re:which seems more likely? (2)

AxemRed (755470) | about a year ago | (#42803021)

On a side note, it seems like if a company really wanted to bounce some questions off of random geeky heads, it would be more productive to write up the questions and have the intern go ask them on tech forums. "Ask Slashdot"

Re:which seems more likely? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42803191)

When I lived in Calgary which has lots of large companies I never had those kinds of interviews. But now that I live in Vancouver where there is a new fly by night start up every 10 minutes half of the interviews I do end up being how do I do my job interviews. The worst was where they were having a test and asked you to log in and configure their new replicated database for them. About half way into the "test" it became obvious what they were up to and I left them a little surprise for wasting my time.

Somewhat related... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42802971)

A company I used to work for placed an ad for a consultant to "fix a bug" in their code.

They stated that the contract would last between 1 day and 6 months, depending on how long it took to fix that one bug.

I'm sure that whatever consultant they eventually hired was totally honest about how long it actually took him to find and fix the bug.

I'm also sure it took no less than 6 months.

Happened to me already (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42802973)

This happened to me several years ago. I was a board level design and test veteran and was interviewing at large chip company, one of the major players. First phone interview I got asked several questions and was told my answer seemed overly elaborate and they were curious why I suggested the more complicated this over the less complicated that. I went through my rationale and the interviewer said I brought up a dozen issues they never thought of and I should have a second phone interview. Second phone interview I basically reviewed everything I said before with 4 of their engineers who all recommended and on-site interview. A week and change later I was out in California for a two day interview. First day we talked about experience and a bunch of other things and signed some NDAs. The next day they were showing some preliminary board schematics and their test plans. I pretty much red marked 80% of their board as being a poor layout, made dozens of recommendations and then reviewed their test plan again making an unbelievable number of suggestions. I was told to expect an offer any day. A week went by, no response from the manager. made several attempts to contact I was directed to HR who said I was no longer under consideration.

Fast forward about 18 months and I see on MySpace( this was pre-FB) a friend is working in that group. I give him a call we chat about the design and he sends over the board schematics and it's probably 98% what I drew up.

Calling bullshit. (1)

Alex Belits (437) | about a year ago | (#42803667)

There are many reasons why it could not possibly happen. Last of which was an employee sending you documents that contain trade secrets.

So what if they do? (1)

swan5566 (1771176) | about a year ago | (#42802989)

I could easily imagine a potential employer reasoning that you can't have a better test than try you out with the real deal. Hard to fault that logic. And just interview people as an ongoing, ever-changing consulting source? You know how cost-inefficient that would be compared to just hiring someone? There's a reason why job-searching sites exist and are a viable business - it costs time and money to find candidates. And finally, even if they get a freebie from you - were you planning on somehow monetizing it yourself?

Re:So what if they do? (1)

wisnoskij (1206448) | about a year ago | (#42803527)

No kidding. It takes a LOT of time to find any someone competent in any skilled field. You advertise a job you very well might have hundreds of applicants in no time. And most of them will be completely useless at solving your problem. You would end up spending 100+ paid man hours finding the one person who can apparently solve your problem in a 30-60 minute interview.

True for contractors (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42802993)

This is actually a pretty common problem when you are a contractor and have to discuss the project enough to develop an accurate quote. Just earlier this afternoon, I had to tell a potential client that I couldn't continue to talk to them unless it was under a paid contract. I had probably spent 2+ hours of phone time and 6 hours of review/email time to develop the quote for them. Damn bottom feeders.

I never... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42802995)

I never tell them they can email .jpg directly without pasting them in an MS .doc, they have to pay first !

for half the price they get to know how to send uncompressed bitmaps.

One I see (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42803005)

How about those who interview solely to get your references to get contacts to sell them something? Temp agencies seem really bad at that.

What (1)

phantomfive (622387) | about a year ago | (#42803009)

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.

Why would you even want to work for someone like that? It's a warning, be glad they warned you before you got hired into a miserable situation. That company has low probability of success.

So what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42803033)

So what if they are trying to get free consulting, giving a full answer is still your best bet.

If they are indeed trying to get you to solve their problem during the interview, they clearly don't want to hire anybody. If you don't solve it, they'll ask the next guy. Nothing lost, but nothing gained.
If it is just a test question, you are definitely hurting your chances of being hired by not displaying your full knowledge, though.

The time factor (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42803037)

Trying to fix problems with interviews is not a particularly cost-effective way to do things. The company will waste HR time selecting people, and also waste the time of other programmers to oversee the fix and confirm that it will actually fix the problem. If someone can fix a hard two-year-old problem in the space of an interview, then it's probably a good idea to keep that person to fix other problems.

If time is so valuable that spending an hour or two in an interview is not worth it if the application is not successful, why waste that time on the interview in the first place?

I had a friend do this to me once. (5, Interesting)

ChrisKnight (16039) | about a year ago | (#42803075)

Strictly speaking, this wasn't an interview; but I think it applies.

Many many many moons ago, a friend asked me if I would be interested in setting up a Novell network for his employer. I put together a quote and sent it off. He called me up, and said that he needed a detailed walk-through of the work involved in order to explain the quote to his boss. I explained everything that was necessary. A couple of weeks go by, and I haven't heard anything so I call him. After learning what needed to be done, he decided he could do it himself; and that was the route they were taking. Lost a 'friend', but gained a cautionary tale; I think I came out ahead. (Yes, Jeff; this story is about you.)

Re:I had a friend do this to me once. (1)

erice (13380) | about a year ago | (#42803295)

Are you sure the back room conversion with your friend's boss didn't go something like this?

Boss: That's it? Is there nothing more to it?
Friend: Uh no. I think that's everything.
Boss: Couldn't you do that?
Friend: Um. Probably, yeah.
Boss: Well, then, you have a new assignment.

Re:I had a friend do this to me once. (1)

ChrisKnight (16039) | about a year ago | (#42803357)

If that was the case, I think he would have explained it that way. He was quite frank in telling me that after I explained it, he felt he could do it himself.

Re:I had a friend do this to me once. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42803533)

Really sucks you were able to help your friend.

Re:I had a friend do this to me once. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42803615)

So, a 'friend' asked you for help with something and after explaining how to do it they realized they could do it themselves. Then you turned around and get pissed because that 'friend' didn't waste their money paying you for a service they didn't need, because they could do it themselves, because you helped your 'friend'.

I'm glad I don't have any 'friends' like you.

Re:I had a friend do this to me once. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42803689)

ditto

If a 30-60 interview minutes = project solved... (1)

millertym (1946872) | about a year ago | (#42803109)

Then really it's more of a help desk ticket. I suppose they could glean some very general information in that time and maybe get some direction on what to internet search for. But I find it hard to believe anything approaching true "consulting" could really take place in an interview's amount of time.

Narcissism. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42803227)

How narcissistic do you have to be to believe that you lost the job because you just provided free consulting to them and fixed their problem for them?

Re:Narcissism. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42803617)

I think it's the other way around: Are there companies that would stoop to the level of "interviewing" people to obtain information or insight that will help fix a pressing need? My guess? Certainly.

-- green led

IT maybe this doesn't apply, but it does for gov (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42803301)

Went to an interview once where they asked me for 3 ideas of how to improve their program. I simply wrote: I'll share my ideas with you after you've hired me. They didn't want to play that way so I didn't get the job. They didn't get my ideas. Pretty sure Joe Politician's nephew got the job and a boatload of other peoples' ideas.

The probation period scam (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42803407)

A worse, and more common, situation is when a company hires someone to work on an upgrade then coincidentally decides to not keep them after their probation period.

Backroom casting couch (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42803441)

You know exactly which series I'm referring to, you dirty perv!

Re:Backroom casting couch (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42803729)

And just in case you don't know, it is a porno where an "adult talent agent" talks the adult model into having sex with them during the interview on the preface of getting a job, with no intention of giving them a job, only publishing the "interview" itself.

Re:Backroom casting couch (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42803783)

That is probably worse than a job interview where they get you to do some coding, but don't hire you and use your code in production instead.

This does happen in the real world... (4, Interesting)

alchemist68 (550641) | about a year ago | (#42803451)

I'm a pharmaceutical scientist and have personally experienced this last year. A biotechnology company flew me across the country and picked my brain to explain how to setup and analyze and characterize proteins by liquid chromatography mass spectrometry. Different people asked me the same questions over and over again inquiring about setting up the mass spectrometer acquisition parameters. I even tried to explain other relevant experience, they didn't want to hear it, all they wanted was to know how to acquire the data to identify as many proteins as possible in a series of samples.

Re:This does happen in the real world... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42803637)

My first guess is they were looking for someone that knew how to acquire the data to identify as many proteins as possible in a series of samples.

My second guess is that they didn't hire you.

My final guess is that they hired someone else, who also knew how to acquire the data to identify as many proteins as possible in a series of samples, but didn't try to dodge the question.

Re:This does happen in the real world... (2)

alchemist68 (550641) | about a year ago | (#42803945)

I did answer the question, and explained it in great detail "this is how you do it". I never dodged any questions. They also wanted to know how to setup and administer the Mascot Server (www.matrixscience.com). I told them that too. They didn't want to to pay for vendor training. It was cheaper to put me on a plane and fly me across the country than to pay for vendor training on the mass spectrometer and the Mascot Server.

Re:This does happen in the real world... (1)

tsstahl (812393) | about a year ago | (#42803721)

Mod parent up. This does happen.

I've been in several sysadmin consulting situations disguised as interviews with mid size businesses.

Bargaining Position??? (3, Insightful)

wisnoskij (1206448) | about a year ago | (#42803457)

"your bargaining position will have gotten worse"

If you just solved a real world problem for a company in a interview and made them lots of money, you bargaining position has just gotten a whole lot better.
If the only work they needed doing can be completed in a 30 minute interview than they simply do not and never had a job to offer you.
And no one would actually do this, it would be an incredibly huge waste of time. You actually think that some company is going to interview 20 people until they get the guy that is capable of solving their problem in 30 minutes? They have just spent a week of work getting a 30 minute answer.
If a problem is solvable in a interview setting then the company could of just spent 30 minutes posting a detailed description on some forum somewhere, where they would of gotten an even better and more detailed answer than they could ever of hoped for from an interviewee.

If you provide the answer to a current real world problem in an interview and do not get the job, then it is probably because someone else gave a better response.

And do you really think playing games with the interviewer is going to improve your chances of getting a job? If the person asked you a question they want an answer to that question, not to another question.

Wat (1)

Cloud K (125581) | about a year ago | (#42803487)

Any company relying on some random job applicants for free consultation and taking them seriously is stone cold retarded and deserves the damage they'll inevitably suffer.

If they already know they're interviewing decent people then presumably they're only between jobs for a very brief time and wouldn't be daft enough to act as a doormat :P

Story is silly.

Diid they steal your Doctor Who fanfic ideas too? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42803491)

It seems perfectly legitimate that if an employer is hoping to hire somebody to solve a particular problem (“Our database is really slow and we need a lot of help optimizing it. How would you proceed with that?”) they would ask a lot of questions and focus on the problem. Running a fake interview seems like an incredibly rare edge-case to me. It’s like getting an interview at a publisher and concluding afterwards that “They just want to steal all my great ideas for Doctor Who FanFics!”

Warning (1)

Peter (Professor) Fo (956906) | about a year ago | (#42803505)

Often at interview you'll be asked about something that is at the top of the interviewer's stack of issues. I've blown it many times by being honest about the size of hole/ difficulty of getting out/ importance of not letting it happen again or in the first place. The idea that there's a quick solution that will bulldoze their plan will also piss them off.

Google, I hate you (Ph.D.-level problems) (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#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.

An odd variant.. (4, Interesting)

Molt (116343) | about a year ago | (#42803525)

One interview I had amused me. On paper it looked okay, a small art dealership was looking for a combined sysadmin/Perl programmer which was pretty much what I was doing then, and the pay was significantly more than I was on at my current place and as I was getting bored in the current job anyway I thought I'd go and have a chat.

Went to the interview and it was one of those where the interviewer wasn't actually technical himself. He had a friend write a page of simple technical questions which I answered without any trouble, also corrected one of the answers he had. The interviewer seemed happy and we started talking about what the job actually involved, and here it started to go wrong. He wanted a basic browse-only shopfront, no actual payment, with basic message board capability, and some everyday web/email/DNS handling. He did vaguely ask how I'd do this but not in any detail at all. Listening to him I knew that I'd be bored by day two, but I did actually like the guy and knew that what he wanted really didn't need a full-time employee. I explained to him that these were basically things which could be done by using pre-existing software with a month of effort to get it up and running in the first place, and a day or so a month afterwards to maintain it. I jotted down the names of some software and companies that could help him, and told him what to ask them for.

He was genuinely amazed. He thought that all of this web-stuff was so complex that it'd be a full-time task to keep his website running, thinking that every new art piece he added to the catalogue would need an entire new page to be written for it. Finding out about CMS was a revelation, and one he was grateful for, and all this took less time than the interview was scheduled for.

In the end he went with one of the companies I'd recommended to him, they did ecommerce stuff and this was bread and butter for them, he was up and running in two weeks with everything he needed, as he let me know in an email. As for me I didn't have a new job but I felt good about myself, and the fact the chap had basically ended the 'interview' by giving me a few weeks worth of wages for saving him a lot in the long run was quite nice too.

not a problem... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42803697)

If a company needs to "mine" their interviewees for knowledge that particular company isn't going to last long anyway, no harm, no foul.

If I were an employer... (2)

lkangaroo (2663383) | about a year ago | (#42803937)

... and you can solve our problems, why would I want to boot you, potentially sending you to one of our competitors, instead of keeping you and making you solve more problems for us?
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