Job Interviews Gone Wrong: What Employers Try To Get For Free

interviewWe all like to get something for nothing. It's a fact of life.

Unfortunately for job seekers, a lot of employers have learned to excel at it in a market that heavily favors them and leaves candidates at a disadvantage.

In a recent post on Business Insider, a reader from New Haven, CT wrote to reporter Henry Blodget about his experience applying for a job and feeling pressured to do a "try out," that really amounted to giving a lot of free advice to the employer before ultimately being turned down for the job.

His story is hardly unique these days.

He tells of applying for an administrative assistant job at an antique dealer in nearby a nearby town. He writes:

The owner replied to me via e-mail [that] in an effort of fairness to all applicants she would send us e-mails asking job-related questions to narrow down the selection process. After passing the first round of questioning... I moved onto the second. However, in between one and two, she had a moment of clarity and decided what she truly needed was a Marketing genius. She sent me a long-winded e-mail talking about her business and at the end asked me to come up with a strategic and tactical marketing plan that will boost their top line by 25% within 18-24 months of accepting the job. She asked me to cost out each aspect of my plan in terms of dollars and to justify my projections from each source of revenue. With the ultimate goal of increasing their top line to $2.5 million annually.

This seems like a real bait and switch to me, with the employer posting for one job and then asking the candidate to prove his expertise in an unrelated area. Along the way, she was happy to glean ideas that would help her build her business without any intention of compensating the "losing" candidates-if there even was a winning candidate-for their time. In this economy, unfortunately, this is not uncommon.

Employers in any field know how over eager job candidates are and some take advantage of that. But certain industries are especially known to use job interviews nefariously. On the website for WNYC's Brian Lehrer show, Sarah from Philadelphia writes: "I am a graphic artist in the fashion industry and have been to a few companies that are known for using a job opening ad to bring designers in so they can fish their portfolios for new ideas. It's hard to know what is real and what isn't..."

As my unemployment stretches out and I pounce on any interview opportunity that comes my way, I wonder how I would react to a requests like the ones above that require big time and effort on my part in exchange for a small (or no) chance of winning an actual job. It's a tough spot to be in and is clearly, discouragingly, exploitative. Hopefully as the economy improves, these employers will earn a deservedly bad reputation and have a hard time finding good people when they really do need them.

After all, just because Americans like to get something for nothing, that doesn't mean employers should routinely be able to.

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