How Some Companies Are Scamming Job Applicants

After posting our latest piece about getting hiring now takes longer, we learned a disturbing trend in the current company interview practice (we are talking about Fortune 500 companies) from some of our reader friends.  What we are about to describe is probably more often seen in the sector or city experiencing large layoffs such as the energy sector or City of Houston.

Top Talents Floating Round

As we previously reported, the new ‘lower for longer’ oil price environment has brought the State of Texas the worst job recession in 80 years.  Indeed, the graph below from Reuters (updated through May 12, 2015) shows a clear inverted relationship between oil price and U.S. energy sector layoffs.

This has lead to a lot of good talents (typically higher-paid and high-skilled workers) now available in the job market within the energy sector and Houston, the Energy Capital of the World.

Scamming Job Applicants

‘Scenario Analysis’ For a Free Consult 

What we’ve found is that companies, unwilling to pay for an external consult, are increasingly using actual work project(s) (that they don’t know how to deliver) packaged as ‘scenario’ or ‘Case Study’ in job interviews phishing for ‘free’ advise and insight from qualified industry veteran applicants.  The hiring manager typically would ask for very specific info and/or ‘work samples’.  The applicants are only too eager to share thinking it’d mean certain advantage of landing the job.

Guess What? You Were Never Meant To Get The Job!

After spelling out how he/she delivered the exact same project described in the ‘scenario’ or ‘case study’, the applicant, in most cases, would not get the job.  Why? Companies using this kind of tactic usually cannot afford or are unwilling to offer competitive compensation for top talents. The only reason these high-skilled (and most likely out of pay-range) applicants have even made it to the interview process (picked by the hiring manager) is so that the hiring manager could glean some useful knowledge from an industry veteran.

The New Breed of Hiring Managers  

As we discussed before, the current prevalent push for youthification within Corporate America has created a new generation of middle management (i.e. hiring managers) with very different value and ethics from the boomer generation.

With far less experience, the new breed of middle managers thus favor standardization and banding together with the like-minded in solving problems and delivering projects.  The team approach, while maybe necessary in the modern corporate environment, is very ineffective in non-routine projects and tasks requiring a high degree of judgement and creativity.  That is, project or problem will not get solved without the necessary experience and knowledge in the first place no matter how many like-minded people band together.

Hiring someone more experienced (or even more talented) would certainly disturb the ‘homogeneous’ team.  So the next best thing is to get some free consult by interviewing a highly qualified candidate with a resume and experience in delivering the project(s) that the hiring manager finds ‘challenging’.

Classic Catch 22 

This is a classic Catch 22 for job applicants – Damn if you do, damn if you don’t.  So what is a job seeker to do to protect his/her own ‘intellectual property’?

  1. DO NOT leave behind any hard (or soft) copies of ‘work sample”.  Let the interviewer(s) know you need the copies back and ask to review thoroughly during the allotted interview time.
  2. Give only the general frame work, avoid discussing the project specifics during the interview. Perhaps say something like “I will deliver a step-by-step project plan the day after I start the job.”

While this kind of interview practice (or technique) is certainly nothing new, we do take note that it seems to have become more of a standard operating procedure in the current job market and hiring process.


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