Have you ever applied for a job and been asked for a written outline as to how you would approach a specific problem? There’s nothing more valuable than your creative ideas, strategies and experiences in solving problems that impede an organization. But, why would you freely give that information away to an interviewer in writing? You may not get the job for which your interviewing, and the organization may give your written plan to an internal staff person to implement. Unethical? You bet? Unlikely? Unfortunately no.
While the company’s philosophy and operating values may talk about high ethical standards, that doesn’t mean that a recruiter or even a hiring manager won’t ask you to prepare an alternative solution to a problem they have under the guise of helping them to make a hiring decision. You have to determine whether they are truthful and trustworthy, or it’s a sham in order to collect different alternatives from candidates to create a strategy for the organization to implement. Does it happen all the time? No. Does it happen more than it should? Yes.
If a recruiter asks you to come in for an interview and gives you an assignment to create an alternative approach to an organizational issue, ask some key questions first:
- Ask if your work will be shared, published or communicated in any way outside of the hiring process
- Ask how your information will be used and request the answer in writing. The reaction of the interviewer will tell you all you need to know.
Here are some ways around the situation:
- Provide information about a similar issue in another organization and the results you have achieved, but not the “how” of the alternative or approach to the solution
- Is the request for information beyond the content of the job description? Sometimes information is sought that has nothing to do with your being a candidate: Competitive information, organizational charts, names of peers or subordinates, or strategic initiatives for change in your current job.
- Check out Glassdoor or other on-line websites for other candidate experiences. If others have been burned they will speak out
- Be suspicious of emails or on-line requests for your resume along with a requested write- up as to how you solved a particular problem
- Never give your home address, social security number or any other identification other than your name, telephone number, city, state and email address. Protect your privacy.
- The most vulnerable are those candidates that are hard pressed to find a job, as they may give information beyond their comfort zone. Trust your instincts.
You need to be extra careful legally when asked for copies of original documents or a work product from a project where you were involved. Your unique abilities and experiences are in demand. Provide an interviewer with a definition of the issues you confronted, some alternatives you looked at, and the results you achieved, but not the detail of “how” you accomplish those results. That’s your differentiator from everyone else. It makes you the best candidate.
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