MAKING SENSE -- October 22, 2013 at 6:40 AM ET
Ask The Headhunter: Three job search nightmares
Don't let yourself work for free in a job interview, headhunter Nick Corcodilos advises, and always make sure you have a network -- even when you're not job hunting. Photo courtesy of Flickr user Kate Hiscock.
In this special Making Sense edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards, or salary negotiations. No guarantees -- just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.
Nick Corcodilos: I get a lot of questions from readers, and I sometimes reply via email with short answers (when I have time) that I never publish. But some of them are just as worthy of discussion, so here we go with some short(er) ones.
Question 1: They want free work!
Your column regarding working on a real problem during the interview hit home. (See "The Basics: The New Interview.") In the past six months I've had two interviews where I have been asked to work on a real-world problem. The first time, I suspected that this "interview" was to get an outsider's opinion on a problem the staff was working on. (They wanted free work). I never heard from the employer again.
The second time, I asked the interviewer if the problem was something they were working on. He said, yes, and that this was a way for them to get a combination of interview and consulting work! I finished the problem and sent them an invoice for the time I spent at the firm. I can appreciate demonstrating your skill to a potential employer. However, the candidate has to be on guard for those seeking free work. How to handle these situations?
Nick Corcodilos: When I emphasize the importance of "doing the job in the interview," I usually include a warning about not working for free. Asking an applicant to do actual work tasks from start to finish is an abhorrent way for an employer to get free work from a job applicant, but I've seen it done many times. When responding, it's always best to be a bit cagey, and to hold back some details. If they press you, smile knowingly and offer your consulting time (for a fee) while they complete their hiring process. Heavily detailed "sample problems" are a tip-off. Do just enough to whet their appetites. The purpose of "doing the job in the interview" is to win the job, not to do free work.
Question 2: 'Relo' nightmare
My company relocated me to a new city in another state to a job with the same description as I had before. I thought it was going to be great. Unfortunately, I hate it. There are spider webs and low lighting everywhere, and I dread going to work every day. They got me to sign a contract -- I have to repay relo costs of $12,000 if I leave before two years. It's all of my savings. I am feeling stuck at this not-as-advertised job. I've certainly learned a lesson about getting a tour of the site before signing a contract. Am I totally stuck?
Nick Corcodilos: Ouch. Relo can be a kind of indentured servitude. Since a contract is involved, I think your best bet is to see an attorney. You can probably get an initial consultation at no cost, but I'd get a referral to a lawyer from a trusted source. The alternative is to feel depressed for two years. I'm not a lawyer and this is not legal advice, but you might be able to show that the job is not what they "contracted" for.
Question 3: My network disappeared
I am a senior software consultant. I recently hit a dry spell finding work and finances have become very tight. What's alarming is the realization that I am not really connected to any sort of reliable, non-virtual network that can help get me back in the game sooner. I guess while I am actively working, I don't really think about it. Instead, my de-facto "network" is a random collection of job boards, fruitless job agents and a few incredibly rude recruiters. Clearly this is inadequate. How do I tap into the support system I desperately need during the down times?
Nick Corcodilos: You can't tap into a support system you don't have. A big part of life and work is cultivating friends and relationships over time. Please see "Tell me who your friends are."
Frankly, a support system is more important than any job. I'm not talking about a loose network of "contacts" for that purpose; I'm talking about real friends and buddies. Attend conferences. Join groups. Take training classes. Offer to do presentations. Cultivate and invest in your relationships -- not just professionally, but in all parts of your life. You'll know you're doing it wrong if it's not enjoyable.
Readers: I'm sure you've got your own advice to offer on these little nightmares. Please pile on!
Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth "how to" PDF books are available on his website: "How to Work With Headhunters...and how to make headhunters work for you," "How Can I Change Careers?", "Keep Your Salary Under Wraps" and "Fearless Job Hunting."
Send your questions to Nick, and join him for discussion every week here on Making Sense. Thanks for participating!
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This entry is cross-posted on the Making Sen$e page, where correspondent Paul Solman answers your economic and business questions.