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How to Spot When You’re Being Interviewed for Free Advice

By Natalie Wilson

When searching for a new job there are a number of things you can rely on. Recruiters can be hard to understand, the lack of response to multiple applications is forever disheartening and interviews can be nerve-wracking no matter how many you go through. What you don’t want to add to this issue is having to attend

Instead, they are fishing for free information. Consultants are expensive and perhaps they don't want to fill out the position over the long term. It's a good solution for the employer, but a hard pill to swallow when you're the one being used in this way. If you have a good level of experience then it could be a very real, very frustrating, possibility.

Interviewing takes a lot of time and effort, so don't let it go to waste by giving out a lot of free advice during the interview. Here's how to spot the issue and the best ways to circumnavigate around it:

The Questions Asked Are Detailed

If you have been to enough interviews you know the drill by now. Questions are asked about yourself, your work and the way you conduct said work. But, surprisingly, sometimes these questions can be a little too pointed. If you are required to provide minute detail, then you may need to suspect the interviewer of fishing for free knowledge.

The biggest indicator of this may be if you are given a scenario which is a little bit too detailed. The answer they want needs to be conducted in stages, it requires detailed analysis or a step by step plan. Worse if they send you away with a take-home exercise which is similarly detailed.

Of course, your interviewer may simply be being thorough. In which case being skittish or unwilling to answer questions may seem a little odd to them, though justified if you suspect them of fishing for information. It is always better to be safe rather than sorry in these scenarios, however.

The solution to this issue is to still be complete and detailed in your answer, but be clear that you're not able/willing to divulge all the details there and then. If questioned, be honest. An employer who is conducting the interview seriously will understand and those that are not...will be caught out. They may become angry and wrap up the interview early, in which case you will have your answer as their reasons for the interview.

And the Interviewer Takes Notes

Detailed questions are one warning sign, but notes can be even worse. Now, of course, an interviewer is bound to take notes during an interview. It's important in case they forget important things you might have said in regards to your experience. However, if you are answering one of the above detailed questions while the interviewer scribbles away at notes or even requires it written out by yourself… This is a big red flag as to the interviewer's intentions. Especially if this is an area of expertise, such as a compulsory purchase order, as they will be unable to gain this information easily anywhere else.

Again, the solution to this is the same as above as they tend to be two sides to the same coin.

The Hiring Process Isn't Clear

During the interviewing process, you are often concerned with the here and now. But, that doesn't stop you from asking questions about the next steps of the hiring process. In fact, this is almost certainly an interview must. As without this knowledge, you could be left hanging for quite some time once the interview is over.

Remember to always question the interviewer as to the next step, how long it will take and what you can expect moving forward. Phrase everything as a certainty. This way it gives you a level of certainty as to what to expect and gives them a deadline to act by, which you can then follow up on if it passes or fails to be adhered to. If the answer is uncertain or stilted in any way, then you might start to question the intention of the interview. If they were genuinely hiring and not looking for free advice, they should have a clearer outlook as to their own next steps.

Once the right amount of time has passed, send a followup email and even call, but if you still receive no clear answer then the hiring was unlikely to be genuine. Or they may just be ghosting for no reason, sometimes it can be difficult to decide between the two.

Your Interview Lasts a Long Time, Multiple Times

Interview length can be an indication of a number of things. A short interview is sometimes a bad sign, though it can also be a sign that you aced the process relatively quickly. A medium interview is often just right. And you might expect a long interview to be a very good sign; they clearly liked you! This isn't necessarily the case, however.

The fact is that a long interview is likely going to involve a lot of back and forth, with you divulging plenty of information in relation to your expertise. This is often accompanied by detailed questions, writing everything down, the works. During a long period–anything approaching an hour or exceeding it can be considered long–the interviewer can very easily gather all the information they need from you.

If an interview seems to be stretching out into a strange amount of time, then try to bring this to the interviewer's attention. Feign a reason to leave, ask how much longer the interview will last for or something similar to indicate the time has gotten away from the interview. It may not be able to recover the time or information already lost, but it can help to reduce any more time being wasted. It can also reduce the amount of information that an employer is able to poach from you.

Final Thoughts

Remember, free advice once given cannot be taken back. Your time will have been wasted and you will be still on the hunt for a job. So, learn to spot the signs and put a stop to this type of poor interviewing etiquette. Put a stop it and prevent this type of exploitation from becoming the norm for interviews!

What Color Is Your Parachute?

What Color Is Your Parachute? 2022: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers
by Richard Nelson Bolles and Katherine Brooks
With more than 10 million copies sold in 28 countries, the world's most popular job-search book is updated for 2022. Katherine Brooks tailors the late Richard Bolles's long-trusted guidance with up-to-the-minute information and advice for today's job-hunters and career-changers.
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