I hear horror stories from job-seekers who wish they had walked away from a job opportunity much sooner than they did.
A person who waves a potential job offer in your face can get you to do things you’ll wish you hadn’t.
They might get you to work for free on the hope that your great work will convince the company to hire you.
One of the worst stories I ever heard in this vein came from a woman who donated a huge project to an organization that was considering hiring her.
She spent several weeks developing an intensive half-day seminar and creating trainee materials, all on her own time and her own dime.
She was instructed to prepare the workshop and deliver it to an audience of the company’s guests as part of her interview process.
She delivered the workshop to great acclaim. However, no one from the search committee was in the training room. She also learned that the workshop participants had paid for their admission.
The company was making money from her unpaid labor!
After the workshop participants dispersed she searched the building, found a member of the search committee and confronted him with the company’s deception.
The search committee member asked her “Does that flash drive in your hand contain your presentation? Please leave it on the table in the conference room.”
She left and took her flash drive with her.
Here are 10 things never, ever to do before you’ve signed an offer letter.
1. Create a usable research project, report, presentation, marketing plan, forecast or “sample” policy or press release. Provide samples of your existing work instead, and if you create new content share an excerpt of each piece they’ve asked for rather than the whole thing. If they tell you this isn’t acceptable, run away! They will never value you more than they do right now.
2. Make travel plans or reservations for trips the company has asked you to take if you get the job — whether you pay for the reservations or the organization does.
3. Share your personal, intellectual property without making it clear in writing that you are sharing it for illustration purposes only, and not for the company’s use.
5. Donate more than an hour of your time to unpaid work that’s embedded in the hiring process.
6. Interact with anyone on behalf of the company. Before making you an offer, some sketchy organizations will ask you (or tell you) to make a sales call, join them in a customer meeting or begin to work alongside them — unpaid and without a job offer. Tell them you’d be happy to interview with one of their customers, but to act on their behalf you’ll need to join their payroll. It’s not appropriate for you to do business or be viewed as doing business on behalf of a company before they’ve hired you.
7. Participate in a job interview. As crazy as it sounds, there are companies that will ask job applicants to interview other job applicants (another way of sending the message “You’re one of us! Why rush to the job offer stage?”) but it’s not in your best interest to do it.
8. “Shadow” an employee or work for a day (or more!) for free. I have sat on panels, keeping a plastic smile pasted on my face while a CEO at the other end of the table yammered about their company’s loathsome recruiting practices. I have heard them brag about bringing in a potential new hire for a day of free work or to “shadow” another employee. If you can’t make a hiring decision without squeezing a free day of work out of someone, you shouldn’t be running a company.
9. Spend your own money for interview travel. If you are job-hunting in a distant city and you’ve already decided to spend your money traveling there for interviews, that’s fine. If a particular employer invites you to interview with them, you must ask them right away who’s paying for your travel and lodging. Do not assume that they will pay, because if it’s not crystal clear up front you can end up eating the cost. In the best case, the employer direct-bills your hotel and travel costs. In the second-best-case, they commit in writing to reimburse you and they do.
10. Become an unpaid consultant to the company. You will be flattered the first time an executive invites you to a high-level strategic brainstorming session. You will be delighted to go and share your great ideas, because you’re certain the company will hire you when they see how insightful you are. You’ll be shocked when they go silent immediately after the meeting and you never hear from them again.
Every time a snake bites you, it hurts. The good news is that that particular snake will never bite you again. It takes time to work your way through all the different snakes in the grass!
Trust your gut above all other guides. When your gut says “I don’t trust these people,” listen to it. You deserve a great job with ethical and upright people who value you and aren’t afraid to show it.
Run away from sleazy characters who want you to believe that they’re doing you a favor by spending time with you!