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Free consulting dressed up as 'jobseeker assessment task'

Thought I'd sidecar on Ali's thread as this is a similar power play.   I just got hit in a program cutback so back in the market.  No biggie - contractor life!

Talked to this energy company about a senior business analyst role.  For those who don't hang around IT projects.  BA is basically an internal consulting role these days where you know a lot about business and tech and often work as an intermediary between IT and the business.

First chat went well.  Then they booked an interview but with the invite they sent out an 'assessment task'.  Now if it was lightweight I'd growl a little and do it.  But this looked like it was crossing the line into free consulting.  They wanted written output that would require you to download their app and look at ways of improving it right up to making mockup screenshots of the improvements.

I've had this come up a few times in the last couple of years so it seems to be on the trend.  Another time a mate got me in for a BA gig on a government shared service project.  Basically a helpdesk used by 3 small govt bodies.  He wanted a deck with an entire plan.  Because he's a good mate and a referee I did it.  Then another lady took over the interview and placed her mate in who has never worked as a BA.

What I did this time (because I want to learn more about the energy business) is say yes that's all great.  Then I will ignore their 'homework'.  If they remind me I'll ignore that too.  Then late on the day before the interview I'll email say 'really sorry I couldn't fit that into my priorities' work was too too busy this week - look forward to seeing you guys tomorrow

I can play it that way because I don't care about getting the job much.  Plenty of cash at bank, holidays booked and an old house to fix up so I can rent it.   But 2023 job market looks down so next time I might care.

Any suggestions on how you could play this to not fall for the free consulting scam but still go ahead.

Lucio Buffalmano, Ali Scarlett and 2 other users have reacted to this post.
Lucio BuffalmanoAli ScarlettBelleaderoffun

Hey Kevin,

Yeah, definitely sounds like a game being played there.

One option might be to frame yourself as too busy with other priorities that are more important than their job opening to do it (which shows you're not going to chase them and implies you don't strictly need their "opportunity"), but that you'd be happy to share a few of your ideas over that upcoming interview (which will really only be one or two brief thoughts max).

Basically, something like this:

Hi Person,

Thank you for the assessment task.

Having done projects similar to what the questions suggest, I have a few different ideas in mind (first hint of you holding a valuable bag for them).

But, unluckily, this assessment would demand more of my time than I currently have available (i.e. I'm a busy contractor).

As I might've mentioned before, I'm happy where I'm staying, I'm fast-tracked to take on more responsibility, and I think we're going to do great things (rebalances power relation of job seeker/giver dynamics, further implying you shouldn't have to do it: you don't need this job). But, I also love what you guys are doing here, especially the XYZ you've done. So, I figured it wouldn't hurt to talk and, so far, I've enjoyed our conversations (the "so far" implying that that's subject to change, preserving your power to walk away).

With that said, one of your questions stood out to me in particualar.

Of course, I'd first have to get more details about your company (great frame: so if you say something wrong, you preframed it as you not yet having the full info). One thing I'd consider doing though is... (bla bla bla.... ) (takes the chance to display your skills)


That's only one thing I'd consider doing. Then I've got a few more ideas depending on the details of your business (ie.: don't try to leech off of me, I'm not going to share everything easily unless you also share juicier details). And of course, much of it is about the execution (ie.: I'm far more than ideas and plans, I execute well), and flawless execution is what I like to focus on.

So, I'd be happy to share those additional ideas over our next interview call. And, if you'd be willing to share those details (continues the initial frame while also putting you in a position to ask them questions back on that call), I can make more well-rounded suggestions as well.

Would you be completely against that (no-oriented question technique/power-protecting: allows them the freedom to say "yes" or "no")?

Let me know.

Best Regards,

Then, when you get on that next call, start asking them questions with a focus on getting information (to make it a more balanced trade) and building rapport (so they'll like you more, which will be helpful if you need to use another exception-seeking frame).

If at all possible, I'd probably avoid working for them though. An assessment task with all of those steps seems like quite the red flag to meand it seems like you might've gotten the same vibe too.

Happy to read your thoughts though, Kevin.

Transitioned and leaderoffun have reacted to this post.

Thanks Ali - that is a nice upgrade to my last minute email.  Show a bit of value as well as adjust their expectations.

Yep - multiple red flags - energy start-up - best for people starting their careers, out in the bush and want 5 days a week in the office.  They paid the extra to have it a 'featured' ad on the job board which means they are probably looking at many people.  And the general rule of thumb is if they are demanding when they're trying to sell you on the role imagine what they will be like to work for.  The other annoyance is they want in person interview so I have to go to the bush.  Why do that in our fully remote WFH new world.

leaderoffun has reacted to this post.

Hey Kevin,

Love your high-power position and comfort -that's the great thing about now throwing cash away but saving: it's a life insurance and a power reserve and protects from all kinds of things, from serious issues, to small fuckeries like this one-.

Great answer from Ali already.

Personally, I'd consider a "middle of the way approach" to protect your time, avoid giving away all that info for uncertain outcomes, and still give something and "stay in the game".

So something like this:

  1. Thank them
  2. Say it's an interesting case they've got
  3. Straight talk: you can approach in a number of ways. One of them is to say that "because of the time and effort it demands, you would rather handle it a different way":
  4. Propose a middle-of-the-road solution that's good for you, but also gives something to them (in-person interview): you will take a look at what they've got and then explain in person and talking, rather than drafting a document

With this approach you book yourself on that next step, avoid over-investing, don't give away too much valuable information, and it's generally even higher odds of success.

Ali Scarlett, Transitioned and Bel have reacted to this post.
Ali ScarlettTransitionedBel
Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?

I actually decided these guys were 'a client to fire'.   I was not going to proceed and I was going to apologise with a sub-text of if you annoy people karma happens fast.

The decider was that I had better quality job interviews to prepare for and the scenario they wanted solved was quite niche and wouldn't help me in talks with other energy companies.


"Thanks for the invitation Evan

As of last night I m off the market.  Do business another time.
Good luck with all the candidates hope you find a good one,"
Selective truth - for THEM I am not available.
Sent that before start of business the day of the interview.  Now their HR guy will have to run around on the hop.  Ignored their whining about their 'assessment task'.   I'm sure as they are obviously power players they will 'get it'.  The stupidity of this approach is that the market is very down.  If they weren't so annoying they could probably land quite experienced people for a modest salary.  They are overplaying the ball.  As my Gran used to say 'penny wise and pound foolish'.
Lucio Buffalmano and Bel have reacted to this post.
Lucio BuffalmanoBel

Another variation of this 'extra hoops' power move for anyone else who has to job hunt.

Big company wanted me to go through psych tests before final interview round. They're offering below market rate and their psych tests are nasty so no way!   And also at second round they have invested so I doubt it will be a deal breaker.

My response email:

Re: Monday 2nd round interview time

Thanks for that.  4 pm is fine.  Be happy to go through any extra steps you have in your process once we get the feedback from Brent.

Don't care as this was just one of my backup jobs and my only real task was to perform well in the first round so HR think I'm OK when I'm going for other jobs there.  They do have some gigs they put through on attractive day rate (HR dept are just cheap guys).

If you didn't have any other interviews or wanted to screen record the nasty psych test for practice might be worth your while to play ball.

The ending was Brent liked me and wanted to move to third final round.  But my real new job paying real money had started so no time left to dance.

Lucio Buffalmano, Ali Scarlett and 2 other users have reacted to this post.
Lucio BuffalmanoAli ScarlettBelleaderoffun

Congrats Kevin on the job. From what I see, this idea of 'I sent you a test and make you invest before the next step' is alive and well in many tech jobs. I see this for junior and even some not so junior positions. And seeing it like this, it is a power move on their side. Seeing it for a senior consultant is a first though. I'm glad that you had other options and didn't go through it.

I also somewhat understand the interviewer position: they don't want to spend valuable time 1:1 with people who don't know shit. And a test solves that problem for them.

For a different kind of shenanigans that may have started this trend... I've seen several companies who did a lot of interviews with a candidate, who passed with flying colors. They extended a contract, got is signed... and the person to shows up at work the first day is NOT the same person they interviewed. Tech guys being tech guys, they didn't say anything for a while, until someone told HR and they ejected the guy. Then the dance had to start again. How people think this might work is beyond me!

Transitioned has reacted to this post.

i think your right they have a place。i am sometimes on the hiring side and get plenty of copy paste resumes。here they wanted a senior they could put in front of biz with specialist product knowledge for below market rate  a lengthy process would play against them in this situation