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Free Consulting

Interview or Free Consulting?

From Career Tips, 2007 Volume 2, February 2007


Banging Head On Wall

Have you ever been on an interview where you were asked to provide a game plan for solving one of their key challenges, a proposal for a new initiative, or concrete suggestions for something they wanted to accomplish? And provided them all of that advice, thinking it would get you hired, only to find out they went in another direction?


I've several times had a candidate report that they felt like the only reason a hiring manager interviewed them was to get free consulting. This is a trap that relatively new consultants face all the time - isn't the best way to get hired to provide lots of free advice that demonstrates exactly how much value I can provide if they hire me?


Frankly, no.


I started my career search counseling practice by offering free resume assessments to my alumni network. I received over 100 requests in 48 hours, enough to keep me quite busy for the next month. I carefully reviewed every resume, scoring them on my proprietary resume assessment model and preparing individual reports I could send every participant with concrete tips on what they should do to improve their resumes. Every person I spoke to was convinced of my expertise.


When I then described to them how I could help them with their job search, how many do you think jumped at the chance to become clients? Three! And what did the rest say? 


"This has been extremely valuable! Let me apply what I've learned from you, and then if I still need help, I'll call you back."


Exactly the same thing can happen in an interview.


If you give a solid proposal, a detailed list of suggestions, too much concrete information, so that the hiring manager feels you have given them the roadmap they need to solve their problems, you have taken away the 'pain', and they may feel they don't really need YOU anymore. The prospective employer may now think (perhaps just on a subconscious level):


"Very interesting, let me run with this and I'll come back to this candidate once I've tried those suggestions."


Or may even just take the proposal to some internal resource (or, less honestly, a preferred candidate) to see what they can do with those ideas.


To combat this, you need to come to such situations with a very confident psychology, knowing firmly that you offer incredible value to a potential employer / client that they should be willing to pay for. Then just refuse to play the game. When the request for a detailed roadmap is made, approach it this way:


  1. In your response, focus on surfacing the issues and questions rather than simply answering them. Give some ideas, and make sure to give a clear picture of HOW you will solve their issues, peppered with specific examples of similar problems you have solved in the past and what your solutions accomplished for those employers / clients. Just be sure not to provide the actual, detailed solution itself. Your goal is for the solution to be to hire you, not to implement the concrete suggestions you have already provided.
  2. Put particular emphasis on the challenges the company / department / hiring manager / client faces. Ask questions. Dig deep into the challenges they are facing, making sure you understand not just the surface level, but what underlies those challenges, why they are such challenges and what those are costing them.
  3. Have the confidence to push back when needed. If it's clear that the hiring manager / prospective client is just looking for free consulting, don't play. Show the evidence of how you will be able to solve their problems, and say that if you are hired, you will be happy to implement those solutions. Be prepared to walk away.

Just coming in with this level of confidence will change the aura you exude, and will greatly increase your level of success.


A highly successful sales trainer I know told me about a recent situation where he walked into an appointment with a prospective client with whom he had already reached an agreement on working together. The meeting was pre-arranged to simply walk through and sign the contract.


The prospective client proceeded to ask new questions and take the conversation in entirely different directions, and Andy closed up his briefcase and stood up. He told the prospective client that he had been asked there under false pretenses and was leaving. The prospective client actually followed him to the elevator to convince Andy to come back and sign the contract, which he did. The key was that Andy was completely prepared to walk away.


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