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They Took My Ideas and Gave Somebody Else the Job

We're not saying that you should never give out ideas, especially when you're interviewing. But it's better to give them a "taste" rather than "serving up the whole meal."
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We met over coffee with a Director of Sales who told us of a recent experience he had interviewing at a company. He went through several rounds of interviews and by all accounts he was headed for an offer. The recruiter said, "Things are looking good" and told him he should keep selling.

Every time this Director went back for another round, the company kept pumping him for more ideas, which he freely gave. After the fourth round in a protracted process, he was surprised to learn that they had implemented two of his ideas. When the CEO said to him, "You're going to make me a lot of money," the Director of Sales thought an offer was just around the corner. Unfortunately, the offer went to another candidate.

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This Director of Sales learned the painful lesson of giving away too much for free.

We heard a similar story about an advertising agency which was approached by a potential client. The potential client was a small company and wanted the agency to develop some creative, free of charge, before they made an agency selection. The head of the agency told the company president that he was happy to provide broadcast and print samples from current clients, but wasn't going to develop new creative and give away free what they sell. The agency got the account.

We're not saying that you should never give out ideas, especially when you're interviewing. It's normal in the course of an interview to be asked your ideas on how to solve a problem the company is facing. It gives a prospective employer a window into how you think and this is an important element in their hiring decision. However, it's better to give them a "taste" rather than "serving up the whole meal." You need to balance out the degree to which you give away your ideas. Otherwise, you're in the role of an unpaid consultant.

So what do you do when you're faced with this dilemma? When you feel you've reached that level of discomfort where giving away more ideas without an offer just doesn't feel right?

A very powerful way to demonstrate your strategic thinking is to draw on your past successes. For example, you can relate the story of how you analyzed some research and came up with an epiphany that helped grow the business. Past performances are the best predictor of future results, which is why it's important to highlight your accomplishments. Building the bridge between your past achievements and the challenges the prospective employer is facing is a great way to paint a picture of what kind of impact you could make at their company.

The Director of Sales we mentioned above is scheduled to interview at another company. He is going to be very cautious and give ideas out on a more strategic basis. He learned from the previous experience. He no longer believes that, "They are using my ideas so they must love me." He now realizes, "If they are using my ideas they may not need me." This is not always the case, but it certainly can be.

Use your best judgment when you're asked for advice or recommendations during an interview. Give them just enough so they'll want more - on a permanent basis.

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