When is an Interview Free Consulting?

I’m a big fan of auditions in an interview. (I have many posts about auditions in this blog.)

However, some hiring managers and teams push interviewing and auditions too far. When you’ve had three interviews, and your interviewer asks you to solve a problem for them—again—is it a hiring issue, or are they asking you to consult for free?

Here is a way that works for auditions and interviewing:

  • Create the dirtbag phone screen, if that matters to you.
  • Use a technical phone screen to make sure you want to bring the candidate in.
  • Interview in person with solo interviewers, for 45 minutes each. Use behavior-description questions and one 20-minute audition. Use the interview matrix so all the interviewers ask different questions.
  • At the end of that interview, if you have several great candidates, ask them to come in one more time, and meet with up to 4 people. Maybe use another 20-minute audition.

That’s it. You don’t need a third round of interviews. You don’t need that person to meet with more people. You should be able to decide based on your data to date, assuming you have organized your questions and auditions.

You don’t need the perfect candidate. That candidate doesn’t exist. You need someone who fits your culture and can learn fast enough for you.

If you have people do more than two 20-minute auditions, and/or meet with more than 8 people, you are dangerously close to asking for free consulting. Do you mean to do that? I find it demeaning to the candidate. It doesn’t show your company in the best light.

You might want to read this post: Three Tips to Streamline Your Interviews and Auditions, Part 4.

HiringGeeksThatFit.150 Remember, the best interviews are conversations. If you pay attention to your candidates as human beings, you will get farther faster, than if you decide they are “resources” that you can take advantage of. (People looking for work talk to each other.)

Tags: , , ,
Previous/Next Posts
« »


  1. Dwayne Phillips

    I don’t think this is addressing the issue.

    For example,

    Question: Given our situation X, what tool would you use?

    That is a free consulting question. The interviewer wants me to solve his problem.

    Question: Have you ever faced something like our situation X?

    That is not a consulting question. I am answering about my experience. I have been in a situation similar to what the interviewer now faces.

    Question: How would you deal with a customer who acts like X?

    That is a consulting question. The interviewer wants me to solve his problem with his customer.

    Question: Have you ever been in a situation with a customer who acts like X?

    That is not a consulting question. I am answering about my experience.

    Do these example make sense?

    • johanna

      HI Dwayne, I’ve been thinking about your questions.

      One problem is that the questions you see as consulting are hypothetical questions. If the interviewer asks, “Have you had to select among tools for this kind of a situation?” you might not think it’s consulting. It’s about your experience. The way the interviewers phrase these questions does sound a lot like consulting to me.

      You have identified the danger of hypothetical questions. In Manage Your Job Search, I suggest you answer these as behavior-description questions. In Hiring Geeks That Fit, I suggest interviewers never ask hypothetical questions.

      If the interviewer persists, “No, I want to know what you would do for us,” you have options. You can answer fully. You can answer partway and say, “I can provide more of an answer if you hire me.” You can say, “I think you’re asking for free consulting. Are you?” and address the issue on the table.

  2. Dave

    When looking at a candidate as a long-term hire, I’m looking for more than 5-years (10,000 hours) of contribution from them. Any insight they may provide in a 1-hour interview is trivial compared to what I will be expecting of them, and paying well for, in the future. Weighting-in on a ‘today’ problem just showcases their ability to help with the problems of tomorrow.

    Additionally, after 1 hour of interviewing and meeting the team, it’s unlikely they have a clear enough picture of our status quo situation for their input to be of a sufficiently substantive nature to be considered consulting.

    How they answer these questions also provides insight into their decision making, communication, negotiation, and a host of other soft skills.

    • johanna

      Dave, if you ask them behavior-description questions, I totally agree.

      I think in Dwayne’s case, he was in a second or third interview, and the questions were hypothetical, which does not provide insight into those skills you mention. (I like that list!)

      Decision-making is a key quality for more senior people, technical or managerial. Understanding how people make decisions is valuable to the hiring manager. To me, it’s worth a behavior-description question.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *