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11/15/08
Interview or Free Consulting?
Filed under: Interview
Posted by: John Hadley @ 5:44 pm

This question was posted to an on-line group

“Last year I was asked by four companies to give them article ideas and suggestions for improving their products. After spending considerable time on these requests, I still got turned down.  I was told it wasn’t the quality of my work, rather, the other candidate just had a little more experience in the subject area. At this point, I no longer want to do this anymore. I mentioned this situation in a Resume Critique session and someone there said, “Oh yes, free consulting!” He said that he had also been asked for free advice and he politely turns those requests down now. My question is, how can I politely turn down a request like this? No matter what I come up with, it sounds like I’m just not interested in the company. That’s not necessarily true; I just don’t want to spend more time giving a company something for nothing. Can anyone share their experience with this and how they handle it?”

Here was my response

In large measure, this boils down to your psychology, and having confidence that you offer incredible value to a potential employer / client that they should be willing to pay for.

When you give too much concrete information, so that they feel they have the information they need to solve their problems, they are out of ‘pain’, and may feel they don’t really need you anymore. I’ve seen this happen many times, where the prospective employer / client says (usually just in their head), “Very interesting, let me run with this and I’ll come back to John once I’ve tried this.”

Or a less honest approach, “Let me see what my internal candidate / resource can do with this proposal John’s given me …”

There are 2 things you should do:

  1. When you decide to respond to such a request, make sure to focus on surfacing the issues / questions rather than simply answering them. Give some ideas, and give a clear picture of HOW you will solve the issues (perhaps with specific examples of similar problems you have solved in the past), but without providing the actual solution. Your goal is to have the solution be to hire you, not to implement the concrete suggestions you have already provided them.
  2. Have the confidence to push back when needed. If it’s clear that someone is simply looking for free consulting, don’t play the game. Show them the evidence of how you will be able to solve the problems, and tell them that if they hire you, you will be happy to implement the 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 client that he had been asked here under false pretenses and was leaving. The client actually followed him to the elevator to convince him to come back and sign the contract, and they continued to work together for a long time. The key was that Andy was completely prepared to walk away.

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