how to turn a request for free help into paid consulting

A reader writes:

I has a pretty specific niche job. Most people who do what I do have PhDs, and finding a job like mine is rare and coveted.

I was recently at a conference describing my position, and a leader from another organization came up to me to ask me how he could find someone like me to work for him. I emailed him some information about the graduate school I attended, where there are many students who would dream to work for such an organization. I also pointed him in the direction of a popular job board for my field.

But the questions didn’t end there. We then talked for around half and hour about my responsibilities, his organization, recommendations I would make for him at this point, future directions he might look into, etc.

Then, one of my coworkers, also attending the conference, mentioned that the same guy talked to her and jokingly said he wanted to ‘steal’ me. Later that same day, he asked me what a fair salary range is for the position he’s hoping to hire.

I’m flattered by his interest, and would genuinely be happy to help him find the right person. But, it isn’t feasible for me to move and join his organization at this time (if he was indeed serious about offering me a position).

My fear, however, is that I’ve put myself in the position of giving unlimited free advice and recruiting. I would be willing to offer limited services (e.g. draft a job description, assist in making a strategic plan) as an independent contractor.

What I am wondering is how I can pivot our current conversations into an independent contracting offer. It feels awkward to say at this point that I’m unwilling to chat with him more for free. It’s one thing to make conversation at a conference, but he mentioned that there would be many more emails coming my way, and he made it clear there’s money available (at least for hiring a full-time position at a competitive rate.)

It’s completely reasonable to say that you can’t keep giving him advice for free! It would be unreasonable if you’d said that in response to his first question or even his second, but at this point it’s more than reasonable to set some boundaries when it comes to giving away your time and expertise.

The next time he contacts you with questions, you could say this: “It seems like you have a lot of questions about how to design this position. Would it make sense to set up a consulting agreement, where we’d agree on a rate for assistance with drafting a job description, crafting a strategic plan for the role, and potentially recruiting assistance and whatever else you think would be helpful?”

If he’s good with cues, he’ll understand that you’re saying that will be necessary in order for him to keep getting help from you.

But if he’s not good with cues, there’s a chance that he’ll say “oh, that’s not necessary — I just have a few questions and won’t take up too much of your time.” If that happens, say this: “Oh, I’m sorry — my schedule doesn’t allow me to keep helping for free. But if a consulting arrangement makes sense, I’d love to keep talking.”

This gets even easier if you can refer to having existing consulting rates. Then you can say, “I usually charge a consultation fee of $X for this kind of help.” That’s a very useful phrase, because if the other person doesn’t like it, it puts them in the position of having to explain why you should give them for free what you charge other people for. Most people won’t try that. (But if you ever encounter a boor who does, it’s fine to just say, “Nope, sorry, I do charge for my work!”)

Now, of course he may say that it’s not in his budget to pay for help. That’s okay! Just cheerfully say, “I totally understand. Well, I’m glad I was able to provide the advice I gave you earlier and I hope it helps. I look forward to hearing who you end up hiring for the position, and I wish you all the best with it!”

And don’t feel bad about this. You have expertise that he obviously finds valuable, you’ve already given him a solid amount of advice without charge, and it wouldn’t be reasonable for him to expect you to donate significant amounts of your time and knowledge for free.

{ 67 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Dan

    TBH, OP could charge $2k-$3k and the other guy would be getting an absolute steal. Since head hunters charge a non-trivial percentage of the starting salary, it’s not inconceivable that he’d pay a head hunter 10x what I mentioned. Yes, those fees are contingent upon successful placement, but services that he’s asking for are easily worth charging $5k for. Drafting a *good* job description, scoping it correctly, and giving him good leads on where to source candidates? Easily worth a flat fee.

    Establish a flat fee that’s worth your while that covers X number of hours of work.

    Reply
    1. Exec Recruiter

      Yes! I’m in retained executive search and our typical rate is 1/3 of the person’s first year salary, plus direct and indirect costs. The work you’re describing sounds like what I do during the first month of a 6-9 month project for a retained search, FWIW. (Contingency recruiters who don’t get paid until they deliver the candidate typically get closer to 20% of the first year salary.) Feel free to use this info to help set your rate.

      Reply
    2. Chinook

      And make sure that it is clear what the flat fee covers: is it X number of hours in person or are phone calls and emails included? And what are your rates if they go past that.

      Reply
  2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

    “I usually charge a consultation fee of $X for this kind of help.”

    This is my go-to phrase, as someone with a specialty in a pretty obscure type of analysis who gets approached frequently by a variety of people looking for help. I’ll answer a few questions for a grad student or something, but once I’ve devoted more than an hour or so, I deliver this line or some kind of variation as politely as possible. “I’m happy to have answered your preliminary questions, but I generally charge a consultation fee of $X per hour when my involvement in a project involves direct assistance. Does it make sense for us to move forward in a consulting arrangement?”

    Reply
    1. Squeeble

      This also has the advantage of making it seem like you get paid to do the work they’re asking for semi-regularly, even if you know it’s a one-off thing. In the one case I’ve done this it was for copy editing a friend’s novel–I’d certainly never asked for payment for fixing someone else’s typos and syntax, but I also didn’t want to be upfront about that and say “hmm, let me think about what I should charge you.”

      Reply
      1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

        Heh, I’m actually working on a friend’s novel as well. He’s a sci-fi writer, and the project he’s working includes a lot of stuff about climate change and ecology, and he wanted me to be his science advisor. And I’m like, okay, absolutely, my fee is $X plus please name a character after me.

        Reply
          1. Jessica

            One of the authors I like to follow typically has charity auctions, and the winner gets a character named after them.

            Reply
            1. Sami

              “Kill A Friend, Maim A Buddy” is my favorite. I think Lisa Gardner does that one with the proceeds to a charity.

              Reply
  3. StartupLifeLisa

    Love this one! I’m also in a field where people love to “buy you a coffee and pick your brain,” and that usually means “Can I get an hour of consulting for the price of a latte?”

    Gonna be using some of the phrases from this answer. My usual go-to is, “That sounds great, I can work up a proposal for the project and send it along this week along with my consulting rates.”

    Reply
    1. Chriama

      That seems a little aggressive, I think. It would be better to just say “I can’t meet for coffee but I usually charge x for providing service y. Does it make sense for us to discuss a consulting agreement?” That way you don’t have to work on a proposal that might not pan out (you’re kind of daring them to call your bluff) and it’s a little more gracious.

      Reply
      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Interesting — it doesn’t strike me as aggressive. I mean, she does this for a living, so it’s not unreasonable to proceed on the assumption that they know that. But you’re right that it could lead to her working on proposals unnecessarily.

        Reply
        1. Chriama

          You know those tourist scams where they’ll hand you a flower or a CD like it’s free and then demand money? That’s what that wording feels like to me. I feel like it would be better to just tell them bluntly that you’re not doing any work unless they pay you than lead with “here’s the work already, and here’s how much it will cost.” It’s more genuine to just say “hey, this isn’t free.” But maybe it’s just me then. I personally don’t do any consulting so maybe it’s just how people talk.

          Reply
          1. StartupLifeLisa

            The proposal isn’t the work :) In my field, a proposal for consulting work is usually a one-sheeter that says the scope of work, the delivery deadlines, and how much the work will cost. It may also discuss in what format the completed work will be delivered (e.g. if a survey is conducted, does the consulting work include delivery of the raw data or just the analysis?) and a description of the client’s goals to be met.

            Depending on if I know exactly what someone wants, bringing a one-sheeter like this to an initial coffee meeting often simplifies matters a great deal for everyone, and we don’t have to sign it if we find in our conversation that I’m not in fact the right fit for what they need.

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          2. Taylor Swift

            “I feel like it would be better to just tell them bluntly that you’re not doing any work unless they pay you”

            It sounds like that’s exactly what she is doing.

            Reply
      2. StartupLifeLisa

        I think I failed to include a transition sentence between the two paragraphs. Paragraph 1 was intended as “description of why I relate to OP” and Paragraph 2 is “Thanks for the helpful takeaways, Allison.” I didn’t intend to describe the sentence in the second paragraph as how I ALWAYS respond to coffee meeting requests; in general, I pull out that sentence DURING a coffee meeting once it’s become clear that they want more work than I’m able to do for free.

        Sometimes I do prepare a one-sheet proposal before a coffee meeting, if they’ve reached out with enough specific details (and if so, they generally either appreciate the extra effort, or it gets them to quickly clarify that they were just looking for free advice, in which case I decide if I value the relationship enough to spend an hour together over coffee that won’t lead to paid work.) At other times I already know this is someone I want to keep in touch with even if they have no intention of hiring me at this time, so I just accept the coffee meeting and see where it goes. And then of course there are people who I already simply don’t want to work with at all and decline immediately.

        Chronic time-wasters are much more likely to get a “Tell me more about what you’re looking to accomplish and I’ll put together a proposal” before a meeting, of course :) there are certain people and companies in my field that have a reputation for using networking to siphon ideas from people who don’t work for them.

        Reply
        1. Chriama

          Ah, that nuance makes a lot more sense to me. I thought the proposal was more work too. You seem like you’ve got a pretty good handle on things!

          Reply
  4. OP - giving and needing advice

    Thank you Alison and commenters. This answer couldn’t have come at a better time, because he just emailed me this morning and again mentioned ‘stealing’ me. I used Alison’s wording about setting up a consulting agreement for recruitment, drafting a strategic plan, etc. He already replied to say “Perfect! We’ll be in touch.”

    This is all so new to me! I’m only 8 months into my career, so I’m flattered and excited about the opportunity.

    Thanks for the suggestion of setting up a $2-$3k flat rate. That’s helpful! Truthfully, I have no idea what a good rate would be. I’ve read some articles online that advise doubling your current hourly rate. Could other readers, who do consulting, share how they come up with their rates?

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Give some thought to hourly vs a flat rate. The thing about hourly is that if you’re unusually fast (because of your expertise or just because you’re fast), you’ll be losing out on money. Lots of people do bill hourly, but flat fee has an advantage that way.

      The idea behind doubling your hourly rate when you’re freelancing is that the second half of it covers all the benefits you get from your employer that you won’t get from a freelance client — payroll taxes, benefits, etc. But that’s not necessarily going to give you the right rate. Your work might be worth much more than that! It’s a place to start if you truly have no idea, but ideally you’d look at the market for the work he’s requesting.

      Reply
      1. Karyn

        “Give some thought to hourly vs a flat rate. The thing about hourly is that if you’re unusually fast (because of your expertise or just because you’re fast), you’ll be losing out on money. Lots of people do bill hourly, but flat fee has an advantage that way.”

        Yes, this. I do paralegal work for a few attorneys, and I really do prefer flat-fee, because some projects end up taking less time than I originally think. On the flip side, I have one attorney I work for who likes to set limits on how many hours I’m allowed to spend on each project, so I often propose flat fees for those situations – because if a summary judgment is limited to four hours, it’s not going to be done, because they take way longer than that sometimes with the legal research involved. It’s much easier to just charge $75 and be given free reign to take as much time as I can without having to write off a certain amount.

        Reply
      2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

        All great points, and I’d also add that when I started doing independent consulting, I tended to want to be too nice and I undercharged myself. “Oh, it was just an email or two, hardly worth charging 30 minutes for just that…” But it does add up.

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        1. a different Vicki

          I found that it helps to have an hourly rate and minimum increment. So if you bill (hypothetically) $50/hour in fifteen-minute increments, that half page that only took four minutes still costs the client $12.50. That saves me from the situation where it’s 4 minutes here, and 15 here, and another 12 there, and the whole thing took hours of my time but I wasn’t tracking it well.

          Reply
          1. Amber T

            When I interned at an accounting firm, we did increments of three minutes. We would time ourselves on a project (and turn off the clock if you were stepping away, or opening Facebook, or just not working for a few minutes). If we spent 10 minutes, we rounded down and charged for 9, and if we worked 11, we rounded up and charged for 12. These were typically hours long projects, so the rounding up/down usually evened out. Three minutes seems super specific and small, but it’s 5% of an hour, so makes calculating the final bill pretty easy.

            If you’re consulting/freelancing occasionally, I probably wouldn’t recommend being so specific. But food for thought!

            Reply
            1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

              That seems pretty granular for work outside accounting and law, honestly. 15 minutes is probably good enough for specialist consulting work, no?

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              1. Koko

                Even 30 minutes wouldn’t be beyond the pale. At a previous gig we worked with a freelance computer guy to maintain our website and handle any IT problems that arose that none of us could figure out. I’m pretty sure he billed in half-hour increments.

                Reply
          2. Betty (the other Betty)

            If I’m charging hourly, I bill in 15 minute increments with a minimum project rate of 30 minutes. That means that I earn 30 minutes pay even if the actual task only took a few minutes. I started this when I realized that billing for 15 minutes was costing me when I considered the time spent to create and send an invoice.

            Reply
      3. Cucumberzucchini

        I always have in my mind a flat-rate even when I bill hourly. So I give my client’s an idea of what the proposed work will cost, if it’s 10 hours, then that’s $1,000. But if I get it done extra fast, I’m not going to shortchange myself, I still bill a $1,000. The client is still getting the $1,000 worth of value for their project but it protects me in cases of incessant changes.

        I’ve seen so many “gurus” talk about how you shouldn’t be billing hourly, but by the value. Fair enough, but I don’t care how clear your scope of work document is, for some clients they just love to make changes after changes. I’m not going to continuously re-propose the project to accommodate feature creep or unending subjective changes. They’re getting billed hourly.

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        1. Koko

          I charge a flat rate and avoid the scenario you’re describing by specifying in the contract that the fee includes an initial rough draft, a written exchange or phone conversation to discuss their feedback, and a final product that incorporates that feedback. Subsequent rounds of revision incur additional flat charges.

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      4. Anonymous Educator

        You can also do a combination of flat fee and hourly by saying “I’d estimate it will take a minimum of X hours, which will be a flat fee of Y, and then it’s an additional Z per hour after that.”

        Reply
      5. Teapot PR consultant

        Just as a follow on, doubling your hourly rate is a good starting point, but depending on your overheads the multiplier could be different.

        I’d guess my other comment would be to make sure you charge back direct disbursements.

        Reply
    2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

      Soitinly. Doubling one’s current hourly is not a bad idea, because don’t forget this has tax implications – you’re going to have to pay not just income tax, but also employment tax, since you’re self-employed for this. I’d highly recommend getting some good reference books on the business end of self-employment, because it’s a whole new world of funsies if you’re just used to wage income.

      I like the idea of the flat fee, if it’s a pretty well-constrained project and you can estimate your time commitment with some accuracy. It’s also kind of difficult, when you’re doing this for the first time, to track and bill your time. However, watch out for scope creep, because if you work too many hours on a flat fee, it can work out to an hourly rate that doesn’t make sense.

      And congrats! This is a great opportunity.

      Reply
        1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

          I was JUST about to post again and say exactly that – you can do a flat fee for 40 hours or whatever, and then bill for hours after that (for mop-up work, like) or do another flat fee for a chunk of time, whatever makes sense.

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        2. Rookie Biz Chick

          Also consider your scope of services and be a detailed as you would like to protect yourself. Be clear on what you need from the client, as well. Data? Name it and the format. Review? What’s the timeline? Meetings? Where and at what point? If you need some software or subscription, try to charge part of it to the project. Scope creep is real and the is the bain of consultants’ existence!

          Reply
      1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

        The other thing is, don’t let modesty reign here. Look into consulting rates for your field. Depending on what you’re doing for him, just doubling your hourly or something could lead to him getting a steal on work that people regularly charge thousands of dollars for. There’s always that temptation to be like “OMG, you want ME to help YOU? SQUEE” and charge peanuts because they’re so nice to be offering you work, and no. Get what the work is worth.

        Reply
        1. Ferris

          Also, if you do more of this, new clients will sometimes want to know (and sometimes proof for big companies) what your charging rate was for your last 1-2 clients. So, the higher rate you get for this will determine how much the next one is, etc.

          Reply
    3. animaniactoo

      I will generally charge a specified hourly rate with a minimum number of hours. Depending on the client, I might structure that as a flat fee including X hours worth of work, with an hourly rate of Y for anything over that. Y might be higher or lower as an hourly rate depending on the project and the client.

      As far as setting my fee – basically, my rate is set around what it’s worth to me to do this on top of my other workloads and is within market rate. At this point it’s approx 1.5 my FT salary.

      Reply
      1. animaniactoo

        Whoops – worth noting, a large chunk of the reason for my variability is the type of work I’m doing.

        Sometimes I’m a “get to know and make your computer work for you” tutor.
        Sometimes I’m a sort of personal assistant/researcher for my godmother.
        Sometimes I’m a computer artist doing a one-off design (set).
        Sometimes I’m a photo retoucher/manipulator.

        Other kinds of tutoring (math) and computer help (my computer is doing a wonky thing, can you figure out why?) are basically free for family/friends at this point.

        Reply
        1. Chinook

          I have done the same thing when it comes to my hourly rate. The way I rationalize it in my head is that people are paying for specific roles that I am doing, not just for my body to do it. Basically, I see myself as a CEO of a company with a bunch of min-me’s who I hire out for work. The tutor-me gets $14/hour, the bookkeeper-me $20/hr and the page layout/editor-me $25/hr. Yes, I am the one doing it all but that doesn’t mean my work/skill set has the same value in all three situations.

          Reply
    4. Nephron

      Congratulations on being amazing!
      I don’t think I have seen this anywhere, but you should also consider how much time daily/weekly/monthly and when you are willing to work on this or other consulting work. You have a full time job and adding more work can add stress, so try to set limits for yourself now and try to inform him of the level of work you can commit especially if you have a major project coming up at work, or a planned vacation.

      Good luck!

      Reply
    5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      I structure my consulting agreements like a retainer. The flat fee covers a certain amount of work product (i.e., deliverables) or it covers a set number of hours per week (e.g., 10-20 hours/week). And then I add a provision to deal with unforeseen changes. The formula looks like this:

      Option A: Flat fee for up to 15 hours/week for a set number of weeks, with an hourly fee for all hours accrued in excess of the contract as a whole (i.e., over 15 hours * X weeks).
       
      Option B: Flat fee for [very defined, concrete deliverables], and if there are material changes/additions, an hourly fee for all additional work required to cover the changes/new stuff.

      This helps me ensure I’m not losing money on my time, but it also doesn’t penalize the client. I usually use Option A, but for some clients with very narrow, defined needs, I’ll use Option B.

      Reply
  5. Karyn

    I see a lot of the “free advice” requests with my lawyer friends, particularly the ones who are solo practitioners. It always starts with a “can I just ask a quick question” and then turns into an hour long conversation which the lawyer can’t bill for.

    One of my friends handled it thusly: whoever was asking got 1-3 free questions depending on the complexity of them, and then my friend says, “I’m sorry, but I have another call at the moment. If you’d like me to look into this further, I can send you a copy of my retainer agreement so we can get this officially covered under attorney-client privilege.” It’s a good way of demurring without being rude, possibly getting some paid work out of it, and not wasting time answering questions for free. For whatever reason, people seem to forget that lawyers (including me, as I’m taking the bar in a few months) paid a lot of money for their educations, and should be (sometimes very much need to be) paid as such.

    Reply
    1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

      A friend of ours is a nurse practitioner. She gets literally dozens of requests for “hey, my kid has an ear infection, can you just dash off a scrip for antibiotics real quick” and “hey, I have this funny bump,” and she’s like, dude, real quick doesn’t pay the mortgage.

      Reply
    2. Countess Boochie Flagrante

      “So we can get this officially covered under attorney-client privilege” is a beautiful and very smooth way to work that in.

      Reply
      1. Taylor Swift

        It is, but I also think it’s a little too soft. I think people should be able to say, “no, sorry, I don’t work for free” and have that stand on its own merits.

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        1. Karyn

          Well ordinarily I would agree, but in a fairly small legal community, you want to maintain the relationship, because word travels fast if people perceive you to be a jerk.

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    3. AnotherAlison

      My husband gets this a lot, as I expect most people in the residential trades do. “Come wire my basement finish for free and I’ll buy you a six pack” isn’t really enticing when you’re 41 and would charge ~$5k for that type of work. Or even better, are the calls from friends who were too cheap to hire him to do electrical work at their house, but want him to walk them through troubleshooting their nonfunctional handiwork over the phone, on the weekend, for free. Yeah, it might be expensive, but as the saying goes, you’re not getting paid for the hours of work there, you’re getting paid for the 20 years of experience you draw on to do it. I love that people think a few YouTube videos makes them an expert.

      Reply
    4. Pwyll

      Yup, this. When I worked for a small firm we would say, “I’m sorry, I have another call in a moment. I’ll have John send you over our client intake questionnaire and we can setup a time to discuss.”

      It was less direct, for sure, but I can’t think of a time someone pressed further. We either heard back, or they disappeared.

      Reply
  6. MissBrittany

    I fell prey to this when I started my graphic design (wedding stationery) business. Once I started becoming a regular face at industry events and got writeups in local magazines (ok, it was only 1!) I started to get a lot of aspiring business owners contacting me for tips on how to start their own, competing business. My problem wasn’t that I didn’t recognize my worth, it was that I was so flattered people came to little old me as a source of knowledge.
    I was so excited to talk about my journey that it didn’t occur to me I was essentially helping people learn to take business away from me. Eventually I realized what I was doing, but I didn’t ask for a consulting fee when asked for advice. I gave some basic, useful tips and wished them luck.

    Reply
  7. Winger

    I find this topic fascinating. I am a writer and I have occasionally done paid freelance work and unpaid advice-giving, but I am always thinking of ways to turn opportunities like this into potential paying work. Unfortunately, I am also very active in my local arts scene as a freelance performer, and so often the requests for help are desperate “does anyone know anything about grant writing???” pleas that are unlikely to be remunerative for me.

    Reply
  8. Statler von Waldorf

    “If you’re good at something, never do it for free,” is one of my rules to live by. I’ll happily answer general questions in vague terms, but as soon as they get specific I give them a business card and ask them to contact me later and we’ll get a consulting agreement drawn up. Usually they don’t, but I have gotten some serious jobs over it. Professionals understand that you have to pay for professional work, IME it’s the amateurs who get cranky when you decline to work for free.

    This goes double for tech support. Unless you are my mother, no I’m not going to “just take a quick look” at your five year old PC that’s “running slow.” I’ll cut my rates sharply for family, but I insist on charging them. No one values a service that is free.

    Reply
    1. animaniactoo

      Hah! My mother spent my grandparents’ 60th anniversary weekend celebration sending their old friends and family to me for computer questions. I remember feeling a tad trapped at points… Me now would tell her to knock that off. Me then went uh, what? It’s doing what? Okay…

      Reply
    2. paul

      had to cut my mom off tech support entirely. I’m not an IT guy, but I “know the computers” (aka I’m OK poking around and googling on a tablet while my PC’s inoperable).

      Non frigging stop calls-2-3x a week–about weird stuff her computer is doing. And she’s six hours away from me, it isn’t like I can see this, and her machine is such an old POS it isn’t like remote login software is viable. I think it’s still a single core running xp for god’s sakes.

      Reply
      1. hayling

        I have taught my dad to take screenshots on his phone and computer. Much better than “my computer keeps bugging me to do something.”

        Reply
  9. Contrarian Annie

    Keep in mind that you may not be (contractually) able to take on a “consulting” engagement you came across in the course of your employment. Could you act as an independent contractor on the basis of a conference that (I assume) your current employer paid for?

    Reply
    1. Pwyll

      I’m not sure I’d go that far, though it certainly introduces some risks. I tend to think the further away from what you do from your employer’s work, the safer you’ll be with consulting (even if you met at a work conference). So, if you’re an engineer in a teapot factory, providing engineering services to a teapot or coffee competitor is probably not a good idea. But providing recruiting advice is probably far enough away to be less controversial. Assuming, of course, that your employer is not also in the business of providing teapot engineering recruitment consulting services (such that you’re diverting a client from them) and that there’s no employment agreement to the contrary.

      That said, it’s usually a good idea to run moonlighting by the employer anyway just to be safe.

      Reply
  10. SheLooksFamiliar

    I’m in corporate staffing. Family and friends, their family and friends, people I meet at work – they often ask for my opinion on their job search techniques and resources, the job market in general, just basic things. No problem! We chat for a half hour, and they go do their thing.

    But there’s always someone who wants me to write their resume, conduct practice interviews, teach them ‘all the internet tricks’, give advice on possible careers for them, and serve as their job search coach. I’ve done career coaching professionally and know it takes hours of work to do what they’re asking. In the past when I agreed to help someone like this, I spent most of my time dealing with their bad habits and resistance to my advice. Head, meet brick wall.

    I’ve learned to ask pointed questions about their goals, and their drive to find a new job. Once they pause for breath, I say something like this: ‘You really sound committed to putting in the work to find a new job, which is great! In my experience, it takes at least 20 hours for me to do what you just asked for. You know, writing your resume and letter templates, researching employers, building your search strategy so you don’t waste time, very important stuff! We should plan on weekly coaching sessions for, oh, 2 months. Maybe 3. It takes 4 to 6 months to get offers, you know. But don’t worry, I charge a Family and Friends rate of per hour. And what the heck, we can start with just a 10 hour advance for the preliminary work you asked me to do. Let me get you my card, and you ping me with your schedule so we can get started! Lots to do! I’m excited!’

    No one ever takes me up on this, not that I’m bitter. ;) But maybe they should, because they’re usually miserable and with the same employer when I see them months later.

    Reply
    1. SheLooksFamiliar

      Oops, I used the wrong brackets and something is missing from my post: I charge a Family and Friends rate of *whatever ridiculous number I can think of* per hour.

      Reply
      1. not really a lurker anymore

        After a couple of years of trying half-assedly to help my spouse write a resume, we farmed it out to someone last May. It was worth every penny for us.

        Reply
        1. SheLooksFamiliar

          That’s a good way to keep family harmony! I’d rather look at the sun through binoculars than ever write another resume for a friend or family member. Most of them needed serious rewriting and formatting, they were written decades ago. And if someone wrote it themselves, my suggestions were seen as personal attacks. No, thanks.

          Reply
  11. J

    If you have kids, *never* let it be known to other parents that you are a birthday party entertainer. Ugh. Everyone thinks you’ll “help out” at their party for free and get miffed if you won’t. Like not-inviting-your-kid-to-their-kid’s-party miffed.

    Reply
  12. kristinyc

    Whenever I get random requests for “brain picking” (usually, someone finds me from my industry blog/twitter and asks to get coffee, but they’re really asking for free advice for an hour), my go-to response is:

    “Thanks so much for thinking of me! I’m not taking on any freelance projects right now, but I can refer a few people who’d be great at this!”

    That tells them that this is something that people would normally charge for, and kind of discreetly calls them out on trying to get my brain for free (or for a $4 latte). If they are serious about looking for help, I do refer them to people I know/trust who freelance.

    Reply

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