a job candidate sent an invoice after her interview

Two crazy hiring stories in one day, in honor of Friday!

A reader writes:

We are in the process of hiring a director for one of our newer satellite offices. One candidate was referred to us by a client and looked very promising on paper. We brought her in for an interview and asked several questions about her business development strategy, among other things, since that would be a major part of this role. To be honest, her answers weren’t anything unique or “out of the box,” which was a bit of a disappointment. Ultimately, we decided to go with another candidate. I sent her an email to let her know that we were hiring someone else for the director role but would like to keep in touch as that office location grows. She never responded.

Fast forward two weeks, and we received an invoice in the mail from her for business development consulting services. She had a list of charges (at an enormous hourly rate) for both prep and the time she spent answering our questions in the interview! I went back and looked at all the pre-interview emails, and it was absolutely clear that she was coming to a job interview, not a consultation meeting. We are obviously not planning to send her a check, but how would you recommend responding to this? It has to be one of the most bizarre, not to mention ballsy, things I’ve ever seen during the hiring process.

Oh dear.

I’m assuming that it was an action rooted in bitterness (“I gave them my great ideas and nothing came of it; they should have to pay for my time”) and not a genuine misunderstanding … since it doesn’t sound like there’s any way it could have been a genuine misunderstanding.

I’d either (a) ignore it or (b) send her a quick email saying, “We received your invoice for your recent job interview. Since that was a job interview and not a consulting meeting, it must have been sent in error. Best of luck to you.”

If she actually pushes the issue — which I bet she won’t — you can certainly state that never engaged her services or agreed to any fee, and that job interviews are widely understood to be unpaid endeavors, and that you won’t be paying her invoice, the end. But I strongly suspect this was simply done in a moment of bitterness and won’t be something she pursues.

For anyone tempted to feel sympathetic — because I know there’s someone out there reading this and thinking, “Well, companies do often ask candidates to give them real work without pay, so why shouldn’t a candidate bill for it?” — I say the following:
* If the candidate felt that was happening, it was up to her to speak up; you don’t invoice after the fact without prior agreement.
* A simple interview is not consulting work.
* Good hiring does include talking over ideas and what the candidate’s approach to the job would be. In many cases, it also includes simulations of the actual work the person would be doing (although within reason — not hours of it — and not for the employer’s use outside of the hiring process).

Speaking of that last point, I ask candidates to complete an exercise relevant to the work they’d be doing for nearly every position I hire for. On very rare occasions, someone balks at what they term “giving away their ideas for free.” These are invariably the weakest candidates; the strong ones understand that a 30-minute exercise can’t possibly “give away” their expertise, and they understand why demonstrating that expertise is key to hiring well.

Which brings us back to your invoice-sending candidate: Take it as confirmation that you made the right call.

{ 127 comments… read them below }

  1. tangoecho5*

    Oh MY Gosh! Even in a moment of extreme bitterness would I ever do such a thing. I expect the applicant will never be interviewed by that company again and the client who referred her will not do so again to any other company. So she screwed up possible future good things to engage in a bit of temper tantrum throwing now because she didn’t get the job.

    1. Jessa*

      Me neither, I cannot see how anyone could ever confuse an interview with a consulting session. That’s insane. I agree that it’s a temper tantrum.

      But I also agree with Alison that a response of “this was an interview not a job,” should be sent, and kept in the file with the invoice, NOT thrown away. Because a year from now if that weird person decides to go to small claims on that bill, you want proof of what happened. This is absolutely the kind of thing you keep documents on file about.

  2. Adam V*


    OP, if you do send a message like Alison suggests, *please* let us know if she responds.

    How long was the in-person interview, by the way?

    1. OP*

      I’ll definitely update if she responds. This was just the first interview, so it lasted an hour at most. We really just wanted to scratch the surface as far as strategy and see how she would go about building a presence for our firm in a new area. We never even really talked specifics!

      1. EnnVeeEl*

        See, if she were smart, she would have given you an example of what she did in the past when given a similar task. That’s how you answer questions like this. But no, she probably didn’t do that and then had the nerve to get extra when the process didn’t go farther. She bombed the interview and then wanted to charge someone for it.

        I wish I had this type of confidence.

        1. AF*

          Or that much insanity. What she did is crazy – not brave. I’d also love to know how the person who referred her reacts!

  3. Tax Nerd*

    Oh dear.

    I would just ignore the invoice, and assume it was sent in a moment of bitterness. However, I would probably also mention it to the client that referred her, to ask what’s up, and politely alert them to her odd behavior. (Though it depends on what their relationship to her is, I suppose.)

    1. Just a Reader*

      Totally agree–I would want to know if someone I referred acted so unprofessionally.

  4. Jamie*

    This is bizarre enough to haunt you. Everyone in the OP’s company who has heard of this and the referring client will remember her name and this stupid stunt years from now.

    Bullet dodged.

    1. A Bug!*

      No kidding. I would be mortified if I recommended someone who went and pulled a stunt like this. What an unbelievably short-sighted, bitter thing to do.

      1. fposte*

        What always kills me is that people send these crazy followups with the expectation the recipients will feel bad about what they did. Somewhere she’s thinking self-righteously that she showed them.

    2. cwes1492*

      Agreed, so bizarre! This isn’t an angry email that she dashed off, hit send, and then immediately regretted. No, she actually had to write up the invoice, print it, put it in an envelope, address it, stick it in the mail. You’d think that at any one of those points, she’d say to herself, “Maybe this isn’t a great idea.” Bullet definitely dodged.

  5. Anon*

    Wouldn’t hurt to hang onto those emails, just in case she does try to escalate this.

    1. Adam V*

      Hang onto them? I suspect they’ll be framed in the OP’s office so she can look at them and have a good chuckle whenever she’s having a rough day.

    2. Jessa*

      This. And respond (if you have legal in house, ask them first) because you want a paper trail if this person ever decides to try and collect on this thing. Keep records on this. Definitely.

      1. AF*

        Yes it was awesome! I hope that candidate gives whoever gave her that terrible advice a talking-to.

    1. NBB*

      I liked your story too! I think you should gently let that lady know that her “gifts” are hurting her job seeking. She probably got some really bad advice from someone to do that and she should know it’s backfiring.

    2. Elizabeth West*

      I thought it was good too. It reminded me of all the agent blogs/writer advice about not sending presents with your query letter and/or submission. Yes, it does happen.

      1. Former Writer Gal*

        Of course the flip side of that (in magazine publishing) is the publicists sending gifts all the time to editors and writers ;) There are things of value an editor may choose not to accept, but if the writers are freelance, and making an unreliable income, those gifts may be the difference between decent amenities in life of not. Some ethics sticklers may be horrified by this, but I can remember struggling to cobble together $20,000 in gigs in a year (working ALL THE TIME), so getting a fruit basket, a bottle of wine, a make-up kit (from the companies making them)… how else to even exist in LA or NYC, even with roommates? I think some coming from the magazine world would presume this was a norm in cultivating contacts…

        1. FiveNine*

          As a summer intern at a magazine in NYC in 1988, the editorial staff without blinking handed off to us all sorts of free passes — to openings, music events, movies, etc. etc. For years I’ve imagined that this is the one of the only ways it could have been possible to be a writer living in NYC and have/afford any kind of nightlife at all.

  6. long-time lurker!*

    To be perfectly honest, I was once tempted to send an invoice for an interview. They had me go through three separate interviews. For the last of these, they provided me with about 200 pages of confidential documents and asked me to give a presentation to them one week later. That presentation was to include a 1.5-hour Powerpoint presentation along with a 5-page, single-spaced document that needed to be, essentially, a robust, actionable solution to a business problem they’d presented to me.

    I did it. I did it really, really well. It took me about 25 hours in total. And then I literally never heard from them ever again, not even a form rejection email – except that, from what I heard from a contact, they ended up using the business solution I provided them.

    I was very, very tempted to send them an invoice for consulting. Instead, I have quietly and confidentially ensured as much as I am able that people in the industry know that this is not a company that can be trusted. I know they’ve lost out on several really excellent job candidates because of it.

    1. EnnVeeEl*

      Right! There are other ways to handle this without destroying YOUR career and reputation. These types of companies and hiring managers do themselves in with this crap.

      How have you avoided such things going forward? I kind of have a list of questions in my back pocket for requests like this now, because honestly, MOST COMPANIES DON’T ASK FOR ALL THIS. If a writing sample or test and my extensive portfolio isn’t enough to prove what I can do, we need to halt the interview process. I’m not what you are looking for.

      1. long-time lurker!*

        I was kind of a naive job candidate at the time this occurred; I certainly wouldn’t do it again. (I’d probably give a response much like what Alison suggested later on in this comment thread.) I have a much better sense of my own value now. This was a valuable learning experience. At this point, I think their karma from this incident has cost them more in real value than it gained them in the short term, which is satisfying to know.

        How I’ve avoided this going forward: I started my own business, which has gone extremely well, and I’m now in the position of being an employer rather than an employee. :) And I would certainly never do anything like what they did!

    2. A Disillusioned Employee*

      This seems like a very clear case of a company blatantly taking advantage of a candidate. Good for you to blacklist them in this way!

    3. KellyK*

      I think in your case, you would’ve been fully justified in doing it if you could verify that they were using the solution you developed.

      Ethically justified, that is. Pragmatically, it would probably just hurt *your* reputation because their version of the story would be believed, I don’t know, but it sounds like they really did use a fake job interview to scam free consulting services.

      1. Brian*

        “I don’t know, but it sounds like they really did use a fake job interview to scam free consulting services.”

        That is exactly what I was thinking. “Let’s just have the candidates write up the solutions! Quick, free, and easy!” But also unethical.

    4. bearing*

      This may be a naive question, but if you’re called upon to do this would it make sense to mark your slides, documents, etc. with a visible assertion of copyright over the contents?

      1. Chinook*

        I think marking the slides with your copyright and password protecting it from changes would be a great idea but it wouldn’t stop them from resuing their ideas (it just would make them have to create their own presentation).

        1. A Disillusioned Employee*

          Except reusing information clearly marked with copyright could potentially make them liable for copyright infringement.

            1. Emily K*

              Yup. I work in the nonprofit sector, in an area where several large nationals compete with each other around broadly overlapping aspects of the same issue area, for essentially the same pool of donors. As soon as we see one org doing something interesting or having success with something on their website or Facebook or email list, within the week the rest of us are all trying it too. “Oh, ABC is using a donation overlay? Let’s put a donation overlay on our forms. Did you see the subject line in ZZO’s last email? Let’s try that subject line with our list.”

              Happens alllll the time.

              1. TychaBrahe*

                No, devices are patentable.

                In the book Stranger in a Strange Land, Heinlein described a patient recuperating in a water bed in a hospital setting, as it would support the person’s body equally on all surfaces and prevent bedsores. Because he never built a model of the water bed in question, he was unable to patent it, although it was clearly his idea.

                However, the person who built the first water bed was also unable to patent it as a unique idea. He could patent his construction, but others could build and patent and market different constructions of the same idea without violating his patent, because the original idea was not unique, and was credited to Heinlein.

    5. Elizabeth*

      Wow. Even if they had planned on hiring you, that would be far too much to ask of a job candidate. 25 hours of work on an interview – work that can’t be applied to any other interview in the slightest – is absurd. I think I would have turned them down when they asked that of me unless I had been really desperate for any job at all. But I’d be at a total loss for how to even phrase my withdrawal… Alison, I’d love to hear what you would say!

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I’d say, “I’m fully in agreement on the importance to both of us of ensuring that this is the right fit, and frankly would be reluctant to accept a job without making sure that’s the case. However, doing this assignment well will take about 25 hours of work, which isn’t feasible for me to do as a job candidate. I’d be glad to spend a few hours on a shorter project, show you past similar work, or put you in touch with references who have seen my work in this area. Please let me know what makes sense on your side.”

        You’d want to be prepared, though, for them to say, “Oh, don’t spend 25 hours on it. We just want to see what you can do in a few hours with this.”

        1. V*

          Let’s say that you are asked to work on a project as a part of an interview. What protections can you place on the work that you did in the event that you don’t get hired?

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            An ethical company isn’t going to use the work. An unethical company isn’t going to be stopped by any protections you place on it. So I wouldn’t spend much energy on trying to protect it.

            1. long-time lurker!*

              Yeah, precisely. I didn’t give them a copy of my Powerpoint presentation, but this particular business solution was very specific to a business need they had, so it’s not like it would have been broadly applicable elsewhere. I guess they just saw a candidate whose CV demonstrated that s/he probably had the expertise to do the job and decided to gamble on getting the work done for free. Certainly not a business strategy I’d use myself, and not one that’s likely to do well for their business in the long run.

    6. Jessa*

      You did the classy thing, but in a way what happened to you is different to this interviewee. Your product was USED by people who did not hire you. People who are probably doing this to other applicants. You really DID do work for which you should have been paid.

    7. Clarity*

      I agree that this is a terrible practice and one I have heard about quite a lot. Not just in job interviews but also when looking for consultants for projects, demanding real work created on a scenario they supply. They take the consultants work, use it without ever hiring the consultant. Sadly, I think there may be more of this occurring than is generally known.

      I heard of one business owner who did this with four different consultants-each with an expertise related to a big project he had -in other words he managed to complete a project without paying any subcontract fees at all. That one might be the poster business owner for poor practice. Now of course no consultant that knows that story will even talk to him about his projects.

  7. The IT Manager*

    This is so bizarre that I did not understand what the title meant until I read through the whole story. Wow! Yes, bitter, ballsy, but so very ill-considered because this story will be told forever.

  8. EnnVeeEl*

    My jaw hit my desk reading this. I went to an interview where the manager asked me to write a full plan. I suspect he used it after (I never heard from him after I sent him the plan, not even a thank you email), but still, that is a lesson learned for a different situation. I would have NEVER called him on it – but I certainly tell everyone what he did, his name and the company (there were other issues during the interview too). I think the OP dodged a bullet and avoided a nutty employee, and I would suggest doing what I did – don’t respond at all. I would tell the person that referred her, however.

  9. Katie the Fed*

    Ha! That IS ballsy.

    I was once in an interview and they asked me what I would change if I was the office director, and I gave a very specific and concrete example, explaining what the problem was and what it would fix.

    I didn’t get the job – it went to someone who was closer to the hiring manager. But the hiring manager DID decide to tell me a few weeks later that she liked my idea so much they’d decided to implement it. Um. Thanks?

    1. just another hiring manager...*

      Something similar happened to me! Back when I was in college, I interviewed for a summer program student coordinator position where the student coordinator was chosen from students who had already been selected to be on the student-staff for at least one year. I gave a very specific solution to a very specific issue during the interview. I didn’t get the student coordinator job, but was still on the student-staff and, lo and behold, my idea was used to address that very specific problem…

    2. Julie*

      Question for AAM: What *would* be the proper protocol here. If you’re a hiring manager, get a really great idea from a candidate who (for whatever reason) doesn’t get the job, such a great idea that you want to use it… what should you do? Implement it without telling the candidate? Offer to compensate them for the idea? Inform them, as Katie’s interviewer did? I’m curious how others might approach this.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I was trying to figure out exactly that after reading Katie’s comment. I’m stumped about the right answer — it’s not ethical to go ahead and use it, but I’m not sure how you should handle it. Although I could see someone arguing that it’s murky; after all, if someone suggested something to you at a cocktail party, I think you could ethically use it without paying them for it.

        I’ve honestly never had a job candidate suggest something so perfect that I’d want to use it without so much modification that it wouldn’t really be their idea at all, so I’m truly stumped. Anyone else?

        1. Joey*

          You should keep them on your radar for the next time you need someone. And tell them that. If somebody can spout off a perfect solution to a real world problem that you couldn’t figure out imagine what they could do if they actually worked for you.

          1. Joey*

            I’d use it because for it to be a perfect solution the likelihood of it being a high level complex problem is low. Its more likely a problem that really doesn’t have a ton of impact.

        2. J2*

          Perhaps you could contact the candidate after the fact, before implementing anything, letting them know that you would like to use their idea, and asking for permission. (Personally I’d probably agree in some cases, or might ask for some compensation if it was something that took significant time to put together.) If you did do that, however, you would have to be ready to drop it if they said no. And it could open up the door to questions about why they didn’t get hired if you liked their ideas so much.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            it could open up the door to questions about why they didn’t get hired if you liked their ideas so much.

            I think this is such a common misconception people have — an interviewer could really like your ideas (or your skills or your experience or just you generally) and still not hire you — because someone else was a stronger candidate or you weren’t the right fit in some other ways. So often, I hear people say things like “well, if they liked me so much, why didn’t they hire me?” so I felt compelled to point this out.

            1. J2*

              Right, but because that misunderstanding is out there, I’m just saying you might be opening yourself up to the “but why?” questions (aka, whining) if that person isn’t fully professional. I’m not saying the questions would be legitimate. Or we could be getting an AAM question soon: “But they came back and asked if they could use my idea… what does that mean? Why didn’t they hire me? (Is that legal?)” ;-)

        3. Katie the Fed*

          I should clarify that it was a promotion in the office where I already worked. So I had been around long enough to make an assessment of something that I thought was a problem, but could suggest an idea in this context. Even though I didn’t get the job (it was really more a bad office manager playing favorites) I was glad to see the idea implemented regardless. But I wish I’d have gotten the job :)

        4. Jessa*

          I think if it came up, I’d offer to pay the appropriate consulting fee after talking to the candidate and explaining why even though their idea is so good that I’m using it, I am STILL not hiring them. Which I think is a pretty hard thing to do. I’d also offer to be a reference for them – they’re amazing, they came up with x which we used, but regrettably they didn’t have y, or we’d have snapped them up so fast your head would spin. They’d be a huge asset to you.

      2. Anon*

        I think a safer route would be to ask the candidate to address a hypothetical issue or one you’d encountered in the past and resolved. You would still see their critical thinking skills while not having that temptation to use their ideas.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Totally agree with that — I’ve always sent problems that we already have the answer to, or which are hypothetical and unlikely to come up in the way we’re presenting them. That said, there’s still room for a new idea that could be used … but again, never without significant modification to make it fit our context.

          1. Jessa*

            This is a good idea, I mean, the best way to figure out if someone has the pulse of a place is to give them a problem you’ve already solved and see where they come out on what they’d do with it.

  10. Steve*

    “I ask candidates to complete an exercise relevant to the work they’d be doing for nearly every position I hire for.”

    I do the same. Learned the lesson from mistakes as most of us do. Still, I am flabbergasted that more employers do not do this.

    1. watafu_mx*

      Sorry to use necromancy in this post, but cajones means drawers. The word you want to use in this context is cojones.

  11. Moesha*

    I work in city government for a huge city agency. We interviewed a candidate a couple of years ago who was so incensed that she didn’t get the job that she files a FOIA request for every single job we post. And we are legally obligated to respond. We are talking thousands of FOIA requests.

    1. just another hiring manager...*

      She has filed thousands of FOIA requests? Wow, I can’t imagine what that candidate could be thinking or how she would see a benefit to doing so!

      1. Jessa*

        I don’t think she sees a benefit to it. This is to punish them by forcing them to do the research.

    2. EnnVeeEl*

      I think I would take it upon myself to ensure she never got hired by anyone in that city again. Open Records requests can be very time consuming.

    3. Adam V*

      Could you have a lawyer file a preliminary injunction barring her from filing additional retaliatory FOIA requests?

      1. Adam V*

        Also, I wonder if it would be bad form to send out an email to all city departments stating matter-of-factly that she’s caused you so much trouble?

        “With regards to any future hiring you may be doing in your department, we would like to inform you of two pieces of information regarding a potential applicant named .

        1) applied for a position with us in July of 2011. We ended up hiring someone else.
        2) Since July of 2011, we have had thousands of FOIA requests filed by for every job opening our department has posted.

        Thank you for your time.”

          1. De Minimis*

            I’ve heard of that happening with federal jobs [there’s even a message board where some encourage veterans to file them to see if veterans’ preference is being violated] but wow….

      1. AF*

        Freedom of Information Act – it’s a U.S. law that allows individuals and organizations to request information from government agencies, etc. I’m not an expert so someone else may have more info, but certain information is protected (like top secret military info, for example), but you can use it for things like researching job postings, and lots of other information. It’s often used as a watchdog function, to make sure agencies are obeying laws, etc. Or, in this case, to be a total nuisance by making the organization go through extra work for nothing. Your taxpayer dollars at work!

    4. Not so NewReader*

      Moesha, you might want to check with your city attorney. I can’t go into a full explanation here but courts at all levels are becoming more and more aware of this type of tactic and are more sympathetic to the problems it causes.
      There might be some charge that she could be faced with along the lines of obstructing government operations. (I am guessing about the wording this is just a general idea.)
      This could possibly fit under domestic terrorism acts- it’s a new kind of tactic where people bog down courts/government agencies with so much paperwork that the court or agency can barely function.
      However, please check with your city attorney AND your city police department. You may actually have enough evidence to cause someone to get arrested.

      My guess is the way she is able to generate numerous FOIA’s is because she is working with a group of people.
      Please take care and please draw in other agencies.

      I hope you see this, I am posting rather late in the game on this question. I just saw it, now. Let us know how you make out with this.

  12. TP*

    Wow, that’s ballsy! Slightly off topic, but if you completed a writing exercise as part of an interview process, is it fair game to use that as a sample for your next interview?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Absolutely, if it meets the parameters of what they’re looking for. Unless they specifically tell you to write something new, but they shouldn’t need to.

    1. Evan (now graduated)*

      To clarify, he’s suggesting people do this after super-lengthy interviews when the company then neglects to get back to them, arguing they’ve then violated the implicit contract in the interview:
      …which I provided at no cost, contingent on your company fulfilling its commitment to respond with a decision by the date you chose, April 1. You ignored my calls, emails, and your own deadline, without the courtesy of a notice.

      I’m still not feeling easy about that, but at least he’s made a vague case for it.

      1. Elizabeth*

        “contingent on your company fulfilling its commitment to respond with a decision by the date you chose” – yeah, the company definitely doesn’t see it that way. No judge would recognize “We’ll get back to you by April 1” as a binding financial contract. Moreover, at this point, the candidate really does have an answer – no response for that long means “No, we are not hiring you.” Is this a rude, inconsiderate thing for a company to do? Absolutely. Should they behave this way? Definitely not. Does being rude mean they owe the candidate money? No.

        Sending an invoice for an interview, no matter how awful the interviewers were, will pretty much never benefit the candidate. I think the headhunter is giving terrible advice here.

        1. Elizabeth*

          I also think that Nick Corcodilos is wrong when he says “job candidates don’t cost anything.” It absolutely costs the company money to interview a candidate. If the candidate had an 8-hour interview process, that means that employees of the company spent 8 hours interviewing instead of making chocolate teapots or whatever their normal jobs are.

          This still doesn’t excuse rudeness in the slightest, of course, but I don’t think that most rude companies are getting something for nothing. Some are scammers (like long-time lurker’s interviewer, above) but most are not.

  13. mollsbot*

    I agree that OP should politely inform the client of the bizarre behavior. I would like to know what they think of all this!

  14. Joanne*

    I’d be tempted (for about 2.5 seconds) to send a return invoice for the interviewer’s time in the interview, time spent reading resume, and use of the facilities.

    Of course, Allison’s answer is better/wiser/less apt to start a snark war.

    1. twentymilehike*

      Ha! This is funny … I agree, not wise. But definitely funny!

      It reminds me of the time my boss (one of two partners) brought to work some equipment he wasn’t using at home to use in his office. Then he tried to bill the company for “renting” the equipment. Other boss responded with a bill for “storing” the equipment. Classic.

      I can’t wait for an update on this one.

  15. Meg*

    As my comment is awaiting moderation for containing a link, I’ll say this issue was addressed by PBS’s Ask the Headhunter, where the Headhunter actually TOLD the OP to the invoice the interviewer for “wasting their time.”

    I was flabbergasted when I read it. No doubt the interviewee here read the same article. You can Google it if you want to see it – Ask The Headhunter invoice for interview, or similar terms – if you don’t want to wait for the comment to be moderated.

    1. Cat*

      I think the link is posted above. I didn’t get the impression he was actually suggesting that job candidates suggest that they get paid for their time; he was essentially suggesting an angrier and non-anonymous version of AAM’s “E-mail Your Interviewer” service. It seemed like what that was really about what a candidate making clear to an employer that they had behaved disrespectfully by going AWOL after a very time-consuming interview process (an 8-hour interview is grueling).

      1. Evan (now graduated)*

        Yes. Like I said above, he’s arguing that because the company didn’t reply by its self-chosen deadline, it’s violated the contract implicit in the interview. He does make something of a case for sending an invoice in that limited case, though I’m still uneasy…

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          There’s no contract implicit in the interview though. If you want to bill someone, you need them to agree to pay your price first. You can’t decide after the fact to charge them. (It would be like me suddenly deciding to charge you all $300 each for reading this blog. Even if I think that represents the value you get from it, I can’t unilaterally decide to bill you for it. I’d need to make the price clear up front and get your agreement.)

          1. Evan (now graduated)*

            Absolutely. But, speaking as someone who likes thinking about the law, could someone argue that “we’ll interview you and get back to you by {{Date}}” forms a contract where the candidate should get some damages for violations? (Of course, this’d totally ruin his chances of ever getting hired there ever, but…)

            1. Ruffingit*

              I think not because damages assume some kind of tangible damage was incurred by the interviewee and that isn’t the case. If the interviewer doesn’t get back to the interviewee by some set time, what has been lost on the part of the interviewee? Not a thing.

              One can argue that the interviewee has lost time waiting for an answer, but even that would be a hard sell because the accepted practice in the world of job hunting is that you continue to hunt regardless of having had interviews until someone says “You’ve got the job.”

              There are a million issues here that can be argued from the fact that it takes a lot more to form a contract to the fact that there are no damages incurred on the part of the interviewee. Way too many arguments point to no legal issues here when someone says they will get back to you and they don’t.

              If that was allowed, think of the social implications of someone saying they will call you for a date and then they don’t, someone saying they will meet you at the bar at X time and they don’t, etc.

            2. Ask a Manager* Post author

              It’s not a contract. A contract requires offer and acceptance, all parties to be in agreement, and something of value to be exchanged. A contract doesn’t just materialize because of an informal statement like “we’ll get back to you by X.”

  16. Steve*

    My original advice would be to ignore it.

    DON’T IGNORE IT. Send Alison’s excellent response and please please please let us know if you get a response.

  17. Michael*

    During an interview for a web development position I provided an example comp if their site as they were in the middle of a redesign and I wanted to demonstrate my design ability. I didn’t get the position but I’ll be damned if they didn’t use my design. I contacted them about this but they gave me a generic response and then nothing. If I had the money to burn I would have sued them in a heartbeat. So, yes, it does happen.

  18. Mike C.*

    OP, you don’t have an obnoxious online application process like the ones mentioned yesterday, right? Because I think invoicing for that is perfectly legit. ;)

    But seriously, you avoided hiring a crazy person, congrats!

  19. Rob (Bacon) Bird*

    Just when I think “Gee….I bet AAM gets tired of answering the same types of questions week after week”, along comes one like this.

    If anyone has any bridges laying around they need burned, we now know who to go to.

  20. William*

    You know, I’m just cynical enough to think that sending a response from the hiring department might not be the best idea. If the applicant did decide to take further action, they might find some way to twist that response toward their own case. Might it not be a better idea to have a lawyer write up a response? In my mind, a lawyer would be more likely to craft a letter that will be uniequivical in its meaning and intent, while also show the applicant that you are ready and willing to take legal measures to prevent her from escalating the issue, without having to outright threaten such.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      There was no agreement to pay though, so there’s nothing she could do if she wanted to pursue it legally. I get the sentiment, but I’m a big fan of not being so fearful of lawsuits that it influences you in stuff like this.

      1. Jessa*

        I think when one does not owe something, a response to an invoice SAYING so is normally the way to protect yourself from unscrupulous people. Because an unscrupulous person will say we had a “verbal agreement” and if they wait long enough, proving that up is harder. The company will probably win anyway, but it’s a lot easier to respond with “they sent x, we sent y immediately.”

  21. Hannah*

    OMG, I have to say that I think that’s pretty awesome in a way. A train-wreck kind of way, but still.

  22. Tami M.*

    Not sure I can wrap my head around that one. Definitely gutsy…to say the least. :/

  23. Rob (Bacon) Bird*

    The OP should bill her for that portion of their life they can never get back….lol.

  24. Anonymous Accountant*

    Wow. Just when you think you’ve heard it all, you read this. This was a really ballsy move to invoice the company. Bullet definitely dodged.

  25. kristinyc*

    I had one interview where I actually was told (by the interviewer) to invoice for some work I did as part of the hiring process.

    I was interviewing to be a reporter for a trade magazine, and they gave me a current topic and wanted me to write an article about it. I spent a full day working on the article, and I had to call sources and everything. I sent it in, and ultimately didn’t get the job. BUT – their HR department required that they pay candidates for their work on the articles in interviews (either as a “freelancer” or with a job offer). So, I made $500 and the article ended up getting published anyway, and even got a byline out of it.

    Best job rejection ever!

    1. Not so NewReader*

      This is the way to handle the situation. And happily, it is something you can add to your portfolio to show others. Win-win.

  26. Not so NewReader*

    I think that we take our chances with these things. Sometimes we win. My cousin did material procurement. He was able to find unusual specialty materials from various sources. (This gets very technical- so I am just describing the basics.) Since he had been doing the work for a long time he had relationships with numerous suppliers.

    During a job interview, the interviewer asked my cousin “Can you find X material for me?” My cousin said “May I use your phone?” (It was clear to my cousin the interview did NOT mean RIGHT NOW.) He called a supplier and they arranged a business deal – in the middle of my cousin’s interview.
    Needless to say, my cousin was hired on the spot.
    My cousin took a chance and it paid off. But I think he was strategic about the whole thing. He knew he could do the task in a very short time. He knew the supplier and knew the supplier would respond in a positive manner. And he also saw that the interviewer’s company had an actual need and there would be more similar needs in the very near future. For him, he was just demonstrating “Yes, I can do this job.” And the interviewer was satisfied.
    “The stars were in alignment”- there was more than one reason why my cousin chose to do this in the interview. I don’t he had ever done this in an interview before, I don’t believe he ever did it again, either.
    My take away from my cousin’s story- “Yes, this does technique does work but use it sparingly.” I think that OP’s candidate has done it too many times. So maybe she did not give away big secrets on this interview but she did on previous interviews and finally decided she had enough of it all. The candidate could have had tighter control over the conversation as Alison suggested.

    1. fposte*

      That is not this technique, though. The company doing the payment was aware of what your cousin was doing and consenting to the process, which they could have stopped at any moment, and it wasn’t paying your cousin.

      The equivalent would be if your cousin had gone home, arranged the shipment without the company’s knowing it, and then invoiced them a broker’s fee for it.

  27. VictoriaHR*

    That job candidate was looney tunes.

    That said, I find it interesting that in the previous letter, they turned away a candidate for being unique and outside-the-box for bringing in a gift or showing up in person, etc, but now here there’s a company that turns down candidates for not being unique or outside-the-box. Maybe this is what’s sending the wrong signals to candidates?

    1. Kaz*

      I don’t think bringing in a gift is being unique or outside-the-box. It’s presumptuous and annoying. It’s like saying that you think so little of the decision making powers of the hiring manager that they will hire someone unfit because they gave them a candy bar.

      A really unique candidate is someone that will bring skills to the job that they never knew they needed and now can’t live without. It’s not somebody with the ability to buy a plant.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I agree with Kaz here — bringing in a gift isn’t being unique or out of the box. I assume that when the OP here said that they didn’t find the candidate’s ideas unique or outside the box, she meant that the candidate didn’t bring anything particularly compelling to the table. But that’s very different than showing up without an appointment with a plant and candy!

    3. Elizabeth*

      There are a lot of places you can be if you’re outside of any given box. Some of those places are good, and others… not so. Or, to mix metaphors, sometimes someone who’s gone off the beaten path is trailblazing towards a wonderful new land, and sometimes they’re just lost and blundering aimlessly.

  28. Karen*

    Several years ago I was asked to prepare a brochure as part of the interview process for a graphic design position at a publishing house. I didn’t get the job, but they liked my idea so much they asked me for an invoice so they could produce and print it. I guess I did get “paid” for my interview. But it only happened the one time.

  29. Rachel*

    I’ve billed for an “interview” before. But to be fair, I did let them know in advance, and there was a concrete reason.

    I’m a contractor, and typically do projects last anywhere between 3 and 9 months. I was immediately concerned when an intermediary that had wasted my time with a deadbeat client once before contacted me again to say he had another client interested in my services. The company’s financial status was strong, but I was concerned that they only asked for a month of my time. That usually isn’t enough time to get anything meaningful done. Sometimes companies do ask for an initial month, though, to see how things go, and then extend to get the job finished. So I agreed to a free telephone consultation / interview.

    When I spoke to them by phone, and gave them some confidence in my technical skills, it turned out they’d been trying, and failing, to complete an internal project for the past *five years*. This was the same project that for some reason they felt an external consultant could do in a month. The feedback I got was “They liked your ideas, but they feel they only want to tackle one of the three projects they’re facing right now, so can you drive 50 miles for a second interview in-person with a view to taking on that one project that will last a few days?” I of course told the intermediary to do one and stop wasting my time. There had been no mention of “three projects” initially, just one, that they’d already spent five years on failing to achieve despite it sounding relatively simple and I estimated being possible with about 3/4 months work. So, believing that any part of that could be meaningfully addressed in just a few days was every bit as delusional as expecting me to drive 50 miles for free in the hope of securing only a few days billable time.

    Despite my better judgement, I did agree to attend a further half day in-person consultation with them. Which we agreed in advance would be chargeable. Following that half day, they decided to hire me for three weeks, but asked if I’d wait a few weeks before starting? Foolishly, I agreed, when both the fact that they’d asked for only three weels and that they wanted to wait almost that long before starting should have told me everything I needed to know about their commitment to solving their own problem. Shortly before I was to start (and with no sign of any paperwork in place) they asked to delay yet again. I fired them as a potential client at that point, since it was crystal clear they were just freeloaders and tyre kickers of the highest order, despite being a hugely successful company financially. Whenever that particular intermediary came back to me with another alleged golden goose client to suggest, I knew not to even listen to his pitch.

    So, bottom line, sometimes billing for an ‘interview’ isn’t as crazy as it may sound. Sometimes you’re just going by experience and weeding out tyre kickers and time wasters.

  30. Rachel*

    PS: with regard to the Nick Corcodilos article linked to earlier, whilst I usually find Nick’s advice sound, he’s way off base on this one. His template letter concludes with the line “This is not a joke. I expect payment within 10 days.” If you need to tell someone you’re not joking on an invoice, then you probably know you sound like a clown.

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