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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Thanks for the Job Application and Free Business Plan.... Now take a hike!

In an article this week, a Wall Street Journal writer says that it's painful enough when an employer rejects you. But some add insult to injury by stealing material you prepared to promote your candidacy.

From my experience, public sector employers in Ireland are more likely to request mini-plans than private sector ones.

In the bleak aftermath of the dot.com bust, I applied for a senior position in a public agency. There was a 10 page application and in addition, a candidate had to outline on 2 A4 sheets ideas on what could be done to improve efficiency etc.

It was of course all a charade as the "acting" holder of the position was the person who had been effectively selected before the public advertisement. I protested to the chairperson about the elaborate waste of people's time and I got a response from the "acting" holder of the position.

The Wall Street Journal asks in relation to stealing ideas in a recruitment situation: How should you cope?

The writer says that there's no surefire cure, as Vincent A. Gaglione Jr. learned. While jobless in spring 2004, the Cleveland resident pursued a middle-management position at an Ohio insurer.

The concern asked him to create a marketing strategy focused on its independent field agents.

He spent about 50 hours drafting a 25-page plan, then presented his detailed proposal to 20 officials over two days.

"We shook hands," Gaglione recalls. "There was a lot of backslapping and they said, 'We'll be in touch.' "

He didn't get the job. Gaglione soon found out the insurer was test marketing a key piece of his plan, even using the name he had given it. He left angry messages for two executives there. "I didn't appreciate you guys taking up my time and taking my work," his voicemail said. They never called back.

No one knows how often companies rip off original material from applicants. But job tryouts requiring submission of business plans are increasingly common, reports Gary E. Hayes, a managing partner at Hayes Brunswick & Partners, a New York organizational and management consultancy. He predicts the trend will persist because bosses prefer to pick people who "begin to execute very rapidly."

The Wall Street Journal says that you can take several steps to guard against possible employer theft during the interview process. Offer samples of the outstanding work you have completed rather than craft something new. If the hiring manager insists on fresh samples, show off your brainpower without giving away all the goods. "Exclude necessary details that would then make [a proposal] impossible to implement," says Richard Bayer, chief operating officer of the Five O'Clock Club, a career-counseling network in New York.

If you do submit a plan, take a strong stance to protect your ideas. Whenever you express yourself in writing, "the copyright attaches at that point," notes Alan Weisberg, an intellectual-property attorney for Christopher & Weisberg in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He suggests adding a copyright symbol to the report, plus a confidentiality warning stating: "This information is being provided solely for the purposes of the job interview" and may not be used for other purposes without the author's permission.

The Journal says that a tough nondisclosure statement could alienate a potential boss, who might see you as distrustful. "Don't come off as difficult," says Michael A. Parker, a San Diego marketing consultant. He recommends making your actions speak to your commitment toward your possible employer.

He began using nondisclosure warnings after elements of a marketing plan he devised during a failed job search appeared on the Web site of a California software start-up. When he sought a job as marketing director for a different start-up, he prepared requested marketing schemes -- along with the line, "This is proprietary and confidential."

He justified his stern wording by citing the importance of guarding corporate secrets. "As your marketing person, this is how I will treat the work I do for you and the product we create," he told firm officials.

They hired him.

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