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How to Protect Your Intellectual Property When Interviewing

You can lose your intellectual property through abuse of the job interview process. However, there are precautions you can take to protect your intellectual property and avoid interview exploitation.

When does this type of abuse come into play? In a performance interview for professional and managerial jobs, candidates are often required to prove themselves with projects that demonstrate on-the-job skills, problem-solving capabilities, and communications abilities. The employer asks for a proposal of how you would handle a company project or requests that you design a process the company can use. You’re told to be ready to “defend your ideas” at the interview.

Unfortunately, sometimes the free-sample demand is incredibly time-consuming (say 80 hours) and costly ($200 and up in materials and research). You do your best but suppose you don’t get the job? In an example of shoddy ethics, your work samples may be given to the victorious candidate who then steals your viable creative ideas.

How do you avoid abuse without taking yourself out of the running for a job you want when you’re not sure about the real interview agenda? Here are two ideas:

  • You can copyright your plan and place a valid copyright notice ©, along with the publication date and your name, on its cover as an indication of your underlying claim to ownership. For free information, contact the U.S. Copyright Office, or by mail at Registrar of Copyrights, U.S. Copyright Office, Library of Congress, 101 Independence Ave. S.E., Washington, D.C. 20559.

    For easier reading, see Patents, Copyrights & Trademarks For Dummies, 2nd Edition, by Henri J.A. Charmasson.

  • You can bluff, hoping to create a theft deterrent by slapping a copyright notice and “Confidential — Property of (Your Name)” on your plan’s cover.

When you’re desperate or really, really, really want the job but don’t have the time, inclination, or money to respond in full measure, offer something like this:

I’m glad that you see I have the brains and talent to bring value to your company. I’m happy, too, that you have the confidence in my work to ask me to handle such a potentially important solution to your marketing challenge. With my background, I’m sure I could do an outstanding job on this assignment. But you do realize, I hope, that such an important project would require 80 to 100 hours of intensely focused work. I’d enjoy doing it, but, quite frankly, I have several other job interviews scheduled that I really can’t shift around. Do you think a sample of substantially smaller scope would serve as well for your purposes?

With a statement like the preceding, you:

  • Remind the interviewer that you’re a top candidate

  • Promise superior results

  • Bring a reality check to a sensitive interviewer about what’s being asked of you

  • Let the interviewer know others are interested in you

  • Propose to do much less work until a job offer crosses your palm

You can, of course, flatly refuse to part with advance goodies. In a seller’s market, you’ll probably be considered anyway. But in a buyer’s market, the likelihood is that you’ll be passed over when you decline to turn in a hefty free sample.

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