Case Study My Ass…

I was recently interviewing for a VP of Marketing job at a Bay Area tech company. This company isn’t a startup per se…been around for 8 years, is profitable (imagine that?!) and has rasied a good $25M in venture capital. I was initially contacted by a headhunter about this role and he mentioned that they would be asking for a “case study” as part of the interview process. I wasn’t quite sure what that meant but figured I could roll with it as I did tons of case studies in B-school and have been asked to solve case studies on the fly during interviews (like: If Bill Gates gave you $50M to build the next great business for Microsoft, what would it be, how would you build it, how would you spend that $?)

Had a great initial meeting with the CEO. He followed up by sending me a 100 slide deck that a brand consultant had put together for him on how to position the company/product/brand (in this case, all three were the same). This deck contained some fairly solid work but was mostly just an assessment of the current situation with some underdeveloped recommendations on how to approach brand building. The CEO asked me to build him a fully baked brand building/marketing plan. Wait — huh?! I’m a consultant and I usually charge tens of thousands of dollars for that, it’s always based on a thorough analysis of customer data and it can take a month or two to complete. So in other words, you want some free consulting, right?? So here’s what I did and what I suggest you do if faced with this ask during the interview process:

  • I only gave him 6 slides that outlined how I would approach the building of a plan. I didn’t give him any specific plans or ideas.
  • I shared my slides in person (I did not email them to the CEO either before or after the presentation).

I realize this has become common practice — to ask candidates to put a plan together as part of the interview process. In fact I’ve heard quite a few horror stories from friends and former colleagues who spent weeks preparing a plan for a potential employer, didn’t get the job and then found out the person who did get hired used his/her ideas. Talk about a double slap in the face. Didn’t get the job — slap. Used your ideas — slap, slap.

So here’s the real kicker in my experience and my third recommendation for anyone in this situation: make absolutely sure you’re still in the running for the job. I found out after I presented my 6 slides that the CEO already had an offer out to another candidate and he let me do this work and come in and present anyway…obviously to just pick my brain and suck some ideas of of me for free. Sorry bud….I charge for that. I’ve toyed with the idea of sending an invoice for the couple of hours I spent with him. Should I?