Unemployed IT Pros Performing What Amounts to Slave Labor

Don Tennant

If you haven't lost your job, you undoubtedly know someone who has, and you've likely heard some disturbing accounts of what those colleagues are going through in their relentless search for employment. The last thing these people need to deal with is having to perform what amounts to slave labor in order to get a job. Yet many of them are doing just that.


In the past year, I've watched as some of the most talented and accomplished IT professionals I've ever met became victims of the recession. Award-winning CIOs and other IT leaders with exemplary track records have been laid off in numbers that none of us who follow this industry could ever have imagined. As much as I question the competence of corporate directors who are making the grossly shortsighted decisions to cast aside this talent in the name of cost-cutting, I find the tactics of companies that are taking free dips into the unemployed talent pool far more questionable.


What's happening is that potential employers are taking advantage of the desperation of many jobless professionals by making unfair and overzealous demands on them as part of the recruitment process. A particularly troubling tack taken by some companies, especially in dealing with unemployed CIOs and other senior executives, is to demand that the job candidate analyze the employer's operations and prepare a strategic plan (or some other intellectual property that's created and surrendered) to improve those operations.


I don't know how widespread the practice is, but I know it's happening because I've talked to enough people, not just in IT, but in journalism and other professions, who have either experienced it or know someone who has experienced it in some form. I would love to know how many millions of dollars in consulting fees companies are saving by simply tapping the expertise of job candidates as part of the candidate assessment process. Because they can.


If this has happened to you, let me know. And if you've been subjected to any other job application practice that you felt was unfair, let me know that, too. If we're able to call some of the worst offenders to account, perhaps they'll find they can't, after all.

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Dec 4, 2009 9:27 AM Sadie OBrien Sadie OBrien  says: in response to orion daley

That is so true. My idea had to do with the organization's website. When I went to check, I could see that there were several things they tried to do without success. It worked out for the best.

Dec 4, 2009 9:36 AM Mark Trotter Mark Trotter  says: in response to orion daley

Sounds like you've got some other ideas that would make good discussion.  Please lay some of them out.

Dec 4, 2009 10:45 AM Albert Johnson Albert Johnson  says:

Happened to me too, interivewing with a (name withheld) company that deals with myriad intellectual property.  I bet the C-level people there don't know that some of their mid-level execs with hiring authority are doing this, and if they did would either cousel or show them out - as the reason my interviewer was doing it was because he (admittedly) was not (for reasons I pointed out) achieving his work strategic goals.

This sort of tactic (culling ideas from interviewees) is an old page in the tactics book of managers who are living demonstrations of The Peter Principle.  They may or may notbe on the verge of failure themselves; depends I guess on how many smart people they can find to inverview.

It's a tough place to be.  If the interviewer likes you otherwise then you've shown how you add value to the team and if not, it gives him or her an excuse to ding you.

Dec 4, 2009 11:04 AM user1484603 user1484603  says:

Well, I can understand someone being hard up for work when you have mouths to feed and a roof over your head to keep, but really - who would actually do this kind of thing if requested by a potential employer?? Most folks in their right mind should know that this is not an acceptable thing to ask nor is it ethical. It certainly wouldn't be a company I would even remotely be interested in if I was being asked to do something like that. I'd say "Sure but my fee is $250 per hour - thankyou very much!". Hopefully most of these folks are getting up and walking out after spitting in their faces.

Dec 4, 2009 11:13 AM CHATONDA CHATONDA  says: in response to Albert Johnson

This is very true, this happens to me quite consistently. In fact one would be employer asked me to lay out an outline for a presentation that I would perform for a BPM strategy for a Bank in Tanzania, being of African Origin I was excited about the slave hourly pay job. I presented an outline and what I would do first for the Bank. The consulting company based in the US then called me and said everything looked good, but they would use me upon return from their trip November 4th, 2009. I have not heard from them since. I have friends in Tanzania who showed me what this company presented and yes you guessed it a re-edited version of my proposal.

  This practice is very common especially when a small company is bidding for a job, they never get the contract, but their blue prints are handed over to the "winning" vendor.

And who is going to stand up to Indians, make them understand that IT does not stands for Indian Technology, and America is for all Americans there are no untouchables here.

   To my own peril, I will not interview with an Indian CIO, CTO or CEO I am done they can have it. The only thing Indian I am not willing to give up is my chapati That is some goo bread.

    They always come up with some stupid excuse as to why I am not suitable for a job, either my rate is to high or too low, I am too overqualified, or I don't have enough business exposure. I don't fit the culture "haha" very funny! I am done if the country is being taken over by Indian Culture, I am moving to Bangladesh!

Dec 4, 2009 11:27 AM user1484603 user1484603  says: in response to CHATONDA

Yes, I can understand that when you are bidding on a job, sometimes a lot of work goes into a proposal and then you wind up not getting the job afterall and they hand your "blueprint" off to inside employees to do OR tell another company "this is what we want you to do exactly" etc... and they get the job because they are low bid...I feel for you - it is tough out there for sure... and having the whole African descent thing as well makes it unfortuantely even potentially more difficult for you. If I was you, I'd never do that kind of thing for any would-be employer. You'd be better off to start up your own consulting company, get a website done and have a reputable company use SEO and a PPC campaign to market yourself and your website properly. Hit the pavement too. You'll get some great leads and hopefully some really good clients out of it. If I were you I would have gone back to that company(s) and urinated in their plants.

Dec 4, 2009 8:03 PM Sadie OBrien Sadie OBrien  says:

This happened to me last May. I felt like the interviewer already had his mind up about who he wanted to hire, but was using the opportunity to get ideas. In fact, I heard from IT staff that as soon as I left, the interviewer got on the phone putting plans in action to use one of my ideas. It was a complete waste of my time.

Dec 4, 2009 8:58 PM orion daley orion daley  says:

To use someone's ideas without merit to them is both foolish and unwise. Although the theft of intellectual property might appear to benefit the thief, its true value, due to the absence of its originator, cannot be realized.

It is also good to learn of a petty thief before they might become your employer.

I further see no need of concern for a candidate to share ideas, as an employer of a CIO, etc, is entitled to know in their own context of the leadership capabilities of the candidate. But as in advertising does not disclose everything about what is advertised, nor is it the obligation of the candidate to fully disclose any plan; but perhaps a straw man instead.

That being said, I see far more concerns in the industry which should have been addressed in this article.

Dec 5, 2009 10:06 AM Albert Johnson Albert Johnson  says: in response to Eric Larson

You don't - it just depends on whether you depend on that well for water, so to speak.

Let's take a moment to refocus on the topic here.  The topic is, senior IT officials, VP/CIO/CTO level, being asked for detailed strategic insights as part ofthe interview process.  1705359 says, "write to the president..."  Actualy, someone at that level who has a decent industry reputation might well be able to phone a peer or superior company officer and get a call back and a few minutes on the phone. 

I suspect the big damage for job seekers, so to speak, occurs at lower levels, up to the senior manager/director level.  For instance, 1765117 wrote that it happened to him, and that in general the ideas were swiped but failed in their execution.  That and most of the comments in this thread seem not to be at the VP/CIO level - I don't recall CIOs talking about tweeking web sites, for instance.

Directly to 1768949's comment about how to address this problem without getting blacklisted - I think an old rule applies:  When you can't say someting nice, don't say anything (publicly) at all.  And network through your friends and business contacts for jobs, for the most part, so that at least if you are talking about strategy, it helps a friend.

I have to run.

Dec 5, 2009 11:23 AM William Lannan William Lannan  says:

So when will we all learn?  We all have more power than the companies do individually -- we are not only workers, we are consumers too.  When we encounter companies using bad practices,  we should notify the world so others won't suffer too but also to put those practicing bad behavior on notice.  Let's start identifying those companies. Blog about them.  Go to websites that track companies using bad practices.  Send your business associates emails warning them away.  Use web social services.  Write to the President and BOD.  Find out who their ecosystem partners are and start writing to them and warning them.  And most importantly, start reporting these companies to your local state offices and officials. Be factual, be respectful, but be vocal!  Companies threaten to sue and blackball?  Well, they can't get blood out of a stone.  The damage has already been done if we allow this type of behavior to continue.

Dec 5, 2009 2:17 PM user45678 user45678  says:

Perhaps we should identify the impact of outsourcing now that it is reaching the CIO level. Perhaps when ti reaches the CEOP level we will rethink and reexamine. Our governments are surrounded by lobbyists for get rich quick ideas and forget to view the impact /long term on the local country..

Dec 5, 2009 8:44 PM Eric Larson Eric Larson  says: in response to William Lannan

How do you do all of that without poisoning your own well?  I mean, really, if you are trying to get a job in an industry, do you want the reputation of bad mouthing a number of companies?  This seems to be an underlying problem that I haven't read being mentioned here yet.  I see complaining, but I haven't seen any specific companies being mentioned.  As an IT student, I haven't encountered this yet.  However, I have been taught not to talk badly about previous employers and co-workers when interviewing for a job, or when posting to social media sites.  Does the same principle apply in this hiring-problem-context?  How do we publish this problem without putting those of us who share onto some sort of blacklist?

Dec 7, 2009 10:04 AM Albert Johnson Albert Johnson  says: in response to user1484603

Again, I am not saying no; I am saying heed your own counsel. You first.

Dec 7, 2009 10:54 AM orion daley orion daley  says:

My first comment which was the second to this noteworthy observation about hiring practices satisfies me.

But I wonder why so much about this when the industry itself has gone down the tubes ?

Our commercial enterprises seek to either offshore, out source to use another who will off shore, or hire foreign labor. I could care less about any of this, except when our economy is at stake.

As we ship $billions of US dollars out of our nation in one form of payment or another, that money does nothing for our communities where we live.

If we are such good IT people, perhaps we should consider looking at this from the standpoint of gap remediation; and then save our economy,  communities, and therefore restore our industry.

Lets start with a simple example - which Bank or Financial institution actually has something on their website regarding affirmative action in their IT hiring practices?

If they don't, this should be considered the minimum in some form of hiring practice. Perhaps it should include US citizens for the time being over foreigners too ?

But in not even having this, no CEO, or other job is safe haven in this country for your career - Perhaps we can even out source our Congress some day soon too ? Or we can use them for the reason why they work for us !

We are all in the same boat including them -

Dec 7, 2009 3:26 PM User1769363 User1769363  says: in response to orion daley

I generally agreed with your initial comment.

Dec 7, 2009 6:53 PM William Lannan William Lannan  says: in response to Albert Johnson

That old adage is pre-21st century thinking.  Today, we have the power of the internet and the social web and we still can have anonymity.  We have the power of numbers.  You don't have to destroy your career to speak-out or have an impact on society.  We're supposed to be technology savvy.  There are lots of different ways to get your message across without crossing legal boundaries or putting yourself at risk.  I'm just saying it's time to speak-out.  Otherwise there is no accountability and therefore no change.  And then we'll just continue complaining about the problem while companies get even bolder and more outrageous in their behavior.

Dec 7, 2009 7:39 PM Albert Johnson Albert Johnson  says: in response to William Lannan

You first.

Dec 7, 2009 8:00 PM user1484603 user1484603  says: in response to Albert Johnson

This is the problem in todays society. No one wants to stand up to anything at all anymore... We all just turn and look the other way while the cuplrits carry on about their evil business.  It's like a snowball effect - because by not standing up for ourselves or anyone else for that matter we are "enabling" these abusers to continue on and even get worse and worse.

Again, as pointed out in the previous post with the technology and social media applications we have in todays world, it is easy to make sure that these abusers are known. We have facebook and twitter, two highly used apps that can get the word out for us. If we do not stand up for ourselves, who is going to?

This is the same thing as an employer polluting your work environment and not saying anything about it - even though your own health is being effected (and potentially the well being of your family). If you do not take responsibility for your own well being - no one else will...

Speak up and speak out for pete's sakes. You are not going to be blacklisted.  Reputable and potential employers would never dream of such things and they are certainly not going to blacklist anyone because of this. The only companies that may - are ones you don't want too work for anyway...

Good point about the contacts too... The best jobs are not in the papers - they are through friends and other contacts anyway... It's in the hidden job market where 75% of the jobs are...

Again, go urinate in their flowers and place a bag of burning doggy doo doo at the front door.

Dec 8, 2009 11:54 AM Albert Johnson Albert Johnson  says: in response to Great Dane

I think you have a good point about the realism of employee expectations.  We are, however, looking at two different issues - or perhaps two very different dimensions of the same issue.

One point of view (POV) questions how fair is it to interview people for a job, demanding that the job candidate analyze the employer's operations and prepare a strategic plan (or some other intellectual property that's created and surrendered) to improve those operations.  In your POV I think you're pointing out that employee pay and perquisite demands perhaps are unrealistic.  That POV is related to the first only in as much as you presume that it is unrealistic not to expect strategic plan creation as part of an interview for a CIO or other IT leadership positoin.  I'd have an easier time understanding your POV if you provided a personal example in which you were interviewed for a job and as part of the interview process were asked to produce a strategic plan of some sort, and then from your experience explain the equivalence.

I'm learning, from this blog thread, that there are some (1484603 and 1705359, to wit) who are very ready to counsel others to react in criminal ways to this state of affairs.  The behavior they would incite is puerile; I doubt they expect any of us to believe anything they say in their posts given that the penultimate recommendation is to urinate or defecate as a vandal.  I am also learning that sometimes people are so burdened with their own, unspoken issues that they project those issues onto any discussion.  Which is why, I suppose, the posts keep straying off topic here.  Finally, I think I also have learned that very few if any VP/CIO types actually read this blog, or if they do they are too wise/preocciupied/whatever to comment.

What say you?

There are a

Dec 8, 2009 12:24 PM user1484603 user1484603  says: in response to Albert Johnson

I'm simply trying to inject a little humor into a topic that simply burns my behind by the thought of this actually happeneing out there - that's all. I would hope that no one is actually taking those joking remarks seriously!  If you think that was my intent, you really need to lighten up a little. Life is too short - sometimes you need to inject a little humor into things. Apparently we have different views on what humor is - and that is fine - not everyone likes Benny Hill nor Monty Python for example...  I happen to love both of them.

Aside from all this, I agree with what you are saying. I suspect you are right - those "bad" guys (or even jsut the higher end folks like the CIO's etc...) aren't likely reading this blog - and even if they were - do you really think that would change their ways??? Not on your life. Again, it's up to the individual - we are responsible for how we are going to be treated. You have to take responsibility for yourself and lookout for yourself - no one else will be looking out for you and you can take that to the bank. Personally, I would never do such a thing for a potential employer (at least certainly not to the scope that it appears to have been happening by reading this blog). If they were to candidly ask for what I might do in a certain situation within an IT department - ie hardware and software improvements, upgrades etc.... etc... Yes I would certainly advise what I would do, but would I go home and spend 20 or more hours working on gathering information on potential solutions, pricing and strategic implementations for a potential employer?? Most likely not.  It appears that this is the kind of thing that has been happening all too often and I do not think this is an appropriate candidate screening practice. 

To another point regarding salary expectations - have we in the IT field become too arrogant over the years? Quite possibly so. Times are tough right now and we cannot expect to be making the big bucks that we once were. I personally would not demand as high of a salary as I once would have. There are a lot of really high end IT folks out there in the job market right now. The current demand in IT is much lower than the number of high end unemployed IT folks so unfortunately this does mean that the $'s we are going to get are most likely going to be lower than what we once used to make. That's just the economics of supply and demand - low demand and high supply = lower $'s per.  However, there is a point to which companies will see this trend and try to take advantage of potential employees by offering low-ball salaries etc...  A lower salary may be ok if that's all the employer can offer and that's truly what they think the job is worth, but what isn't ok is an employer seeing an opportunity to exploit the situation by screwing their own employees with lower than average and underpaid salaries. Not to mention this brings with it low moral and high employee turnover - which will eventually bite the short-sighted employer square on the behind, right where it counts...

Let's hope this is what happens and eventually it all works out in the wash!!!

Dec 8, 2009 5:25 PM Great Dane Great Dane  says: in response to User1769363

Much as I deplore potential employers exploiting a would-be employee, we should also look at the current situation, and whether our pay expectations are still realistic.

I remember the big dot.com downfall, where the company I was working for, could rent fully furbished office space at a very low cost, build by contractors, who could build expensive enough.

The offices had been rented by would-be companies, who had a great idea, or so they thought, and had furbished the offices with pool tables, a bar, a fantastic canteen, to attract "only the best", and also the "most expensive" IT personnel, to become rich on this great idea.

Unfortunately, the idea wasn't that great, the profit was non-existant, and soon everything crashed.

Perhaps the employee demands were/are to big and unrealistic!? 

Dec 12, 2009 4:06 PM Jon Jon  says: in response to user1484603

My favorite is where the American manager calls you up, has their litle wannabe fraud imported worker on the phone with them, pretends to want to interview you and then starts asking things like "How would you write this application"? They have no intention of hiring you - they just want your expertise for free so their little wannabe slave from the 3rd world can try to do it. Problem is, it's not working out too well, is it? The economy is going into the toilet because the 3rd worlders can't do the work and all the projects they work on fail. You get what you pay for America.

Jan 7, 2010 1:21 PM biomedical engineer biomedical engineer  says:

I like your Blog Post. Actually I read your article in Twitter. Thanks

Feb 23, 2010 3:42 PM Paul Paul  says: in response to biomedical engineer

We should start a community for all unemployed IT Pros.  The new IT community will assist in finding temp. jobs as well as provide IT services to residential and business as needed.  Very much like a staffing agency.  However this agency would be operated by IT Pros, dedicated to IT Pros.


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