The Ethics of Job Interviews – Who Owns Presentations Made By Job Candidates?

This one hits close to home as the result of an experience my son had a couple of years ago.

He was invited in to interview for a marketing position with a very well known company.   A great opportunity for someone not long out of college and looking to move to the next level.   After the requisite screening by HR, he was invited in to meet with the Marketing Director and one or two other members of the team.  Part of the interview was to include a presentation on a marketing concept he had developed based on very general criteria given by the employer.

Wanting to impress, he put a lot of effort into a presentation that was outstanding.  He shared it with me prior to the interview and I was blown away.  There really wasn’t anything I could add to the work he’d done. The concept was right on brand, had captured the feel of the organization and brought a really fresh, innovative approach to presenting their product.  He had a great interview, felt really good about his presentation, but didn’t get the job.  Fair enough – there would have been some tough competition for this position.

Fast forward about 9 months to a phone call from my son asking if I’d seen the latest television ad campaign from the same company.  I hadn’t, and he encouraged me to watch for it – and to remember the presentation he had made at his interview.  A few evenings later I saw one of the ads – exactly his concept right down to the tag line.  When I called him to say I’d seen the ad he asked if there was any recourse.  They had taken his idea without even an acknowledgement much less any compensation.

Is this something that happens regularly?  Is it an actual strategy employed by unethical employers, or is it the independent actions of a desperate boss who needs some fresh thinking but doesn’t want to pay for it?  Is HR monitoring what happens when they invite a job candidate in for an interview where they will be expected to present their competitive intelligence and safeguard the candidate against what amounts to theft?

My son's experience suggests there really isn't recourse - he had no way to prove this was his intellectual capital.  But then again he had no reason to believe he was about to be ripped off when he went into the interview.

What's HR's responsibility in this?  We'd be involved if the job candidate was harassed or had their human rights violated in an interview.  So what is our role if intellectual theft occurs?  What about recruitment firms who send a candidate into a situation where something like this happens?  How do/should they balance their obligations to the client but also to the candidate?

If you have experience, an opinion or a recommendation please join the conversation.

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