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That time a startup tried to hire me just to push clients' products in job interviews

Veteran technologist Terence Eden recalls upstart's solicitation for shills

Years ago, prior to his UK government service and AMP rebel period, Terrence Eden was running a mobile technology consultancy when a London-based startup offered to pay him to take job interviews with no intention of accepting any offers.

His sole purpose in approaching companies under the pretense of seeking work there was to pitch products for the startup's clients.

Eden recounted this tale in a blog post on Friday following his rediscovery of the now expired non-disclosure agreement he had signed at the time to learn about this gig.

He refers to this now-defunct company as "Fronk." The Register asked whether he would provide the company's actual identity in confidence, but he politely declined. Nonetheless, we find the yarn credible enough to repeat herein, partly in the hope a reader might recognize the firm.

The internet is rife with recruitment horror stories in which hapless job applications confront unusual demands or uncomfortable situations. Just recently the FBI warned about criminals using fake websites and job ads to entice job seekers into surrendering personal information for the purpose of identity fraud.

Unqualified job candidates with fake credentials, sometimes supported by unscrupulous recruiting firms, are also a longstanding concern among corporate hiring managers.

But job seeking as a bait-and-switch marketing opportunity isn't something you hear of every day.

Eden in his post describes the dialog that went on as "Fronk" personnel explained why they wanted to pay him to interview for jobs he would not be taking.

The startup representatives explained that during each interview, he was to evangelize client products. "Suppose that AWS wants to sell more InfiniDash licences," Eden recalls them saying, using the now-famous fictional AWS service as an example in his loosely reconstructed history. "They pay us to get the word out to big companies and start-ups."

Bemused, he inquired how that might work. They responded that an interviewer might ask how he dealt with a difficult situation at a previous job. "We want you to talk about how using InfiniDash made life easier for your team," he says he was told.

When Eden pushed back by noting that he might not have experience with said products, the startup's stewards insisted they'd only send him to interviews with companies that didn't already use their clients' products and they'd pay him to get certified with the products, just in case some expertise proved necessary.

When Eden asked whether the arrangement was ethical, the response was, "Our investors think so!"

But evidently this peculiar business model never found its footing. Eden says he declined the job and later encountered the startup at a few conferences before they disappeared.

Lately, though things have come full circle. When hiring potential job candidates, Eden says he'll sometimes hear suspiciously enthusiastic endorsements of particular JavaScript frameworks or code editors or other products that make him wonder whether "Fronk" somehow survived.

We need only look at the abundance of social media "influencers" and undisclosed marketing relationships, of fake reviews and fake accounts, of self-congratulatory corporate statements and their distance from actual behavior to see that the inauthenticity of "Fronk" never left us. ®

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