My Worst Interview

In my heading-on five years at Hopkins, I’ve interviewed with an incredible array of companies. Big, small, from stealth startups to companies with 80K people. Some of them I’ve liked– a few, I’ve even had the pleasure of working for. Even the ones I didn’t like, I’ve treated with respect; I don’t believe in burning companies just for its own sake. I have never yet, however, been as deceived or as horrified in an interview as I was today, and because of the nature of the business (illegal) and its owner (working under false pretenses), I feel that I have a duty to share my story.

A company contacted my department asking for a student to complete a short contract coding job– something of medium length over the next few weeks. I’ve done several of these in the last few years, and they’re usually interesting– make a few bucks and meet someone new, often a department here at Hopkins. My freshman year, one of them turned into a two-semester thing, which was kind of enjoyable; an opportunity to meet a group at Hopkins with which I would otherwise not have had contact.

So I responded, and we agreed to an interview today. They wanted to meet at the Hopkins library, which I found odd, but I figured they might just want a coffee shop for a fairly informal interview, and there’s one there. The person scheduling the interview mentioned they’d send an employee down to do all the interviews at Hopkins from New Jersey. Great.

I arrived as scheduled, and met the interviewer. He proceeded to tell me that he worked in their office in northern New Jersey, and then went on to explain their business model. “We’re a marketing machine,” he told me. Briefly, it works like this:

  1. Sell coupons to businesses around a campus.
  2. Whenever a business sells something, give the student a coupon.
  3. The student goes to their website, enters the code on the coupon, and gets reward points, which can be used to get prizes.
  4. The website takes all the data about the student that they collect under the pretense of sending them a prize, such as their email, phone number, and home address, as well as the data provided by the business about what they bought and when, and sells it to the highest bidder.

Well, this seems bad, but not the worst thing I’ve heard. Unfortunately, there are complications:

  • The site explicitly says that the information collected is used only to send prizes.
  • The site encourages you to invite all your friends, and spams them whether or not they consent– and indeed, doesn’t check things like whether it’s legal to do so (for instance, if they’re under 13).
  • The site tracks all your actions, and uses it for behavioral mining to produce more data they can sell– again, without information or consent.

This rapidly seems like one of the more evil sites on the net. In this age of progressively stronger privacy policies, aren’t we supposed to be getting away from this? I’ve written about information sluts before, but this seems much more like information rape– and especially with the false pretenses for data collection, I think this crosses into illegal business practices.

At the end of the interview, the interviewer said he would send my resume back to “corporate” and they’d contact me tomorrow (Sunday), after doing a “background check” on my resume. This made me wonder what sort of checks they could do over a weekend, but whatever.

Upon returning to my apartment, I went to their website, and found out a few additional useful pieces of information:

  • They don’t have an office in New Jersey; their contact address is right here in Baltimore.
  • They don’t mention that they’re using Hopkins resources, which is odd, as said mailing address is actually a dorm– and their fax number (in their Whois information) is a JHU number. JHU policy very explicitly forbids using JHU resources for personal profit.
  • The person I interviewed with, who said he’d just come from New Jersey, is, in point of fact, a sophomore Economics major here at Hopkins. He doesn’t work full-time in a different state; he couldn’t. It would appear that the dorm address would be his dorm.

Add in what I’m reasonably sure are stolen stock photos (they’re definitely stock, and I don’t believe they’re from public stock sites; if someone can identify them, please let me know, and I’ll be happy to update this post), and you have one entire stack of lies– especially with the map showing their influence in offices on all continents. They even mention student scholarships that their “huge corporation” gives away!

And the kicker? If you click on “Privacy Policy,” you get a 404 error. That says it all, I think.

So then, if you’re in the Baltimore area, make very sure to stay away from anything sounding like “KA Synergy”– and for the rest of you, please make a resolution: never lie to people you’re interviewing. It makes you seem like a slimebag. Even in his future ventures, I’ll never trust this Arjun Kapur again; a deception like this calls an entire character into question.

If anyone can identify where the stock photos (and layout) are coming from, please let me know (either via email or in the comments)– I’d love to identify the rights holders.

Have you ever had an experience like this? What did you do? Would you have handled this situation differently? Let me know– I’m somewhat at a loss for what to do, and I value additional input greatly.