Friday, October 31, 2014
Pointing out errors can be a big mistake
It's smart to go prepared to a job interview. Doing some research on the company, its work and its employees before you arrive can pay big dividends. In addition to demonstrating your initiative, you'll be armed with something to talk about and lessen the chance of awkward silences.
As he prepared for a recent job interview, M.N., a reader from Boston, Mass., took the time to do some background research on the people he'd been told would be part of the discussion. Fortunately for M.N., his prospective employer's website featured short biographies for many of those on the list.
When M.N. came to the biography for one senior employee, he was initially impressed by her substantial accomplishments, but then spotted a typographical error.
M.N. wanted to appear knowledgeable during his interview, but didn't want to come off as critical or pedantic. He wanted, like most job candidates, to be liked. Correcting typos, he thought, might not be a likeable move.
M.N. did wonder if the executive had written her own bio. If not, wouldn't she appreciate knowing about the mistake so it could be corrected? Also, whether his comment would be appreciated or not, did he have an obligation to point out the error?
In his book, Leading Quietly: An Unorthodox Guideto Doing the Right Thing (Harvard Business Press, 2002), Joseph Badaracco suggests there's no need to call attention to every issue, but certainly, an error on a company's website should be addressed.
So what's the right thing for M.N. to do?
First and foremost, he should focus on the job interview. He should find out as much about the company and its employees as possible to assess whether it's a place he wants to work if offered the job. And he should present himself and his qualifications so those interviewing him can make an informed decision.
If M.N. establishes a good rapport with the person whose bio has the typo, he might mention in a follow-up thank you email that he noticed the problem. That's likely what I'd do. But again, he's under no ethical obligation to take this step.
If M.N. doesn't get the job, while the temptation might be to respond with a churlish, "Thanks a lot and by the way, there's a typo in so-and-so's bio," he should fight the urge. While he's not obligated to point out the error, he shouldn't use it as a bludgeon if things don't go his way.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications programat Harvard's Kennedy School.
Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin
Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.