Sunday, October 18, 2015
What to do when someone sees you on a job interview
A couple of decades ago, I was interviewing for a job at Microsoft. I was relatively happy at my job in Boston, but when a recruiter called, described the job, and asked if I'd be interested in flying out to Redmond, Wash., to talk to the team starting up a new project, I thought it would be interesting to learn more.
As I was leaving the initial interview with human resources, I heard someone in the parking lot shout out "Jeff." Given that I didn't know anyone who worked at Microsoft at the time, the shout caught me off guard. I turned and saw it was an old professional friend from New York, who happened to be in Redmond to interview for a different job.
The old friend knew many of my co-workers at the time and I his. It was early in the interview process for me, so I hadn't let my employer know I was being recruited. What if the old friend tipped my boss or colleagues off about seeing me before I told anyone?
I was reminded of the encounter when a reader told me that while he was being interviewed for a job over lunch recently, he was surprised to see a couple his firm's clients eating at a few tables over. He continued to talk with his interviewers. By the time they were ready to leave, the clients were long gone.
He was concerned that the clients might say something to his current employer, so he wrestled with what he should do to stave off a potentially awkward situation. Should he, he wondered, tell his employer that he had been to lunch with a competitor who had been wooing him for a new job? Or perhaps he should call the clients, mention that he had seen them and that he was sorry he didn't have a chance to acknowledge them, but then ask them to be discrete about having seen him?
What if he said nothing and his boss confronted him? Should he concoct some story about why he was lunching with competitors?
It is perfectly reasonable and not an act of betrayal for employees to explore other job possibilities. As long as they do so on their own time and don't lie to their current bosses, going on job interviews is nothing to be embarrassed by.
Concocting a story -- a lie -- would be wrong could end up backfiring.
But broadcasting that you're off on a job interview is simply dumb.
Calling the clients you saw who may have had no idea who you were with and asking them to essentially cover for you hardly seems above board.
The right thing for the reader is to go about his business and do his job. If he's offered the new position and decides to take it, then he should give his current boss a reasonable amount of notice. If he doesn't get offered the job, no harm, no foul. Employees are allowed to seek out other opportunities from time to time.
My old friend and I were each offered jobs at Microsoft. He took it. I didn't, but somewhere in my files, I still have my visitor's name badge from that day to remind me not to overreact when unexpected encounters occur.
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 program at 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.