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. 

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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Should you help those who don't help you?

About four years ago, L.S., was considering a career change. He liked his job, but internal politics had taken their toll and, after a decade at the same job, he decided it was time to consider other options.

Once he decided what he wanted to do next, he sought the advice of friends, current and former colleagues, and others who with some experience in the field. One former colleague in particular was among those with whom he wanted to chat. She'd left their company a few years earlier and had successfully carved out a new career path in the field L.S. hoped to enter.

L.S. emailed this former colleague, with whom he'd been friendly when they worked together. She acknowledged receipt of his email and promised to set up a time to speak. Weeks passed, and L.S. heard nothing. He followed up with another email, and this time received no response. After a few more failed attempts to seek the woman's advice, L.S. gave up and moved on.

A few months later, L.S. was offered a new position. He's managed to make the transition well and is thriving in his new position.

There are many reasons L.S.'s former colleague might not have responded. She could have been consumed with her own work and simply did not have time. He may have misinterpreted how close they'd been when they worked together. She might not have understood how urgent L.S.'s request for help had been. Or she simply might have forgotten to respond. The right thing would have been for her to let L.S. know she didn't have time to talk.

Four years later, L.S. found himself in a curious position after receiving an email from the former colleague. She filled him in a bit on what she'd been doing for the past several years professionally, closing by telling him she was planning to apply for a position at the company where L.S. now worked. She wondered if he might consider speaking with her and writing a reference.

No mention was made in the message about her failure to respond to his request for help four years before. While she'd clearly knew where he was working, she didn't ask how his career shift had gone or how he was faring in his new job.

L.S. now wonders what is the right thing for him to do. Should he treat his former colleague as she had treated him and ignore her request for help? Should he indicate he's busy and maybe they can talk later and then never make the time?

Ultimately, the decision for L.S. proved simple. He responded by telling her he'd be glad to talk with her about her interest in his company. He knew the right thing to do was behave in the manner he wished she had four years earlier. He was right to stay true to what he deemed appropriate, rather than let his former colleague's earlier actions define his own. 

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Sunday, October 12, 2014

Slow down and count your money at the ATM

It happens to the best of us. We're busy, trying to juggle a dozen different errands, checking email on our cell phones, attempting to get to our next appointment on time. Ultimately, we lose track of something or other.

For a reader in Charlotte, N.C., forgetfulness came with a stinging price. After going to an ATM to withdrawal some cash, she drove off without the money.The trouble with cash withdrawals is that once the money is withdrawn, it can be challenging to prove it was yours if you leave it behind.

The cash, of course, disappeared, apparently taken by a subsequent customer. The reader contacted a representative of the bank, who said an investigation would be launched. However, the rep didn't hold out much hope that the cash would be recovered. In the interim, awaiting the results of the investigation, the reader was out the funds she forgot.

Concerned about the reader's loss and subsequent aggravation, a friend, P.B., writes to ask what the right thing to do is when you discover money left behind in an ATM.

"My recommendation is to return the money to the financial operation, to be returned to the customer," writes P.B.

There's no question that P.B. is right. If you find cash left in an ATM, there's certainly more chance of locating the rightful owner than if you found some money blowing around on a wooded trail or in a vacant parking lot. The security camera is likely to have captured the transaction that occurred just before you arrived at the ATM. Tempting as it might be to pocket the funds, the right thing to do is to turn the cash in to the financial institution.

There's no question that returning cash to the bank that's wrongly dispensed by an ATM is the right thing to do. There's also no question that if a financial institution incorrectly credits you with too much money on your bank statement, you should point out the error. Since you might get caught pocketing money left behind by a previous ATM customer, the right thing to do is attempt to return it to the rightful owner.

Ultimately, however, the responsibility for being mindful of her cash falls on P.B.'s friend, not the financial institution. While the person who took the money was wrong, the reader bears responsibility for not paying attention to what she was doing.

Whoever took the money should return it, but P.B.'s friend should take responsibility for not paying attention at the ATM -- a mistake she's unlikely to make again. 

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Sunday, October 05, 2014

Acting as teen's sounding board trumps leaping into family feud

A grandparent -- let's call him Pops -- received a text message from his teenage grandson late one Friday evening. The grandson revealed that he'd been fighting with his parents because they'd refused permission for him to do something he wanted to do.

His chosen activity didn't present any danger to himself, his family, or anyone else. The problem was, he'd made the request at the last minute, after the family had already made plans to do something else together.

The grandson didn't ask Pops to intercede; apparently, he just wanted to unload on someone about the situation. The text message indicated there was shouting on both sides, and that the grandson felt he was being treated unjustly.

Pops responded by suggesting that his grandson try not argue, but rather to state his case as calmly as possible. He reasoned that if the grandson really wanted his parents to agree to something, raising his voice was not the way to win them over.

The grandson texted back that his parents just didn't understand how important it was that he be granted permission for the activity.

Throughout the exchange, Pops tried to reassure his grandson that his parents weren't trying to be mean, but that they just disagreed with him. He reminded him that the parents were reasonable people, but that sometimes reasonable people simply disagreed. Ultimately, though, Pops reminded his grandson that as his parents, they had the final say.

Pops didn't feel his grandson was in danger of acting out over his anger, and never asked if it might help if he spoke to the boy's parents on his behalf.

Pops tried hard in his responses to advise his grandson on how he might behave if he wanted to have any hope of his parents hearing his concerns. He never took sides or suggested that he thought that the boy or his parents were right or wrong, beyond reminding his grandson that the parents had final authority.

Given how upset the grandson was, however, Pops couldn't help but wonder if he had an obligation to tell the boy's parents about the texts.

What was the right thing to do when weighing the responsibility to let the parents know that their son reached out to him, against the confidence his grandson presumably placed in Pops?

Granted, the grandson might have been reaching out in the hope that Pops would see the injustice of the situation and reason with the parents. All Pops had to go on, though, was that his grandson was confiding in him about the dispute -- something he'd done in the past.

Pops let his grandson know that he could always rely on him as a sounding board, but simultaneously reminded him to be respectful of his parents. As long as his grandson didn't seem to be any danger, Pops did the right thing by listening (well, reading) and not jumping into the middle of the family argument. 

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