Sunday, July 24, 2016

Should I lie to colleagues about applying for a job?

About 10 years ago, after working full-time for many years, A.L. decided she wanted to start working part-time so she would have more time to pursue other interests. Soon after making the decision, she was offered a part-time position. The pay was good, the hours were based on her availability, and the office was less than a mile from where she lived.

Over the years, the number of hours A.L. put into the job continued to grow as demand for her services grew. Ultimately, she was putting in just shy of a 30-hour work week and had built strong working relationships with her colleagues who held full-time positions.

A few weeks ago, one of A.L.'s colleague's retired, and an opening for a full-time spot opened up.

A.L. checked the job description for the new position and confirmed that the firm was looking for someone whose skills matched her own. A.L. had been considering trying to cut back on her hours, but she began to think that since the distance between the part-time hours she was already putting in and a full-time job had shrunk significantly over the past decade, it might be wise to consider applying.

After mulling it over, A.L. submitted a cover letter and her resume to the human resources department.

Now, she says, she finds herself facing another decision.

"I feel bad when colleagues ask me if I applied for the job," she says.

"I can't lie and say 'no' when they ask me directly," she says, "but I'm concerned that people will resent our manager if he gives the job to someone else." She fears they will both be disappointed that A.L. wasn't offered the position and the amount of time it will take to break in a new colleague. She also worries that her colleagues will think she's a bad sport if she decides to cut back her hours if she is not offered the full-time position.

"I know they want me to be offered and to take the job," she says.

A.L. asks if she should tell the truth if colleagues ask her about the job.

If colleagues discuss the job in general with her, A.L. has no ethical obligation to tell whether she has applied for the position. The same goes if they tell her how good it would be for her to get the full-time position. In the latter case, a simple "thanks for the vote of confidence" would suffice.

But if A.L. does apply and her colleagues directly ask her if she has applied for the position, the right thing is not to lie. Sure, it may be none of their business what A.L. decides to do, but A.L. should not lie. She should tell the truth not only because her lie might be exposed if it turns out she is offered and takes the position, but because her integrity is on the line. It's difficult to justify lying to a group of colleagues with whom she has built trust over the past decade.

A.L. can change the subject if she wants to. She can respond by telling colleagues that she'd rather not say. Or she can tell the truth. But the right thing is not to lie about her decision. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 



Anonymous said...

Tell the truth. What the others think means little and hiding what may become obvious could be uncomfortable if hired. If not hired, then she does what she feels best. Either leave or cut back.

Anonymous said...

As in many other situations in life, as times change, the way we handle changes sometimes causes difficulties in life and among our acquaintenances. Too bad, but every little thing in life can't turn out perfectly, as in this example. We do the best we can and hopefully, everything will turn out all right.

Charlie Seng