Sunday, July 02, 2017

How honest should a prospective employee be?

After graduating from law school, N.B. found a position with a law firm he liked. After working at the firm for roughly two years, N.B. knew he would be leaving the city shortly after he married. Because he wanted to give his employers plenty of notice, he told them about his plan to leave six months before his actual departure date.

"I was happy I told them the truth," writes N.B. "They worked with me as I interviewed at other firms and were flexible about me taking time off. I still felt awkward," he writes, "and after a certain point I felt they wanted to pull the Band-Aid off and have me gone."

N.B. was fortunate enough to find a new job before he moved to his new city. Soon after he started, he realized his new firm was not as collegial as he had hoped.

Recently, a partner at another law firm in town invited N.B. to brunch to speak with him about taking a job there. The partner painted a picture of the firm and N.B.'s role there as one where he would work closely with one or two partners and "learn and grow through those relationships."

Now, N.B. is wrestling with whether to accept the new job, knowing that he will be moving with his family in about a year.

Given how uncomfortable being forthright resulted in that last time he gave his employer six months' notice, N.B. wonders if he should tell the partner the truth about having to leave in a year. "By telling him, he can take me on, and I can assist him and his team while they simultaneously look for another candidate," writes N.B.

"I want to live an honest life, where I think about others," writes N.B., "but in the land of business, I am not sure if I am being naive."

Wanting to be honest in his dealings with the partner who offered the position says something about N.B.'s values and his integrity.

No matter how well-intentioned, giving six months' notice often can result in an uncomfortable situation no matter how responsive a company is to an employee's situation. In an effort to be fair, N.B. put his employers in a situation where it knew it would need to hire a new lawyer, but that it might have to pass up some good prospects if they wanted to start working before those six months passed.

The new situation is different. N.B. knows before taking the job that he will be leaving town in a year. There is no requirement for N.B. to tell the employer this information, especially since situations sometimes change and he might find his planned departure to be delayed or put off altogether.

But the right thing is for N.B. to be true to his values. If he believes it would be dishonest not to disclose the information and that knowing it would plague his conscience for the year he is with the new firm, then he should tell the partner. The risk is that the prospective firm will rescind its offer and N.B. will end up staying with the firm about which he's not crazy. But he'll do so knowing that he lived his life the way he's determined to live it, regardless of how others in the "land of business" live theirs. 

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 


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The easiest thing would be for him to say he'd love hearing about a new opportunity but he is planning on moving in a year. The prospective employer can then decide whether or not he wants to pursue the conversation further.