Sunday, January 28, 2018

Should I remind prospect of past slights?

Fifteen years ago, M.N. was looking for a job. In his early 40s at the time, he was trying to make a bit of a career shift so he knew that landing a job in a new field might be a challenge. But he was convinced that the skills he had acquired were transferrable to a new line of work. So he set out on his search.

Friends and acquaintances in his newly desired field advised M.N. They gave him recommendations on what he might do to strengthen the possibility of a successful landing. They provided him with names of people with whom he might network.

With some persistence, he considered himself lucky to schedule an appointment with Q.L., an executive in a company, which did the type of work M.N. wanted to do. At first it was difficult to get a response from Q.L. and even after he did, M.N. found it a challenge to book time with him. But Q.L.'s assistant finally responded to M.N. and told him that Q.L. could fit him in.

M.N. got to Q.L.'s office a bit early and was prepared to wait. But the time for the appointment came and he found himself still waiting. That was fine, he figured. Q.L. was, after all, meeting him as a favor to provide him some advice on his search for new work.

Finally, a half-hour after the scheduled time, Q.L.'s assistant led M.N. to his office, which was empty. Q.L. arrived, shook M.N.'s hand, and sat down. After about 10 minutes of answering a few questions about the type of employee Q.L.'s company was looking for, Q.L. cut the meeting short and apologized to M.N. that he would need to leave to get to his next appointment. To M.N., the episode felt dismissive with Q.L. offering little in the way of encouragement.

M.N. put the episode behind him and a few months later was able to land a job doing precisely the kind of work he wanted to do. Over the past 15 years, he successfully moved his way up the company.

At an industry trade show recently, M.N. was giving a talk. After he finished several of the attendees waited to ask him questions. One who waited was Q.L., who approached M.N. and asked him about opportunities within his company. He responded, but it was clear Q.L. had no recollection of having met with M.N. 15 years earlier.

That evening, M.N. received an email from Q.L., reminding him about his question and expressing how much he enjoyed M.N.'s talk and that he would really like to find a way to work with him at his company.

While his company didn't have any openings, M.N. now wonders whether he should remind Q.L. that they had met before, hoping it jars his memory of how dismissive he had been when M.N. sought his help. "Or should I just tell him we have no openings right now?"

Little would be gained by settling an old score, particularly since Q.L. might not have perceived himself as being as dismissive as M.N. remembers. He did after all make time to meet with M.N. The right thing is to simply thank Q.L. for his interest and let him know there are no openings at his company right now.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of 
The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior 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

ollow him on Twitter: @jseglin


1 comment:

Phil Clutts said...


Your advice is probably the right thing to do – especially if M.N.’s interview was only as a result of his “pushiness,” but I would be inclined to let M.N. have his moment in some small way by suggesting he write Q.L. a letter along these lines:

Thank you for your interest in (name of company). I remember our brief meeting in (year) when our situations were reversed, so I know how difficult it is to find a new position at this stage in life. Unfortunately, we have no openings now, but we could keep an application on file for possible future reference.