Sunday, February 11, 2018

Am I obligated to try to save former colleague from embarrassment?

Alan, a former colleague of Tim, was searching for a job. As part of his search effort, Alan was contacting many former colleagues, including Tim, to let them know he was looking Sometimes Alan was emailing and sometimes he was connecting through social media websites such as LinkedIn, where he knew many former colleagues had set up their own pages.

Tim didn't know Alan well, but they had worked together briefly several years earlier. When he received an alert on LinkedIn that Alan had sent him a note, he read it and, because he really didn't know of any leads for the type of positing for which Alan was looking, he figured no response was necessary.

But curious to know what Alan had been up to since they had worked together, he decided to take a look at Alan's profile page. Tim was pleased to see that Alan had had some good success advancing in his career at several companies.

Tim also noticed, however, that Alan had several glaring typos on the part of his LinkedIn page that replicated his professional resume. They were the kind of typos that a spellchecker would not likely flag since the mistyped word was actually a real word, just not the one Alan intended. In some cases, the typos were innocuous. In a few others, the mistyped word resulted in featuring a word that might cause embarrassment if Alan knew what he'd typed. In all cases, Tim thought, the typos might suggest to a prospective employer that Alan was sloppy with detail.

"Since I don't have any real leads to offer," Tim asks, "should I contact Alan to let him know of the typos?" Tim writes that he'd had to think that Alan has similar typos in the resume he's been sending off to prospective employers. "I don't want to embarrass Alan or to sound like I'm judging him."

Tim has no obligation to let Alan know about the typos on his LinkedIn page. Nevertheless, letting Alan know about them would be the right thing to do. If the roles were reversed, Tim, or most anyone else, would want someone to alert them to such potentially embarrassing errors, particularly in the midst of a job search.

There's no reason Tim should feel bad that he responds to Alan not with the information on possible jobs he asked, but with a note wishing him well and calmly alerting him to the fact that he noticed a few potentially embarrassing typos on his LinkedIn profile. If Alan doesn't respond, that's on him. But Alan should acknowledge such a response and thank Tim or whoever else might point out the errors to him. It's not only in Alan's best interest to show courtesy when he is in the process of reaching out to others for help, it's the right thing to do anytime a friend or colleague tries to help.

Trying to be helpful to a former colleague by pointing out errors that might derail his job search is not judgmental. It's something I'd hope anyone, regardless of whether they could land me a plum new position, would point out to me or anyone of you should we find ourselves in Alan's position. 

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 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Jeffrey is right to note that it would be unnecessary for the friend to tell his friend about the errors, but any right thinking person should feel an obligation to be a good enough "friend" to alert his friend of the errors.

Charlie Seng