Sunday, July 21, 2019

Was it wrong of prospective employer to contact candidate's boss?

When a reader we're calling Jamie was applying for a new job, his prospective employer we're calling Eve asked him for a list of references, including current co-workers. Jamie complied by providing three or four names.

But Jamie let Eve know that he would prefer that she not contact his current boss because, among other reasons, Jamie had not told her he was being considered for a new job and he would like not to raise an alarm. "OK," was Eve's response. Jamie knew that Eve had worked with his current boss in the past.

Jamie was offered the job and accepted it. A couple of weeks into the new job, Eve and Jamie were walking to a meeting with a human resources representative. As they chatted about the role Jamie would be taking on and his potential relationship to other employees, Eve mentioned Jamie's old boss and it was clear she had chatted with him about Jamie.

Jamie was taken aback, he says. He had a good impression of Eve through the hiring process and the first two weeks of work suggested that he was both welcomed by his new employer and that he would enjoy working there.

But this passing reference, which Jamie says he didn't question at the time it was made, made him wonder whether he should feel betrayed that Eve didn't honor his request, or if he should worry about whether his old boss had colored her opinion of Jamie in any way.

Jamie also feels torn about whether he should say anything to Eve about the matter.

While I can understand Jamie's concern, nothing his former boss or any other reference said kept Eve from offering him the job. Because Eve knew the former boss, it seems natural that she might solicit his opinion about Jamie and his work.

The wrinkle is that Jamie was left with the impression from Eve's "OK" that she had agreed not to contact the former boss but had done so anyway. From Jamie's report of the incident, this agreement doesn't seem so clear. Jamie expressed a preference and Eve acknowledged that preference.

Had Jamie specifically said, "Please do not contact my former boss" and Eve said "OK" and did so anyway, he might have a more legitimate beef.

The right thing, in other words, is to be as clear as possible when making a request of a prospective employer. Giving them an option does not mean they will choose the option you would have preferred.

While it might have shown good faith for Eve to let Jamie know she planned to chat up his former boss, she didn't have to do so. That Jamie ended up with a new job he so far likes seems a good outcome. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

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