Smart people who do stupid things


In my profession, confidentiality takes on a higher level of urgency and vigilance than for most people. Operating with a heightened level of confidentiality during communications, the coordination and conduct of meetings is a necessity. In my work one stupid mistake can cost someone their job. So I am always careful so that if I err it’s on the side of caution.

Occasionally, I will speak to a job seeking candidate who stresses the need for confidentiality for fear of his or her boss learning their intent to seek another job. What they are not aware of is that I might also be already talking to their boss who’s also asked me to help them make a career move. Due to the innate secrecy involved when handling people’s personal and professional details, I cannot and therefore would not share information about one or the other, with either. There is a rather clandestine aspect of my job I quite like.

On the other hand, there are some people who don’t heed warnings about taking precautions and assume they can be more careless and don’t contemplate the what if’s that can result from a careless act. When I begin to speak with someone seeking my assistance I will always ask them for their private email address and depending on the circumstance ask if they have a private cell number beside a company telephone. Even if they tell me they aren’t worried I am reluctant and suggest they reconsider.

Hey look, the concept of personal privacy is for the most part now a mere legend and most people recognize that although your work emails might not be monitored they very well could be now or anytime later for whatever justification the company claims, or doesn’t claim. Technically, we’re not supposed to be using company property for personal activities, and I think searching for and exchanging communications about another job on company property as well as while on company time is grounds for dismissal or will at least get you in a little hot water.

There are times when a little paranoia is good thing and this subject is definitely one of those. No matter how safe you think you are or how clueless you think the boss is, don’t use company email for correspondence concerning your job search activities. The only exception is if you’ve been let go or perhaps downsized for example and you’ve been given permission to do so.

For example, I recently introduce a senior lawyer to another competing law firm, confidentially. The managing partner of the hiring firm was interested to meet the candidate a second time but he failed to follow the procedures of coordinating through me to make contact and arrange the next appointment. Instead, the managing partner sent an emailed invitation to the candidate’s work email address and openly said he wanted to invite him for a second interview.

Neither the candidate nor I could believe the hiring official was so dumb and would jeopardize the candidate this way. When I asked why he sent it to a work address his answer was even more bizarre, he said, “Well, at the first meeting he gave me his business card, and so I don’t think there is a confidentiality issue.” In the past few years, this is the best example of smart people who do stupid things.

As a job seeker you need to ensure to reduce the odds of any incidents or unfortunate coincidences:

  • During an interview make it clear what contact information can be utilized and which should not.
  • Avoid conducting correspondence in the office, during work hours or using company equipment.
  • Ensure third parties are not distributing your resume without your express permission.
  • Completely remove any work related email address from your resume.
  • Have a ready explanation, just in case in order to have some level of deniability.

Make an effort to ensure that nothing can be used against you as a result of current or past activities.

The competition

If you work within a tight industry and interviewing might involve meeting with a competing organization, I suggest you employ yet further caution. If you are uncomfortable about an interview in a public place or a competitor’s location, request someplace neutral to meet that is not too open or public. Especially in this case use only private email addresses and domains for sending and receiving information.

I’ve even suggested that parties leave a meeting place a couple minutes apart so as not to be spotted together. I recognize this sounds just a little bit too cloak and dagger and spy oriented, but in 20 years my actions have never resulted in anyone losing their job because of a careless mistake on my part.  

Disregard this advice at your own risk.