No Good Deed is a column devoted to the discussion of ethical challenges we may face in our profession. Each issue we’ll feature a member’s dilemma and ask three PR experts to comment on it. We’d love to hear from you, too, so please weigh in on the various “what would you do if…” problems your colleagues are confronted with.
My boss just asked me to find his son an internship at the PR agency we use. I don’t know the boy or his skills and I feel very awkward asking our agency for this favour. How can I handle this and still keep my good relationships with my boss and the agency?
Here's what our panel of experts had to say:
Even if you knew the boss’s son was an up-and-coming PR whiz, it’s an abuse of the client’s position of power to make that kind of demand. What you can do is let your agency contact know a colleague’s son is interested in applying for an internship, and ask if they could share the name of the appropriate person for the son to approach.
If your agency doesn’t have internships available, there is another way to support your boss’s request without compromising your integrity. By nature, PR professionals like helping others and we remember the challenges of starting out. This has given rise to the informational interview, which flips the traditional job interview on its head by providing those new to the profession an opportunity to ask a senior practitioner anything about a career in PR. It’s not a job interview. It’s a courtesy many senior PR folks provide, though the boss’s son could ask about possible internships as a small part of it.
In either case, you would be asking only for permission to share contact information, not making an endorsement or employment request. If you end up with an informational interview contact, let your boss know there are no current opportunities but an interview could enable the son to ask questions and make an industry connection.
~ Karen McCluskey, APR, Principal, KM Strategic Communications
You could find out more about the son’s career interests and education to help understand how you may be able to help. If appropriate, you might explain that PR internships are typically awarded through a formal process that matches the best candidate to the organization’s needs. You want to be helpful yet realistic.
Next, I would get in touch with your agency and explain the situation. You could also feel them out as to whether your account lead (or the agency principal) would be willing to speak directly with your boss.
You could also demonstrate initiative and professionalism by offering to provide the son with an informational interview, including recommendations of other PR professionals they could speak with. You could make sure he is aware of our professional associations (such as CPRS) and other helpful resources, including job boards and volunteer positions that align with his specific career interests. Depending on the city where you live, most university and college PR programs offer co-op positions as part of the curriculum. Perhaps suggest your boss’s son investigate these options, too.
~ Margot White, Senior Communications Consultant & Crisis Planner
You have a good reason to feel awkward. Unfortunately, this is a favour that crosses professional boundaries. Asking it, and acting upon it, places you and your agency in a conflict of interest. I would invite my boss’s son to meet with me, review his resume with him, help identify interests, and provide him with the names of a few local agencies he could contact to ask about an internship.
The tougher conversation will probably be with your boss. It will need to include your own personal and professional boundaries, and your employer’s real, potential, or perceived conflict of interest. I would advise you to be candid since this favour may influence current or future relationships with your company’s public relations agency and your professional reputation. But you know your boss best, so think carefully about how forcefully you express your concerns.
~ Francine L Gaudet, APR, FCPRS, LM, Vancouver senior communications advisor and consultant
For help with your ethical dilemmas, send your query to No Good Deed column editor Deborah Folka, APR at email@example.com.