No Good Deed: Should I tell her?

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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.

Today’s dilemma:

I was instrumental in getting a friend and colleague a job that didn’t work out and she was let go.  She is a single parent and pretty desperate for income.  When I was talking to her recently, she was excited about a job she was short-listed for and really wants.  What I didn’t tell her is that I was short-listed, too and in fact, have been offered that job.  I have a good job already, so should I refuse the other offer in hopes that she gets it?  Should I tell her I’ve been offered it?

It's great that you were able to help your friend and colleague find a job. Your current dilemma has more to do with your own moral compass about what you feel is right. My advice is to follow your gut as you work through your decision. If I were in your shoes and intended to accept the offer, I would come clean and be up front about it, including why I decided to accept the job. Reinforcing your support and respect for her would be important too.  Bear in mind, of course, there is no guarantee they would offer the position to your friend even if you reject the offer. While no two circumstances are the same, I have known people who have been in similar situations, and keeping quiet about being the winning candidate can lead to resentment and lack of trust.

~ Margot White, Manager of Communications and Membership, Canadian Bar Association BC Branch

Let’s look at what we know:

  • You wanted this job (you applied for it) and the employer thinks you’re right for it (they have offered it to you.) While you “have a good job already”, you presumably thought this one would be better, or you wouldn't have applied for it.

And at what we don't know:

  • We have no idea whether your out-of-work colleague applied for this job because it’s a good fit or whether it’s merely one of a bevy of jobs she has applied for. We don't know if it has become one she “really wants” because it really is a fit, or simply because she is short-listed and is desperate for income.

Regardless, I see no persuasive reason why you should sacrifice a good-fit job and your future to help a friend and colleague. It could be a kindness, yes, but it could be a career train-wreck that will haunt you forever. 

That said, there is one thing you must do:  tell your friend and colleague that not only were you shortlisted for the job as well, but that you have actually been offered it.  If you don't tell her, imagine how she might feel if she finds out and realizes that you kept quiet.  Your valued ‘friend and colleague’ status might stand up to an admission, but it will not stand up to your silence. 

~ Don MacLachlan, Clarity Communications Inc., Vancouver

It sounds like you are a wonderful, caring friend. I caution you, however, about jumping into a situation over which you have no control. It’s not you making the hiring decision; it’s the employer. By removing yourself from the competition you are in no way guaranteeing that your friend will be offered the job. If you really don’t want the new position and you pull your name from the list, I don’t see the value in sharing your decision with her about your involvement. Actually, the time to tell your friend about being offered the job yourself would have been when she told you she was short-listed and excited about the opportunity.  In my opinion, it still may have caused a ‘cooling’ to your friendship, but it would have been better to be up-front rather than admitting something after the fact.

~ Francine L Gaudet, APR, FCPRS, LM, Vancouver senior communications advisor and consultant


About the Author

Deborah Folka is the editor of the ethics column, No Good Deed. She is also a senior accredited public relations professional with over 25 years of experience in strategic communications planning, issues management and crisis communications planning, prevention and management. In addition to working in-house for a variety of public, private and not-for-profit organizations, she has run one of the most successful independent pr consultancies in Western Canada for over 20 years.