Foot Met Mouth--Now What?
April 17, 2009 3:25 PM   Subscribe

Re: Work Interview Etiquette. I messed up bad. I don't know what to do or if I should do anything. The scenario (names will be changed):

I work on a fed govt installation, the nature of internal jobs is a little different than in the private sector. Got notice of an interview for a job (not one I really wanted since I just got a new job, but I decided to go to the interview just for kicks). I checked with someone--an older lady from an old job who worked in a related field--about what I could expect. She called me and told me the job was essentially a dead-end job, she knew the person who had the now vacant job and that person hated it and was so grateful to FINALLY (after SEVEN years!) get out. She also told me she knew the guy doing the interview, but didn't really say anything derogatory about him. Great, so after learning that, I pretty much knew I didn't want it and wouldn't accept it even if it was offered.

Fast-forward to the interview today. The guy is really dry and in my trying-to-be-perky way, I start to ramble, when he asks me if I have any questions about the job. WHY DID I TAKE THIS BAIT??? *Hitting self in head* So for WHATEVER reason, I say something like, "I would like to know about the promotion potential of the job. I did some reasearch on it--spoke with someone I used to work with in a related field, you may know her "Sally"--and I learned that this particular job is not necessarily upwardly mobile. EEK! I'm sorry, I don't know if that was an appropriate question, but I was wondering about the promotion potential of the job..." He smiles and says something like "Yes, I do know Sally. No, that's a great question, I'm impressed you researched it, this job actually does have promotion potential, blah, blah, blah." He basically b.s.-ed through the rest of it, but it didn't matter. By that time, I felt soo small and the embarazzment has only sunk in more in the hours since. To add to the horror, I told my beau about it, and he was like "What the hell? I wish I could make it sound less horrible, but no, you're right, you f-ed up. Wow. You DON'T name drop!"

So yeah, I feel horrible. There is a good chance this might get back to "Sally" and that would be heartbreaking for me because she's been nothing but kind to me and I valued her friendship, one of the few relationships I actually cared about at work. So I don't know what to do. Pre-empt the interview guy and just tell her what happened, emphasizing that my calling her name was more out of my trying to fill dead air and look for common ground with the interviewer and really, really nothing more? Or do I just leave it alone and HOPE TO GOD dude doesn't say anything and the whole ordeal disseminates into thin air?

What say you?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Tell her, and send her flowers or something tasty as a way of saying I'm sorry. It might not come back to bite her, but she'll probably hear about it.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:41 PM on April 17, 2009

I think you need to calm down. You seemed to have phrased your concerns well and without implicating Sally. Please don't contact the interviewer - that would seem very strange and desperate. It sucks that you spoke without thinking, but it's probably best just to learn that lesson and move on.
posted by amicamentis at 3:43 PM on April 17, 2009

I'll be interested to see how others reply, because I was in a similar situation recently (not identical -- had nothing to do with a workplace -- but similar). In your shoes, I did preemptively mention it to her, and I'm glad I did -- she didn't react as I'd feared, and I felt so much better and more honest for it.

It doesn't sound from your post like your indiscretion has the power to endanger her position. With that in mind, in your shoes, I'd tell her. I wouldn't present it to her as the "oh my god SO AWFUL THING I DID TO YOU" (even if that's still the way you feel about it), because hey, no need to force your panicked view of the situation onto her; depending on how she rolls, she might see it as a mild, unfortunate indiscretion (or, better yet, as no biggie whatsoever). We anxious sorts tend to forget that not everyone cares so much about these things. Anywho, I would simply tell her that her name slipped out during the interview as someone I had talked to in preparation for the interview; that afterward, on reflection, I got very concerned that I had broken a confidence by mentioning her; and that, if she did intend it to be confidential, I am so sorry and chagrined about it, and want to apologize to her. And if then she asks for details, you take a great deep breath and give them to her, and say that you mentioned she'd cautioned you that the job might not entail much opportunity for advancement.

I mean, that's all you can do, really.

(This is assuming, of course, that she didn't explicitly tell you during your phone conversation that all the info she was sharing was being shared in confidence. If she did, in fact, say this, then I guess you have to move directly to abject groveling and the whole "It just popped out, I am a total idiot, here is my hand, five sharp whacks, please.")

So, that would be how I would do it, for the sake of your relationship with her. And hey, if you do indeed have a genuine friendship, then take heart: forgiving someone a stupid move is part of being friends with them. You did not act out of malice, and if she's a friend, she'll realize that and move on (perhaps taking care to be a bit more discreet around you in future, should this incident indeed irritate her).
posted by artemisia at 3:48 PM on April 17, 2009 [8 favorites]

I say, take a deep breath. Either the interviewer cares, or he doesn't. You can't control that. Maybe there's something about the nature of this job/field that I'm not understanding, but even if mentioning Sally's name was an etiquette faux-pas, I'm not sure it rises to the level of "Wow, you really fucked that up." Unless Sally is Sally, Executive Director of the Whole Organization, would what you did even qualify as name dropping? She's a former colleague, and potentially a mutual acquaintance with the interviewer--again, maybe I'm not understanding something about the nature of your work, but that doesn't sound like self-aggrandizing name dropping.

This may be a lesson that you should be better prepared with questions about the job for the next interview, but beating yourself up over this won't do you any good. If you feel so awful about it, you might think about reaching out to Sally--just to say "Hey, I interviewed for that job, and I think I may have made a little etiquette faux-pas. Mr. Interviewer caught me off guard and I mentioned you by name before I had a chance to think about whether or not that was appropriate..."
posted by Meg_Murry at 3:49 PM on April 17, 2009

Ooh, did I misunderstand the question? If it wasn't about getting Sally in trouble by revealing that she talked shit about the position, but instead about embarrassment to Sally because you mentioned her by name and she might think you did so in order to promote yourself, I seriously see no cause for worry. At worst, she'll just think you committed a minor faux pas that reflects naivete or inexperience. At best, she'll think you're a savvy sort who recognizes her true worth and therefore understands the true power of her reputation. :) I can't think of any reason she would jump immediately to the conclusion that your namedropping proves you're using her for her connections (if that's what you're concerned about). She'd have to be unusually paranoid (or really naive about how workplaces function) to make that leap.
posted by artemisia at 3:55 PM on April 17, 2009

It doesn't sound as bad to me as it does to you. I doubt he'll mention it to her. Pre-empt it by contacting Sally, thanking her for the insight, admitting that you felt like you were awkward in the interview (don't go into specifics, just mention that you felt like you rambled and didn't show your best side) and thank her for the insight. Then let it go. People make worse gaffes all the time. Just take it as a learning experience and maybe make an effort to plan what you want to talk about next time around. Deep breath and a beer and it will all feel better.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 3:56 PM on April 17, 2009

Call Sally and tell her that the interview went well and that her name came up as a mutual acquaintance with whom you had discussed the position and its previous occupant. Also, consider that if the last jobholder couldn't move up or out after seven long years, that maybe s/he was deadwood, regardless of whether Sally likes the person or not.

If that's the case, then your interviewer may be correct about there being promotion potential and, moreover, will understand why you were give the impression Sally provided. Or the circumstances may have changed, unbeknownst to Sally, since she doesn't work in that office anymore. Your letter implies that you didn't believe the interviewer's "b.s.," but you really don't know whether either the interviewer or Sally is a reliable witness.

Worst case scenario is that the interviewer calls Sally later and tells her not to spread rumors that the job has no upward mobility; that's unlikely as you're all well past high school. It's more likely if you're offered and then reject the job, but even so there is presumably another candidate for the job who will be satisfactory and you will be forgotten.
posted by carmicha at 4:19 PM on April 17, 2009

artemisia has it. it's not clear from the question what aspect of mentioning Sally's name is believed to be the problem. anyway, memories fade and you rambled a bit at the interview. If you mention now to Sally that her name came up, as pseudostrab suggests, it will be forever unclear exactly what you said and unlikely that Sally will be affected or care at all.
posted by JimN2TAW at 6:26 PM on April 19, 2009

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