Burning bridges in tacky, ignorant ways... bravo
November 18, 2010 10:51 AM   Subscribe

An acquaintance asked for my help in getting his application noticed within my small-ish local branch of the company. He's been burning his bridges with me in how he's handling things - do I say something to him?

I've been working at my engineering company for about a year. Previously I was a student and researcher at the local university for a while, which is where I know this guy from. Nice enough guy from what I vaguely recall, had summer work in one of the more prestigious labs, would probably seem like an ok candidate on paper. So a long while back I gave him my card. Haven't heard hide nor hair of him since.

Only about 2 weeks ago he contacted me directly to ask how best to get noticed in my company when applying. I recommended some events that would be good to attend to get an introduction. I also said he should come for a coffee, and we could have a bit of a chat - look over his resume and help him tailor it to what I know they'll notice (and really see if he's someone I'd even recommend or not, regarding fitting in - it's important here).

He emails me to say no, he can't go to those events (weeks in the future), citing exams and schoolwork. He'll get back to me regarding coffee. Then he asks who he can direct a coverletter to. Trying to be nice, I say it's a pity he can't go because it was the best way to get noticed, and I give him the name. Really, I'm not sympathizing because I've been in his shoes and he should make time. But whatever.

Then I get an email saying he's already dropped off his resume here, my company would be "so cool to work for", and "oh, I name dropped u a bit so i hope that's ok". It really wasn't ok. He circumvented me in this process but still used my name, and he's being unprofessional - use proper spelling, idiot. I realized his last email had some bad spelling errors too (i.e. is your company highering?) and in light of these things, I think it may be inadvisable to recommend him given the highly professional demeanor we look for. He sent a follow-up email asking for coffee next week, and I've just been ignoring the emails up until now.

One of the managers did indeed come up to me to ask me about him, since my name is on his coverletter (which I didn't give permission for). And I had to say I didn't really know this guy personally, but I'm supposed to have a coffee with him soon and I'll let the manager know what I think. I was thinking of just going for a coffee with him and giving him another chance, but I'm not sure I want to give him another chance.

I think this kid is just clueless and hasn't much had exposure to a professional environment yet. I don't know if I should still meet with him for coffee though. If I do, do I mention the attention to detail in the spelling? Do I tell him I've been finding his demeanor unprofessional towards me? Or do I just quietly tell the manager I don't really think I'd recommend him for an interview, and say nothing to this guy? Any advice is welcome, thanks.
posted by lizbunny to Work & Money (21 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I wouldn't recommend him. But I would tell him how unprofessional his conduct has been, and how it completely screwed his chances at that company. Then at least he would have a chance to improve in the future. I think he's probably just completely clueless -- most of us lab rats are clueless about how to act in the real world, and he seems like he's got a worse-than-usual case.
posted by kataclysm at 10:58 AM on November 18, 2010 [6 favorites]

Tell him, either by e-mail or over coffee. Otherwise you leave the poor guy clueless about how he messed up an opportunity, and at risk of doing it again. He should already know better, but he doesn't, and it would be a kindness on your part to educate him a bit.
posted by not that girl at 11:00 AM on November 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'd be inclined to tell him the truth: his behavior was too familiar, casual, and unprofessional, that he crossed a line by dropping your name without your prior ok, and that in the future if he seeks advice from someone in a position he wants to be in, he ought to heed their advice. You can do this in a kind, mentor-ish way without feeling obligated to continue advising him, and without recommending him for the job.

You've already told the manager what he needs to know---you don't know the applicant and yet he used your name in his cover letter.
posted by headnsouth at 11:01 AM on November 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

If I were in your shoes I wouldn't meet him for coffee. Let him know by e-mail about his unprofessional behavior, if you want. But spending any more energy on this guy is a waste of your time. It doesn't sound he'd be a good fit and you've got no obligation to socialize him to the business world.
posted by vincele at 11:03 AM on November 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

What can it hurt to let him know? Clearly some constructive criticism is warranted. Unless you just have a huge fear of confrontation, I'd tell him in a straight forward, though polite way that his attitude has made it hard for you to recommend him. Let him know that he's hurting himself by not being scrupulously professional in every aspect of his job search, and that it was NOT OK for him to drop your name without your express permission.

If your intentions are to help him learn how to best present himself, I can't see a downside. I mean, he may hear what you say and turn everything around and be a great candidate to recommend for your company. Or he may figure it out later down the road and be able to find another awesome job.

Or he may be an ass who doesn't want your input, in which case you never have to talk to him again. Since he wasn't a close acquaintance anyway, it's no big loss, right?
posted by purpletangerine at 11:04 AM on November 18, 2010

Yeah, I'd go ahead and tell him, one way or the other. Clueless dorkitude is theoretically fixable - and he really needs to know the etiquette of name-dropping.
posted by restless_nomad at 11:10 AM on November 18, 2010

How old is he? If he's 22, I'd err on the side of doing him a favor and telling him what's wrong with him. It would be a kind, mentorly thing to do this over coffee rather than email.

You're under no obligation to do this at all, but on the other hand, very few of us entered the corporate world with all our etiquette ducks in a row. You're just expected to know this, but if nobody tells you?

OTOH if he's 30, and/or has had a job outside of academia before, just decline his coffee invitation and you may or may not want to explain why.
posted by tel3path at 11:20 AM on November 18, 2010

It sounds like he's a foolish kid doing what foolish kids do. I certainly had a couple regrettable moments when I was job-seeking right out of college. He'll most likely learn his lesson (as I did) with time. It sounds like right now all he knows is "network!" but he doesn't really know what to do after he sends the initial e-mail.

I think it would be really nice if you spoke by phone or met with him for coffee and gave him a heads up: "You know, in this industry, it's expected that you'll prioritize [whatever] events, even if you have schoolwork. And you have to assume that if you name-drop in your application, the hiring manager is going to find the person you name-dropped and ask about you. That's what the hiring manager did with me, and since I didn't even know you'd applied, I couldn't really tell him anything about you other than our school connection, and that looks bad for you. Next time, meet with the person, discuss your resume so she has some positive things to say about you, ask if you can use her name in your letter, then apply and name-drop." (This is certainly not an obligation, though. I think you can do pretty much whatever you want here.)
posted by Meg_Murry at 11:23 AM on November 18, 2010 [11 favorites]

I teach business writing to college students and generally they often act rude and entitled without being aware of it (ie using your name without permission) and incredulous when I explain to them that things like typos in a cover letter will keep them from getting a job. Emailing him or sitting down with him and explaining how this behavior is really unprofessional and will have a negative impact in terms of his job search is an important lesson for him to learn. Equally key is for him realize that he should not take your help for granted, and to this end you need to explain how his behavior upset you. Make it clear it's unacceptable. If he continues being a jerk or tries to argue with you, just let it go.
posted by miss-lapin at 11:25 AM on November 18, 2010 [5 favorites]

With him citing exams as his time crunch, I assume he hasn't much experience working outside academia, and would chalk up a lot of this to naivete. The "forgiveness rather than permission" name-drop is the biggest deal, here.

On preview, yeah, I mostly second everything Meg_Murray says. Including that I've done some stuff in past job searches that now I would roll my eyes at.
posted by RobotHero at 11:27 AM on November 18, 2010

I would NOT email him a criticism. I would tell him over the phone or in person. Emails can only come back to haunt you. Calling him clueless is giving him the benefit of the doubt. He is using you or has used you. He didn't speak to you for a while and even when he did you gave him a business card and a year later he blows you off but tosses your name around like a millionaire tosses nickels? You will be associated with this guy if your firm hires him. He will use you at work. Your boss will blame you for his hiring even though you have nothing to do with it.

I would meet him for coffee and strongly tell him what he is doing wrong and to cease and desist. Wish him good luck.
posted by AugustWest at 11:36 AM on November 18, 2010 [4 favorites]

Or he may be an ass who doesn't want your input, in which case you never have to talk to him again. Since he wasn't a close acquaintance anyway, it's no big loss, right?

Don't forget that burning bridges works both ways though. He may seem clueless and in the wrong now, but if you call him out on being unprofessional and he takes it the wrong way, you never know when you might run into him again in a professional capacity. What if the manager even decides to hire him despite this and you end up having to work with him? Assuming that you'll never talk to someone again when they are in your field can come back to bite you later.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:43 AM on November 18, 2010 [6 favorites]

What does "I name dropped u a bit" mean? Did he imply that he was referred to the firm by you?

It's kind of an ambiguous situation because you are (generously) being a mentor to him but at the same time, in a sense, you have a job to bestow or withhold. From the way you describe this guy, my guess is that if you criticize his overall behavior he's going to interpret that as you being personally miffed because he didn't take your suggestions --and even possibly blame you when he doesn't get the job. But it sounds like he crossed a pretty specific line when he mentioned you in the letter. Personally, if I were feeling particularly kind I would explain that part of it to him and let him figure out the rest when he starts hitting snags in his job search.
posted by BibiRose at 11:51 AM on November 18, 2010

You would be doing him a HUGE favour by letting him know, in detail, how he screwed up. It would also give you the chance to vent a bit to him, if you're feeling so inclined. Whatever you do, though, be professional, which it sounds like you've been since the very beginning. (I'd be handling this situation far worse than you, for what that's worth.)

I'd go for eloquent silence when the manager asks you about the guy. I'd consider mentioning to the manager that you're going for coffee with the guy, just out of professional courtesy. Badmouthing the guy would look bad on you too.

For what it's worth, I really admire how you're handling this.
posted by Solomon at 12:14 PM on November 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

It seems obvious that nobody else in his life is telling him these things.
posted by rhizome at 12:47 PM on November 18, 2010 [4 favorites]

Make sure the person with hiring authority gets your unfiltered take on everything, so that they know what to expect if they decide to hire him. Also ask them to keep the conversation confidential. Any respectable member of management or HR will understand that.

Tell your acquaintance that you wish he had let you work with him on the letter and resume before submitting them. It would have been good for him to align the content with your company's needs and character, to check spelling and grammar, and to have you inform the hiring authority that his letter was coming. That puts the resposibility for any shot-off toes squarely on him.

If they don't hire him then it's because, despite your best efforts, someone else was a better fit. No need to rub his job-seeking nose in it, but everyone gets what they want. He gets positive feedback, you maintain your loyalties to him and to your company, and maybe in five years you'll want to work where he finally lands.
posted by Itinakak at 12:59 PM on November 18, 2010

I'd meet with him for coffee because you told the manager you were going to. Why make yourself a liar? While there, as everyone else said, school the kid a little.

I, personally, would not tell the manager "I don't recommend this guy for an interview," but YMMV. I would absolutely NOT recommend him, either, though, because that reflects on you. I would probably say something like what you just told us: "We knew each other when we were students, but not very well. He seemed like a nice enough guy. He recently contacted me and expressed interest in working here."
posted by J. Wilson at 4:13 PM on November 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

He emails me to say no, he can't go to those events (weeks in the future), citing exams and schoolwork.

I don't know any professor who would offer to move an exam date for a student to simply attend an industry conference. Now maybe you meant campus recruiting events and yea, turning those down is flaky behavior.

lizbunny: " If I do, do I mention the attention to detail in the spelling?"

Absolutely, yes. Most importantly, it makes people who he name drops look bad and upsets them. Secondly, a cover letter is a sales document; if he can't demonstrate that he'll invest the time and effort in promoting himself, it portends poorly for the job he'll do when other people's money is at stake. Typos on a client facing doc are unprofessional! Thirdly, even engineers have to write, and the experience people have with Terrible Spellers prompts them to defend the organization from adding more. These are things this person should be informed of.
posted by pwnguin at 4:41 PM on November 18, 2010

You folks are so nice.

I agreed to go for coffee, even though I don't really want to at this point - it's already consumed too much of my time to think about it. I hope he flakes. But in the event he doesn't, I appreciate Meg_Murry's suggestion. It's the exact tone i hope to achieve when adding my own 2 cents to the matter - not aiming for an ego beatdown, but certainly some wisening-up. I'll see what he says and then talk to the manager, who I'm on pretty friendly terms with and can be honest to.
posted by lizbunny at 7:53 PM on November 18, 2010

I totally understand that he doesn't really deserve yet more of your time and energy at this point. And no, don't give him another chance at the company. Tell the manager that he's not a good fit.

But, I do think you should meet him for coffee. He's gotten you involved by using your name anyway, so you may as well finish the story, so to speak. Besides, he'll consider himself to have tacit permission to keep throwing your name around because hey, you never said that wasn't okay and how would he know?

Grit your teeth and think of the stern, coolly civil pep talk you're going to give him as a little professional development opportunity for yourself -- practice for the next time you have perform the unenviable task of seriously reprimanding a direct report.
posted by desuetude at 8:56 PM on November 18, 2010

I met up with this guy, and was upfront with him about this in as pleasant a way as I could manage. He was completely mortified and shaken since he had indeed been oblivious (heh heh) but he was also grateful that I told him. So I still went ahead and looked over his resume and whatnot a bit, just chatted and gave him a little insight into our line of work, and bid him good luck.

Feels like a bit of good karma to have sucked it up and gone through with coffee, thanks for reassuring me it's the right thing to do.
posted by lizbunny at 8:21 AM on January 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

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