Should I apply for a federal job at the same office my MIL works in?
May 8, 2015 4:13 PM   Subscribe

About nine months ago, I applied for a spot with the federal government, which was in line with what I previously did as a paralegal. I got a call back amazingly quickly -- but the hiring manager pointed out that someone with my unusual last name also worked in the office, and it turned out to be my step-mother-in-law. (I knew she did that type of work but I had no idea it was with that agency.) The hiring manager still wanted to interview me. I agreed to set-up an interview during that phone call, talked it over with my husband, and, the next day, emailed the hiring manager and said I was withdrawing my candidacy, to avoid the perception of impropriety. And then snowflakes fell. Details inside.

Thing is, at that point in time, I had been with my then-employer for only about six months, and I was making better money with more promotion/$$$ potential. It would have been a step down and, at the time, seemed impulsive. My husband and I agreed that I should stick it out longer at my then-job (this was about ten days before I got forcibly transferred to the store from hell), because, coupled with the mother-in-law thing, it just seemed like a lot of drama for not a lot of pay off, even if a government job would be a-ma-zing.

Well. The position is now open again, and I'm going on a month of not having a job. I have a warm lead on a better-paying job I don't particularly want (retail), and, oh, I recently was in consideration for a pay-the-rent gig (in retail) that literally paid minimum wage--before they actually looked at my resume and figured out it was a stop-gap. I would really like to have an office job again, and I'm worried that I'm pretty much pigeon-holed into retail. So, this spot with the federal government, doing work that I like, am qualified for, and had been a candidate for less than a year ago, is enticing. Really enticing. So enticing that I might not be able to see the forest for the trees.

FWIW, I get along with my mother-in-law fine; there's absolutely no tension there. I don't think she knows I was ever in consideration for the job the first time around, and I have not spoken with her about it this time. I just saw the opening today. If I decide to go for it, I will definitely ask her permission (she doesn't know I'm unemployed, so there isn't that pressure there). She is definitely still working there, albeit approaching retirement within a few years and a possible but by no means guaranteed out-of-state move.

So, is this a "hell no!" scenario, or a "are you kidding, go for it!" scenario? If the original hiring manager hadn't been willing to go forward with it last time, I probably wouldn't even be asking. Also, I'm inching towards desperation every day, and desperation clouds judgment. Any input would be much appreciated. Thanks.
posted by coast99 to Work & Money (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I work for the federal government and there is every configuration of relatives you can think of in our agency. I work with many parent-child, and spouse combos in my office. Hell, some of them work together in the same group. Nepotism is getting a job only because you are related, and it doesn't sound like this is the case. Non-issue, friend.
posted by cakebatter at 4:25 PM on May 8, 2015 [6 favorites]

Best answer: If I decide to go for it, I will definitely ask her permission

Ask before applying, not before accepting an offer. You can't step away from a job search twice without looking a bit odd.

So, is this a "hell no!" scenario, or a "are you kidding, go for it!" scenario?

You have not given any reason why not to go for it that still apply (your previous reason - a better job - no longer applies). You have given a very important reason to go for it (you make no money now). This is not really a questionable scenario, this is a very obvious "apply, and apply now" scenario.

I was withdrawing my candidacy, to avoid the perception of impropriety

It is pretty darn hard to get accused of impropriety when you are not the one making the hiring decision and when your mother-in-law is not aware of you being hired and when you are applying to a federal government gig that has more restrictions on the employment process than is at all reasonable.
posted by saeculorum at 4:27 PM on May 8, 2015 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I know so many people who work together it is insane. Generally no mom supervising the kids or any situations like that-- as long as THAT isn't the situation, you should be fine. The hiring department will be sure of that in government.
posted by easter queen at 4:34 PM on May 8, 2015

Best answer: Seconding cakebatter. I also work for fed agency, and this is a non issue. I also would not ask her permission. If she is not someone who is toxic and you can work with her...then go for it! I'm pretty sure the hiring manager will ask her opinion of you so she will know you are up for it.
posted by orangemacky at 5:15 PM on May 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If she's not your supervisor, then go for it. If I had a nickel for every "Oh, you're X's son/in-law/cousin" I'd met in the federal government, I'd have a shitload of nickels.
posted by Etrigan at 5:17 PM on May 8, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Chiming in to second that the federal government has crazy rules against nepotism, so they will ensure you are not in an awkward reporting situation with her. Here are the Department of State regs (pdf) as a sample. My agency has tons of related people working together, and I have never seen it go haywire. Feds are some of the most professional employees I know (there is just very little of the high school drama you see in other jobs), so this should be fine if you are in a position to salvage the job opportunity.
posted by whitewall at 6:14 PM on May 8, 2015

Best answer: I work for the federal government. I take yearly ethics classes about hiring and nepotism. Seconding everyone else, I see absolutely no reason to keep you from applying. Similarly, there's no reason to ask your mother in law for her permission. You want to avoid the appearance of impropriety? You do so by not talking to your mother in law about the opening. Frankly, your concerns that it might be unethical to work in the same department as your mother in law are so baseless that if I were your mother in law, and you "asked for permission" to apply, I'd wonder if you were implicitly asking me to give your application a boost. Now that would probably be unethical.
posted by hhc5 at 6:28 PM on May 8, 2015

Response by poster: I've pretty much only worked at corporations where it was a no-no to work with family (my husband works at my previous company, and we weren't even allowed in the same market after we hit a certain pay grade), or at a small law firm where my boss wouldn't hire someone who shared my last name because "having two of us would look weird to the clients," so, yeah, my perception of how this works was way, way off. The job has been applied for; MIL is supportive but happy for the heads up.

You guys are awesome! Thanks! :)
posted by coast99 at 7:12 PM on May 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The corner of federal civil service I work in is rife with familial relations. While you will never report to (or supervise) a relative, working in the same organization is super common. If I had a MIL angle to work when promotions or hiring came up, I'd be working it. Everyone does. MIL can't be on the board that evaluates your candidacy, but the shared last name will make it easy for those who are to draw the lines. And I'm sure they'd hate to disappoint her. If this were my organization, you'd be a lock unless there was someone else had a relative even higher in the chain.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 7:56 AM on May 9, 2015

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