Do I mention my nemesis in a job interview?
August 23, 2007 8:38 AM   Subscribe

I need advice on a thorny job interview problem. Do I mention that I have a nemesis?

I work for Company A. I’m going in for an interview at Company B for a job I really want. I’ve been at Company A for more than a decade and have done very well – there are lots of people who think highly of me. Pretty much everyone, except one person, we’ll call her Mrs. X. This person, who is at a high level in the company, has it in for me, to an extreme, almost farcical, degree. She has already tried to undermine me many times, but has always failed. The problem is this: Mrs. X used to be a big deal at Company B some years ago, and might be a natural person for my new prospective employers to contact to ask about me. Do I mention that Mrs. X and I have issues when I go in for an interview, or do I keep quiet? One the one hand, it seems unprofessional to bring up ugly dirty laundry. But on the other, the idea that they might listen to her run me down without checking with anyone else fills me with dread.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
When you go in for your interview, give them a list of names of people (on a sheet of paper) with phones numbers that they can call for references. If they ask about Mrs. X, say that she is not a good person to call, and subtly get the message across that you and she are "not a good fit".
posted by zia at 8:48 AM on August 23, 2007

I had an almost identical situation a few years ago. In my case I remained silent about Mrs. X until asked in the interview. As tactfully as possible I tried to say that she and I did not see eye to eye on things. The interviewer indicated although she was sort of a big deal at Company B, many she rubbed many people the wrong way and that was the end of it.
posted by birdherder at 8:52 AM on August 23, 2007

Keep quiet.

Include a list of references from the Company A that does not include her.

If they ask about Mrs. X and your working relationship with her and they probably will, say nothing but positive things. She has an it in for you, to an almost farcical degree? That's means she's dedicated. Has tried many times to undermine you, but always failed? She's driven to succeed.

Good luck.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:53 AM on August 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

Give them a list of references you can count on from Company A. They will most likely stick with that.

Don't say a word about Mrs. X. If Mrs. X acts like a jerk at Company A, it's likely she acted the same way at Company B.

Never bring up a negative in an interview, except when specifically asked.
posted by Argyle at 8:56 AM on August 23, 2007

I can't imagine under what circumstances Company B would ever be interested to give Company A the scoop on the fact that they're taking one of their employees. I highly, highly doubt they'd contact her for this reason! Oh, and if they did and she cut you down, that'd be grounds for a lawsuit wouldn't it?
posted by citron at 8:58 AM on August 23, 2007

Citron: No. There is a specific privilege (at least in New York) governing those kinds of communications.

For what it's worth, in my profession (law) we would certainly contact a former partner to ask about a potential employee (assuming that partner left us on good terms). I hate to say it, but depending on how insane Mrs. X is and how well regarded she is at Bco this could be a deal breaker. Might she reach out to them when she hears you are going? How big is Bco.? How well regarded was she when she left? Was her leaving amicable? Are there people high up in management or hiring who still talk to her? These things matter and would influence how I would play this.
posted by The Bellman at 9:14 AM on August 23, 2007

I'm always fascinated by this 'never bring up a negative in an interview', as if every job was happy sunshine clappy land, and only wants to hire people who do and say everything perfectly, and never have a bad day.

I've only ever been to one interview where I took this tack, and I didn't get the job. By contrast, every interview where I was honest, open and positive about things I could be positive about, I've got. When I was asked about things I couldn't be positive about, I talked about them, but did so professionally.

F'rinstance, I had issues with the leadership at my last job. I didn't want to go to another company only to repeat those same issues, so I was perfectly honest in the interview about what I was looking for in the company and management I worked for, and why the last mob hadn't met that. Went down a storm.

My advice would echo birdherder's. Don't make a big deal out of it or anything, but if they press you, just say 'we don't see eye to eye'. Don't bitch or anything. Personally, I'd hire someone who was able to be tactfully negative about a problem colleague rather than someone who told me that everyone's! awesome! with shiny, lying eyes.
posted by Happy Dave at 9:17 AM on August 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

Don't underestimate the possibility that Mrs. X was also regarded as insane by people inside her previous company. If they ask, be honest and say you two didn't get along that well, and don't dwell on it.

Being honest about negative situations is OK as long as you move along from the negativity quickly.
posted by PFL at 9:31 AM on August 23, 2007

nth the previous comments. as a regular interviewer for my company, the key is "honesty and professionally when asked directly." i don't think a negative is an issue, unless its unsolicited. as in:

interviewer: "why are you looking to make a change and come work with us?"
interviewee: "because i hate the management and all the people at my company*"

*actual answer given by applicant
posted by uaudio at 9:44 AM on August 23, 2007

Happy Dave, as you've probably picked up, "happy sunshine clappy land" is an American thing.

I'd go with birdherder's experience. In my limited experience, if Mrs. X left under good circumstances there's a good chance they will call her "unofficially." You may as well be up front that you and she don't see eye to eye.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:06 AM on August 23, 2007

Google tells me that "went down a storm" is a good thing, not a bad thing. Now I know.
posted by speedo at 12:37 PM on August 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

I've sat in on many interviews at my job, and saying something negative about a current job is not a deal breaker if, as people said above, it is handled professionally. I actually like it when people let a little negative stuff out b/c you can get an idea of what they're really like and whether they'll fit. It seems like less of a performance and more of a mutual exploration of whether the applicant and the employer are right for each other. But I'm not in a corporate environment, so Company B might feel differently.
posted by Mavri at 1:13 PM on August 23, 2007

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