Q: I work in a small, tightly-knit sector where everybody knows everybody else. Companies are very jealous of each other’s successes. I recently went for a job interview with one of our main rivals and was amazed the panel spent so long trying to get me to talk down my current employers. For obvious reasons (i.e. because I’m trying to leave), I couldn’t talk my employers up too much, but I didn’t feel at all comfortable badmouthing them and declined to do so. Should I have entered into the spirit of it because that’s what they wanted me to do? (AC, email).
A: Absolutely not. It was very unprofessional of them to draw you out in that way and their approach would raise serious question marks for me as to their suitability as an employer, writes Liam Horan, Career Coach, Sli Nua Careers.
Professional discretion is very important in an interview. Of course, you’re not fully happy where you are – maybe you’re not being paid enough, you’d like more responsibility, you’d like less responsibility, you don’t like your boss or you feel the company is going in the wrong direction.
But that is not for amplification in an interview with a rival. You owe it to the company you now work for to be discreet and circumspect in what you say in the interview: and, in a perverse way, the hiring company might not like the fact that you sing like a canary at this stage, even though they have invited you to do just that.
I am not sure how you batted it away but I think it’s better for you that you did.
That is not to say, of course, that you will not use your knowledge of your existing company to your advantage if and when you get the new role. At that juncture, all is fair in love and war.
But the new company can’t expect to get all of this in the interview. Either they hire you for your ability and your experience, or they don’t. Getting you to spill the beans on your current employers me as a very shortsighted attitude and doesn’t reflect well on them.
In Ireland, most sectors are tightly knit. Everyone knows everyone. Chances are any criticisms you offered in the interview would be mentioned to someone who would then say it to someone else…
How might you bat away questions like this if faced with them in an interview? Do it in a very discreet way – you stay mannerly but you close the door.
“As you can appreciate, I have a good relationship with my employers, and I value the time I’ve worked there, so I wouldn’t be critical of them” might be a line you could use.
Will pulling down the shutters cost you the job? Maybe it will. But, in my opinion, this is a Rubicon not worth crossing simply to get the position.
Most companies behave in a courteous manner during interview. They know the rules of engagement. Just because you have applied for a job in a company doesn’t mean they should be allowed to toss you around like a rag doll, so to speak.
Professional respect is a two-way street and you’re entitled to expect it in an interview.
Liam Horan is a Career Coach with Sli Nua Careers in Ballinrobe.
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