27 September 2023
Each week, Dr Kirstin Ferguson tackles questions on the workplace, career and leadership in her advice column “Got a Minute?” This week: a confidentiality breach, a co-worker seeking validation and an opportunity to learn from others.
I went for a job interview at a company in the same industry, and during the interview I explained, professionally, issues at my current workplace, and why I wanted to leave. Someone who had sat in on the interview called someone they knew at my current job and told them of everything I said. Now, my boss is ignoring me, excluding me from team emails and barely gives me the time of day. It has caused a lot of damage between my boss and me, and I didn’t get the other role. Surely, what you say in a job interview is supposed to be confidential?
You have been dealt with extremely poorly and unprofessionally – it is completely unacceptable that anything you say in an interview for a new job would be shared with anyone, let alone your current employer. This is a tricky situation for you to navigate, as you have discovered, and it is hard to know how you can best work through this, other than look to move on as soon as you can. The behaviour of your boss now, though, is also unacceptable and unprofessional. If it continues, and you feel forced to resign, you may have a claim for bullying, and you can seek advice from the Fair Work Commission about that.
One thing I would advise for your next interview is to try to speak to generalities of issues that are happening at your current workplace. This is not in case someone was to breach confidentiality again (although it will help), but because it never looks good in an interview to speak badly of your current workplace, regardless of how much they may deserve it and no matter how professionally you do so. Try to speak to generalities of why you might want to leave and then pivot the conversation focus back to what you hope to gain from your new employer – not what you hope to get away from with your old one.
Nevertheless, this should never have happened, and I really hope you can find a fresh start soon.
I work very closely with a colleague on a project. Our team leader gives us minimal direction, which makes my colleague nervous. As I am the only other person working on the project, my colleague likes to seek validation from me, even for little things, like writing an email. How do I politely tell them to relax?
I think you say exactly that: “Relax, you are doing a fantastic job, and you don’t need to check in with me all the time.” Why not find a moment to take some time with your colleague, away from the project, and see what it is driving their insecurities. I would try and use that conversation to establish an informal agreement for how often you want to check in with one another and what kinds of issues that should be for. By having an open, honest and respectful conversation about what is going on for them – and for you – there will be a foundation of trust built, so you can both establish healthy ways of working together.
I work in the creative visual merchandising field and have more than four decades experience. Occasionally, I am asked to do a trial “to show my style” and I always refuse, as I feel someone of my calibre should not need to do this. Mostly, if not always, this is not well received. Am I wrong to refuse?
Yes, I think you are wrong to refuse. Regardless of your experience, you need to be able to work collaboratively with others. If you know refusing is going to cause a challenge, and you do so anyway, you give the impression that you think you are better than everyone else, and so may be difficult to work with. While you may have more experience, it doesn’t mean younger generations don’t have lots to offer you too. I would have fun with the request – show your style – and help coach and inspire others as you do so. Think of it as an opportunity to mentor others (and perhaps learn something yourself along the way).
To submit a question about work, careers or leadership, visit kirstinferguson.com/ask (you will not be asked to provide your name or any identifying information. Letters may be edited).