Privy to a private email exchange?

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Q: I had an interview last month with a company in Boston.  A few days later, I was part of an email communication, between the hiring managers and the placement firm.  I am 99% certain I should not have been on the email, as there some very “interesting” comments about my professional work history and skillset.  I was referred to as a “mediocre” candidate and I needed to “up my game” especially around how I presented.  I am not sure if I should tell anyone that I am part of this email thread.  I am curious to see if there are any future updates, as the position has been put on hold.  Should I fess up?

A: Thanks for submitting your dilemma.  This is not the typical type of question that the Job Doc answers.  Job Doc readers certainly keep me on my toes!

It sounds like you were mistakenly added to this email chain.  You can respond in a few different ways.  You could respond in an angry manner.  This may embarrass the hiring managers and the placement firm.  I am not sure that this is the best path forward.  Whenever I share information that may be controversial or concerning, I consider my intent.  Though this feedback may have been difficult to read, it may be helpful, as you can learn from it.  I would evaluate how you presented.  What is your response to interview questions?  Was it your choice of attire for the interview?  You may never know, but it may be worth considering.  I often get asked about what to wear for an interview.  My recommendations include: 1. Visit the company’s website, or the LinkedIn profiles of leaders working at the company, 2. Ask the placement firm and 3. Dress one step up.  If you are interviewing for an accounting manager role, dress like the controller.  It is always better to “dress up” vs. feeling underdressed.  If you learn the feedback is about your interview responses, think back to the questions posed.  How could you have answered them differently?  Did you provide complete responses with examples?  Did you ensure that your responses answered the question in a positive way?  Bashing a manager, an employer or a co-worker is typically frowned upon typically.  Instead, you can mention that but also include what you learned from that experience.  There are positive attributes to every role.  Make sure you weave that information into your responses.

Your work history is also relevant.  If you have held three different roles in less than two years, that may cause most hiring managers to take a more critical look at your professional work history.  If one of your previous companies dissolved, then that this a detail I would share proactively.  Sometimes those details are important but not readily apparent when a manager is reviewing a resume.  Industries differ too.  In some tech sectors, a two-year stint is fine, while in financial services it seems like a very short stint in a professional work history.

I suggest you contact the recruiter and share that you believe that you may have been mistakenly added to an email exchange.  You will need to ensure that your tone is informative and not defensive.  You should demonstrate grace vs. anger.  The recruiter will likely try to identify which emails you read and then alert the hiring manager of this error.

In a way, you are at an advantage.  You know how a prospective employer views your candidacy.  It might be an opportunity to learn and improve your candidacy.  Remember though to present the experience in a positive and gracious manner.  We all make mistakes.  You may even receive an apology.  It is not important to point out who made the mistake, as you may appear almost petty and unforgiving.

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.

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