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When an Applicant Puts You on the Spot

Ask The Expert

By Barbara Mitchell

Q: Recently an applicant I was interviewing asked me how I liked working at my organization. I'm not happy here and have been considering looking for a new job myself. I tried to respond in a way that wouldn't reflect badly on my employer, but now I wonder if I did the right thing by not being totally honest. What should I have done?

A: There is no easy answer to this question. While I am sympathetic to your situation, as long as you're working for your organization and they're paying you to do your best, you owe it to them to keep your personal feelings to yourself. At the same time, I'm not saying you should gush about how happy you are if you're not.

Look for some middle ground. You should be able to find something positive to say about your employer. Maybe, even though you're not happy right now, you still believe in the organization's mission. Perhaps you could comment on the leadership or the positive contributions your organization makes to your community. Say something like, "I'm really proud of the partnership we have with a local high school, where many of us mentor students. And we often hire them as summer interns to provide them with real work experience."

As long as you're working for your organization and they're paying you to do your best, you owe it to them to keep your personal feelings to yourself.

Today's applicants work hard to determine whether a prospective employer's culture is the right fit for them. I doubt that the person who asked you that question really cares if you like your job—they just want to hear good things about the organization they're thinking of joining.

But your question actually raises a different one: If you're so unhappy in your job that you find it difficult to say anything positive, why are you still there?

My guess is that the real issue here is not that you were stumped by the question but that you recognized that you need to either commit to your current organization or jump-start your search for a new position. Many people make the mistake of staying in a job too long, and no one wins in that situation. You're not happy, so most likely you're not giving your best. You need to decide whether to stay or go, and then put a plan into action.

Please do something positive for your future today by either committing to your employer or moving forward with an active job search. That's the right thing to do for your organization and for you.

Barbara Mitchell is a human resources and management consultant and author of The Big Book of HR and The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook. Do you have a question you'd like her to answer in "Ask the Expert"? Send it to [email protected]

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