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I career coach and mentor some colleagues that work at the same company as I do.

A few weeks ago I was at a job fair and bumped into one of my coachees. We're yet to have one of our scheduled sessions but I don't know how to bring up and navigate the subject of them potentially wanting to leave the company or even if I should. It wasn't awkward at all (for me) when we met at the fair, but i'm conscious that we haven't discussed it since and don't want to accidentally make it awkward for them during our up-coming session.

Should I bring up the accidental meet and if so how should I navigate the conversation without making them feel awkward? How do I bring the conversation around to being productive and positive for their career?

We have a friendly relationship and we're able to talk candidly, I'm just very cautious about making them feel uncomfortable and slightly conflicted about potential advice or direction to steer the conversation in. Also note that I do not directly manage them and that I myself am not actively looking for a new job and was there just out of curiosity. Thanks!

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    You say nothing about it. It's none of your business. If they bring it up, then it's fair game. Commented Jun 8, 2022 at 20:00
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    "I myself am not actively looking for a new job and was there just out of curiosity." So maybe they were just curious as well. In any case, it doesn't matter. It's best not to mention it. Commented Jun 9, 2022 at 0:38
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    You know, maybe your coachee is thinking "Oh, wow, I was at a job fair out of curiosity, but wouldn't you know, my coach was there looking for a new job!" Or not. It's not a big deal unless you make it one. Commented Jun 9, 2022 at 1:00
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    It's a bad idea to assume presence at a career fair = looking to leave company. The responsibility for the employee to stay current is with the employee. Your company has exactly zero incentive to let said employee know what he is worth relative to the market, so he's spending his own time doing career development. I've made it my own responsibility to deliberately visit job fairs every year to stay current (IT). It doesn't mean I want to leave, but if someone offers 50% pay raise for the same job, it says a lot about my current employer.
    – Nelson
    Commented Jun 9, 2022 at 2:52
  • These are all great points most of which I hadn't considered. Thank you all for your inputs
    – Smittey
    Commented Jun 14, 2022 at 12:33

3 Answers 3

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Don't bring up seeing them at a career fair at work.

If they want to chat about seeing you there, that's for them to bring up in conversation, not you. The biggest issue here is that you're in a mentorship position with respect to them. If you bring up something they feel uncomfortable with discussing, they could take it poorly, or feel obligated to discuss. On the other hand, if they were to bring it up to you, and it made you feel uncomfortable, your position as their mentor would make it much easier to inform them that you're not comfortable discussing that.

Regardless, their reason for being at the job fair could be the same as yours (just curious). It could also hint at a deep dissatisfaction with their current position or compensation, they could even be there on behalf of a friend who was unable to attend due to other obligations. You don't know, and frankly, it's not your business unless they choose to share it with you. That goes both ways. They don't know why you were there, and its none of their business unless you choose to share why with them.

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    @FreeMan I couldn't possibly be implying that a person is more than their job title, that would be scandalous.
    – GOATNine
    Commented Jun 9, 2022 at 11:34
  • Wouldn't it be fine/good to let the mentee know that if they wanted to talk about it, the mentor is okay with it? For all we know, the mentee may want to talk about it but isn't comfortable with it. The trick is how to do it in a way that isn't pushy, and truly comes across as "fine if you do, fine if you don't."
    – yshavit
    Commented Jun 10, 2022 at 15:08
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    @yshavit - Everybody is different. If the mentee manages to hide that hypothesized elephant in the room emotion and manages to operate as usual, it's best not to spoil it. And if they can't, and something is clearly in the air, smile and ask whether anything is amiss and see how they formulate whatever problem they may feel. Let them pick the angle they care about, and also let them keep the box shut if that's what they prefer. That's a way to confirm that everything is fine between the two of you without forcing the topic. Commented Jun 10, 2022 at 21:17
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    Thank you @GOATNine. I took your advice and didn't bring it up. I think the fact that they didn't bring it up indicates that they didn't feel comfortable addressing it and there wasn't a point where it felt there was an elephant in the room. This was the best possible outcome.
    – Smittey
    Commented Jun 14, 2022 at 12:32
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    @Smittey I'm always glad to help.
    – GOATNine
    Commented Jun 14, 2022 at 13:29
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Should I bring up the accidental meet and if so how should I navigate the conversation without making them feel awkward? How do I bring the conversation around to being productive and positive for their career?

No. You have no idea why they were there, and frankly, it isn't your business. If they bring it up then feel free to talk about it. Otherwise, I wouldn't broach the subject.

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them potentially wanting to leave the company

You should assume this for everyone*.

Someone not doing that, well, that would be the exception. It may even happen that a bunch of people enjoy working for the company, then suddenly leave the company together with colleagues. Why? Because they realize the good environment/teamwork/conditions of the company are quite often not intrinsic to the company, but to the people themselves.

So it may even happen that they move in group or small batches to another company.

*) you should expect this from every seniority in the company, even the one way up in the ladder, the ones promoting fidelity and formation for the employees of the company, even the founders of the company ... while they milk work out of the employees, they know they are being milked themselves by the same "immanent" entity we call "company".

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  • @FreeMan the only hope you have is if your country has strict rules about visa and the working visa is explicitly linked to the current job (Switzerland, Norway, you know those rigid countries where sometimes in the past they decided that if you work you should have enough to live and not only to survive) ... then you may have some peace of mind ... for a couple of months ;)
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Jun 10, 2022 at 8:29
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    Minor counterpoint to show one of the exceptions: as an autistic man who values stability, enjoys the work I do at my current company and gets the right combination of freedom in how I work and guidance in the tasks that I am given, I am quite happy with where I work now and am QUITE hesitant to even consider giving up the stability and non-monetary perks I enjoy now in return for a better remuneration.
    – Nzall
    Commented Jun 10, 2022 at 9:29
  • @Nzall Disclaimer: "not valuing" stability is an over-rated personality trait :) . I am not sure, if you are working at SAP I understand your points, but in general the "company" is something we overthink, especially if it is a company publicly traded on the stock market, one should have no expectations regarding stability coming from the "company".
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Jun 10, 2022 at 10:27
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    @EarlGrey Stability might be the wrong term. What I mean is that I have a boss and coworkers who respect me and my disability and understand that it brings with it certain benefits, risks, opportunities and challenges, and they don't try to change me or force me to do things that I disagree with because it suits their bottom line better. My personal experience and many posts and threads I've read on this site and social media like Twitter and Reddit has shown me that this level of respect and understanding tends to be somewhat rare, and I'd rather enjoy it while I'm still able to.
    – Nzall
    Commented Jun 10, 2022 at 11:12
  • @Nzall, I see your points, but you were a bit too quick in assumnig other people will give up "stability and non-monetary perks [...] for a better remuneration". A better remuneration is not the only drive foce behind employees potentially leaving the company.
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Jun 11, 2022 at 9:27

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