I left my previous job for a better opportunity in January.

Yesterday I received a message from a contact I had made while working at the previous position. This client is the biggest, "most valuable" client of my previous employer.

Hi [nickname],

I hope you are enjoying your new job at [new employer]. Can you help me?

[old employer] continues to have problems so I am looking for another organisation that can provide [service], [service], and other assistance as needed, such as the [product], [product], and [service] for our website. I would like to gather a list of organisations to talk to. Are you able to recommend anyone?

Thanks so much, [client name]

What would be the most appropriate course of action here?

  • Do I recommend a list of companies I know can meet the needs of the client?
  • Do I contact my previous employer and give them the heads up?

I don't believe I am bound by any agreements with my ex-employer at all.


2 Answers 2


For the first question, I would treat it as if it was a job request (yes, giving a list of providers is a job, even if you waive your pay). So, the first thing to check if you are still under some non-competence or NDA clause relative to that.

If you are, legally speaking, "free", then it boils to:

  • Can actually you provide a better alternative?

  • If you can, do you want to assume the involved risks?

    Risks could be:

    • chosing the wrong provider and the former client getting angry at you,

    • your former employeer (and probably coworkers) discovering about you and getting angry at you (and, when your former employer closes/downsizes, those guys getting employed at other places and giving "references" about you).

For me, it is too much risk for a free job. Maybe your experience with your former employer and customer makes you evaluate it differently.

2) For the second question: NO. It is obvious that the customer thinks that he has given to your previous employer enough warnings. If your former employer has not been able to understand it / fix the issues, it is unlikely that your warning will make any effect ("Yes, I did ignore my paying customer all of these years, but now that an ex-employee tells me, I'll solve the issue right now!").

The best you could get of warning your old employer is, again, getting your name mixed in the issue, and it seems it won't be pleasant for anybody. Your old employer will doubt if you had anything to do in the customer decision, the customer may get angry that you disclosed that information.

My advice: Either just say that you feel that there is a conflict of interests and that you prefer not to reply, or to say that you cannot fully endorse any other providers because you have no references/do not know how they internally work/whatever.

  • Thanks for your advice. Interested to see what other advice I receive.
    – jono
    Commented May 14, 2015 at 0:35
  • By far the best answer here is to stay out of it. +1
    – NotMe
    Commented May 15, 2015 at 14:04

In your shoes I'd probably try and help all parties:

  1. Are you really in a position to recommend a competitor? I'm not; the best I could say is that old colleague X now works at Y and X is smart and good, but I don't know I'd be happy recommending Y as a whole. So that's fairly moot for me at least - I wouldn't want to give a bad recommendation, but might recommend X specifically if pushed.

  2. I'd reach out to someone I trust at my old employer who I could trust to be discrete to encourage them to 1) get on the case and 2) (more importantly) up their communication. And probably tell a while-lie about the scenario:

    Hey Alice, I bumped into Bob Customer this morning and he told me he's still having problems with thing X. He didn't seem happy about it. Can you get someone to look at it and give him a call about it today? Don't tell him I mentioned it. Thanks!

  3. I'd help the ex-customer escalate the issue at the old employer. We have half a dozen senior management profiles on our website: I know which two or three are the right people to pick up the phone to and say "I'm Bob from Big Customer and I'm not happy" and they'd 1) take the call and 2) do something about it - they're friendly, senior enough to make it happen, and not sales-y enough to just BS it. If they found out I'd told Bob to call them it wouldn't be a big deal, although he could equally just have picked out their job title from the website. You probably have similar names?

    And to some degree I'd also know how to my ex-employer works and the best advice I can give the customer for getting what they want in a meeting. However that feels less comfortable and I'd really be trusting the customer to be discrete if I shared that.

It's true you don't really owe anyone here but old faces have a habit of showing up from time-to-time, you'll be getting emails from LinkedIn about them forever :-) and you may need a reference from someone here somewhere down the line. You should definitely not tell anyone anything that would get you or them into real trouble if it came out - and probably work on the assumption it will eventually - but there's certainly scope for meddling.

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