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About 2 months ago, I resigned from my previous job and went on an extended vacation. A week prior to my last day, I went for an interview with a prospective employer. My previous employer is a financial services company while the prospective employer is a technical systems integrator company.

During the interview, one of the interviewer asked me about some of the project I was involved in at my previous workplace. I went ahead and explained some of the project I was involved in thinking that what we are about to discuss will be private and confidential. Furthermore, there was no NDA signed between me and my previous employer when I worked on any project and I thought it will be okay for me to talk about it as long as I do not disclose too much information.

5 days ago, I got a call from the manager of my previous workplace. He asked if I had disclosed any information about a project I had worked on. I admitted to him that I did during an interview and I was explaining my role as the project implementer in those projects. I further explained that I did not reveal anything in detail e.g. cost of the project, vendors involved, names of the project manager and accountable executives and other sensitive information. He did not ask much after that and we ended up talking a little bit about my vacation.

Then on Monday, I got an email from my previous employer, requesting me to stop sharing details about any project I was involved in, even though I am no longer with the company. I was shocked and called up the prospective employer to seek clarification. They admitted to using the information given by me during the interview to approach my previous employer for business opportunities. I explained to them what transpired and they assured me that they will instruct their business development team to stop using any information that originated from me when approaching any prospective clients.

Would it be appropriate for me to clarify the situation in response to the letter even if I had already clarified earlier on with the manager from my previous workplace? If yes, how should I approach them? Should I get the prospective employer to clarify with my previous employer as well?

  • How you previous company got to know that you have shared information about projects? – Helping Hands Jun 17 '15 at 7:16
  • Well if the previous company got approached by the prospective company which knew information about the project they should have no knowledge about, it makes sense that the previous company would try to investigate where did they get the information from. – Zikato Jun 17 '15 at 7:37
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    I certainly hope you are no longer considering working for the Prospective Employer. – David K Jun 17 '15 at 12:31
  • How was the "business development team" privy to the interview contents? – Gaius Jun 19 '15 at 6:58
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Would it be appropriate for me to clarify the situation in response to the letter even if I had already clarified earlier on with the manager from my previous workplace? If yes, how should I approach them?

Wow, that was unfortunate.

If I understand your situation correctly, then a quick apology from you is certainly in order. While it wasn't something you anticipated or intended, your project-related information was clearly used in a way that irritated your former employer.

Something like "I'm sorry this happened. I hadn't realized that Prospective Employer would take advantage of what I thought was a confidential conversation and immediately hound you for business. I can assure you, it won't happen again." might work.

Should I get the prospective employer to clarify with my previous employer as well?

It's not clear what your relationship with this prospective employer is now, and what kind of leverage you have.

I suspect you have taken this incident as a warning sign that this employer is not to be trusted with confidential information. And I hope you consider if this is the kind of employer you want to align yourself with or not.

You could choose to send them a note indicating your displeasure, and asking that they clear things up with your previous employer. But of course they are under no obligation to do so, and you aren't in a position to demand anything.

  • Is this also a warning sign that the OP is not to be trusted either? Surely it raises questions as to the judgement (and possibly integrity) of the person who isn't aware or doesn't care that they are disclosing company secrets. – Dunk Jun 17 '15 at 17:05
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    Maybe secret was the wrong word, Would "business proprietary" information be better? That is why I question their judgement and not their integrity, but leave the integrity possibility open because I find it hard to believe the OP didn't know they were disclosing proprietary info. It is possible to go into gory detail on your job and the tasks and skills you performed without giving away any clue as to what the project actually was about. Believe me, I've been required to do so. I think it is an implied assumption that ethical employees don't disclose proprietary information. – Dunk Jun 17 '15 at 17:41
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    @Dunk OP states there was no NDA signed with the previous employer, thus no specific guidance on how to describe the project to third parties. – Trickylastname Jun 17 '15 at 17:46
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    @Trickylastname You beat me to what I just added to my comment. I think employers rightfully assume that if they hire ethical employees that those employees (whether present or former) will not disclose their proprietary information even without signing a NDA. I'm not questioning legality, just judgement and possibly integrity. If the OP can't figure out what might be proprietary then it certainly questions judgement. – Dunk Jun 17 '15 at 17:48
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    Then it depends on what the company considers ethical or not. IMO, company policies should explain which is accepted and forbidden to mention in a case like an interview, especially in finance. What I suggest to OP is, besides the apology email, to ask what is the Company-approved way to talk about this project. – Trickylastname Jun 17 '15 at 18:17
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First of all, I hope you seriously reconsider employment with Prospective Employer. That was an extremely underhanded move on their behalf.

Would it be appropriate for me to clarify the situation in response to the letter even if I had already clarified earlier on with the manager from my previous workplace? If yes, how should I approach them? Should I get the prospective employer to clarify with my previous employer as well?

I would definitely respond to the email your previous employer sent; if nothing else, to confirm that you received it. The contents of the response can vary based on the severity of the mishap. For instance, you say you didn't disclose any private information, but you had no NDA to define 'private'. Since you didn't mention the type of information you disclosed, I will assume you gave a relatively high level explanation of project workings. (Project does XYZ because of A in order to accomplish B.) If this is the case, I would respond to your previous employer with something along the lines of:

"Previous Boss,

I would like to apologize once again for disclosing proprietary information about our projects. I have contacted Prospective Employer to ensure that they will cease any contact with you related to Previous Project, and I will be sure not to allow this to happen again. Thank you for your time, and once again, I apologize for any inconvenience I may have caused."

(You can be more/less apologetic as your personality would deem fit, but I feel it's best to err on the side of too apologetic in this situation.) What this does is to allow you take responsibility for your mistake (again), show your previous boss that you have taken action to correct your mistake, and that you will not repeat it. Basically, giving a description of the problem (you shared private info), a short term solution (you contacted them to tell them to stop), and a long term solution (you won't repeat the mistake.)

For future interviews: Prospective employers care about your skills and abilities more than they care about a summary of your previous project. Instead of saying "I worked on Project X, which was a system designed to [...]", say "I worked on Project X, where I managed a team of 10 people. I was responsible for coordinating their schedules, managing the project budget, and enforcing deadlines." You're trying to sell yourself, not your previous project.

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