For about a year until this autumn I was investigating a startup idea with a few friends. This was done in our spare time, as we are all students and had study / work commitments. A couple of people from a large company were interested in our progress and were acting as mentors by helping us shape the idea, providing feedback and introducing us to a couple influential people in the industry. We would have meetings every couple of months and engage in email conversations.

There were a few communication mistakes that I should have handled better:

  1. The mentors usually had to query us about our progress. As a sole technical person in the team who was doing the main investigation / development, I should have been proactive in reporting my status.
  2. I overpromised on the results, given the knowledge I had at the time. I recall saying that I am almost certain that it can be done, without having done research into critical bits of the system.

Ultimately, the idea proved to be infeasible and we sent a thank-you-and-fare-thee-well email, expressing the wish to keep in contact later on. However, we received no reply.

Now, after half a year has passed, I am applying to the company where my former mentor works. There is an option to mention contacts in the company . Mentioning my mentor might perhaps provide a monetary reward for him. Not mentioning him might result in an awkward encounter in the future, as well as a bad feeling of making it seem like I am trying to lay low.

Now, my main question is: what is the professional way of handling the situation? I am leaning towards being direct, but am not sure if that could have any harmful consequences. It could also be that I am overthinking this and would welcome opinions in the comments as well.

TL;DR: Was mentored while researching proof-of-concept idea; had communication problems with mentor; should I mention him when applying to same company he's in?

1 Answer 1


The situation as you describe is not uncommon -- the beginning of a partnership that does not work out for personal or technical reasons. Unless your mentors provided direct negative feedback, I would not assume that the bridge has been burnt.

The best way to resolve this is by contacting your mentor directly, if you are still able to. Say you are planning to apply to work at the company, and ask what your mentor's experiences have been, and what the culture is like. I would not ask for a recommendation or anything else at this point.

If your mentor replies positively, you can ask about including as a contact. If there is no response, it probably makes sense to leave the contact section blank.

  • 2
    Brilliant answer, worked for me once in my career. The key is knowing what type of feedback you are going to get. If you cannot get a good feel for it, leave the section blank.
    – Neo
    Feb 27, 2017 at 12:26

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