Burning Bridges? Remember, Smoke Travels

Burning Bridges? Remember, Smoke Travels

By Ed Roberts

InHOWsers: The column you are about to read is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the relieved and just plain old crazy.

I recently completed an exhaustive search for a brilliant copywriter to join our team of creative superheroes. To be completely honest, the search left me feeling less heroic and more—as they say in horse country—rode hard and put up wet. For three months I sifted through what seemed like hundreds of résumés, but at the very least, I was afforded the great opportunity to interview several profoundly creative and technically astute professionals. No stone was left unturned in finding the perfect foil for my über-talented designer. In the end, I believe I found the genuine article—a tenaciously brilliant copywriter.

As a general rule upon closing any major project, I ask each project contributor the following question: “What did you learn from this experience?” After negotiating and receiving a green light on the final employment terms of my new copywriter, I asked myself the same question. I immediately thought of one résumé that stood out like a big flashing yellow light. Seeing that caution light and making one important phone call taught me this: Don’t burn bridges when leaving a job. You’ll never know which forest cultivated and supplied the wood that built that bridge. Plus, your career could get burned in the aftermath.

When Enola Gay’s résumé landed on my desk, at first glance I thought good experience, solid candidate; yes to a phone interview! As I reviewed her résumé in more detail, I realized she worked for one of my most cherished colleagues. So I phoned my colleague about this candidate. I wasn’t expecting the response given—“RUN!” I then heard the nightmarish accounting of Enola Gay’s brief employment, voluntary departure, the unprovoked, profane-riddled voicemail left for one manager who rarely worked with her, and the creative team’s relief that she quit. The bomb Enola Gay dropped on my colleague’s well-respected and politically connected company rivaled the explosion on Hiroshima! I couldn’t delete her résumé fast enough.

With social networking sites blurring the lines between personal and professional lives, monitoring and maintaining your online reputation is indeed crucial to your career survival and success. But ignoring your offline reputation can be disastrous too. One massive burning bridge set a few years earlier—now a smoldering and smoky mess—can adversely impact your future employment opportunities. So the next time you feel like going out in a blaze of glory, before you strike that match—remember, smoke travels.

5 thoughts on “Burning Bridges? Remember, Smoke Travels

  1. enrique

    That is too bad how this was resolved. I question this, was it ethical to ask a question to your friend about her? Was it ethical and legal for them to volunteer information that may be disputed. With all due respect, may be your friend runs a lousy operation.
    I am being the devils advocate here. Perhaps her behavior is that, loud, uncooperative etc. In the final analysis, we should question our sources as much as those we are sourcing in.

  2. Laura

    I disagree. He clearly says this was one of his “most cherished colleagues,” and the company was listed on the resume as a previous site of employment. He should be able to trust the evaluation given, and ethical to ask it – she opened the door by listing them. We all need to remember that the design world is a very small community and people are connected in ways we cannot even imagine. We should all choose to behave in a professional, tasteful and mature manner, despite our personal feelings when leaving a position. This girl exhibited a gaucheness that has now come back around to prevent the possibility of employment, reaping what she had sown. If only she were able to learn from this experience, but the likelihood is that she will merely assume the lack of a response to her submission is someone else’s fault.

  3. Calli

    If your friend was the woman’s boss, it’s illegal to give a former employee a bad reference.

    Maybe the woman warranted it, but the law is still the law.

  4. Jan

    Contrary to the previous response, it is NOT illegal to give a bad reference as long as the information given is factually correct or is clearly presented as opinion. Some companies/people avoid any hint of problems by adopting a policy of refusing to provide anything more than a confirmation of dates/titles for reference calls, but there is nothing legally wrong with presenting a negative reference when it is warranted. In this particular instance, the trusted colleague could have chosen to say “I prefer to not talk about Enola Gay” and that alone would have warned me to be very cautious precisely because I do trust and respect that person’s input.