A reader writes:
I work in higher ed development/fundraising, and I was hoping to get your thoughts on a situation I encountered last month. We are currently interviewing for a position that involves handling sensitive and confidential information on our alumni and donors, and have been conducting group interviews (4-5 employees in each group) with the candidates. During one of these conversations, the candidate shared with us a document meant to show off his work at his current employer, but it very obviously contained real data about one of their donors, including confidential information concerning their philanthropy.
To put it mildly, I was stunned that we were seeing that information, and immediately disqualified the candidate for that reason alone (although the rest of the interview provided others). For whatever reason, I didn’t immediately question the candidate to see if he thought that sharing that sort of information was appropriate. Now, though, I am wondering if we owe it to that candidate’s employer to report that this private information was being shared outside the office.
On one hand, it would immediately breach the trust between the job-seeker and my office as we would have to report that they were looking for another job. On the other, I know that we would want to know if the private information of one of our donors was being carelessly shared externally. Do we have an ethical obligation to report it? I have always felt that we do, but I don’t know how willing the higher-ups would be to do so.
No, you do not have an ethical obligation to report it, and in fact you’d be committing an ethical violation by revealing the candidate’s job search to his employer.
When you’re interviewing candidates for a job, you learn all sorts of information that their current employers might like to hear — that they want to change jobs, for one thing, but also what they like and don’t like about their work, their managers, and their workplace culture, their work habits, what goals aren’t being met by their current workplaces, what it might take to get them to leave, and plenty more. Part of the understanding between an employer and a job seeker is that you’re not going to reveal what you learn to their current employer. That understanding is what allows you access to currently employed candidates. Compromise that trust, and if word gets around, you’re going to have a hard time getting anyone who hears about it to interview with you.
Now, obviously sharing confidential donor data with you is different than a candidate divulging, say, that he’s unhappy with his company’s bonus plan. But this data breach isn’t your problem to solve. Your candidate’s employer is responsible for securing their own data, educating employees on how it can and can’t be used, and ensuring compliance with that policy. It is not your job to that do for them.
The only time you’d be justified in reporting something you learned in an interview to a candidate’s current employer is if you were going to be able to prevent real danger — if the candidate revealed credible plans for workplace violence, for instance. This is far, far away from meeting that bar.