my coworker told a candidate’s current employer that he’s job-searching

A reader writes:

Earlier this summer, my director undertook to restructure our department. She asked our team to pass along resumes for qualified candidates in our field. I used to work for a competitor across town, so I reached out to a former colleague (I’ll call him Adam) who I knew was looking for a new job and asked if he would be interested. He agreed and sent me his resume, which I passed along to my boss. A current coworker (we’ll call her Lucinda), who also used to work for the same competitor, saw Adam’s resume on my director’s desk. She told me she saw the resume and expressed surprised that he had applied. I answered benignly but did not tell her that I was the one who passed his resume along. In the meantime, Lucinda reached out to another former colleague at our former employer (we’ll call him Bob) and asked if he wanted to pass along his resume as well, which he agreed to do and Lucinda told me she did that. One important note in all of this is that Bob is Adam’s manager.

Our director set up a meeting with Bob. I saw him in our office and he asked me to keep it quite that he was there. (I agreed… no one wants their job search made public). Our director actually offered Bob a job which he turned down. My director never called Adam.

My former employer recently went through a restructuring where Adam was removed from his team and put on project work. When I had lunch with a former colleague this week, I asked why that was. She told me that management had found out he was looking for a new job, so they were isolating him so his eventual departure would not be disruptive. Then she told me that Lucinda had reached out to Bob and told him that Adam was interviewing for a job with my current employer. This is not true. He only submitted a resume in response to an unofficial solicitation and he was never brought in to an interview. Apparently Bob spent a lot of time asking people to confirm that Adam was looking for a new job.

This whole thing leaves a bad taste in my mouth. There isn’t anything I can do to help Adam, but I am very concerned about the breach of confidentiality by Lucinda. She should not have told anyone what she saw on our director’s desk. She’s having issues at our firm and, while she’s not on a PIP, she is being watched and getting a reputation as a drama queen (some people call her a trouble maker). I think there is a good chance if I raised what she did, she would probably be lose her job. I have to work with her on a number of clients and I don’t trust her. If she wasn’t fired and found out I raised it, it would make my life incredibly difficult.

I am going back and forth with whether I should tell my director (or HR) what happened. I can’t prove a lot of this, but I believe it based on the circumstances and having known/worked with the parties for years. I really don’t know what to do… if anything. Should I tell someone what she did?

You should tell your manager what you heard. Explain that you don’t know for sure but you’re troubled by it, and let your manager decide what to do with that information.

But the reason you should relay what you heard is that if your coworker did in fact alert Adam’s employer that he was job-searching (and it certainly sounds like she did), she committed a major breach that (a) is a terrible violation of Adam’s trust in his dealings with your company, and (b) reflects poorly on your employer. If candidates think that they can’t apply at your organization without risking word getting back to their current jobs, that’s bad for your organization, for obvious reasons.

We talked earlier today about the fact that employers sometimes reach out to mutual contacts for informal references on candidates, but you don’t contact someone’s current employer, and you definitely don’t contact people for gossip purposes.

If Lucinda did what it looks like she did, she abused information that her job gave her access to, violated multiple people’s trust, and put a candidate in a terrible position (one that’s caused him real damage, it sounds like). That’s something your employer needs to know about.

(Also, Bob sucks in this story too, but there’s nothing you can do about him.)

{ 84 comments… read them below }

  1. Lily in NYC

    It is so difficult to follow posts when initals are used instead of fake names! I gave up and stopped reading.

    1. Lily in NYC

      OK, I went back and read it slowly. Yes, you should tell someone in power about what Z did. That was so crappy of her.

      1. Wasted Donuts

        Off topic, but I always think it’s interesting to see what fake names people choose when they have to come up with one for whatever reason. Lucinda is unexpected for some reason. :)

    2. Helka

      “We had a position open up, and I suggested to Adam that he might apply. Zillah, who used to work with Adam and now works with me, saw his resume. She suggested that Bob, Adam’s current supervisor, also apply.

      Bob was interviewed but did not take the job. Adam was never interviewed. I found out recently that Adam was moved to a side job, and it was because Zillah told Bob that Adam was interviewing for a job with us, and Bob therefore decided to move Adam to a transitioning-out role.

      Zillah is not a good worker and has been chastised, but I have to work with her regularly. I want to tell my employer what she did, but I don’t want to have to deal with the drama if she doesn’t get fired and finds out I was the one who reported her.”

      Quick summary for you. Names correspond to the initials.

    3. Tiffy the Fed... Contractor

      Ugh me too. It’s the 7th grade algebra problem that won’t stop haunting my dreams.

    4. Chriama

      Haha I was having the same thought! I don’t know why our brains work that way, but it’s harder to keep initials or numbers straight than it is to keep names straight. It’s like, names automatically become people in our heads without conscious effort.

  2. Chriama

    I don’t know anyone who would casually tell someone that their employee is looking for another job, but maybe it accidentally slipped out? Overall, Alison is right that the manager needs to address this because good candidates will be turned off by a company who has a reputation of jeopardizing applicants’ current jobs. I feel like it’s especially egregious because ‘Adam’ wasn’t even called in for an interview!

    1. Anonsie

      I wonder if she just mentioned that someone else over there was applying and Bob just put two and two together.

      1. Kelly L.

        It sounds like Bob may have grilled other people while he was there for an interview, too, though it’s not clear to me whether he was grilling people at HisWork or people at OPWork.

        1. OP

          He was talking to people at HisWork about whether they knew if Adam was applying for jobs, including at my company. From what I understand, most people were benign in their responses. (Who knows if Adam is applying somewhere… maybe. Maybe not.)

          1. AUB

            Honestly, this can happen when people working in the same industry have worked in the same city for an amount of time conducive to networking. I think the current employer is a little at fault for asking employees to collect resumes. This should have been as simple as ‘ Adam, if you are interested in the job, you can apply online.’ And then your manager not having resumes out on his desk for others to see. Geez. I feel sorry for Adam. This was dramatically ridiculous.

      2. Mike B.

        Yeah, it’s possible that she divulged what she thought were innocent details, and those details pointed to Adam and only Adam. Small department, specialized skillset, whatever. If OP still has a good relationship with people at the former place of employment, she should ask. But unless something comes out that completely exonerates Lucinda in this matter, I wouldn’t give the benefit of the doubt to someone who’s close to being on a PIP. The person who told OP had to know that it would have implications for Lucinda, so I don’t think it’s likely that she was unclear on that.

        Bob sucks.

    2. Vancouver Reader

      Some people feel the need to be the town crier and it sounds like Lucinda is one of those. It shouldn’t be one of those things that you have to explicitly tell people not to talk about, but I guess it is.

  3. Anon Accountant

    Maybe my mind automatically jumps to think the worst in people but if Zillah did this I’d be super concerned she’d breach other confidential info that could have a larger detrimental impact to the organization. Depending on her position and the items she has access to, is there a possibility she could repeat something else that should have been held confidential and it could have a very bad impact for a long time to come.

  4. LBK

    The only thing that lets me give Lucinda the benefit of the doubt in this situation is that she also made a referral for Bob…so could she have genuinely gone to Bob to say “I think you should apply for this position we have open” and somehow in the course of that conversation it came up that Adam had already applied? Either way I don’t think it was her business to disclose, but it is possible that she didn’t purposely run to Bob to say “Adam is looking for another job”.

    The other info about her being a gossip/troublemaker in general makes this seem unlikely, but it might be a possibility to consider before you string up Lucinda by her thumbs.

    1. Kelly L.

      The way I read it, Lucinda probably brought it up when approaching Bob in the first place–like “Hey! One of your employees is applying–wanna apply too?” She may well have meant it sincerely, but it’s still not good. And I’m not entirely sure Bob didn’t just interview to get the dirt–I got the impression that he never really wanted the job itself, though that might be a leap.

      1. LBK

        I also got a vibe that Bob didn’t actually want the position, so at least we’re leaping together.

        In the end, I agree the response from the OP should still be to report it to the manager and then let her handle it. The mental dissection of possible ways the Lucinda/Bob conversation played out is more about my personal judgments on Lucinda and Bob.

      2. Cleopatra Jones

        I’m not disagreeing with you about Bob.
        But dang, that would be so petty on his part to interview for a job so he can see if his employee is interviewing there as well.
        Adam should run from working with Bob. If he [Bob] would do something so sneaky and underhanded, I can’t imagine working for him is anything less than hell.

    2. BRR

      I think regardless of Lucinda’s intent she really messed up. I don’t think intent should soften the results of people’s actions in certain instances. I made a mistake at work this past year with saying something and while I didn’t mean anything malicious by it there was certainly an error in my judgement. Even though I wasn’t out to get anybody there are still results for my mistake.

      1. LBK

        Agreed. This is just about how the OP might view Lucinda as a person than how she should handle it from a workplace perspective, because you’re right – in the end, the result is what matters in that context.

      2. Zillah

        Hmm. I’d agree that having good intentions doesn’t eliminate the problem, but I do think that intentions matter. A mistake might be remedied. I would not want to work with someone who was malicious. Good intentions don’t make it better, but bad intentions make it a whole lot worse.

        1. BRR

          I guess what I was thinking was more along the lines of people who use intentions to absolve their actions.

        2. Jamie

          ITA. Intentions always matter. Even with arguably the most heinous of acts, murder, the law takes into account that intentions matter. That doesn’t mean absolution, there are still consequences to manslaughter, but not the same as first degree murder.

          There has been a move over the last couple of years it seems toward intentions being irrelevant and the only thing that matters is the damage done. I don’t really get it because I have never met one person who wouldn’t react differently to the person who accidentally stepped on their foot and broke their toe and one who deliberately stepped on their foot intending to break their toe.

          Good intentions won’t save you from consequences, but they always matter.

          1. Helka

            I don’t really get it because I have never met one person who wouldn’t react differently to the person who accidentally stepped on their foot and broke their toe and one who deliberately stepped on their foot intending to break their toe.

            I think the idea is that malice aforethought can make things worse (ie the person who deliberately stomps on someone else’s foot) but good intentions don’t really make things better than neutral ones (ie someone who stepped on your foot by accident vs someone who saw a spider on your foot and stepped in order to squash it). And the good intentions often are used to try and erase the damage that was done in reality — “but I didn’t mean to step on your foot, I was trying to help, why are you so angry at me for trying to help you?”

            1. Kyrielle

              Yes. Intentions do matter – and I hope we won’t forget that – but I think “intentions don’t matter” is really meaning to say “intentions don’t absolve” because some folks seem to think they do.

              1. Helka

                That’s a really good way to put it. The victim might choose to look at the good intentions and give them some weight, but that’s really the prerogative of the injured party only. The person who committed the injury doesn’t get to say “Well, but I meant well, that makes what I actually did less awful.”

          2. Mike C.

            I think the issue here is that the difference in damage to Adam between acting negligently and acting maliciously is slight. It’s the kind of fact that Lucinda should never have spoken about, and any other reasonable person in her position would know that, understand the consequences of doing so and thus wouldn’t do it.

            1. Wasted Donuts

              These are all good points. However, even though there isn’t a large difference in the damage, I’d be a lot more worried about someone who acted with malicious intent than I would someone who made a mistake. It shows poor character in addition to poor judgement. That would give me major pause as a manager. Significantly more than if it were just a lapse in judgement. I think how one would deal with that long term should be handled differently.

              1. Mike C.

                I would just have them both fired, but screwing someone else out of their job is the kind of thing that makes me put the hammer down.

              2. Concerned

                It’s also the fact that Adam is being punished for something that neither is against company policy nor is unethical.

    3. Christian Troy

      The problem I have is, I’ve seen people that like to gossip and collect information on people to feed to other people. They do this because it makes them seem important that they have this inmate knowledge and keeps their relationships going, even if it’s for insincere reasons. Lucinda seems like someone that doesn’t want to mind her own business, as she shouldn’t have even brought up Adam’s resume (IMO). It had nothing to do with her or her job and I would feel creepy letting someone know I was reading papers on their their desk.

      1. Michele

        That is why when I am hiring all resumes stay in a file folder and not out on my desk where just anyone can look at them.

      2. OP

        In my opinion I think you nailed Lucinda and her motivation. I don’t like that she saw something on our director’s desk and then acted on it. Honestly, I don’t know how visible it was or if the director was in her office when she saw the resume. But either way, I don’t think Lucinda should have told anyone. Our director (also my direct manager and Lucinda’s indirect manager) takes confidentiality very seriously, so I know she would not like it at all, especially if the implication was that SHE somehow caused a breach.

  5. Jen

    Wow, not cool. Hopefully “Adam” doesn’t get too much more grief over it. I’ve been in a somewhat similar position being a subcontractor, people are leery about what work they assign in case the contract isn’t renewed – can be a very frustrating position to be in. Hope things work out for him, and by all means report Lucinda to your manager, at the very least they need to make her aware that what she did was wrong.

  6. Interviewer

    If this woman is a documented drama queen, this is yet another example of stirring the pot. I would head straight to HR. You may not be aware of other situations she is involved in, and this could be the tipping point.

    I don’t tolerate breaches of candidates’ confidentiality. Candidates won’t trust me or my company if word gets around that they are interviewing, and it can jeopardize their current employment (as evidenced by Adam’s situation). Everyone involved in the interview process gets a refresher on my policy when they’re invited to participate.

    OP, is Adam still speaking to you? I am sure he is incredibly hurt by how all of this went down, too.

    1. Elizabeth West

      I have to agree–if I found out that the company I was applying to did this, I wouldn’t be privy to all the inner drama of Lucindas who work there. I would just think, “Wow, they can’t keep their mouths shut,” and pull my application. And you bet I would warn other people, too. “Hey, just so you know, if you apply there, they’ll tell your current employer.”

      1. Jamie

        This is why it’s not as easy as sending out some resumes to see what’s out there when you work in an industry which is a very small and interconnected world.

        I assume there is a Lucinda in every office and she will be the one to see it. The process demands we put our faith in people we don’t know and all the people who may see stuff on their desks to keep our name confidential and not risk our livelihoods…makes it tough for people with trust issues.

  7. Daisy

    UGH Bob. What a hypocrite. Also, yes I think you should say something. Reading stuff off someone’s desk and then telling a competitor at least needs a serious don’t do it again warning, even if it was thoughtless rather than malicious.

    1. HeyNonnyNonny

      Exactly. Even if it wasn’t malicious/drama queen/pot-stirring, this is a Very Bad Thing and needs to be addressed– if it was ignorance, then the company needs to know it won’t happen again.

  8. OP

    Hi Everyone – thanks for the feedback so far. And sorry for the initials. There’s a lot of players and he said/she said’s in this. It’s hard to keep straight without names.

    To answer a few questions – no, I have not heard from Adam. But, according to the former co-worker who told me this (let’s call her Megan), he knows it came from Lucinda. (I am concerned he thinks I told Lucinda, and I was very very clear with Megan that I did not.) I want to reach out to him to tell him, but I also wanted to decide whether I should raise this to my boss first, so I could give him my reasons for either doing or not doing that.

    As for Bob, this was at least the second time he applied for a job at this company. (The last time, I was also a candidate… I found out about it after they hired me.) I don’t really know his motivations on going on an interview and then turning down the job, but there’s clearly something going on there. To be completely frank, most of his team members (including myself) have interviewed with my current employer over the years. Realistically, it shouldn’t be a surprise (or even a big deal) that Adam (or Bob) submitted resumes.

    To the managers out there, if I came to you with this situation, what action would you take?

    1. RoseTyler

      If you think Bob could apply to your company again in the future, it’s all the more reason to tell your boss so that his terrible managerial style can be noted in his record.

      1. Chriama

        I’m not sure about that one. if a manager knows someone might be leaving soon, it’s not wrong to want to try and minimize that impact.

        1. Mike C.

          There’s a huge difference between “leaving soon” and “looking around to see what else is out there”.

          1. Elsajeni

            I’d give Bob a little bit of benefit of the doubt on that one, though — obviously we’re only hearing this third- or fourth-hand, but it sounds like Lucinda overstated Adam’s likelihood of getting the position at least a little bit (“he interviewed with us” vs. “he submitted a resume”), and he may have been in a position where what he was hearing was closer to “leaving soon” than “looking around.”

            1. JB

              Eh, I don’t think I could give Bob the benefit of the doubt here. Is he offering up the information at his current job that he also was looking? If I’m reading the letter correctly, there’s a good chance that the news that Adam was looking came from Bob, who is not only looking but interviewing.

            2. Mike C.

              No, I’m not going to give Bob any benefit of the doubt here. He’s getting ready to fire Adam for the very same thing he himself is doing.

              1. Biff

                We don’t know that. My boss sent me on a fact-finding mission that was cleverly disguised as an interview. Who is to say that Bob is not doing the same?

            3. Biff

              I got a similar impression, that Bob heard ‘oh, and Adam submitted his resume!” and he decided that Adam was looking for a new job and told people that Adam had interviewed. OP sounds like she has reason to believe that Lucinda is sort of a nincompoop, but there also some viciousness there. There also seems to be some sort of competition — Lucinda’s candidate got the interview and the offer, while OPs did not.

              The whole thing strikes me as sales-y drama where everything is a competition and there are winners and losers.

        2. Observer

          Interrogating all of your staff about one piece of gossip and then taking fairly serious adverse action based on that? That’s pretty poor management. One thing is for sure – no one with a shred of sense will EVER give him one extra second of warning before walking out the door.

          1. OP

            This is the style of management at my old employer. It’s only the tip of the iceberg why I left, but it also explains why so many people who work there are looking. Bob was a poor manager from the get-go, but he also wasn’t the worst.

    2. AnonyManager

      I would have to have a talk with Lucinda regarding her loose lips. Confidentiality is too important to let something like that slide no matter what her intention(s). As for Bob knowing his managment/work style might make a difference in his desirabililty for future jobs. I really don’t know what I would do about Adam. Since he was harmed by the actions of someone from your company it might be best to just stay silent until this is resolved. You still want to protect the company you work for, yes?

      1. Not So NewReader

        Yeah, I agree. I think if Adam, did talk with you, OP, he would say “stop helping”. So let that conversation with Adam go for a moment and DO report it to your boss.
        I would be leery of suggesting anyone apply at this company while Lucinda is still working there. She sounds like an insecure person who “buys” security by spreading confidential information.

        Just an aside comment- this is one way that people get a jaded view of the work world and/or particular companies. Here we have one person who basically derailed someone else’s current job. Fortunately, Adam seems to know that it is Lucinda and not the entire company. Hopefully, OP, Adam will say to himself “Why would OP tell me about this opportunity and then blow it for me?” Eventually, he might figure out that you did NOT blow it for him. It would not make sense for you to do that.

    3. Mike C.

      If I were a manager, there would be at the very least time off without pay, and a formal and written reprimand. Most likely a PIP, and if there were other problems she’d be fired for cause.

      I don’t care what the intention here is, because a reasonable person in this line of work would understand the damage that talking could (and is) doing to a candidate, and to the company’s reputation as a whole.

      Because Lucinda acted irresponsibly and negligently in a manner that is aggravated by the actions of the Bob, Adam will likely lose his job, and most certainly lose out on future raises and promotions. You just don’t do that to someone, and if you do, you should have to pay a heavy price.

      1. Biff

        I’m confused. Usually I’m on the same page as you, but I read nothing in this letter that’s convinced me Lucinda did anything to breech confidentiality laws. I don’t even know that candidates are confidential — is there really a law that you can’t say who your candidates are? I understand how it would often make sense not to do this, but I don’t know of a law. I also don’t know that Lucinda did anything malicious, or that Bob did.

        I guess its’ easy for me to come up with a situation that could come across maliciously in this case, that had no malice in it.

        1. JB

          Wait, why does it have to be illegal for the employer to be mad about it? Did you seriously not know that people don’t appreciate it when you let their employer know that they are applying for jobs elsewhere? You really don’t know that can cause trouble for people? And that employers who are hiring might not want their applicants’ names broadcast to other companies? Lucinda didn’t have to be acting with malice for this to be something to be disciplined for. Plenty of employees do stupid things that merit some kind of discipline without them having some evil plan behind it.

          1. JB

            On second reading I realize I had a bit of a hostile tone in my comment, and I apologize for that. But I still think that an employee should know not to do what Lucinda did, and her behavior should subject her to some form of disciplinary action. Whether she had any malice behind it factors into what kind of action, not to whether she should be disciplined at all.

    4. Artemesia

      I would take this to management immediately. Lucinda puts your company at risk as well as your own reputation. If it costs her her job — good.

    5. J-nonymous

      I’d be unsure exactly how to handle this with “Lucinda” directly, and here’s why. So much of the information that points her out as the source of the ‘leak’ seems to be based on the kind of he-said/she-said secondhand information that would make me feel very uncomfortable singling out “Lucinda” directly. Unless “Bob” or “Adam” were able to say “Lucinda” was the source of the information, I’d probably approach it in a team-wide discussion. I’d explain that we’d gotten word that the current employer of a recent applicant had been told of that person’s applying for a job. Without going into the specifics of what happened to “Adam” at his current job, I’d explain that all applicants to our company expect us to maintain a degree of privacy about their job search, that not maintaining that privacy can have serious consequences for the applicant in her current job, and that violating the applicant’s privacy reflects poorly on our company and will have a long-term effect of driving away qualified applicants.

      1. Chriama

        I think this is like those mass email things where the person being targeted never thinks it’s about them. If Lucinda has a reputation for this kind of behaviour and the op is a reliable witness, the boss should talk to Lucinda directly. This was a serious breach of confidence and she needs to understand that it’s unacceptable to share stuff like this in a way that will prevent good employees from applying to the company. I might not fire her over this, but given her history I’d definitely be watching her closely.

        1. Not So NewReader

          Yeah, even if I could not prove that Lucinda spread the word, I would be sure to inform her that it looks like she was the one who did, and I would be watching closely to see if this happens again EVER.

        2. J-nonymous

          That’s a good point. As I think about it more, I’d probably talk to Lucinda privately, and then still have the team discussion.

  9. Mike B.

    In order to absolve yourself in his eyes, you’re contemplating telling Adam about Lucinda’s possible misconduct. She’s still your employee, though. She should be able to expect you to be discreet about such things, at least until there’s been a full inquiry that ends with her being fired, reprimanded, or exonerated. Don’t do it.

    If Adam knows all parties involved, I imagine he’s going to identify the weak link on his own.

      1. OP

        Thanks — that was part of my thinking (wait until it has been resolved) and then maybe reach out to him. I suspect he already suspects what happened, so it’s not a big priority for me. I’d like to tell him I’m sorry this happened, but I’d rather err on the side of discretion for the time being.

        1. Concerned

          I think it’s better to talk to your manager about this first. You can apologize a lot to your friend but it really won’t change his situation unless HR/upper management learns what was happened.

  10. Dan

    Heh.

    I work in a small world. OldJob is going through tough times; last year they laid off 15% of the staff, including me. There’s also been a lot of voluntary turnover. New job has a higher stature in the industry, and is much larger — about three times the size. NewJob is hiring people, albeit slowly.

    I currently work on the same floor with two of my former coworkers. Coworker D is going to join us in two weeks. Coworker E has interviewed, and coworker F is scheduled to interview. I’ve submitted a resume for coworker G and coworker H is dusting his off.

    My boss is neighbors with Old VP.

    I can’t figure out how people are supposed to job hunt and have it kept a secret. At least OldJob doesn’t fire people who are looking. Hell, OldJob has had so much turnover that they’re now hiring software developers to backfill the vacancies.

    OldJob is reaping the rewards of crappy management. Last year’s layoffs were done in what appeared to be a haphazard manner. The company hasn’t recovered from the climate that caused the layoffs in the first place, so others are reading the writing on the wall and running for the hills. So many people are leaving that they have to hire, which is kinda ironic. The other problem with OldJob is that they really don’t have anything to offer software developers, so they’re only going to get the applicants who are desperate. To give some idea of the market, one of the software developers who left had five interviews and five offers. If OldJob’s applicant pool looks like that, they can’t compete for candidates.

  11. Interviewer

    If you came to me with this info, I would give Lucinda the same lecture. But if she has a history of doing these things, I would speak to her manager about disciplinary action.

  12. illini02

    I’m usually of the mind that you don’t need to go to your boss about a co-worker unless someone impacting your work negatively or doing something to damage the business, like stealing. But I definitely think this needs to be brought up. This woman is completely shady (which it sounds like you already know), plus she is snooping on the directors desk. Now, its very possible this woman is a good employee in other ways, but your manager needs to know that she is untrustworthy (at best) and damaging to your company’s reputation at worst.

  13. J

    Ugh, what a lousy situation. Plus now I’m feeling nervous about the job application I just submitted…

  14. Preston

    Stupid question, what is a PIP?

    Either way, terrible story, really feel for the poster who shared it. I am sure this stuff happens everywhere though.

    1. saro

      I believe PIP is Performance Improvement Plan. It’s usually seen as a last-ditch effort to get the employee to improve before s/he is let go.

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