A reader writes:
A former coworker of mine, Padmé, was laid off when we were faced with severe budget cuts a few years back. I feel certain that she would still be working here, if not for the required cuts. However, it wasn’t just a seniority thing; she was chosen as the least best vs. other coworkers. She did have a few things she could have improved on – probably not PIP-worthy, but mentionable in a performance review. A coworker, Leia, took over Padmé’s responsibilities, and Leia’s more diverse job duties were spread around.
Since then, Padmé has applied for job openings here that she was qualified for. We even had a recent job vacancy (at a slightly lower level) in our group, but the job went to an amazing temp, Rey, who had been working here in another area for a few months. Padmé and I have kept in touch and she asked me about the situation, and I told her that Rey got the job. Padmé did not even get an interview; there were enough more appealing candidates available.
Budget-wise, things have changed dramatically and we could now refill the old position. Padmé asked me if Leia was a shoo-in (she was, but I didn’t know if she wanted it at the time); in my reply, I hinted that the head of our section perhaps did not view Padmé in a most favorable light. This shouldn’t be a shock to Padmé; it was explained to her why she was chosen to be cut before she was let go.
Well, now that Leia is going back to her previous position, Padmé’s old job will be open. I am almost positive that Rey will apply and get it. And rightly so; Rey has shown this through her great work and ability to get along with everyone.
Now I have the awkward conversation issue. I’m not the hiring manager, but I feel like I should tell Padmé that her old job is opening up before she sees it online. We have just stayed in touch as friends, mostly through social media. We’re not close friends, but it would seem weird if I didn’t mention the job opening to her, and I’m assuming she will ask me about it when she sees it online. I don’t want her to get her hopes up or waste her time when there is nearly zero chance she will get it or even Rey’s future vacancy. I think the head of our section has her mind set against Padmé.
Do have some of your magic wording that can help me inform Padmé about the job opening or respond to her if she asks about it? I just dread that sick feeling in my stomach if I see a message from her asking me if I think she has a chance of being hired back. I don’t know how to respond.
This is so very much not your responsibility to handle.
It’s kind of you to be thinking about Padmé, but her emotions aren’t yours to manage, and the hiring process (or ultimate hiring decision) isn’t yours to explain. In fact, the person who is in charge of this hiring process (or other managers at your company) may very much not want you to give Padmé your opinion about her chances; it’s possible that you could inadvertently say something that contradicts whatever messaging they’ve used in the past.
I would stay out of this. I wouldn’t even point the job opening out to her, since doing that is likely to imply that you think she should apply for it. And if she asks you about the opening, it’s really not your role to manage her expectations or nudge her to realize that she’s not likely to get hired back.
If she were a close friend, it could be a kindness to help her get a more realistic view of the situation (explaining that being chosen for a layoff because of performance means that she’s not likely to be a top candidate there in the future). But she’s not a close friend, and you risk sharing things that aren’t really yours to share.
What you want here is neutral, uninvolved language: “I’m not sure what their plans are for the opening. I don’t know much more than what’s in the job description!” And then if pressed for more, “The best person for you to talk to would be (hiring manager).”