my colleagues and I disagree on whether to hire someone who works for a competitor

A reader writes:

I am one of two managers of a health/beauty-based franchise, where we provide better-rated services than our competitors. Recently, we were understaffed so we went on a hiring spree and hired three new hospitality staff, but we’re still receiving lots of applications. Today, we received through our website a message saying, “I currently work for a competitor and I am looking to move on, I am applying from my phone so I can not attach my resume at the moment. Please feel free to give me a call to discuss open positions and my work history.”

The other manager and my owner both like the idea of someone who “knows all of our competitor’s secrets” and want to give her a try, but I totally disagree! We’re hiring for a hospitality/front desk position, not like a corporate consultant/shark/CEO-thing in a television drama. And the scruples of someone whose opening line is “I work for a competitor” just makes me think that in six months, they’re going to go to next place and do the same thing.

The other thing that gives me pause is that she said she wants to discuss “open positions.” The only open position is the part-time one for which we advertised. A good portion of the those applying to our part-time position didn’t even want it! They wanted to negotiate for a management position or a full-time position (the ad was VERY clear and it still didn’t stop these type of applicants).

The owner has also been through this before. A couple years back, before my own promotion, someone who worked at another franchise came with the promise of giving our owner the other store’s “secrets.” She just ended up doing a lot of unscrupulous things to increase our sales and alienate her coworkers. She also was a terrible employee — always late, etc. — and wanted to be full time; when it was clear that it wasn’t going to be available to her, she left and took a bunch of client info with her to another company. You’d think the owner and the other manager would be once bitten, twice shy!

I’m not against hiring people who have worked for competitors, because that would be silly — experience is experience, and in fact, I have a lovely woman at our desk right now who worked for one. But I have no desire to apply our competitor’s business practices to our own. I don’t care about what they’re doing! We’re better! We have the awards, ratings, and reviews to prove it! And I had to train bad work habits out of employees who have come from those companies, as well as work hard to turn them from their old company’s jargon to our jargon.

Am I totally off-base here for wanting to just toss this “application” in the garbage? I also personally feel like we’re “done” hiring for now. We have hired some really solid people who I feel would stay with us for a few years and are a great fit with the team.

You should toss her application, but not because she mentioned that she works for a competitor. You should toss it because she didn’t even bother to apply.

“I’m applying from my phone so I can’t send a resume, but give me a call and I’ll tell you my work history” is ridiculous. She could have waited to apply when she was at a computer and could actually send you the information you’d need to consider her. Asking you to spend time calling her up so she can verbally walk you through her work history, as opposed to sending a resume, tells you that this is someone who is not especially professional and not especially invested in the impression she makes.

If she wants to apply, she can send a resume in so that you have some basic information about her work experience before you decide whether it makes sense to invest time in talking.

The only response that you should consider here is, “Thanks for your interest. Please send in a resume and cover letter when you’re able to and I’d be glad to look them over and let you know if makes sense to schedule a time to talk.”

For what it’s worth, it also sounds like you, your co-manager, and the owner need to get better aligned on what you’re looking for when you hire. It’s alarming that they’re this interested in someone based on a two-sentence email, and if that’s typical of the kind of rigor they bring to hiring, there’s a lot of room here to improve the way your company approaches it.

It’s also worth talking through your differences about the value of hiring people from competitors. There’s nothing wrong with hiring people from competitors, but as your experience has shown you, there are can be downsides (not always, but sometimes) that should be part of the discussion. At a minimum, their stance should get more refined than just “yay, competitors’ secrets!” It also sounds like they could do with a more nuanced approach about what you can and can’t reasonably expect someone to divulge about past employers (as well as the fact that there’s a point where sharing should be off-putting, not appealing).

If the three of you are involved in hiring, you’ve got to hash out some of these differences. You don’t need to achieve 100% alignment — having different perspectives in the mix is valuable — but it’s worth naming the differences you’re seeing and trying to sort through what’s behind them.

{ 132 comments… read them below }

  1. AdAgencyChick*

    She can’t be bothered to so much as attach her resume, but she wants you to call her and talk about her experience?


      1. Allison*

        That’s usually where my mind goes, I figure someone who wants to “chat about the role,” or tell me a little about themselves over the phone, are hoping to circumnavigate that step and skip right to the phone interview, either because applying is too much work or they figure their resume will just get lost in the ATS. I feel for them, but at the same time, I’m not the one who conducts the phone screens anyway and the person who does wants to see a resume before they’ll talk to anyone because their schedule is packed with, get this, other phone screens.

      2. Stranger than fiction*

        To be fair, some places jump at an opportunity like that if it’s a really big competitor, so I can sort of see why she thought that might work. Especially if she’s in Sales.

    1. AlieW*

      Yeah, she sounds lazy. If she actually wants the job she will follow-up with a resume. It’s not on you to do more work than your applicants so forget about her.

    2. Hills to Die on*

      Exactly that. And if you do end up hiring her, have her sign and NDA / Non-compete. But hopefully it won’t come to that.

      1. Advice-monger*

        Um, no. (1) If OP is in California, noncompetes are illegal. (2) Courts elsewhere still look askance at them for lower-level employees. (3) Even if enforceable, at lower levels, it’s the wrong thing to do.

        1. E.*

          They are?? I’ve definitely seen California-based companies post that they require them (which I thought was really weird for the most recent position I noticed it in). I had to sign one at an old job when I was a low/mid-level employee, I also thought that was odd.

          1. NK*

            They’re not illegal in CA insofar as companies can get in trouble for asking you to sign them, it’s just that CA courts will not enforce them. Some companies still ask you to sign them anyway.

            1. JessaB*

              Yeh but a non compete isn’t really their issue, they need a non disclosure, and those are legal in CA if they’re narrowly written and not so broad that you can’t talk about the weather.

    3. Irene Adler*

      Isn’t this the gumption route? I’ve read job hunting advice books that say don’t apply via the application route; instead, go directly to the hiring manager and talk with them about the position. Proceed to wow them with your skills and abilities. You’ll be forgiven for not following directions and filing an application.
      In fact, I’ve read a few accounts where someone did exactly this and got the job. Course, that’s two or three accounts vs. the hundreds of thousands who scored jobs via following the directions. But no one ever writes about those folks.

      1. Snarkus Aurelius*

        Indeed it is. You can tell because this method worked for somebody, somewhere at some point, therefore not following the rules can be universally applied to every scenario.

        Gumption treats the exception to the rule as the norm.

      2. k.k*

        At least that terrible advice tells you to mention your skills and abilities. This one can’t even be bothered to do that!

        1. Irene Adler*

          Maybe they thought the invitation to call the “candidate” was so compelling that they could only make things more enticing by waiting to tell them about their amazing skills.

      3. Gumption is OK*

        No, it’s not the “gumption route,” because the applicant *didn’t* contact the hiring manager to talk about the position; she indicated she wanted the hiring manager to call her.

        Had she done the former, it would have been perfectly appropriate. People who color outside the lines to a degree get ahead in life. I’d also dearly like to know your source for saying “two or three” people scored a job in this manner. That sounds like one of the 99% of statistics pulled out of you-know-where

        1. Casuan*

          I’d also dearly like to know your source for saying “two or three” people scored a job in this manner. That sounds like one of the 99% of statistics pulled out of you-know-where

          Gumption is OK:
          It’s reasonable to ask from where one gets stats.
          It is not reasonable to accuse someone of fabricating stats.

          If I misunderstood your intent, I apologise.

      4. Casuan*

        the Gumption Route = “if you go to the Emergency Room via ambulance then you won’t have to wait”
        Auuggghhhhh !!!!!!!

        both just…no

        That augh-ed, the Gumption Route isn’t a bad thing… for the hiring organisation. It helps when applicants self-select out at such an early stage by conveying that one doesn’t pay attention to details or to think that they’re already so knowledgeable & awesome that they needn’t actually follow directions.

        Probably there are job searchers who are willing to risk this approach. I wonder if they ever decipher why they might not get past the general application stage. Or if they do then it just tells them that the gumption route worked?

  2. Captain S*

    It’s definitely odd that they jumped on this candidate because of “competitor’s secrets” without even knowing basic info about her – like how long she’s worked for the competitor and/or if she actually knows anything at all that would be valuable to them.

    1. Snarkus Aurelius*

      Or if this is a scam to get information on the OP’s place of work.

      Think about it, people!

      1. Darrow*

        This was one of my first thoughts as well! It is probably jumping to conclusions, but I couldn’t help feeling this entire ‘application’ was very strange.

      2. Mike C.*

        Uh, for many industries the only way you’re going to have first hand experience is to work for one specific employer or their competitor. Also, there’s going to be a whole lot of knowledge and best practices that are the same or similar between competitors. Coke and Pepsi use similar techniques to bottle their cola. Airbus and Boeing build planes in a similar way and so on. Given that people often have to jump positions to achieve movement in their careers, this isn’t unusual at all.

        Also, handing out trade secrets that don’t belong to you is a serious crime, so I wouldn’t go throwing that around lightly.

        1. Ainomiaka*

          Yeah. I was surprised that they were reading so much into working for a competitor. If you require industry experience, people only have so many options.

        2. Stranger than fiction*

          Yes, exactly! Trade secrets are one thing but a little “so how did you land the starbucks account anyway “ is relatively benign.

    2. Is pumpkin a vegetable?*

      This makes me think of that old saying, “If they’ll do it with you, they’ll do it to you.” I think this applies here! I’d stay far, far away from anyone who operates this way.

    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      It’s also bad practice because (1) it’s usually unlawful to share a competitor’s trade secrets in most states, and (2) if she’s willing to flip on her competitor, she’s going to flip on OP’s employer, too. In my experience, people who claim they have secret information usually do not—they’re just running a low-level con.

      1. Advice-monger*

        With the caveat that a low-level employee is unlikely to have access to genuine “trade secrets,” which are things like as Col. Sander’s secret KFC recipe or the Coca-Cola formula.

        Generalities about corporate culture, or about “how we did things at Competitor X,” are almost certainly not trade secrets. Ditto for gossiping amount mismanagement horror stories.

    4. Willis*

      Plus, she didn’t even offer any. I think it’s a bit of a leap that someone applying (which she didn’t really even do) who mentions work for a competitor (a) has trade secrets and (b) is wanting to share them. Especially for a part-time position like the OP describes. The other manager and owner sound weirdly desperate for info that they’re this excited about this “application.”

      1. Eliza*

        It sounds like they’re jumping to that conclusion because it’s happened to the company once before, but unless they’re in an industry where industrial espionage is unusually common, it might be best to write that off as an outlier.

    5. LBK*

      Yeah, the email doesn’t even say she has any valuable information she could give them, it just says she works there. What a weird conclusion to draw.

    6. Higher Ed Database Dork*

      I didn’t even read the applicant’s statement as “…and I’m going to share all their secrets!” I just read it as, “I have experience at this type of store, so I can work at other stores like it.” The other hiring managers are making some big assumptions here.

  3. Snarkus Aurelius*

    I don’t think you even need to respond because she didn’t give you anything to respond to. There’s not even a question in her email, only a request for you to call her. (She couldn’t even call you herself!)

    Also this comes to mind, except this is your reality:

    “Would I ever leave this company? Look, I’m all about loyalty. In fact, I feel like part of what I’m being paid for here is my loyalty. But if there were somewhere else that valued loyalty more highly, I’m going wherever they value loyalty the most.” — Dwight Schrute

    1. Mad Baggins*

      When the Office is your office, you know you’re doing something wrong! (Or so, so right.)

  4. Trout 'Waver*

    Hiring someone who promises competitor secrets seems much akin to marrying your affair partner who’s cheating on their spouse. Who’s to say they won’t do the same to you?

    1. Eric*

      That’s true. Also, consider any potential NDAs – though that doesn’t sound likely for the type of position being filled. Could be a legal minefield.

    2. Kathleen_A*

      To be fair, the “applicant” (I’m calling her that even though she hasn’t actually applied yet) hasn’t promised to reveal competitor secrets. The OP’s co-worker and manager seem to think that’s what she’ll do, and maybe that’s what she means, but she herself hasn’t said that as yet. There’s nothing *fundamentally* shady about saying “I work for Competitor X, but I’m looking for something else.”

      1. LBK*

        Right – she literally just said she worked there, it’s odd that they just assume she even knows anything worth divulging.

        1. k.k*

          Very true. She may have said it thinking it conveyed, “I have experience in this field”, not “I have juicy secrets for you!”

          1. LBK*

            And I think that’s how most people would take it, unless this is a particularly vicious industry where poaching someone from a competitor is a big deal.

      2. Anonymous Penguin*

        I could see if this were a salon/spa type place that the manager might be thinking that this worker could get them a client list. That would make more sense than “stealing secret techniques from someplace that does a worse job”.

    3. Llama Grooming Coordinator*

      Especially as a small business owner. They might end up running the company from your bed.

    4. Coywolf*

      But the candidate never offered to give away any secrets. She just mentioned she worked for a competitor. I don’t understand why people are assuming malicious intent in that statement when she could’ve just been saying it to demonstrate that she has experience….

      1. Decima Dewey*

        Candidate said she was applying from her phone. If she didn’t want her current employer to know, all she’d have to do is post from a library’s public computer.

  5. Wannabe Disney Princess*

    My industry is NOTORIOUS for hiring competitors. In fact, everyone bounces around between them. So that, for me, is a nonissue.

    I’ve applied to plenty of jobs from my phone. Guess what? I’ve been able to attach my resume to all of them. I’d toss it for that reason as well as the fact she referenced open positions…but not the open position you’re hiring for. So she’s either a flake or pays zero attention to detail. Either way, this is not someone you want to hire.

    1. Engineer Girl*

      I came here to say this. You can do just about anything from a phone that you can do from a laptop. That includes attaching a resume to the email.

      Maybe the person isn’t tech savvy enough to do this. It doesn’t matter. Because the person is using this as an excuse to circumvent stated hiring requirements. If she can’t make the effort to follow directions she’ll be a nightmare to manage.

      1. JessaB*

        Exactly, if I’m looking for a job my resume is on my phone in PDF and Doc, so that whatever the company wants they can have it attached. It’s very easy to attach things on a phone as long as you have the sense to put the document there in the first place. Why wouldn’t you? I mean you’re talking to someone and they say “Oh my friend Harry is hiring over at Kingsman Tailors, send on your resume, I’ll email him.” And bang you got an opportunity.

    2. Dionaea*

      I was going to say this, too. I have access to all my documents through my phone, and while I was heavily searching a few months back, had my resume saved on the phone to instantly respond to recruiters.

    3. Fortitude Jones*

      Yup. I downloaded Dropbox to my phone, saved my resume and various cover letters to my account, and was able to conduct my entire last job search on my phone.

      1. The Original K.*

        Yep. I have my resume in DropBox and I have the DropBox app on my phone. I’ve been able to respond to recruiters and postings in a second this way. Super easy!

      2. Bea*

        I just dig my last email sent with my resume attached and forward it. If course delete the previous correspondence and slap a new cover letter.

        I don’t need anything but my sent folder that’s accessible from any device I’m logged into my account on.

    4. Coywolf*

      I don’t think it’s as common as you think to have a copy of your resume saved on your phone. She could have just found the job post while on her phone and decided to reach out then and there.

      1. Bea*

        You don’t need it on your phone. A doc sharing site or a copy emailed to yourself works.

        If you’re lurking job posts, even whimsically you should be prepared. Or you should not jump without being prepared because you screw yourself.

        1. Coywolf*

          I’m simply pointing out that it’s not that common to have access to your resume on your phone. I browse jobs on my phone all the time, don’t have my resume with me.

          1. Doe-Eyed*

            Yeah, I’m techy and have several drives like that set up on my phone, but I work with many MANY PhDs who can’t operate it with reliability on a computer. I would be terrified to try and get them to set it up on their phone.

          2. JessaB*

            Not usually but if you’re looking for jobs, it’s a good idea to have it either in your cloud or on your phone. Not all the time, but when looking?

  6. Gen*

    “I currently work for a competitor” doesn’t even tell you anything anyway! You could call her and find out she’s been there three weeks as Saturday morning cover, there’s no guarantee that this two sentence email equates to amazing trade secrets

  7. Darrow*

    I agree this is not the type of thing a professional applicant would do. Her message sends up all sorts of red flags regarding work ethic and knowledge of workplace norms. You should weigh this information heavily against any particular value she might add from her competitor’s knowledge.

    1. Mike C.*

      Look, it’s clear that she doesn’t understand the norms for applying, but to claim that she has “work ethic” issues because the online application system doesn’t deal with phone users well is really over the line.

      1. Delphine*

        You’re assuming the application system doesn’t deal with phone users well, but there’s no evidence of that. It seems like the candidate just used the company’s web contact box to send them a message and didn’t go through any official application channels. But, let’s say she had, and the system wasn’t set up to deal with phones: the majority of people would not just send a line off anyway and expect someone to reach out to them–they’d wait until they could get to a computer, because there’s no application without a resume. The only reason I can see a person sending off a one sentence “application” is if they felt they had something beyond simple work experience to offer. And that may be why the candidate puts “competitor” front and center. She’s betting on the lure of company secrets to be enough to at least get her an interview. If you’re willing to divulge company secrets to get a job, that does suggest some issues to me.

      2. Forrest*

        Then she should put in the effort to get to a computer and submit that way.

        Or actually attach a resume to her email if the issue is she can’t work the portal and not that she probably doesn’t have a resume.

        Over the line would be calling her worthless. Questioning her work ethic because she’s demonstrating laziness when she’s supposed to be trying her best isn’t over the line.

  8. hbc*

    I have zero problems with someone saying, “Hello, Pepsi-Cola hiring manager, I work at Coca-Cola, and am interested in your open position” if the purpose is to convey that they’re familiar with the beverage industry. Not a red flag at all. If it’s short-hand for “I got the recipe, and I want to help you harm my current employer, and you should totally become my current employer,” then that’s a hard pass.

    It’s probably impossible to tell from a website message which version she’s intending, but as Alison pointed out, it’s not even worth digging because you don’t even have a resume or application. And it sounds like you don’t even get much benefit from their industry experience.

    Maybe you can come to an agreement with your colleagues about what boundaries should go around a competitive hire. Say, follows normal hiring procedure (ahem), meets job criteria, and shows signs of wanting your company for the right reasons (ex: talks about your positive reviews). You can test it by figuring out if it would have let in Lovely Woman but screened out Disastrous Ex-Employee.

    1. Specialk9*

      I mean, PepsiCo and Coca-Cola both have lots of chemists and food scientists working for them. The recipe hasn’t been a secret for many years.

      But yeah, in general corporate espionage would be a bad look, but kinda perplexing in a part time… reception position… for a beauty company. (Giggles to self at having to even write this.)

      “Well on Tuesdays the sales team likes pizza from Papa Joey”
      “OMIGOD HIRE HER!! (part time)”

    2. Pepsi-shmepsi*

      I mean, I have actually worked at Pepsi. I “made” the soda, which involved dumping barrels of stuff that I didn’t really know what it was (beyond being labeled Pepsi mix) into water. Coke would love to hire me for that job at their place, because of my experience, not for my super secret knowledge. No one where I worked actually knew any formulas. That was way beyond any of our pay grades.

  9. Blossom*

    I’m inclined to be more lenient here, because it sounds like a pretty junior, casual position in a retail-like environment; the kind where you might reasonably assume the employer would rather talk to you asap than wait for your formal application. I think her email was polite, and there’s no reason to think she has no intention of ever submitting a formal application – it sounds like she just wanted to register her interest first. As a hiring manager, I wouldn’t appreciate this much for a professional position with a formal hiring process, but I might be glad of the heads-up if I was recruiting for shop floor positions on a rolling, need-someone-good-to-start-tomorrow basis.

    1. LBK*

      The heads up doesn’t really serve any purpose, though, because literally all the email tells you is that she works in the industry. Unless that’s all the qualifications she needs, there isn’t much to entice you to look forward to her application. It’s not like she’s the leading expert in the field so her being interested in your company is scoring the golden goose.

      1. Blossom*

        Well, it tells you that she exists, has relevant experience, is available and keen to talk. Depending on the job and how easy it is to fill positions, that can be pretty good news!

        1. Pine cones huddle*

          And honestly, I cannot even count how many potential employers have contacted me and asked me to basically step by step go over ever point on my resume even though they have it in hand. I even had at least / separate people tell me they haven’t even looked at my resume and preferred candidates to tell them their work history. Obnoxious, but what good for the goose…

          I also want to point out that if this is an entry level retail type job, and as other have commented it sounds like it could be, the minimum they know about her indicates that she may have done a similar job. And many candidates just don’t have constant access to a computer. I don’t know what the stats are, but I work with a population that often just has a “smart” phone. I say that in quotes because it’s not always an iPhone or galaxy or whatever. Sometimes it’s a really basic phone with a data plan and doing things like sending attachments isn’t possible. She could have seen a deadline and wanted to reach out to them even though she didn’t have immediate access to a computer. You’d be surprised how many people don’t realize that they can get access to a computer through their library or even sometimes the DLLR office. Or perhaps she even lives in a rural area and the closest Library is 20 miles away and she doesn’t have a car.

          I kinda get what the advice is saying, but I also think the notion that someone who may not actually have access to a computer simply hasn’t tried is ignoring a large portion of the population who actually doesn’t have access to a computer or college advisors (as much as we often cringe at their advice) to steer them in the right direction. Just pointing out that yes, even in this day and age there are lots of people through no fault of their own and often for economic reasons don’t have regular computer access.

          1. Specialk9*

            It’s a good point about not everyone having access to a computer or good phone. Especially for a part time receptionist reception, that seems fairly plausible.

          2. Myrin*

            Again, that is not the message to send in such a case, though.
            The more appropriate thing to write would be to explain that she’s really interested in the position but will only have access to a computer again in a week and then ask if that’d be too late or if she’d still be able to send her materials in then.
            It’s still a bad approach – I feel strongly that in such cases, you try your best to make it work and the thing that needs to adapt is you, not the job application parametres.

            But really, some comments are bending over backwards speculating why the candidate had absolutely no choice to behave the way she did when we actually have zero evidence for any of it. To me, it simply sounds like someone trying to circumvent the hiring process and, judging from the numerous examples we see time and again on this site, that’s probably also the likiest case statistically.

            (Not to mention that OP says she still gets “lots of applications” and actually personally feels like they’re done hiring for now, anyway, which makes the whole thing moot on a whole other level.)

            1. Pine cones huddle*

              I get it. I have worked with job seekers who have never had any guidance in this area. Believe it or not, some high schools are just trying to make it through the day and don’t spend a lot of time with teachers or counselors talking about this. I also work in a library and every day I see someone who is like “wow I had no idea you had computers I could use or people and classes that could show me how to apply for jobs”.

              I get it. Her message wasn’t the most professional. But I see so many people who could have sent the same thing.

          3. ginger ale for all*

            I work in a library and we have many people come to us for computer access. If you know of someone who is saying that when they are looking for a job, please send them our way.

            1. Pine cones huddle*

              Yep. We have computers and classes and wonderful librarians who love to help people. And in many places the DLLR or unemployment office has the same thing. There are also tons of nonprofits who provide these resources and some that even have interview clothes and accessories (like bags) and will run through mock interviews with people.

              (Although rural areas are still at a disadvantage because those resources could be far away and there is often not a good public transportation system.)

          4. Coywolf*

            Thank you for this, you said what I was thinking but in a more informed way haha. I can’t believe the amount of people jumping to terrible conclusions just based on two sentences written by the candidate. Was it unprofessional to contact a company as if you’re texting your fiend? Absolutely. But this sounded like a retail position to me in which “I work for a competitor” may have simply meant “I have relevant experience.”

  10. Mike C.*

    I don’t see why everyone is so suspicious about hiring someone from a competitor. This is really, really common in a ton of different industries and it happens without everyone’s trade secrets being released into the wild.

    Also, you need to make your application system better able to handle phone users. She isn’t attaching a resume out of spite or ignorance, she’s not attaching a resume because your application system doesn’t appear to work well with the largest growing segment of internet users.

    1. paul*

      Partly because that’s where OP’s business partners went with it, I suspect. But they’re hiring for a receptionist or beautician or some similar…how much corporate espionage can there even be?

    2. Antilles*

      Not sure about your last paragraph.
      I am applying from my phone so I can not attach my resume at the moment.
      I read that as basically saying “I keep my resume on my computer, not saved on my smartphone. Since I am on my phone and not sitting at my computer, therefore, I cannot attach my resume at the moment”.
      Which is understandable, but *isn’t* an application system issue on OP’s end. And it’s not at all unreasonable for OP to reply with a polite request to see a resume before moving ahead to scheduling what is essentially a phone interview (call to discuss open positions and my work history).

    3. H.C.*

      The second part is a generous read of the situation; the candidate could’ve easily said “let me know if I can email or send in my resume through another method” instead of asking OP’s company to call her back to discuss work history.

      (and the part about mobile-friendly application systems got me shivering about emoji responses, typos and autocorrect errors)

    4. Engineer Girl*

      Not true.

      First, it isn’t the what (coming from a competitor) but the how (ignoring applications instructions)

      Second, there is nothing to infer that the application site is phone hostile. Smartphones are pocket computers. You can do almost anything on them that you can do with a larger computer. I know that I’ve sent off my resume using my phone.

    5. LBK*

      I mean…unless you’re changing industries or you do a job where the industry is more or less irrelevant (like internal IT), isn’t “coming from a competitor” almost always going to be the same thing as “having experience”? Assuming I stayed in my field I don’t know who else I could work for that wouldn’t be a competitor of my current employer.

    6. OP*

      Hi, OP here, you *can* attach a doc. on your phone with our application system. It’s actually how I applied a few years back. It could very well be she doesn’t store her resume on Drive or a similar app that could be reached on her phone.

      And like I said, we do hire people who have worked for competitors. It’s just the whole message rubbed me the wrong way. It’s projection but I’m basically imagining someone at a Massage Envy somewhere getting annoyed at her manager and applying via phone to us as a big kiss off to her current job. Aside from the occasion I mentioned in my letter, we’ve had applicants who said they were an asset because they know what the other franchises are doing and know how they work, etc., and this was their selling point, etc. I roll my eyes at stuff like that but my co-manager obviously thinks that knowing how much someone sells their gift cards is somehow insider information. There is however, a serious concern with clients-like people have literally come in and said “I have all their client info and I can give it to you.” That is a) incredibly insane and a serious violation, and b) an obvious indication of their behavior as an employee. It’s also strangely desperate. I mean, the lengths people go to mess with a former job and gain employment. The former employee that was mentioned in my letter is an example of this.

      1. Casuan*

        OP, if your business is outperforming your competitors then you’re doing several things right & probably there aren’t [m]any secrets that will help you improve.
        to be more specific:
        Are your clients satisfied?
        Are you happy with how you bring in new clients?
        Is there a referral system?
        Are your employees satisfied with their work & compensation?
        Is it a clean & safe environment?

        If so, this is a good thing to discuss with your co-manager & owner à la AAM’s suggestions. You don’t really need someone with secrets because you’re doing things right.
        The flip side is that your employees could take your business practises to a competitor, although unless you’re doing something really outside-the-box there probably isn’t much risk.

        1. OP*

          Yes to all those-like I said in my letter, my co-manager and my owner are being silly for thinking there’s any value to competitor “secrets”, where my concern is why even bother interviewing someone who is unscrupulous. Someone who opens with “I work for a competitor, we can discuss which positions are open,” just sounds to me like someone who is looking to switch in a hurry, wants to stick it to their boss, and also is angling for something more than what we’re offering. It’s projection! But when I got this note, I immediately thought this applicant was Bad News Bears. I don’t think it’s a jump because I’ve seen it before and otherwise she would have just applied as normal with her previous job on her resume, like a a portion of the other applicants who worked for competitors. I also said in the letter a former employee made off with client information and that applicants have said they have client info. So that’s also an issue with an unscrupulous employee.

          (Our business model is definitely different and our competitors recently, in the last year, have been sort of cribbing bits and pieces of it-however, from what I understand from a fee conferences, the other franchises feel it’s not cost effective to try.)

  11. HRM*

    Not to be a jerk but what kind of top secret trade secrets does the PT front desk clerk have access to anyway?

    1. Antilles*

      I guess we’re both equally jerky, because I was wondering the Exact. Same. Thing. A front desk clerk isn’t going to have all that much useful information.
      Also, it’s a health/beauty franchise! While there’s absolutely intelligence, skill, and expertise required in helping someone work out properly, it’s not like we’re talking about someone sneaking off a secret chemical formula here; there’s literally tens of thousands of webpages online exclusively dedicated to teaching people how to properly lift weights or manage personal training or etc.

          1. Casuan*

            42, somehow your *mic drop* is a pun because… Dude!!
            You are the meaning of life. What more is there?!?

            [if that doesn’t make sense then I embarrassingly misunderstood your user name]

      1. LawLady*

        Yeah, that’s totally what I find so weird about this. At most, the “secrets” would be stuff like “at old job we used to schedule services with this system which worked well.” And since this is a franchise, it’s unlikely there’s really all that much they can change anyway.

        Maybe someone’s coworkers have been watching too much television?

        1. The HRM gloss*

          The applicant did not say she was going to disclose trade secrets — that is OP’s gloss on things — and indeed someone in her position and industry would be exceedingly unlikely to have access to genuine trade secrets.

          1. Doe-Eyed*

            Yeah I think the OP is interpreting this perhaps more harshly than she should. I read it as “I already work in this industry and won’t have to be trained as much because I work for a direct competitor.”

    2. Delphine*

      That’s the position they’re hiring for, but there’s nothing to suggest that is the position the candidate is currently in. In fact, it seems the candidate wasn’t applying for the part time position anyway.

    3. Luna123*

      That was my thought, too — I feel like something like scheduling software wouldn’t count as proprietary information unless the competition created their own from scratch.

    4. Bea*

      Maybe a promotion schedule or something? Since those need to be planned out. Snake that ALL HAIR DRYERS 50% OFF sale a week before OTHA GUY! And nobody needs them a hair dryer the next week *evil cackle*

    5. OP*

      As some people have said here, it’s really just a part-time job at a small business. I don’t mean to inflate it.
      But we do have people on staff and people who apply that do or would rely on this job-it’s their livelihood. It’s not “clerking”-it’s foremost a sales and hospitality job. You have to track your sales, we track feedback, you gain a lot of product knowledge. The compensation is also pretty good-you can potentially earn a decent living and after a certain amount of time with the company you acquire PTO and some benefits. I don’t think it’s about what “secrets” people might have, so much as I think it speaks to the lengths that people will go for decent employment, or how important it is for people to feel, well, important.

  12. Tuckerman*

    “Reliance on smartphones for online access is especially common among younger adults, non-whites and lower-income Americans” (

    This candidate should have applied through the formal channel (perhaps on a library computer if she does not have a computer at home). But I think it’s worth noting that trying to connect informally might not have been a gumption issue, rather a logistical one.

    1. Myrin*

      That’s still a really bad email to send, though. She’s putting the onus of reaching out on an employer who’s never heard of her before and doesn’t have any reason at all to actually get in contact with her.

      (Also, not to be too cynical, but I see the “I’m currently on my phone so I can’t X” used as an untrue cop-out all the time. The first thing I thought of immediately when reading this was honestly the letter about the person sending an email to the hiring manager after applying to “check” whether her application arrived correctly formatted since she used a Mac and “sometimes it doesn’t convert to PDF properly” or somesuch; she used it specifically as a strategy to stand out to the prospective employer.)

      1. Tuckerman*

        I agree it’s a bad email, but I think it would be courteous to instruct the candidate to apply through formal channels (if they are indeed hiring). We’ve all benefited from a professional norm pointer or two early in our careers. I’m not sure that the candidate was lying about being on her phone. If she is mobile-phone dependent for internet, she might be trying to hide that.
        Of course, she could just be doing the gumption thing. But since we don’t have very much information, I think it’s worth considering other possibilities.

      2. Blossom*

        The employer does have a reason to get in touch with her. They have a position to fill.

        I agree the situation’s not perfect, but I didn’t read the email as demanding in any way; she’s basically saying she’s open to a phone screen if they’d like to do that.

        1. Myrin*

          They might have a position to fill, but the OP says that they’re “still receiving lots of applications”, so why should they go with the one that didn’t follow the appropriate procedure? Surely the candidate doesn’t think that she’s literally the only person applying and as such guaranteed to get a call back?

          1. Eliza*

            Also, it’s not entirely clear that they do have a position to fill: I read the OP as saying that they used to be understaffed but she feels they’ve already hired enough people by now.

    2. Antilles*

      That may be true that it’s a logistical issue.
      But even if so, it’s completely fair for the company to want to see a resume rather than jumping straight to “call to discuss open positions and the candidate’s work history” (also known as a “phone interview”). It’s not unreasonable for OP to want to see a resume ahead of time to vet the candidate.

    3. Wendy Darling*

      If your phone is smart enough to send an email your phone is probably smart enough to attach a file to that email, and it’s not difficult at all to 1. get your resume to your phone (you can even email it!) or 2. attach files to an email on your phone. If you don’t know how to do so already 2 minutes with Google will explain it for you.

      Unless the applicant is a serious outlier and has a non-smartphone that does email but cannot in any way handle files, that’s a pretty feeble excuse.

  13. ArtK*

    What would be funny is if this was a poorly-executed attempt at industrial espionage by the competitor.

    1. neverjaunty*

      That’s exactly what it sounds like, though! “Hi, I’m calling from your competitor and I have juicy information, why don’t you call me and we can talk about… your company?”

      This is all kinds of sketchy, OP.

  14. Oxford Coma*

    Talking about intellectual property/trade secrets is like having an affair: if they’ll cheat with you, they’ll cheat on you. No bueno.

      1. OP*

        Hi, OP here! Yeah, I just think it’s really silly and such an inflated view of the business, which is really just about delivering great quality services to improve health and self-esteem. This isn’t big pharma or the Coca Cola plant.

    1. RadManCF*

      I heard a story on that subject while working on a construction project for a certain Minnesota conglomerate known for its Celtic adhesive strips, which, incidentally, is rather vigilant about protecting its trade secrets.. Apparently, in the course of a machinery installation, the engineer from the machine manufacturer decided to ingratiate himself with the project owner’s representative by telling all about an installation he had done for a competitor. The project owner’s response was to watch this guy really closely, and put up lots of plastic sheeting around the area the machine was going into.

      As an aside, I was a little shocked at this statement: “But I have no desire to apply our competitor’s business practices to our own. I don’t care about what they’re doing! We’re better! We have the awards, ratings, and reviews to prove it! And I had to train bad work habits out of employees who have come from those companies, as well as work hard to turn them from their old company’s jargon to our jargon.” While the part of the statement about training old habits out of people is perfectly legitimate, the first part, especially the “I don’t care about what they’re doing” is shockingly complacent, and a good way to set yourself up for failure. If you don’t care about what your competitors are up to, you won’t see them sneak up behind you and knock you out of your dominant position.

      1. Lindsay Geee*

        I think in the full context of her letter though, I think it’s less “I don’t care and so I’ll remain ignorant”. I took that as OP taking the opposite stance of her co-workers in that she doesn’t care about getting ‘secrets’. There are a plethora of ways to stay aware and informed of your competitors without hiring people who will spill the beans. Also just showing confidence in her own company, that their standards or practices are better than their competitors- that could be aside from awards and being #1 in the industry.

        1. RadManCF*

          I took it as being a more general indication of OP’s state of mind, and that the issue presented by the pseudo-applicant is a manifestation of a broader attitude. It struck me as not just a lack of interest in what information the pseudo-applicant could offer, but as a general disinterest in any information about the competition, that borders on hubris. OP mentioned that they manage a franchise, which gets me wondering how much leeway they’d have to implement their competitor’s methods, if they are superior. Hopefully they can clarify. I do agree that showing confidence in the company is good marketing, and that the statements I’m reacting to are in line with that. I just wouldn’t make managerial decisions based on them. I’ve got personal experience working for companies that got blinded by their own success and suffered as a result, so that’s where I’m coming from.

          1. Specialk9*

            I didn’t take it as hubris, just that she knows that they have a good process already and don’t need to imitate companies that are aspiring to be them. There are industry leaders after all.

            I do find it funny how excited she is about her employer. I would get that excited if I worked for an org that fed orphans, gave counseling to war survivors, or cured cancer. But a place that’s just an employer? Mmm no.

            1. RadManCF*

              Just because a company leads an industry doesn’t mean they will always lead that industry, or that the industry will continue to be as lucrative as it presently is. I’m not saying that the industry leader needs to imitate its competitors, I’m saying that the industry leader should take note of what its competitors are up to, in case they come up with better methods that threaten the industry leader’s dominance. For example, take the case of Kodak and Fujifilm. Kodak invented the digital camera in 1975, and buried it for fear that it would eviscerate its business. In the 1990’s other companies spearheaded the transition to digital photography, and Fujifilm was quicker to follow than Kodak. As a result, Kodak today is mostly a joke, while Fujifilm is holding its own, and as far as I can tell, is the market leader for photographic film.

            2. OP*

              That is true, I’m basically a dork for my employer. I’m not being snarky, I really love my job.

          2. OP*

            Hi, I’m the OP-this is sort of a weird thing I didn’t really put in my letter because I wanted Alison to read it and didn’t want to go over the word count-that enthusiastic ‘we’re better’, etc. is basically part of the business model. It’s straight from corp. The franchise was partially built around avoiding what other franchises in our field do because it taints the experience (I’m sure a bunch of people here have been to a massage or spa franchise.)
            That’s not to say we aren’t at all similar. One thing all franchises everywhere have in common is following brand standards to ensure quality control and they have their own standards to follow too-ours are just way more rigorous. We actually are hyper aware of what our competitors are doing. If you sense hubris-I really admire the business model and I’m glad I work for a company that really cares about the quality of its service.
            As I said in my letter, experience is experience so of course any desk/sales/hospitality experience is super valuable. We have this very specific model we have to follow and it works really well-sometimes the habits and practices of the competitor hindrance learning or understanding this model.

            1. RadManCF*

              Hey OP, thanks for the additional info. I figured that your franchise’s model might be restricting, and would keep you from going off-script. I hope you haven’t taken my posts personally; it’s just intended as friendly advice.

        2. Someone else*

          Yeah, I also read it this way. The “not caring” didn’t seem so much about genuinely not caring at all how the competitor works, but rather that hiring an employee from a competitor as a means to getting info about said competitor was of no interest because from what she knew so far, she thinks their practices kind of suck so whatever secrets they might get is JUST info about the competitor, not anything they’d be likely to implement themselves.

  15. LiveAndLetDie*

    “I currently work for a competitor and I am looking to move on, I am applying from my phone so I can not attach my resume at the moment. Please feel free to give me a call to discuss open positions and my work history” = this says nothing about their tenure at the competitor, what kind of job they do there, how much access they would have to the “competitor’s secrets,” and it doesn’t give any indication to what kind of work this person is capable of doing. I’d reply directing them to apply via the proper channels or not at all and treat them like any other candidate.

  16. neverjaunty*

    This strikes me a lot less as a real job application than as fishing for information about YOUR company.

  17. Bea*

    This reminds me of The Weasel. This guy, forever known as The Weasel worked for Big Supply Company back in the dark days. Bossman had his Supply made by them, The Weasel was our rep. He was a real crummy slimy sales guy, think used cars.

    Big Supply Company laid him off years later. He hopped to Their Big Competitor. Fine. This guy crawls into our chicken coop and lures old clients to his new home. Gross. But they were cheaper.

    Then The Weasel is fired from there. He slithers away. He even tells us the sob story. Nobody likes him but my boss is ill and I’m picking my battles.

    Then The Weasel goes to sell used cars for awhile (no I’m serious). Until he finds a way back into the Supply game…he opens up a local “branch” of a supplier who is now just a frigging middle man but does something to get enough shaved off somewhere to act like he’s selling to us as a third party rep selling his old company’s products.

    This dude tore through an industry like a dust devil and we all hated him. I finally fired his ass and went back to our Original Supplier years later and told them the entire story. When The Weasel came back to see what he did wrong I lost my cool and ripped into him because I knew he had taken advantage of my bosses health crumbling, he knew he could be lead around if it was easy enough. Ick.

    So yeah industry jumping is necessary but there are punks out there that jump around because they’re going to take your client list with them when you finally fire their asses.

  18. Someone else*

    When I first started reading this letter I assumed the person was a high-level exec type.If so, then the short “hey, let’s talk, I’m looking to make a move” type approach might be reasonable.Or if this were someone high enough and well known enough in their field that the people she reached out to might recognize her. That’s the scenario where this remotely makes any sense to me. So when I got to the part where the only position they have open is a part time one, since the person did specifically say they wanted to talk about open positions, it implies they knew there were open positions…it sort of fell apart and seems pretty tone deaf.

  19. Mr. PB's house*

    I love how Encyclopedia Brown-tastic Alison’s answer is. The answer was right under my nose the whole time, and I totally didn’t see it. It was Bugs Meany not-applying for a job from his cell phone all along!

  20. Jam Today*

    This sounds like a competitive intelligence scouting mission. If she can get you to talk about what positions you have open or in requisition that aren’t posted yet, she can get a sense of what your company is doing. Do you need more product people? New product lines, especially if she gets you talking about specific expertise. New support staff? Expecting an increase in customers. Etc.

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