Saying hello in public spaces – recruiting and confidentiality


His email was polite, but pointed: “I saw you at XYZ Restaurant today at lunch. Why didn’t you stop and say hello?” What a great question, especially since I had just interviewed this individual earlier in the week, knew his name, and recognized him immediately. I’m so glad he asked!

The short answer to his question is simple: confidentiality.

Here’s the long answer. Absolute respect for confidentiality is a key requirement for ethical recruiting and staffing. Easily 95% of my candidates are currently employed and discreetly looking for new employment. For some of these individuals, if the employer even finds out that they’re looking they could be fired.

Full confidentiality applies not just when I’m at my desk or on my work phone. When I’m out in a public place and see someone I recognize as a candidate, I can’t know who else might be with that person or even within audible distance in that space. Who is the person with you? It could be your boss. Who is the person at the next table? It could be a coworker.

If I take the initiative to speak first, then the burden is on you when someone asks you who I am and how you know me. A potentially awkward situation for you, particularly if the question comes from a supervisor. Even if you can think of a suitable generic answer, your nonverbal signals could easily tell a different story. Bottom line: I don’t want to put either of us in a situation that might compromise the confidentiality of your job search.

So, when I see and recognize you at a restaurant, on the bike trail, or in a market, I will smile when we make eye contact. But I will otherwise treat you as a stranger for your protection. No discourtesy intended – quite the opposite!

by Elyse Williamson

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