Working Knowledge

A Monthly Column about Life on the Job


By Mary Pergander
American Libraries Columnist

Mary Pergander is director of the Deerfield (Ill.) Public Library. Send comments or questions to

Column for April 2007

To Share or Not to Share

When good comments go bad

Once upon a time, one of my librarian friends applied for a position working for another librarian I knew. I contacted the hiring librarian and shared positive observations about the candidate. I felt very comfortable doing so because I knew both parties and I honestly thought this would be helpful to both of them.
    It backfired, and nearly cost the candidate the opportunity. I learned that even the best-intentioned actions can have unintended negative consequences.
    Qestion: If you knew a person who applied for a job and you knew the person who was offering the position, would you speak to the hiring librarian about the candidate—or vice versa? Winnetka-Northfield (Ill.) Public Library District Director Barbara J. Aron helped me formulate these two views:

When you know both people, it is human nature to want to make that connection. A résumé describes education and accomplishments, but rarely reveals any personal character. Sharing information about the applicant or the potential employer can give insight into people skills, teamwork, and other attributes. In fact, professional recruiters often use word of mouth and reputation as a means of identifying viable candidates.
    I have seen many resumes that did not begin to do justice to the people they represented. Of course, I would not contact a stranger about such things, but if I knew both parties and believed the exchange would be welcomed, I would speak up. Does this give an unfair advantage to that candidate? Libraryland is relatively small. I know of no one who automatically disqualifies candidates he or she knows in order to be certain that all are equally anonymous. What I might do differently in the future, however, is ask first if the two parties welcome this information sharing, to avoid unpleasant consequences.

To be fair, the hiring process must be one of trust between the employer and candidates. No one should have an edge over anyone else. A person who knows a candidate can confuse personal information with professional information. This sharing, intended to influence the hiring decision, builds support for an applicant before the employer has even met with her. This is jumping the gun.
    Even positive, well-intentioned comments can backfire. Knowing someone is not the same as knowing how he will perform in a given job. In fact, he might perform quite differently in the employment situation than in the personal or professional relationship with the informant. Often, the experiences will not apply from one situation to the other. Another complication can occur if the person doing the contacting is not on the applicant’s list of references. Overall, unsolicited information shared without warning is more likely to have adverse outcomes than good ones.


Have you ever been in a similar situation? What did you do, or what would you do in a comparable circumstance? Do you believe that discussing a candidate or employer during a job search interferes with the integrity of the hiring process? What advice do you have for others? Write to me at

    (c) Copyright 2007 American Library Association