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updated: 7/14/2013 7:53 AM

Work Advice: Ask me no favors, I'll tell you no lies

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Q: Several years ago, I was in a terrible job and networked with anyone who would help. A job came up in an agency where a guy I'd networked with for two years knew the hiring manager. I immediately asked if he could help me get an interview. He said he'd do what he could. Later, he told people he "wasn't sure" about me, so he just "accidentally" let the application deadline pass. I heard this story from multiple people.

I now have a job working for congressional leadership. When sequestration hit his industry, this man immediately contacted me, asking for help. He clearly didn't know I knew the truth and acted like we were the best of friends. I thought that was nervy; choosing not to help is fine, but don't expect favors in return. I can't help him. Does he deserve to know how I truly feel?

A: Translation: "Do I deserve the chance to smash this cold, congealed revenge pie right into his lying face?"

You have here an opportunity most of us can see fulfilled only in teen flicks about geek-to-chic transformations and sadistic bullies getting bumped off. But while calling him out on his Janus act might be satisfying, I suggest you take the long view. If the next election reverses your fortunes, you might find you have a use for him -- and he might be eager to help someone he sees as having connections.

So just let him know politely that it's not in your power to help this time. Maybe ask how some of your mutual connections are doing -- and imagine his face as he begins to wonder, but can never ask, what you may have heard from them. Tasty, tasty pie.

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Q: I work at a small company that is shockingly mismanaged. The owner recently became more involved, trying to turn things around. This included asking each of us whether we were planning to quit. He asked me directly whether I was sending out resumes. I lied and said no because I was worried he would hire my replacement before I found new employment.

Now that I have found a better job and given notice, the owner is trying to make me feel guilty for misleading him. Was there a better way to handle this?

A: Certainly. Instead of subjecting workers to an inquisition, your boss should have begged for your patience, heard your issues and communicated his plans to resolve them. And he should accept resignations as the inevitable cost of doing bad business.

Oh, were you asking whether there was an honest response to his grilling that wouldn't have left you unemployed? Search me. In your iron shoes, I'd have done the same.

• Miller has written for and edited tax publications for 16 years, most recently for the accounting firm KPMG's Washington National Tax office. You can also find her on Twitter @KarlaAtWork.

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