So…Your Mother-in-law Is a Partner at a Competitor of Your CPA Firm…

Perplexed by corporate fashion dos and don'ts? Need remedies for comp/bonus anxiety? Are you an auditor that needs a go-to quip for those relatives who want help with their taxes? Email us your questions and we will answer them in order of stupidity.

I have an upcoming interview at a large firm, but in one of their smaller offices. Think rural-ish area. My mother-in-law is partner at a competing firm in the same town. Is this something I should disclose upfront or do you see it being an issue down the line should I get hired?

Dear Pauly Shore,

Personally, I don't see any advantage by disclosing this up front. Your opportunity with this firm is about your abilities and name-dropping the MIL might sway your interviewers for one reason or another. I suppose if the interview naturally moves in that direction, you certainly wouldn't conceal the fact that your better half's mother is a partner at the competing firm, but don't treat this as a confession. Depending on how small your city is, they might already know that she is a partner at a competitor.

As for problems down the road, I see two possibilities:

One – if your MIL is a shameless gossip, she'll want to know all the haps inside your firm whenever the two of you are talking shop. Who you like; who you don't; what it's like to work for so-and-so; are the people who work there god-awful miserable, etc. etc. This kind of gossip would typically be fine, but when you're giving the scoop to a partner who just so happens to be your spouse's mother, that obviously makes things more complicated. Is she likely to share your insider scoops with her fellow partners? I'm sure she's a lovely woman and this would NEVER happen, but if she has the stereotypical temperment of mother-in-laws everywhere, just be mindful of what you say around her.

Two – Once people at your firm find out that the MIL is a partner at a competitor (and in your quaint little town, they will find out), some may become suspicious of what the two of you talk about when you're having family time. There are certainly partners at your prospective firm that know her and will make judgments accordingly. However, if you keep things matter-of-fact-ish then other people won't give it a second thought.

Really, there will only be an issue if you make it one. If you are hired by the firm, there's no chance (currently) that you'll have any kind of client relationship with her, thus, there's no independence risk (although my ethics is rusty) and since you would be working for a different firm, no one will ever suspect that you're on the receiving end of favorable treatment.

Now nail this interview so she'll quit telling her friends what a deadbeat you are. Good luck.

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