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Naive young grad blows it

In the August 25, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a new grad ignores the line between life and job.

Question

I’ve gotten myself into a bit of a situation and need your advice. I’m taking my boss to a distant, major resort because my parents have a place there and I foolishly offered it up to our small department as a “retreat” — not thinking my boss would actually approve this.

oopsWell, my boss said yes. He’s in his twenties and was thrilled. Now we have plans to go in a few weeks. The dilemma is that I’ve been poached during the past week by two great companies and both want me to come in for an in-person interview lasting several hours. Both jobs would pay about 50% more than I’m making now.

Although I don’t have an offer yet, I want to be prepared in the case one of these companies does extend one. Initially, I was going to use the offer as leverage at my current company. Then it dawned on me that if my boss doesn’t match the offer, or counter it with something close, I will face a very difficult choice: take the new job and put my two weeks in during the retreat, or accept that my current company is not going to pay me what I deserve.

I’m 22 and graduated from college very recently. What should I do?

Nick’s Reply

Sheesh! You are in a bind. New grads almost always blow it when they start work. It’s how we all learn the ropes, so don’t take my reaction as ridicule. I’ve been there, done that. Your problem is that you’re compounding your problems over your naivete.

Forgive me if I lecture. There are a few important lessons here for new grads.


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You’re not in college any more.

Don’t make the mistake of mixing work with your personal life. You can’t negotiate for a job at your parents’ house while your boss is eating your mom’s pancakes and drinking your dad’s beer. Would you take a date to your parent’s vacation house so you could tell her you’re breaking up?

We blow it when we forget there’s a line between fun and work. Of course, in college there’s no such line. Remind yourself regularly that you’re not in college any more. If I were you, I’d probably beg off this trip.

Two job opportunities are not a choice.

I know you’re excited about those two jobs. I don’t even care that you’ve been at your current job for only a short time while you’re entertaining them. Calculate the costs of any choice you make, and do what’s best for you. But keep one thing in mind: You have no choices to make until you have a bona fide offer in hand. (See I’m still waiting for the job offer!)

Don’t jump the gun and risk your job over a fantasy. Take it from a headhunter: Most “great opportunities” go south. Don’t presume anything until it’s real. Risking a real job for an uncertain opportunity is not prudent.

Don’t use an offer to get a raise.

Either take the new job, or keep your mouth shut and keep your old job and salary. The only decision to make is, which deal is best for you? (See The ethics of juggling job offers.) If the new job and offer are to your liking, then go. When you use a job offer to extort a raise, you will likely wind up on the street with no job at all:

To a company, a counter-offer is sometimes a purely pragmatic tactic that enables it to sever a relationship on its own terms and in its own good time. That is, companies use counter-offers defensively. A company would rather have a replacement employee lined up, and a counter-offer buys time. The extra salary offered may be charged against the employee’s next raise, and the work load may increase. The employee is a marked man (or woman).

From Parting Company: How to leave your job, p. 52, “What’s the truth about counter-offers?”

If you dangle a new job offer in front of your boss to get a raise — especially while he’s at your vacation house — you’ll probably blow it.

Your boss is not your friend.

I’ve had bosses that I liked; bosses who cared about me and had my back. But any good boss acts in the interest of the employer when the chips are down. If you want to pretend otherwise, I wish you luck because you’re going to need it. It isn’t your boss’s duty to be your friend. His first duty is to make you a good employee.

For this reason, never tip off your boss that you have alternative job plans. If you disclose your plans, and neither of the two jobs you’re contemplating pans out, you’ll be a marked man. Odds are high that sometime soon you’ll be ushered out the door — if your boss doesn’t fire you instantly right under your own father’s roof.

Choices are often painful.

That’s why it’s important to act quickly, accept the consequences, and move on. You have put yourself in a nasty spot. Assuming an offer (or both) come through, do you tell your boss now that the trip is off — because you don’t want to face him with your resignation after entertaining him? (I don’t think there’s anything wrong with citing “personal reasons” for calling it off.) Or do you want to tell him you’re quitting during — or right after — the retreat?

Both scenarios stink. One stinks less. I wish I could wave a magic wand, but I can’t. You have to choose. It’s going to hurt, no matter which way you go.

Take some time and identify all the issues. Figure out how they’re all interrelated before you act. This is not about accepting a new job or about embarrassing yourself. This is about growing up quickly. I wish you the best.

Can this new grad grow up quickly and get out of this fix? What would you advise?

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18 Comments
  1. Suggest he delay the job interviews and host the retreat, even if he decides to leave later on. He may learn something during the retreat that might make him decide to stay. More money does not necessarily mean a better job. It could mean working for a person who is so obnoxious they have to pay a premium to get anyone to work for them. Exercise caution and don’t take anything for granted.

  2. “pay me what I deserve. I’m 22 and graduated from college very recently.”

    Seriously?! I don’t know your profession, or degree, but – SERIOUSLY?! Just what do you think you “deserve” to be paid when you recently graduated college?

    Someone took a chance on a recent college grad. Stick with it; gain some real world experience. Then, just maybe, you can start working your way toward what you think you deserve to be paid.

    PS: I am REALLY tired of the “entitled” mentality. You need to kill that before it haunts you professionally.

  3. A few thoughts:

    1) “Poached”? Hardly. Poached is when you start that new job. The only thing poached right now are the person’s eggs.

    2) Is this really going to happen this fast? You’re talking about scheduling interviews. The employer will still have to evaluate things, run a background check, write up an offer, negotiate, etc. I’ve seen fast offers, but they’re rare.

    3) If you’re worried about the issue of using your parents’ house, you have an “out” that doesn’t require any further explanation. Simply tell your boss that your parents said that the house is unfortunately not available anymore. Worried about telling the truth? Ask your parents to tell you that the house is not available now. You are now providing a 100% true statement to your boss. He doesn’t need to know the reason it’s not available.

  4. Young graduate, the important thing to remember is your integrity and character (or lack of character). You made a promise to the boss about this retreat. If you back out now, you will appear to have an integrity issue to your boss. Also remember what Nick said, most potential jobs and interviews do not pan out. Someone at the new places may know someone at your current job. If word gets out about the offer and then rescinding of your parents place, you may not get hired. Don’t be so eager to be liked that you make an unrealistic offer like the vacation home again. One of your coworkers could get drunk and wreck something there and then your parents are mad at you and you are mad at the coworker.

  5. There is a huge liability when you invite people you work with to your home or cottage. There is the risk of damaging your working relationship and then there is the risk of physical damage or injury and possible legal liability.

    Regardless of what happens with the two potential job interviews (don’t count your chickens till they hatch), you should back out of the retreat. It’s better to lose face now than for something worse to happen at the house/cottage. These people are not your friends. It’s always great to get along with your coworkers, but you have no clue what they are like away from work or their moral character.

    As Chris had stated, talk it over with your parents and then simply let your boss know that the weekend is off.

    ~Best wishes on this learning experience.

  6. Personally I feel there is a lot of freaking out here about what may be a stressful but ultimately normal situation. Changing jobs is scary in the best of circumstances. Even when I am truly unhappy at a job, telling them I am leaving is a stressful proposition. It doesn’t sound like the vacation home retreat is much of an issue except for how that fits into the timing of the employee’s possible departure. So maybe the recent grad can just wait until getting back before giving notice (if a job offer has been extended), and asking for a few extra days from the new employer before starting. I agree with Nick’s advice about counter-offers and managing the possible transition, and another commenter’s that more money may not be better; but overall I feel that the sky is not falling and the recent grad should feel pretty good he/she is able to provide a cool retreat for his/her team and is getting so much traction in the professional world right out of college.

  7. Regarding Kathy’s comment regarding integrity and character. My question is did you clear this through your parents before making the offer? If not, then the true sign of character is own up to that fact and apologize to your boss for having to cancel the weekend. The home/cottage is not yours and you did not clear it first with your parents. The fact that both you and your boss are so young, I’m sure you both can relate to things being curtailed by parents after the initial idea sounded so great. Bottom line, it’s not your house/cottage and you don’t have final say as to who has use of it. You can simply apologize for not clearing it with your parents before offering it’s use. Again, better to deal with this small issue now than a potentially bigger issue later on.

    Don’t wait till the last minute to tell him either. You don’t want people to lose out on making other plans for that weekend.

    This is part of being an adult. Taking ownership of things and biting the bullet. As a consolation, you could offer to buy lunch for everyone that day. It’s a small price to pay if it will help smooth things over with your boss and the staff.

  8. Nick,

    To put this in terms that our recent grad can understand, I’m 61 and I’m LMFAO. I doubt they’re finding this quite so funny, but by the time they get to my age, I hope this is what I like to call “Stories for the Grandkids.”

    Your advice is as good as any. New Grad has painted themselves into a corner and is not going to escape without some pain. I think the most important piece is to get something from the experience. Life teaches hard lessons, and that’s a good thing. Go back in a year, replay the situation and how it turns out. Think about the other courses of action you considered and how they might have played out, knowing what you now know. You are a year older, and that counts when you’re 22.

    Twenty years from now, it’s extremely unlikely that what do about the situation matters one iota. Unless you do something incomprehensively stupid during the retreat. (Please don’t.) Use this opportunity to grow, to consider the consequences of your actions before you commit to them, and to learn about making sound decisions.

    One more thing no one has touched on yet. This retreat could be a really good opportunity. You could show that you’ve thought about the company’s direction and your role. Remember Nick’s mantra: How will you make money for your employer? What actions will add to the bottom line? Start thinking now about clever ideas to streamline your department’s policies and become more efficient. Present some great ideas during the retreat. Show that you’re using your gray matter. Stay or go at your present company, there is no downside to this mindset.

    Nick, thanks for this one. I promise to have a smile on my face for the rest of the day.

    Youth…

  9. 1) Did our recent college grad ask his parents re use of the vacation home? I’m thinking this guy is so clueless he didn’t clear it with the family.

    2) He has to follow through with the retreat. If he doesn’t he’ll look like a chump with his current boss and get into bad odor fast. Also he doesn’t mention who else is going. This may be just the two of them. However….

    3) He needs to cover himself for liability. Our clueless friend should first ask his parents whether they have an umbrella policy on the residence. Something happens there like an accident in the kitchen or yard, he (actually his parents) can be tagged with the bills. This needs to be discussed with his boss and their in-house legal counsel ASAP–especially if there’s a group, what the company policy is on liability at offsite gatherings if this really is a retreat rather than a beer blast. Chances are, unless there is business content established ahead of time, it won’t meet a business retreat standard. Company won’t cover it and Clueless’ family will be on the hook if the boss takes a header on the deck and winds up in the hospital.

    This may be another way to kill the entire deal.

    4) This guy also doesn’t understand the difference between an interview and an offer. Dear boy, you haven’t been poached but you will resemble an egg (thanks for analogy Chris)if you don’t know the difference. You may be one very lucky guy and have a skill set in high demand, but be careful. Schedule the interviews either before or after this retreat. Cite business travel. If they really want you, they’ll hang with you. If not, it wasn’t real.

    Never be afraid to explore another possibility, but consider the caveats below for starters. You can always say no, and you may make some excellent contacts. When you do talk with others, be polite, professional and prepared.You’re employed in a good job, and you are so lucky at 22. You’re coming from a strong place.

    5)Carefully consider 1) are they pumping you for information on your present employer (be very circumspect about your current work) and 2) is this a wise move for you in a year? Two years? You are young enough to take a hit in salary for awhile if you are doing well on your first job and there’s strong advancement in store (the fact your boss is about your age and seems to like you is a strong factor.)

    Consider also: jumping after less than one year, even if you are in a hot area, looks a little strange down the road to others, unless the company is failing/has failed.

    Keep in mind…it’s all talk until there’s an offer, you accept–and they don’t rescind it.

  10. Don’t mix work and friends?
    Isn’t hiring now done by teams of late twenty somethings based on how cool the hire would be and if the candidate would fit in at happy hours?

    Having said this, I grew up dirt poor (last of ten kids with parents born during the Great Depression) and have no idea what it’s like to have parents with vacation homes. Not sure I’d invite a boss and coworkers even if I had the option.

  11. This is really a non-problem, at the moment.

    You have retreat plans…and you need to follow through with them. And consider how you can add value to the present firm while you’re doing it.

    You do not have a job offer, you’re merely talking with other companies. Keep it on that level, and stall. Be clear with them that you’re hosting a retreat for your work group in a few weeks, and cannot reneg on that plan. But you would be happy to consider an offer from the new firm, understanding that any such employment would have to happen after the planned event.

    Any company worth working for will wait a few weeks for the right candidate.

    So deal with what’s real, and don’t inject anxiety into the situation, or project it, based on a possibility.

  12. @Chris: Sometimes it happens that fast. I had a phone ‘interview’ where the hiring manager and I discussed several college sports teams, the AAA baseball franchise of the Yankees, the weather (it was snowing where we were, and sunny where the job was) … basically nothing about the actual IT job.

    Half an hour later I had the offer in hand. I’m convinced the average line manager (not HR) knows how to interview, hire and not spend all month at it.

    @Carl: “Don’t mix work and friends?
    Isn’t hiring now done by teams of late twenty somethings based on how cool the hire would be and if the candidate would fit in at happy hours?”

    I thought it was a bunch of early twenty-somethings dissing Vietnam-Era vets (those d***** baby-killers!!) and checking to see which candidate was the most 420-friendly. This could go a long way to explain why a lot of us haven’t had a decent legitimate offer since we were in our 30’s.

    (I know, ‘straw man’ argument, but I could’t resist.)

  13. Several have mentioned not mixing work and social. I can speak from experience, having started in the 1980s, that senior executives I worked with when they were on their final interviews were invited out with their spouses (usually wives but I recall one female executive’s husband) on dinners before hiring–which were actually final interviews to see how 1) the candidate handled social situations and 2) how the spouse behaved. Sometimes the children were scrutinized as well–and these were jobs in private industry. Management also did this with executives being evaluated for promotion.

    This has gone by the board in the last 10 years, maybe the 90s.It was very common in the 1940s-1970s.

    1950s-70s: My parents had a small manufacturing business and routinely invited their suppliers and their families to our home for dinner. My brother’s high school graduation was marked with a formal party at a country club restaurant –both my extended family (including cousins) and our close business contacts attended. It was also one year after my father passed away and my mother assumed control of the business so there was a ‘marker’ there. Likewise we were invited to our key suppliers’ and senior employees’ children’s weddings and other social events. And this was not the Midwest–how about NJ?

    Doctors tend to be a bit more social in this respect even today.

    While this had moments of discomfort, what happened is that you got to know your co-workers as people. And in small industries and communities, it worked. The downside of course is that they knew your business.

  14. Yes, L.T., we have the ‘stupid’ version of social hiring by 20 somethings that has little to do with ability, or by the fact that they have a great deal to learn from experienced people.

    I’ve been long enough in health tech to see many companies struggle, crash and burn based on that philosophy. The ‘bros’ run the company and the women are either fresh out of school programmers, or in slightly larger companies, run HR or occasionally you’ll see ‘mommy’ running finance (sometimes put in by their ‘angels’). The bros do come hat in hand begging for press coverage though!

  15. A few suggestions
    a) When/if you do get the interviews with the other companies you need to make sure you concentrate on how you will improve their bottom line, and interact with the rest of their team, rather than what you “deserve”. Understand their business and be prepared. These guys may well be doing a cattle call of “promising” talent so you are unlikely to be the only people they are interviewing.
    b) Do a lot of research on the net and determine if these new companies have a high turnover rate. There are a number of tech companies getting a bad rap for overworking their people and burning them out. They are attractive from the outside but a lot of the recompense is delayed to make people stay.
    c) Do not look at this cabin as a “retreat”, rather as a gathering of “friends”. If there is an issue it is better if you parent’s insurance deals with public liability than trying to sort this out with your (potentially old) company. You should definitely go ahead with it and, if you do get an offer, you should indicate it is dependent on you finishing off this obligation to your old company. You will probably get cudos for doing this.
    d) Make sure you don’t compromise your current position whilst looking at the new positions. Your reputation is your most valuable asset and you are teetering on the edge at the moment.

  16. @Dale: Good points, but I disagree completely about delaying the interviews. Consider the value of those jobs: a potential 50% salary boost. Two things to consider. (1) Something may be very wrong, and (2) new grads change jobs often.

    1. The reader didn’t say anything about satisfaction with the job. The business sounds small, and it may not be in good financial condition. The one fact we have is that other companies are talking to this reader about 50% higher salaries. Why? I think he’d be unwise to delay his interviews and exploration.

    2. New grads often go through several jobs in the first 5 years of their careers. Stability is a good thing, but not if signs are that a new grad is in the wrong company or job. I didn’t get into how this person might evaluate the current employer – that’s important. But I’d never dissuade a new grad from following up on good opportunities, even though they may not pan out. The learning curve on choosing a good job/employer is steep, and it’s costly to ride. Doesn’t mean one shouldn’t ride it.

    @Julia: I agree there’s an entitlement mentality among a lot of younger workers. I’m not sure it’s a “Millennial” thing – I think it’s got more to do with the B.S. spouted by job boards like LinkedIn, which suggest you can get a windfall if only you keep using their services. Young people are highly susceptible to such pitches. But there’s another, bigger problem: Employers are short-changing new hires on salaries across the age spectrum. While I think the reader is naive, I don’t think at that age it’s imprudent to explore good opportunities prudently :-).

    @Chris @ Peter: Thanks for focusing on the main problem. This reader should not be mixing personal with work. I’d nix the retreat.

    @Kathy: Integrity is key. But I think that’s more about how the reader actually handles this, not whether he should go ahead with the retreat. As I noted, there’s a price to every choice. A ding to his integrity might be the price of staying out of bigger trouble. Imagine the reputation cost of doing the retreat, then soon quitting. None of this is easy. And, as Ian suggests, the sky is not falling :-).

    @Larry B: There’s wisdom in your approach to this. Do the retreat, realize the company is not for you, and there’s your rationale for quitting. I’m not suggesting doing this gratuitously, any more than Larry did. Use the retreat to help you decide about the other jobs (if they pan out), and be candid with your boss if you quit. “I’m glad we did the retreat… I realized this situation is not for me, but no hard feelings. I’m glad in any case I was able to help with the retreat…”

    I hadn’t thought about it this way. But my first choice is still to gracefully back out of the retreat offer. Dee offers a great caution that might reasonably explain the cancellation: Liability faced by the parents.

    @All: I love the comments about what it means to be poached. You’re not poached unless you’re hired.

    @L.T.: Absolutely right. An offer could come very quickly.

    @All: According to labor researcher Peter Cappelli at Wharton, there’s really no data to suggest that “kids these days” are any different from previous young generations. Their unbridled enthusiasm and sense of entitlement is common across all generations. As I noted above, if Millennials are any more “guilty” of these characteristics, I think it’s because of the impact of modern advertising and marketing.

  17. I thought Dee made some excellent points.

    I didn’t think this so big a gaffe that it cannot be fixed, and while RCG (Recent College Grad) obviously erred, I wondered where his boss’ brains and common sense were, then I remembered that his boss is also only in 20’s and maybe not much older than RCG.

    But Nick is right: the workplace is not college, not a frat. You’re there to work, to be profitable to your employer. But I also think that doesn’t mean that you can’t become friendly with your colleagues, although I would be very careful with the boss. I’d keep a respectful boundary despite the closeness in age. You can be friendly without being friends.

    And if RCG needs an escape hatch, then find out if his parents are okay with having a retreat cum party at their vacation home and if not, then apologize and take the blame for making the offer before clearing it with his folks. It is the parents’ house, not RCG’s, and while it would be embarrassing to have to rescind, I think most would chalk up this kind of mistake to youthful ignorance/stupidity.

    This is one of those “teachable moments” for RCG–and a good lesson for him to learn about making offers to use space on a vacation home that doesn’t belong to him. A chat with a lawyer re liabilities might also help and a reminder that just because you think nothing will happen doesn’t mean that someone (a colleague, your boss, etc.) can’t get hurt and RCG surely would not want his parents to be liable for someone’s hospital bills!

    I’m sure that this is an age thing–he’s so young, as is his boss, that it never occurred to either one of them that this would NOT be a good idea.

    Nick et al. are right: RCG doesn’t have another job offer, so there should be no awkwardness. He may never receive an offer, and in fact may never even be notified one way or the other. To RCG: don’t hold your breath: by all means, if you are asked to come in for an interview, see if you can schedule for a later date (post-retreat) and don’t assume you have it in the bag. Nick provided a couple of links to articles about how most job interviews don’t result in anything. RCG has not only NOT been poached, he’s counting his chickens BEFORE they’ve been hatched!

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