I got really good vibes from the manager that interviewed me. The offer was very good, and everything went so well that I turned down another offer to take this one. After a week of training, POOF! I learned there was a management upheaval, with my new boss and job eliminated. I may have to take a salary cut and get reassigned, or just leave and start my job search again. But what I want to ask you is, is it even possible to avoid something like this? Is there anything I could have done?

Nick’s Reply

job-eliminatedThis is a twist on the rescinded job offer. You’re still employed — with your boss and job eliminated, and your salary cut! While a company’s imminent restructuring may be highly confidential, there’s a way you might have gathered critical information that could have kept you out of trouble.

The key to this approach is understanding that people love to talk and to gripe. Help them do it. No company can totally hide upcoming management changes, especially from employees. If you have enough conversations with a company’s employees, I think you’ll find that more than one will hint at imminent changes and potential problems — if they don’t come right out and tell you what’s wrong.

Chart the players

A legitimate approach is to chart and meet the players. It’s prudent to know who you will be working with, how good they are at their work, and how they will affect your success. These are also the people who can tip you off to possible problems in the organization.

While you may not be able to actually pull off what I’m about to suggest, consider this an exercise to work through. I think as you try it, you’ll come up with one or two tactics that you can actually apply that will be helpful in the future. When you’re done, you should know enough about the organization to avoid getting blindsided by a management change that could hurt you.

Does it all add up?

Look for inconsistencies across all the conversations you have. Does information add up about the job and who the boss is?

  1. Before and during your interviews, draw an organization chart around the job you’re considering.
  2. Overlay a picture of what your workday and your work month would look like.
  3. Lay out the tasks you’ll be doing, and then draw lines to all the departments and specific people who will be working with you and whose work will impact your ability to do yours.
  4. Ask the manager to help you create this chart.

Then explain that you’ll need to meet some of these people — all of them, if possible. The meetings can be brief, but they’re critical.

Sound farfetched? If you were a professional sports player, you’d know who’s on the team you’re joining, and exactly what your role would be. That would affect your decision to join up. It’s the same here.

Look for the truth

If the employer balks, explain yourself simply: “I work hard and I’m a great producer. Some people will be significantly affected by my work, and they will affect my ability to do my work as well. It’s in all of our interests to make sure we can work together. So I’d like to meet everyone.”

You need multiple data points to get an accurate picture of this “opportunity.” The more people you meet in the organization, the better.

Managers are a special case in your little drawing. If you had met more managers in the company, I’m betting you would have learned the truth, that a change was afoot. (Such a thing is difficult to hide.) Once an interview gets serious, it’s reasonable to ask, “Will I be working for you personally for the next year? If I’m your direct report, will I report to anyone else on a dotted line? Do you foresee any changes in this job in the coming year?”

Of course, they might lie to you. All you can do is test them.

I’m sorry you were blindsided. Companies are of course free to eliminate jobs and change managers. That’s why you must control your interviews and learn all you can before they leave you holding the bag. You deserve to know in advance whether a job is about to be eliminated, your pay cut, or the boss removed.

Ever report to a new employer only to find the boss and job eliminated, and the pay not what you were told? How do you ensure you know what you’re actually getting? Should this reader just quit and try elsewhere?

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  1. If you ask to meet people and use the “our work affects each other” line, and they’re still hesitant, here’s an extra back-up: “So much of success at work is tied into the individual personalities and work styles. You already know all about the people working here. All I’m asking for is a glimpse at the same information that you have.”

  2. I dodged a bullet interviewing once, years ago. Hiring manager and I hit it off, work would be an interesting challenge, salary mentioned was near the top of my goal range. Had come out that the manager was fairly new there, so I asked what kind of future he envisioned with the company. Whereupon he lowered his voice and said he was extremely unhappy there, the company was in a state of upheaval, and he expected to be gone within 6 months.

    • @Anon: It pays to keep asking questions.

  3. This happened to me 30 years ago. I cultivated a relationship with the EVP of an engineering firm and actually created a job for myself. A few months after coming onboard, external politics forced the firm to bring in a well-connected outsider. I will never forget my first conversation with him — he asked me what I do, and when I told him, he said “from now on, that’s my job.”

    I went to work recreating my job — I found an area of the company that needed some leadership and I developed a function for myself that ended up bringing in some business, but not a quick enough turnaround that proved my worth.

    So, I was let go — but I managed to get 18 months of work out of them and provide some value as well.

  4. I’ve never got nailed on arrival, but over the years have heard of it often. And I’ve been in companies where I’ve seen it happen after coming aboard. This scenario is especially painful if a relo is involved.

    Nick’s idea about chatting up the managers & others aboard that could affect you working life is a good idea.

    I’d add, one reason for networking and researching prospective companies is well worth one’s time and why serious job hunting is a job in itself.

    Research the prospective companies for disruptive, red flags and/or absence of them. This will well prepare you for engaging with those people Nick is talking about, especially the managers.

    Here’s some things to look for that will generate good questions and talking points. Unless those managers are sleeping they are also talking about them. These are the things that spell potential REORG! on their walls

    1. Mergers/Acquisitions. rumored, pending, in process, afterward for at least a year. The organization will be churning & may do so for some time.
    2. Spinoffs. Whether the company is the spitter or spittee. pay attention.
    3. Financials. The obvious downsizings, but also harbingers e.g. downward quarterly performance over a year. And While it is a good thing financially, Rapid growth is very disruptive. You should expect reorgs galore and definitely will set you up for the subject scenario.
    4. Strategic changes e.g moving into new industries, product/services with which the company has minimal experience.
    5. Departures of key players. The smaller the organization the bigger the red flag.
    6. Change in the HQ venue. sounds somewhat trivial but there’s a ripple effect May make sense on the computer, but a lot of key people will not move. yeah they can work remotely, but…take care.

    You could say what you find out doing this may eliminate a company from your target list, but I’d not blow an opportunity off because there may be a risk. Take note that the related chaos may also offer opportunity & does.

    Do your homework & you’ll walk away from some useful insights. And don’t be surprised that, that you’ll talk to people including those managers who know less than you do. The mushroom treatment is alive & well. If the rumor mill was malnourished before your interview it won’t be after you’ve interviewed.

    • Reminds me an interview I had once where the interviewer definitely knew less than I did about reorgs going on. And they were going on. My referral was a VP who briefed me on what he wanted me to do and the context including the existing org and changes.
      I found explaining my potential job to this guy & how it would fit into the company. I suspect he was a warm body thrown at me to do an interview. But it was clear to me when I left, what I told him did not make him a happy camper.

      I referred to fast growth. I was in a company growing like crazy. Clearly the current organization was going to change, more than once in the near future. I was point man for my Director in his recruiting. He took my advise that the only sane way we could sensibly and ethically to recruit was
      to be transparent. Our recruiting managers told them when they considered offers from us to assume by the time they arrived the organization would change, or it would do so shortly after their arrival. The manager they talked to may not be their boss when they arrived. As such what our organization did for a living and the company is what they should focus on.
      Their primary job would stick though. For example if you were a storage engineer (we were a computer developer and manufacturer) you could expect that’s what you’d be doing. For who and for what product may change.
      That worked. and we didn’t end up blindsiding anyone.

  5. Nick’s recommendation to chart the organization around the job is spot on, but not just for identifying possible organization changes. It can be useful for identifying challenges in accomplishing the job’s responsibilities, even if there are no concerns about organizational changes. In my experience it is not at all uncommon to start a job and find that the organization structure and workflow is an obstacle to accomplishing assigned tasks, rather than facilitating the tasks. If you chart the organization and the resulting workflow appears to have process flaws, it is likely that the failure of people who have held the job and the reason for the job being open has a lot to do with poor process design.

    In discussing job issues with many people over my career, most of the people who had problems started their job without knowing any more about the organization structure than who they reported to. Little to no information about who they would interact. Sometimes not even having confirmed who would be reporting to them. The problems that result from a job candidate not being proactive in determining the complete organization structure around their job are multiplied by the poor onboarding processes that many companies have. When people considering a job talk with me prior to or during their interview process I always recommend that they fully document the organization structure and reporting or interaction relationships around the job.

  6. Off-topic if you will indolge.
    FTC proposes a ban on noncompetes in all employment contracts.
    What do you think, or maybe worth a column?