In the February 17, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, we discuss how HR can make your exit tricky — and how to protect yourself.
The last word on leaving your job
When you leave a job, HR is often waiting for you with a few tricks. I call this exit gantlet the 6 gotchas of goodbye.
This is the last of three special editions about what happens when it’s time to leave your job — and what to do to protect yourself. We’ve already discussed How to leave your job and how to Leave on your own terms. Then, of course, there’s the HR process that kicks in (and often kicks you!) when you’re on your way out the door.
Some HR departments are actually quite helpful to departing employees. Others are ready to exact a last pound of flesh from you. In any case, it pays to understand some of the gotchas and to be prepared — in the midst of an emotional ordeal — to escape intact.
These gotchas and my advice about how to beat them are from the 7-page Crib Sheet at the end of the PDF book, Parting Company | How to leave your job. The Crib Sheet is an extensive checklist compiled from my personal discussions with top HR insiders who know how the system works.
The 6 gotchas of goodbye
1. Don’t vent.
Your employer can use anything you say against you later. If you’ve resigned, avoid official discussion of your reasons, unless you want them in your personnel record. (See also pp. 46-47.) If you want to express yourself to your boss or to co-workers, do it off the record, casually, and preferably off-site at a restaurant or coffee shop. (See last week’s discussion about why you should not consent to an exit interview.)
2. Protect your future.
If you’ve resigned, don’t discuss where you’re going. (See also “Keep your future to yourself,” pp. 47-48.) Disclose it later, after you’ve started your new job, when there’s no possibility someone might try to nuke it. I once placed an executive whose resentful old boss contacted the new employer and made wild claims that almost resulted in withdrawal of the offer — until I completed an investigation and my client was satisfied none of it was true. Some employers feel betrayed and can behave irrationally. Don’t risk it.
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3. Protect your stuff.
Don’t leave your personal belongings exposed. Upon termination or resignation, you may not be permitted to retrieve them easily. Some employers will lock you out and pack what they believe is yours and ship it to you later. (See “Get your stuff,” p. 46.)
Tip: Don’t presume you have privacy at work. What you consider private might actually belong to your employer. When you start your job, make it clear in writing what belongs to the company and what belongs to you. One of my HR buddies, who contributed some astonishing tips to the Crib Sheet, says her IT department will confiscate a departing employee’s company cell phone and e-mail account immediately — and will not return any contacts or other digital files, even if they are personal. Never take anything that’s not yours, but think and plan ahead to protect your stuff. (See p. 71, “Protect yourself.”)
4. Outplacement: Don’t settle.
Should you accept outplacement help, or should you negotiate for an even more valuable alternative? One of HR’s dirty little secrets discussed in the book is that some employers offer outplacement not to help you get a new job, but to protect the company from lawsuits.
Tip: Outplacement may be negotiable, as discussed in “Outplacement Or Door #2?”, pp. 28-30. Start by negotiating for as much as you want, and settle for as much as you can get. Don’t assume the company’s first offer is set in stone. You may be able to negotiate a cash alternative so you can hire the career coach of your choice — not one that reports to the employer. Or you can pocket the cash.
HR has an extensive personnel file on you, and it will document your departure. You should document the process, too. Without such records, you may be at a disadvantage if, later on, there’s any controversy about your exit. For example, if you were fired after being put on a Personal Improvement Plan (PIP), obtain copies of relevant documents. Even if you don’t expect to take any legal action, your employer’s behavior may lead you to change your mind. The outcome may hinge on what kind of information you can provide to your lawyer. (See p. 69, “Benefits & documents.”)
Tip: Bring a pad to all meetings with HR during your exit process. Take lots of notes, including names, dates and times — especially about any promises made or terms discussed. Be polite, but make it clear you’re documenting. This puts HR on notice that you’re not a pushover. Your diligence could save you from a trick or two.
6. Don’t be in a hurry.
Perhaps the biggest gotcha of the exit process is that HR is expert at it — and you’re not. HR will run loads of forms past you. Don’t be rushed. Make sure you understand every step of the process. For example, if you are given a letter of separation to sign, consider having an attorney review it first. Don’t forfeit your rights in an effort to exit quickly. Protect yourself. (See p. 27, “Do you need a lawyer?”)
(These 6 gotchas are from the 7-page Crib Sheet at the end of the PDF book, Parting Company | How to leave your job.)
Your employer’s HR office conducts an exit process to protect the company. It might be the friendliest, most responsible process possible. Or it might not. The risks to you could be enormous. Think of leaving your job like selling a house. There’s a written legal trail for good reasons: A lot is at stake and no one wants to get screwed. When you exit, be aware of the gotchas. And be ready to protect yourself.
How smooth was your last parting with an employer? Did you ever get surprised on your way out the door? What happened? What advice would you offer to the dearly departing?