Is it time to quit my job?

In the October 6, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader seems to have landed in the wrong place — and wants out.

Question

I accepted what seemed to be a great job. Nine weeks later, the smoke and mirrors are gone and I see that I’m working for a possessive CEO who won’t trust people enough to let them do their jobs. My direct boss has such dramatic mood swings that I don’t know if the day will be a good or bad one. I now understand why the company’s turnover rate is 80%. Almost everyone has been here less than a year.

I want to leave, but I don’t know how to handle it. I can’t leave this job off my resume, but I don’t know how it might hurt me to be looking again so soon. What’s your advice?

Nick’s Reply

During your interviews, did you meet with any of the people you would be working with, as opposed to just the bosses? That’s one way to avoid surprises from a new job.

mickey-mouse-operationIt’s very important to get to know other members of the team, and to use your meetings to find out the truth about what it’s like to work in a place. But that’s advice for next time. (See “Is this a Mickey Mouse operation?”, pp. 13-15, in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 5: Get The Right Employer’s Full Attention.)

I’d give this at least six months, and during that time I’d start a low-level job search. Kick it into higher gear if things continue to deteriorate.

Sometimes it takes a while to establish one’s credibility with management, and to develop a position that projects a bit of power. As this situation develops, and as you are also creating back-up job opportunities, you may find yourself ready to push back at the CEO and your boss, to see whether they take you seriously. If you can gain concessions, you may find reasons to stay. If you can’t, well, then you’ll be well positioned to make a move out the door. (See Parting Company: How to leave your job.)

Don’t worry about explaining this short stay. Just tell the truth. Keep it brief and to the point. Don’t complain, don’t explain. (See How should I quit this job?) In today’s rough-and-tumble business world people know that some companies aren’t great to work for. Not everyone will be surprised you left this company so soon, if that’s what happens.

It’s not unusual to get disillusioned about a new job. Give this a chance, because your position may improve with a little time. But don’t tolerate an ongoing miserable situation, either — accept the challenge of finding a job that’s right for you. Just step carefully next time! (See How can I find the truth about a company?)

Is it your fault that a job isn’t working out? Or did you make a mistake? It’s up to you to fix it, either way. How would you advise this reader?

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How to engineer your personal network

We’ve been talking about networking. (See Please! Stop Networking! and Network, but don’t be a jerk!) I know the idea of talking to strangers puts many of you off. Some of my readers on PBS NewsHour (see the comments section on that linked page) have even suggested networking is unethical, a form of nepotism, and insulting. In this week’s edition, reader Kevin Rose explains how he engineers his personal network. There are a lot of words in this column, but just three short “how-to” tips.

In the September 29, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, an engineer tells how he changes job hunting into friend-making.

Question

I am in the midst of reading Fearless Job Hunting and re-inventing my job search strategy. It has happened a number of times where I would go to a job interview — in a couple of cases out of town — and I heard nothing afterwards. I engineermight write once to check in, but then move on. Now, I can understand no response to a random resume, but lack of courtesy after one or even four interviews is inexcusable. One of my friends says they are afraid of liability, and I say that is pure bunk. Others tell me, “What can you do? That’s just the way it is.”

I am an engineer, so I change things. I don’t just sit idly by and accept things the way they are.

Now I can see that in following your advice that this will be less likely to happen. A company would not dare go radio silent if I interviewed via a personal contact. I will say that being introduced to a potential employer via personal contact has always led to the most satisfying and long-lasting jobs I have had. I will definitely follow your advice.

Nick’s Reply

Disrespect is now built into the HR culture because you and other job hunters are fungible. You’re a commodity. You are “free” because all people are “accessible” to employers. And, because there’s always someone out there better than you, who cares about being polite to you?

But the joke’s on HR, because with four to seven times more job seekers out there than open jobs, HR is still crying there’s a talent shortage. America is awash in unemployed or under-employed talent — people who can ride a fast learning curve. But HR technology can’t suss that out. It’s too buried in job-board databases. Job boards deliver no more than about 10% of hires in aggregate. But it’s easier for employers to spend billions each year on Monster.com, LinkedIn and other job boards, than to go meet people in the professional community that they’d really like to hire. Hell, they could stand outside their door with a sign that entices you to get off your bike and stop in for an interview.

Kevin’s follow-up

talkingI just wanted to let you know that I attended a Rotary Club this evening for the first time. I loved it! Not only were people open about themselves including what they do for a living, but I got a chance to do some networking following your suggestions!

The woman sitting next to me is a paralegal at a company that does forensic engineering — I walk past them on my lunchtime walks just about every day. I said to her, “I would like to hear more about what you do sometime.” That’s all I said and she said, “You will have to come by sometime when we are taking a car apart.”

They analyze cars that crash, and testify in liability cases against manufacturers.

Now I don’t think that company would ever have a job for me, but knowing them will give me some perspective in my own engineering work. Also, I get to know the business community in my town. I wanted to thank you for this inspiration, and it is a lot more fun than Facebook of Linkedin. I also got a free meal, too!

So again, thank you for the nudge. Like I said, my best jobs have come through networking — one time from a friend at church, and my current job is one I found through an old girlfriend (with my wife’s approval). I am hoping to become acquainted with people such that the next time I need to find a job, I will know some people who might point me to an opening, or who may be instrumental in helping me start a business.

This doesn’t stop with Rotary. I recently rejoined my professional organization, ieee.org. But aside from clubs and organizations, I realize there are many, many ways of meeting people and making connections.

Thanks again!

Kevin Rose
Santa Barbara, CA

Nick’s Reply

I promised you three how-to tips about how to engineer your own network. Don’t blink: Go where professionals gather. Ask them about their work. Make friends. Anybody can do this.

How can you use Kevin Rose’s experiences to make networking work for you? Is it really so easy? (Many thanks to Kevin for sharing!)

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The Job-Offer Sucker Punch

In the September 1, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader trusts a recruiter and winds up regretting it.

Question

I was hired as an executive assistant at a very large, global company. The recruiter (who worked for the company) assured me that the benefits were very good, “comparable to any big company,” and insisted that they were on par suckerwith any other organization I’ve worked with.

It turns out they aren’t. I pay half of my health insurance (approximately $750/month), my vacation is mandated in December because of annual office closure, no overtime is offered, I work one scheduled weekend per month unpaid, and my significant other was not covered under benefits (though a same-sex partner would have been) until we are married.

The recruiter quit her job shortly after I was hired. I haven’t brought up these issues with the company, although I’ve been here almost a year. The culture is very much that one should not complain because you should be happy you have a job.

I took a 25% pay cut for this gig. Do I have any legal recourse? I fear that the legal costs would outweigh any benefits. In the meantime, I’m looking for a new job elsewhere but have found that my “new” salary requirements have me in a different bracket.

Nick’s Reply

You got sucker-punched because you didn’t see it coming. I doubt you have any legal recourse, but I’m not a lawyer and this isn’t legal advice. You could start by talking with your state’s department of labor and employment — they may be able to advise you, and they may have other complaints on record about this employer.

It seems the recruiter baited you. See Why do companies hide the benefits? Too often, job applicants trust what is stated orally in an interview without insisting that the commitment be reproduced in writing in the job offer. It amazes me that an applicant will read an offer letter carefully — but never ask for the written benefits. The benefits are part of the offer. I urge you and all of our readers: Get the entire offer in writing and read all components of the offer carefully before you accept!

You must state your position to an employer clearly.

How to Say It

“I’m impressed with your company, and I’m eager to come to work with you. However, I cannot accept this offer without knowing all the terms of employment, including the benefits. I could no more sign an employment agreement without knowing all the terms than your company could sign a business contract without knowing what it was committing to. I’m sure you understand. Could you please provide me with your employee manual, benefits package, and any other documents that would bind me after I start the job? Once I have these, I will promptly respond. I look forward to accepting your offer, and to making a significant contribution to your business. I hope I can count on your help so we can all get to work.”

What a recruiter tells you is akin to what a salesman tells you — it’s intended to close the deal. Good luck collecting on the oral promises later.

I agree that your most important next action is to start a very active job search. The solution to getting stuck applying for jobs with lower salaries is to not disclose your salary — apply for jobs that can pay what you’re worth, and politely but firmly decline to disclose your salary history. Employers have no right to it. You must also be ready to demonstrate why you’re worth more than your current job pays. Two of my PDF books cover these topics: Keep Your Salary Under Wraps and How Can I Change Careers?

Start with your state’s labor office. Get their advice on the details of your situation. But I think that, unfortunately, when you accepted this job you accepted terms you did not understand clearly — because the employer misrepresented them. Please check this article for tips about how to avoid a lower salary at your next job: How do I prove I deserve a higher job offer?

I wish you the best. This kind of slimy behavior by employers is indefensible.

Have you ever accepted a bait-and-switch job offer? What did you do? How would you advise the reader in this week’s Q&A?

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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.

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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The HR Gantlet: How to leave your job without getting hurt

In the June 30, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader is faced with the HR gantlet on his way out the door.

Question

I’m leaving my company and HR is asking me to sign all sorts of forms and documents. I’m faced with reams of legal-ese! I’m worried they’re going to slip in something that hurts me later. I also want to make sure I get documents that I might need later, and I want to avoid doing anything that might get me sued. Do you have any tips so I won’t get hurt while I make my way through the HR gantlet on the way out the door?

Nick’s Reply

gantletThe path out the door, whether you quit or have been fired, is usually rushed and HR goes into high gear issuing orders and giving you paperwork to sign.

Some of the paperwork is for your own protection. For example, insurance and retirement account information. Some of it can indeed hurt you later. I can’t walk you through everything in a newsletter, but I can touch on some gotchas you should be aware of.

This is from the “Crib Sheet” section of my PDF book, Parting Company: How to leave your job, pp. 67-73.


  • 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 legal action, you may change your mind and your lawyer will need the information.
  • If you are given a letter of separation that requires you to sign off, consider having an attorney review it before you sign. Don’t forfeit your rights in an effort to exit quickly. Protect yourself.
  • Don’t leave your personal stuff in your office. Upon termination or resignation, you may not be able to retrieve it 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.)
  • Don’t use company technology to store personal information. If the laptop and phone belong to the company, so does what’s stored on them.
  • If you work in sales, discuss who owns your customers and contact lists. Keep what’s yours, but don’t take what belongs to the company.
  • If you’ve been involved in inventions or patents or proprietary information, make sure you understand who owns the rights. Be aware of any restraints you may have already agreed to, e.g., Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDA). Retain copies for your files and possibly for your attorney.
  • If you’ve signed any Non-Compete Agreements (NCA), make sure you understand the restraints. NCAs usually define a time period, geographic region, named customers you may not call on, and other terms. Retain copies. [Note: NCAs are not legal in some jurisdictions. Employers want you to sign them anyway. Also be careful with NDAs — Non-Disclosure Agreements.]
  • Do you anticipate a lawsuit for wrongful termination, age or sex discrimination, or sexual harassment? Before you do anything pertaining to your exit, consult an attorney. What you say or do during the exit process might be used against you. Don’t limit your options carelessly.
  • Throughout your exit process, carry a notebook. Make it clear to HR that you are taking notes about commitments and representations made to you. To put it bluntly, this encourages HR to take it all more seriously—and it keeps everyone more honest.

If you think you may need legal advice, don’t dawdle. Start by identifying good employment lawyers through trusted referrals, and inquire what the fees are. An initial consultation often costs nothing, or very little. Compare that to the cost of parting company without legal assistance.

There are many daunting challenges and choices you probably don’t realize you’ll face during this awkward time.

  • Do you know how to resign? (p. 40)
  • Should you consent to an exit interview? (p. 53)
  • Did getting fired shatter your self-confidence? (p. 12)
  • Should you accept a “package” to quit your job voluntarily? (p. 26)
  • What’s the truth about counter-offers? Should you accept one? (p. 50)
  • How can you prepare for the shock of a downsizing? (p. 20)
  • Is outplacement a big, costly mistake? (p. 28)
  • How do you explain to a new employer why you left your old one? (p. 58)

Reprinted from Parting Company: How to leave your job, pp. 67-73.


I hope these few tips cover some of your bigger concerns. When I wrote this book, I spoke with some of the best HR folks I know — and some of their warnings surprised me. Parting company can be a trying experience, so be careful.

The last bit of advice I’ll give you is this: Be on your best behavior on the way out the door, no matter how your employer behaves. Do the right thing, be professional, be cordial — but protect yourself.

Parting company can be a friendly experience, or you can get burned. What’s your experience been? When you left a job, did you encounter any nasty surprises you’d like to warn others about? Or, did your old employer do something nice during your departure?

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How to deal with a micro-manager

In the May 5, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a happy employee becomes unhappy when the new boss gets overbearing.

Question

After four months of working very independently and successfully in my current position, reporting directly to a manager who loves my work (as does the senior manager), they have decided that all of us “little people” (non-exempt, hourly employees) should report to a supervisor on a weekly basis instead. Our manager is too busy to manage us.

I am now the direct report of a micro-manager, a real control freak (she said so herself) who wants everything done her way, yet insists she doesn’t want to micro-manage me.

In our first meeting of 45 minutes, she insisted at least six times that she wasn’t trying to micro-manage me. (Of course, it felt like 20.)

What should I do? I am trying to be cooperative and play it low-key, but I feel I may need to speak with the senior manager about it. Any advice on how to handle micro-managers? I really need my job. I am well-liked, work hard and effectively, and was quite happy before she was appointed.

Nick’s Reply

First, I would sit down with your new supervisor. Show her a list of the tasks she has assigned to you, as you understand them. Ask her if there is anything she’d like to change or add. If there is, add it as you sit in front of her. Be very polite, very respectful.

When the list is complete, ask her what timeframes she sees for the deliverables — that is, when should the tasks be completed?
Negotiate to make these realistic. Once you both agree, tell her this:

How to Say It
“I find I can get the most work done when I’m free to get tasks done my own way, with the full understanding that I’m responsible for delivering exactly what my boss asks. The commitment I will make to you is that all these tasks will get done on schedule. I’d like to ask you for a commitment, too — to permit me to manage my work on my own. If I don’t deliver, then I will accept any consequences. But during the work period on these projects, I would like to manage my own work. Can we do that?”

(These two articles may help motivate you: Be known first for the truth and Don’t be afraid to do the job your way.)

If she says no, then sit down and write up a log of your conversation, date and sign it. Put it in your file. You may need to show it to the human resources manager later. Then, go talk to your old boss and explain to him that your supervisor will not permit you to manage your own work. Ask for his support. Do not make any threats. Do not get angry. Just calmly focus on your work and on your commitment to get it done on schedule. Don’t even appear upset.

How to Say It
“Being micro-managed is very distracting and decreases my efficiency. I accept my responsibilities in my job. However, I cannot do my job if I am micro-managed. Here is the commitment I will make to you: If I do not deliver after being left alone to do my job, you should fire me. The commitment I ask of you is, get my super off my back so I can do my job. Can we do that?”

If you get no support, you should be prepared to leave the company and find another job. In fact, I would start a job search, just in case. Odds are pretty high you will have to leave. As Dear Abby is fond of saying, people are not likely to change.

I try not to be cynical, and I try to expect the best, but life is short. No one should have to live and work like this. A boss who micro-manages has an emotional problem and is not likely to change. You must have a good contingency plan.

The best outcome would be if your supervisor recognized how serious a problem she has created for her department. Like I said, odds are that you will have to move on. Don’t let that bother you. It’s a natural thing. Not all companies, bosses, and employees can work together effectively. Staying in a dysfunctional organization is wrong. But, give your managers a chance to recognize the problem, and to fix it. The key is, you must be very respectful about your approach. No anger. No recriminations. Just matter-of-fact business. It’s all about doing your job.

I wish you the best. There is a significant risk in doing what I suggest. There’s an even bigger risk in working with such frustration. For more about how to leave your job fearlessly, see Parting Company: How to leave your job. [THIS WEEK ONLY! Save $3 on this book! Use discount code=SAVE3. Order now!]

Have you ever worked for an over-bearing boss? What’s a diplomatic way for this reader to deal with the boss? My suggestions are just one way to approach this. Let’s hear some other angles!

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Should I take a big counter-offer?

In the March 3, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader considers a big, fat counter-offer not to leave a job she hates for one she really wants.

Question

counter-trapI work in the financial services industry. For a year and a half, I was promised project management work but never got it. Recently I landed another job in another company — something I’ve wanted for two years. But it comes with a $6k pay cut. Then my boss made me a counter-offer, promising everything he had promised before, plus an $18k raise and a promotion to Project Manager.

It’s a big pay difference and a major promotion, and that’s the only reason I’m considering it. I could live off the lower salary with some lifestyle changes, in exchange for having a job I really want. The reason I was looking in the first place was that I am miserable at my job. It’s the wrong culture in the wrong industry working for a narcissist boss. Of course, the extra money would really help. Please help me figure this out.

Nick’s Reply

Far be it from me to tell anyone to reject an extra $18k. But I will tell you what every good headhunter knows: A counter-offer usually has hidden strings.

I discuss this at length in “What’s the truth about counter-offers” in Parting Company | How to leave your job, (pp. 50-52):

“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).”

In other words, there’s a good chance your boss is keeping you until he can find a replacement.

Of course, I could be wrong. Your boss may have seen the light. Even so, you must ask yourself, why didn’t your boss do the right thing before you announced you’re leaving?

You refer to lots of things that make you unhappy with your employer. The extra money would be nice — and I’d never blame you for taking it. But if this deal is designed to cover the job until they find someone new for less money, will you be on the street soon without another job waiting for you?

Again: Why didn’t your boss do this before you signaled you were leaving? Will any of the other problems you describe be corrected by this counter-offer?

I don’t get the feeling you went looking for a new employer because you wanted your boss to counter. But if you had, here’s the strategic advice I’d have given you, also from Parting Company:

“Before considering a job change, ask yourself if you would consider a counter-offer. If the answer is yes, identify exactly what changes you would want in your current employment and compensation and try to negotiate these with your boss before you step out. If there’s nothing you really want, then you’re ready to move on. (See “Learn to Move On,” p. 31.)”

It seems you already tried this, when you asked your boss for a job change and a raise. I know this is a very loaded question, but, why didn’t he give you what you asked for when you asked for it?

I think you know what you should do. The hard part will be deciding whether you can forgo all that extra money to have a job you really want, working with people you respect, in a healthier environment.

These are all things to consider. I wish you the best.

Would you take the counter-offer, or the job you really want? Am I too heavy handed with the risks of counter-offers? Have you ever gotten burned by one — or has a counter paid off for you? More important, what other factors would you advise this reader to consider?

(The reader who submitted this question has let me know what she decided to do and why. I’ll post the outcome as the discussion takes off! UPDATE: After letting our community post comments for a while… I’ve posted what the reader told me she decided to do, in bold down below in the comments… along with some additional information that she shared about her boss… Gotta give her credit for handling this so well!)

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Quit, Fired, Downsized: Leave on your own terms

In the February 10, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, we discuss how to know it’s time to go, what to say to exit interviews, and how to resign right.

How are you leaving?leaving

Last week I introduced you to my new PDF book, Parting Company | How to leave your job, and we briefly discussed a reader’s question about what she should say to other employers about getting fired.

But there’s a lot more to the challenge of “parting company” with your employer. This gets short shrift from career writers and advisors because it’s considered water under the bridge — everyone wants to talk about “what to do next.”

The thing is, how you handle leaving your job is largely up to you. It can affect your prospects dramatically — and it can hurt your career. Even if you get fired, you have choices. It’s important to know what your options are. Whether you quit, get fired, or get downsized, do it on your own terms.

Leave on your own terms

This week, I’d like to share some advice straight from the book — just a few of the many issues you need to consider before you take that big step out the door.

Say NO to exit interviews

Whether you get fired or quit, never do an exit interview. (pp. 53-57) I have polled HR managers for over a decade. None can name one benefit of the dreaded exit interview for the departing employee, but I can name several serious risks. Whether you say complimentary things in an exit interview, or make critical comments and vent your frustrations, your words can be used against you.

Most obvious: Suppose you need to take legal action to get your final paycheck or a bonus you’re owed, or because you later realize you were discriminated against. Your employer can use your verbose comments to support its own case. Or, if someone later calls this employer to check your references, any negative comments saved to your personnel file might influence the quality of references you’re given.

Consenting to an exit interview just isn’t worth it.

HR managers argue that they need your candid comments if they’re to improve the company and their processes. But if that really matters to your employer, then HR should be asking you exit interview questions regularly, while you’re an employee, so you can benefit from any resulting improvements.

These are just a few reasons why, when you’re leaving your job, the prudent response to an exit interview is, No, thank you.

Read the signals now

Is it time to go? (pp. 9-11) You should be the best judge of whether it’s time to leave your job, before your employer decides for you. People often get fired because they don’t see signals that it’s time to go. It may be time to go when:

  • You’ve got no professional support. You’re the “top dog” in your department, and there’s no one to mentor you further. You start to stagnate, while everyone else comes to you for help doing their jobs.
  • You’re always ahead of your employer. You understand your work, your tools, the market, and trends better than your employer does, but no one listens to you.
  • You are isolated. There are too many walls between your job function and the rest of the company. You’re not allowed to put your head together with other departments to produce the best solutions. Everyone is isolated.
  • You’re not growing. Your employer doesn’t encourage continuing education and offers little, if any, training. They like you just the way you are, and they want you to stay that way.

Resign right

Do you know how to resign? (pp. 40-49) Many people simply don’t know how to resign properly. This can be catastrophic. Get your ducks in a row before you do it.

  • goodbye1Check your employer’s exit policy. You may be ushered out the door instantly, without being allowed to return to your desk. Find out how others have been treated, and check the written policy.
  • Never resign your old job unless you have the new offer in writing. I’ve seen too many people treat an oral offer as bona fide, quit their old job, and find themselves on the street when the offer is never finalized, or rescinded.
  • Get your stuff. Never take what’s not yours, but if you announce your departure too early, you may have to fight to get your belongings back. Plan ahead.
  • Resign in writing, one sentence only. This is no time to hand your employer ammo against you. Keep it short: “I, John Jones, hereby resign my position with ABC Company.” Sign and deliver to your boss with a copy to HR. Anything you say beyond that can be used against you by your employer. A resignation is business, not personal. Keep it simple.

These tips are excerpted from Parting Company | How to leave your job. There are far too many topics in the book to summarize here. (Check the Table Of Contents for a complete list.)

Next week, we’ll take a look at the HR process that kicks in when you’re on your way out the door. I’ll tell you about The 7 Gotchas of Goodbye. (Oh, yes — HR is waiting for you with a few surprises!)

Have you been fired or downsized? Did you quit for a better job? Did anything happen in the process that you didn’t expect or plan for? How have you controlled your departure from an employer?

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Your Boss Hates You: The politics of CYA

In the January 27, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader is fed up with a boss whose idea of management is bad politics.

Question

mean-bossI work for a failing organization that brought in a new manager to turn things around. The problem is that the new manager has threatened to dismiss me. He clearly hates me. I have never been in this situation before.

Earlier this year I was given a merit raise and was told by my manager’s boss that they were very happy with my work. I’ll be resigning, but how do I insure that this company doesn’t say negative things to a future employer? Should I see a lawyer? How should I handle this in the meantime?

Nick’s Reply

You’re going to have to play politics, because your new manager started the game. Don’t tell yourself that you can’t play because it’s distasteful. This is part of managing your career and work life, so learn to play well. The key is not to go it alone. I’ll offer you some suggestions, but remember that your judgment matters more than mine because you’re in it, and I’m just watching.

First, assess where you really stand.

I’d go talk to your manager’s boss about what’s happened; that is, to the person who told you what a good job you were doing.

How to Say It
“I just got a merit raise and you gave me some nice compliments on my work — this motivated me to work harder and smarter. Now I need your advice. What am I to make of this threat to dismiss me? I want to do the right thing, for the company and for myself. But it’s very distracting to have my new boss threatening me. Can you please advise me?”

You must find out whether you have support, or whether the company will let the new manager toss you aside. It’s hard to say whether the big boss will come to your aid. Managers don’t like to battle with one another, but you must ask for guidance. Hopefully, you’ll get the help you need.

Regardless, you must also take action to protect yourself.

Second, establish a record.

Visit HR and get the facts. What does HR have on file about this matter?

Then create your own record. Start a written log of events (including names, dates, times, conversations), which may be helpful in the event you take legal action. Bring this with you to the HR office, where you can inquire about the problem you’re facing..

How to Say It
“For the record, have any negative reviews or complaints been filed against me? I have not seen a PIP (employee Performance Improvement Plan). Is there one on file?”

When you ask HR these questions, also submit them in written form. HR relies on records; you should, too. It’s part of playing politics well. If your manager is planning to fire you, HR will use a PIP to document your “problem behavior” and the company’s attempt to help you correct it. HR uses the PIP as a kind of CYA action to protect the company legally. It will tip you off to how serious your new manager is about canning you.

If there’s nothing like this on file, then I suggest letting HR know that your manager has threatened you. Bring along a short letter to HR that states what you’re about to say, and include accurate quotations of (a) what your manager’s boss said to praise your work, and (b) what your manager said to threaten you. If you wind up taking legal action, these documents may be helpful. When HR sees this in writing and observes you taking notes, you may not need a lawyer — your manager may need more help than you do.

Then ask HR for help.

How to Say It
“I’d like to ask your advice and help. My manager has threatened to fire me, but his boss recently said XYZ about my work, and I was given a merit raise. So, I’m confused and very concerned. My performance has been praised and rewarded, but now I’m threatened with dismissal, but there’s no warning in your files. Should I be talking with an attorney?”

please-fire-meWhile it’s a bit risky to bring up hiring a lawyer, providing HR with written documents puts HR on notice. Now, HR — if it’s got any integrity at your company — has to take this seriously. (Do you question HR’s integrity? See What’s HR Got to Do With It?) Ask for a response in writing. If HR doesn’t give it to you, log that fact, too. Lawyers love logs. Whether you go to a lawyer is of course up to you. I’m not advocating that, but I want you to be prepared with information a lawyer may need to help you.

While you’re meeting with HR, let HR see that you’re making notes about your conversation — and doing your own CYA. It’s part of playing politics, whether your idea of winning is a lawsuit or merely quitting and moving on.


Coming Next Week: A special edition about how to leave your job.

Did you get fired? About to get downsized? Ready to quit? We’ll discuss how to protect yourself so you can move on — on your own terms! Don’t miss it!


Third, develop options.

Now that you’ve assessed — and let HR know — where you stand, the third part of politics is to get some insurance.

Gather a few written references from managers and co-workers, if you can do it discreetly. If you have a good enough collection, you may not need to include your current manager as a reference when you go job hunting. Other managers will suffice. One negative reference that you can explain as a bad egg may not matter much, as long as you have the support of others who know you well. (For more about this thorny problem, see How can you fight bad references?) You might be surprised at how much support you have when you make your move — even if these same people can’t help you protect your job.

(See Take Care Of Your References.)

Then take this a step farther. Have a friend who is a manager at another company call your current manager, his boss and the HR office, and ask them for references. (Caution: Do not fake this. You need a real manager asking for real references. Never lie. But there’s nothing wrong with playing more politics.) You’ll quickly learn whether they’re torpedoing you. If they are, you may need to talk with an attorney who can put a stop to it.

Just remember that you can’t lead with your references. To be a truly potent job applicant, you must lead with your ability to show an employer how you’re going to contribute to its success. (See Stand Out: How to be the profitable hire.)

Of course, your most important insurance is to line up interviews with other good employers. Even if you take legal action, your best option is a great new job, and the peace of mind that comes with knowing another employer values you and treats you with respect.

I don’t know whether your boss really hates you, but if he’s threatened to fire you, that triggers HR processes, and that’s company politics. If you don’t believe me, you will when you realize that HR’s first job is to protect the employer, not you. So CYA. That means playing politics to protect yourself. Be prepared to fight fire with fire.


HR: Friend Or Foe?

While HR might be very sympathetic and helpful, it can also be your opponent — whether you’re leaving your job or trying to get hired. For more about dealing with HR, see Fearless Job Hunting, Book 4, Overcome Human Resources Obstacles.


Now for my disclaimer: My suggestions can be risky. I’m not a lawyer and this is not legal advice. So use your own judgment and do the best you can.

Have you faced a boss who hates you in spite of your good performance? What did you do to protect yourself? How did it turn out? How would you advise this reader?

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Bait & Switch Job Offers

In the January 20, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job seeker interviews for a senior job only to receive a silly offer for a lower level job.

Question

I have not been on the job market since 2007, and after a layoff early October 2014 I am fighting my way through this job market. I have the background, experience, and personality a high tech company was looking for when they advertised a senior technical position at $96,000. After all the interviews, we seemed to be doing great, until my final face to face interview, where I was informed there are now two positions — one senior and one junior. During my initial screening with the company recruiter I was clear on my salary requirements.

When I recmousetrapeived the company’s offer letter, it was for $75,000, way below what we had discussed. I was insulted, shocked, and angry. When I called the recruiter, she stated there were a lot of strong candidates, that there were actually five positions, and that I fit better into a junior role at the salary offered. I replied that I applied for only the senior position at $96,000 and that there was no discussion of four other positions. I asked about the differences between the positions, and it’s clear from what the hiring manager says that there are none but the salary!

I want to send a response letter stating that I was a candidate for only the senior job, re-emphasizing my experience and expertise, and referencing the original senior salary range. What would you recommend?

Nick’s Reply

If you stand a few feet back from this and look at it for what it is, I think you’ll see the proper answer. I’m going to show you how to improve this job offer dramatically, but you must be ready to play this game for keeps.

First let’s do a reality check. This employer is playing you. You laid down the terms for the interview when you (a) applied for a senior technical position, and (b) when you stated your salary requirements and they agreed to proceed with those two understandings.

Now look at the facts:

  1. They offered you different job
  2. At a much lower salary.

We could just call this a stupid HR trick, but there’s another name for it: Bait and switch. A car dealer baits you with a test drive in a car you want to buy after you saw the price. You show up with a check, and they offer you a different car at a different price. You’d kick them down the street for switching the deal and wasting your time.

You did what you were supposed to do, so you’re thrown for a bit of a loop. You interviewed for a certain job at a certain salary level. They knew your expectations, and they agreed to proceed with the interviews. Then they changed all the terms and made a ridiculous offer. Had they made no offer, I’d just say the match didn’t work out. But this employer is clearly manipulating applicants. (I find this is most common with staffing firms that hire people and assign them to work for their clients. See Bait & Switch: Games staffing firms play.)

You’re trying to behave rationally, and you’re looking for a reasonable explanation and next step. The recruiter and manager should be trying to impress you — see Baiting the talent — but they are doing the opposite. They are breaking basic business rules and pretending the problem is yours.

But two can play at this, and you can play without doing anything unprofessional. First, you must decide that you are willing to walk away from the junior position at the junior salary. (If you’re desperate for a paycheck, then you know what you must do.)

What I’d do is sign the offer letter and send it back to them. But I’d cross out the salary and enter the salary you told them you wanted. Initial it. Cross out the junior title and write in the senior title you interviewed for. Initial it. Accept the position at the salary level you all discussed. Add a note that says:

“This is the job I applied for and that you interviewed me for, at the salary range we discussed. If you are prepared to sign off on the original terms as we discussed them, I am ready to start work in two weeks.”

Then let them figure it out.

My prediction is that you’ll never hear from them again. However, there’s a chance that, having a solid acceptance in hand, along with a start date, from a candidate they have judged worthy of hiring, they might negotiate a reasonable salary for the job you want. You’ve written your own ticket, and it’s up to them to join you for the ride. If they decline, you’ve lost nothing (having already decided you wouldn’t accept less) and you’ve preserved your integrity and self-respect.


For more about dealing with the final stages of the interview process, see Fearless Job Hunting, Book 9: Be The Master of Job Offers.


If they decline, write them off and move on. These are jerks of the first order and I’d never talk to them again. This is an unscrupulous recruiter who advertises a high-level, desirable job at a high salary to entice seasoned, experienced technical people like you to invest plenty of time in interviews — just so they can short-sell you on a lower-paying job that they’d prefer to fill with much more highly qualified candidates at a huge discount.

fishhookThey are con-men. You told me off-line who this company is: one of the biggest, most respected computer companies in the world — but it doesn’t matter. They’re still con-men.

Many, many people in today’s job market would fall for this and rationalize that it’s the best they can do. Maybe so — but when you add in a confidence game, we’re left with a bunch of self-deprecating job seekers who let themselves be suckered. Con-men love that.

I’d be interested to know what you do and what happens. The problem, of course, is that there are desperate job hunters who will accept any job under any terms and at any pay. This employer counts on that. It’s what’s wrong with our economy today: Crooks and suckers. They create a market that can’t last. It can only go south. For more about this, see Employment In America: WTF is going on?

(I mean no disrespect to job seekers who need to put food on the table and who will take any job to do so. I’d do it myself. But the economic reality is that being put in this position creates a vicious downward cycle that encourages more of the same from ruthless employers.)

There is nothing wrong with you or your expectations. If you can afford to walk away from this, I would not look back. Jerks make lousy employers. You need only one employer with integrity.

Did you ever feel pressured to accept a lousy offer for a job you never applied for? What’s the most bizarre job offer situation you’ve been in — and what did you do? Was I too tough on this reader? What would you advise?

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