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Protect yourself from exploding job offers

I don’t know where they’re all coming from: bogus job offers extended by employers, then withdrawn after the job applicant has relied on the offer and quit their old job. In the January 19, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader is smart enough to ask how to avoid being left without a job at all.

Question

I’m on contract at a job through a staffing firm. I have found a better position somewhere else. The new company offered the job and I accepted. I’m trying to do this right and to protect myself, so I have two questions:

First, to whom should I direct my resignation letter? To my recruiter at the staffing firm, or to the manager of the department where I’m actually working (at my recruiter’s client)?

bombSecond, I’m scared of telling whoever I’m supposed to tell, and later receiving a letter from my future employer saying that they decided to close the position for internal reasons or something like that. I don’t want to be left without any job at all.

Help ASAP please.

Nick’s Reply

How you quit your job matters as much as what new job you take. Let’s take your questions one at a time.

How to quit

If you’re working on contract through a staffing firm, your employer is the staffing firm. You need to tell them. Of course, the right thing to do is to also tell your manager — but I think it’s best to notify your actual employer first. They should have a chance to limit their exposure by offering a replacement worker to your manager, and your manager should hear it from them.

Here’s a tip from Parting Company: How to leave your job about what to say in a resignation letter, from the section, “Resign Yourself To Resigning Right,” p. 46:

The letter should be just one sentence because — sorry to be the cynic, but careers and lives might hinge on this — it can come back and bite you legally if it says anything more.

“I, John Jones, hereby resign my position with Acme Corporation.”

I won’t get into all the things that might go wrong if you say more, but I detail the risks in the book.

Submitting your resignation is the easy part. The recruiter at your staffing firm isn’t going to be happy that you’re quitting. What will you do when the recruiter, your boss, or your co-workers press you for details? Here’s another tip from the book (p. 47):

Keep your future to yourself. It’s nice to share your new address with your buddies. But if someone thinks your new employer is a competitor, suddenly that comfortable two-week notice can turn into an immediate departure. Or worse.

How to Say It
“I don’t think it’s appropriate to disclose my new employer until I’m actually working there.”

That’s right: Disclosing where you’re going is very risky. Don’t do it.

How to avoid job offers that blow up in your face

As for being scared that the future employer may rescind — or never finalize — the offer, that can always happen. It’s a risk you take when you accept any job, because — especially in a jurisdiction where employment is “at will” — an employer can fire you at any time for any reason or no reason. But you can minimize the risk when you accept a job:

1. Make sure you have the new offer in writing. An oral offer is not good enough to risk your old job.

2. Beware of staffing firms. Is the offer from another staffing firm or an actual company where you’d be working? If it’s a staffing firm, I think your risk is bigger because recruiters will sometimes drop you if they turn up a better applicant for the client — right in the middle of the hiring process, and even after commitments are made. Likewise, the client can suddenly change its mind, and you wind up on the street. Because hiring through a staffing firm is at arm’s length, employers seem to think they have no obligation to consider the consequences for the new hire.

3. Meet the new HR manager before quitting your old job, but after they’ve promised an offer. This is a technique of personal politics. They’re not likely to meet with you if they’re not certain they’re hiring you. Insist on a face-to-face meeting with HR before you resign your old job. It’s a simple fact of social psychology: People are less likely to hurt you once they’ve met you face to face.

4. Meet your new boss. Before you quit your old job, insist on a meeting with your new boss to discuss your job responsibilities, on-boarding process, what tools you’ll be using, and so on. This forces the manager to put some skin in the game and makes it emotionally harder for them to back out — but even this is no guarantee.

5. Here’s my secret weapon. This is something I want an employer to do after it has given my candidate a job offer, but before the candidate accepts the job (or quits the old job, of course). Ask to meet some of the team members you’ll be working with. The sooner the better. This will reveal how serious they are about really filling this job and having you there. If the company balks at this, I’d never quit my old job until I’ve got some other hard evidence that the new job is for real. (For more about this, see How can I find the truth about a company?)

Limiting your risk when quitting one job and accepting another is more about personal politics than anything else. An employer (or staffing firm) can rescind an offer any time. You’d need a lawyer to fight back. I think the better strategy is to get close to the new boss and team — and to take measures to force the staffing firm to show you that the offer and the job are real. Then there’s less chance that this will go south.

Be tough

Many employers — especially staffing firms — will balk at what I’m suggesting. They want to hire as effortlessly as possible. Their attitude is, “We’ve got other applicants like you waiting — we’re not going to waste our time making you feel all warm and fuzzy about taking this job.”

Well, that’s tough. Would you accept an offer of marriage from someone who won’t spend enough time with you to really make you feel loved? Don’t be in such a hurry to tie the knot before you can judge whether your suitor is for real. If an employer isn’t willing to invest time to assure you that a job offer is real, then it’s probably not worth risking your old job.

In the end, you must use your best judgment and decide whether to make the leap. If your gut tells you something is wrong, listen to your gut.

While my objective here is to help you land a great new job, my first concern is that you should not get hurt in the process. You must learn how to recognize a risky job offer before it blows up in your face.

Lately I’m getting a surprising number of questions from readers about job offers that explode — after the candidate relies on them to make career and financial decisions. I think employers, HR departments, and staffing firms have crossed a critical line that’s telling us they’re either stupid and inept, or that they’re callous and lack integrity. When the employer “takes back” a job offer for any reason, the applicant usually cannot “take back” a resignation. In one case, a reader cancelled her lease, moved her family, and wound up homeless because a personnel jockey instructed her husband to quit his job and move to a new city — then the jockey reneged on the promise of the new job.

I’m collecting stories about exploding job offers because I’m worried this is a dangerous new trend. I think we should chronicle and discuss it, to help you avoid having job offers blow up in your face.

Got a story about exploding job offers — or do you know someone who does? Please post it. Has an employer ever instructed you to quit your old job before giving you a written offer, or has an offer ever been rescinded? What did you do? How would you advise the reader in this week’s Q&A?

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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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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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Should I ask for a raise one more time?

In the July 28, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader has been waiting eight years for a raise while doing loads more work.

Question

I’m a gigantic fan who recommends Ask The Headhunter to everyone I meet. So thank you. I have a question, and if it doesn’t work for the newsletter, then I’d be good with a Talk to Nick session.

shrug-no-raiseI’ve been at my job eight years. With inflation, I make about what I made in 2007. My job responsibilities have grown enormously, and I have delivered tremendous, demonstrable value. My boss and his VP agree that I’m dramatically underpaid, and they “wish” they could do more, but you know, HR is horrible, I’m at the top of the pay band, and so on.

For a few years, I’ve sweated it out because frankly I like the place, and I get to spend more time with my kids than I would at a job where I was paid fairly. The kids are priority #1, so I don’t mind making less.

It’s a small company, and there’s not much room for growth. But I’m doing a job now that is quite different from my job title, and one that doesn’t exist here. I had a very ATH conversation with our CIO (my VP’s boss) in February, and it went quite well. He said he was going to see what he could do with HR. Then he got replaced after 32 years.

The new guy seems really talented, and sharp. But my dilemma is, how do I approach him to deliver the same sort of info I already told my CIO? I’d like to let him know that I’m doing a much more important job, while being paid for a lesser job.

My bosses are not going to advocate for me. That’s just the way it is, and has been since the beginning. So I have to do it myself.

I guess I just don’t know how to approach a guy who has been here for two months, and tell him how awesome I am, and that he needs to recognize my value. It’s like an interview, but not really. Your advice is appreciated. Thanks for all you do.

Nick’s Reply

Thanks for your kind words — I’m glad you enjoy ATH! You might expect I’m going to recommend some magic negotiating method, but I don’t think you should negotiate for a better salary. (If I did, I might suggest something from Fearless Job Hunting, Book 6, The Interview: Be The Profitable Hire.)

I think you should leave.

There’s an old joke: A cynical out-of-towner steps out of New York City’s Penn Station onto 34th Street and asks a passerby, “Can you tell me how to get to Lincoln Center, or should I just go F myself?”

I’m afraid all you’re doing is asking to be told to go F yourself. You’re very close to this because you’ve been there so long. If you step back, you might see this differently and a lot more simply. We tend to make excuses for people — especially our employers. I think the signs are that you need to move on.

Consider the facts you’ve shared:

  1. Your pay has not gone up in 8 years.
  2. You’re doing lots more work that has effectively increased your employer’s “pay.”
  3. Your management acknowledges all this.
  4. Your management has clearly told you they’re not going to pay you more. Worse, they blame it on HR, which after all works for management!
  5. Your bosses are not going to advocate for you. (See 4.)
  6. There’s not much room for growth.

Even if the new CIO is a great guy, he’s not likely to buck the company line. (See 5.) Even if he does, and you pull this off, (6.) tells me you’re just stalling the inevitable — unless you just want to make like a tree and take root for life. (See Should I take a big counter-offer?)

I respect that you put family at #1. That’s got nothing to do with how these people are paying you while you help generate more profits for them. It’s possible to keep doing your current work, keep family at #1, and make more money. But it’s not permitted. It seems they’ve made it clear they’re not going to pay you more.

Do you see what I see? I’m not saying jump to another company where you’ll earn more in exchange for making your family #2. I’m saying start looking for employers who value the kind of work you do and who will pay for it. Nothing is stopping you from conducting a well-paced, savvy job search. Worst case, you won’t find what you want. My guess is, you will.

I think you’re making excuses for managers who aren’t doing right by you. The new guy is not likely to rock the boat or buck your own boss.

If you go talk to the new guy anyway — and start a search at the same time — be careful. If all the managers put their heads together and realize your comp is such an issue, you may become a marked man. My guess, though, is they’re too lazy and complacent to worry about it.

Management like that just waits it out. When under-paid employees finally quit, the company just hires new ones for even less. It’s a sad commentary on how some companies are run.

“My bosses are not going to advocate for me. That’s just the way it is, and has been since the beginning.”

That tells me pretty much everything I need to know. In a healthy company, bosses advocate for their best people. They don’t resort to excuses. But what cinches this in my mind is, they’ve never thrown you a bone in eight years. That’s a bad sign. If there’s some indication that the new guy might be helpful, I just don’t see it. You’d need to explain that.

pc-cover1-211x275In a “talent shortage” like employers complain about today, the best talent gets hired. Why not start looking at yourself that way?

I’d be happy to schedule a Talk to Nick with you, but I’m not sure what more I could tell you — except to flesh out how to handle this new CIO. (You’d spend less learning about Parting Company properly. In fact, I’ll give you 25% OFF if you buy Parting Company this week! Discount code=SAVE25) The real question is, why do you think the new CIO is going to make any difference to you? Just because he’s smart does not mean he’s going to buck the rest of management. In fact, it suggests he won’t.

I believe in negotiating, as long as you’re talking with someone who is negotiable. If they’re not, then don’t beat your head against a wall. If anything I’ve said is helpful, I’m glad. Sorry if it’s such a downer, but I call them like I see them.

Would you keep negotiating with this employer? Is there an opportunity here for a salary increase that I’ve missed? What would you do in this reader’s shoes?

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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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UCLA Anderson Webinar: Parting Company – How to leave your job on your own terms

ucla-logoThis is a Q&A overflow area for attendees of today’s webinar Parting Company: How to leave your job on your own terms, presented to UCLA’s Anderson School of Management — students, alumni and faculty. The webinar was based on the book Parting Company: How to leave your job.

Many thanks to the team at Anderson for their kind hospitality, and to the audience for sticking around well past the end of the presentation — I enjoyed all your questions! If you have more, please feel free to post and I’ll respond to them all!

Today’s webinar agenda included:

  • When is it time to go?
  • Hitting the wall
  • How to resign right
  • Oops! Got fired!
  • Exit Interviews: Just say NO
  • Parting Company Cribsheet: Avoid the gotchas
  • Resources
  • Q&A

 

 

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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How to fix a bad reference the hard way

In the March 17, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader needs to deal with an old boss who’s probably also a bad reference.

Question

bad-referenceI just had an interview where I followed your advice in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 6. I took control, offered to show how I’d do the job, and demonstrated to the manager how I’d take care of one of her most perplexing problems. She loved it, and I think I’m going to get an offer. Sounds great, right?

It is, except for one problem. This manager — let’s call her Ann — knows one of my past employers quite well (let’s call her Brenda). Brenda probably will not give me a glowing reference. I suspect Ann will contact Brenda. How do I handle this delicate situation?

Nick’s Reply

I’m glad to hear Book 6 got you so far! References are a very valuable asset — learn to manage them all the time, not just when they turn into trouble. (See Take Care Of Your References.) Now let’s deal with your problem.

Even if the reference is unfavorable, a smart employer will rely first on her own judgment — and ask you to explain your old boss’s comments. So, anticipate the question and be prepared with a good answer that is honest and not defensive.

Then there’s the tactical approach. Tell the new manager (Ann) what your old boss (Brenda) is likely to say before they talk. Since you cannot block that conversation, own up to the facts and impress Ann with your candor.

The Hard Way
When confronted with a problem like this, I like to take it head-on. Talk to your old boss! It’s the hardest way, and it will force you to develop the best solution. I think it’s the best way. If you leave this to chance, you will have no idea what the outcome might be.

Call your old boss before Ann does. Surprise Brenda and ask her permission to list her as a reference. You might have to swallow your pride, but nothing of value comes easily.

If she agrees, fess up that you believe that, when you worked together, Brenda may not have seen you in the most positive light.

How to Say It
“I know I could have been a better employee, and I could have done better at XYZ. Since then, I’ve beefed up my skills considerably. [Explain how, but keep it brief.]”

This may allow Brenda to blow off any steam about you before she speaks with Ann, and give you a chance to change her mind a bit. If Brenda responds candidly, pose this magic question:

“May I ask you for some advice? I really want continue to get better at what I do. What advice would you give me about improving my performance or anything else about how I do my work?”

Profit from The Outcome
Then be quiet and listen. If your old boss blasts you, or explains that you’re better off not listing her as a reference, then you know what’s coming when the new boss contacts her. Now you’ll have to use the tactical approach I mentioned above: Prepare Ann for what Brenda will say, and explain yourself. You will have profited from the call.

On the other hand, your candid phone call to Brenda might help her see you in a new, more positive light. Discussing how you’ve changed and improved might give her the words she needs to soften the reference when she talks to Ann. Now you’ve really profited from the hard way.

This might work. It might not. I just believe in facing problems like this head-on, and in trying to make the best of them.

Do you see what we’re doing here? We’re trying to influence Brenda to help the new, improved you. In the process, you’re also learning how this may play out so you can better manage your discussion with Ann.

Whatever happens when you talk with Brenda, you’ll learn something, and you’ll be better off for knowing. Be polite. Be respectful. Do not argue. Don’t be defensive. Listen carefully and try to get some good advice. Say thanks and move on.

Congratulations on impressing the new manager. Now get your old boss on board — or mitigate the damage she might cause.

There are other very powerful ways to use references and to parry bad ones. I discuss these in lots of how-to detail in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 3: Get in The Door (way ahead of your competition), “Don’t provide references — Launch them!” and “The preemptive reference,” pp. 23-25.

Can this reader avert disaster? Have you ever turned around a bad reference? Are my tactics risky?

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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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The 6 Gotchas of Goodbye

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.

gotchaThis 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.

5. Document.

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.

gotcha1Perhaps 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?

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