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Archive for the Resigning Category

The ATH Field Guide: Overcome resume gaps to land a job

In the February 23, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader is ready to chuck it all to save his sanity. Should he?

Question

I’ve been a project manager running million dollar software projects for 15 years. However, I’m sick of the stress, never-ending deadlines, and frantic pace of technology. I’m 41 and I can’t keep this up for another 10 years.

field-guide

I’m trained to recognize classic burn-out syndrome but dealing with it in myself isn’t easy. I find myself wanting to go pound nails for a builder or mow lawns or just to do something mindless. I think I could step out of corporate life for a while and come back later, but I will have lost my contacts. What’s the answer? “Would you like some fries with that, Sir?”

Nick’s Reply

No, no fries… but welcome to burn-out. It happens to many talented people. It’s nature telling you to flip the burger because one side is done. It’s time for the other side.

The conventional obstacles

Before I offer you suggestions about how to overcome the resume gaps you’re about to create, so you can land a new job later, let’s consider the obstacles you’re going to face. I’m sure you’ve read or heard the conventional wisdom about what you’re suggesting. Let’s play it:

  • It’s harder to get a job if you don’t have a job.
  • Employers discriminate against the unemployed.
  • If you stop working, your skills will go stale.
  • When you leave the work world, your network dries up.
  • Gaps in your resume are the kiss of death.
  • And so on…

To one degree or another, all those statements are true, of course. But it’s also true that we’re all gonna die… so what’s the point of living? (Consider the killer quote from Ring Lardner.)

What’s the point of being burned out and miserable?

The conventional wisdom doesn’t matter when you’ve got good reasons to do what you’re talking about: You’re free to get out of the kitchen and go kick the can for a while. Give yourself a break, or you will indeed burn up.

Jobs can be replaced, but you get only one body, one mind. There’s no reason to lose your contacts — it’s not hard to maintain the best ones when you take time off. Your skills need not dry up. You can learn new skills.

Afraid to get off the burner?

I was about 40 when I chucked it all to write a book, start a website, and follow my gut. Yes, it was a risk. But getting off the burner is necessary when you feel burnt. With the relief will come new experiences and new choices you forgot you had.

burn out

If you’re good at what you do now, I can almost assure you that you’ll be good at whatever you decide to do after some time off. And if you stay in touch with your best contacts, you’ll always have the support system you need to succeed again. More important, if you don’t get lazy, during the time you take off you’ll make loads of new contacts that can help you get back to work when the time comes.

Here’s the thing: Conventional wisdom is for the conventional person. It’s for whoever wants to nail themselves to a job the rest of their lives. And there’s nothing wrong with that (even if I apply a derogatory metaphor to it). If you’re going to be unconventional — and take time off — then you can’t let the rules apply to you. You must forge your own rules and methods for getting back to work later.

And that’s what Ask The Headhunter is all about. My test of the value of any method for landing a job is this: Does it make enough fundamental business sense that it can work under any circumstances — including taking a break?

Screw convention

I don’t like tricky job-search methods intended to mollify HR managers and personnel jockeys who scan credentials for excuses to reject someone without meeting them. For example, clever resumes that hide your gaps in employment, “functional resumes” that hide your age, and “consulting gigs” that cover up your unemployment.

There’s only one way to get a job under any circumstances without relying on luck, or faking it:

Get someone that knows the person in charge to introduce you and vouch for you, then don’t waste the employer’s time. Show why hiring you will pay off, so the manager won’t be able to do anything but hire you.

Who cares if you’re not employed?

Because what’s far, far worse is staying in the job that’s burning you out, and then showing up at job interviews shell-shocked and demoralized. Then no one’s going to hire you.

My vote — assuming you’ve got your finances in order — is to go away and come back later. Screw convention.

Here’s the secret: If you’re good at your work, then trust your ability to earn a living and to do useful work again. When you’re done kicking the can, you’ll be able to dust yourself off and figure out again what to do next, after flipping burgers and offering fries with that…

Life is short. Do what comes next now, and I think you’ll be better able to do what comes after that.

The Field Guide

Need help getting back to work after you’ve been away for a while — whatever the reason? Maybe you’ve just got gaps in your resume that raise red flags.

Here’s an Ask The Headhunter Field Guide that I’ve compiled from some of the best ATH resources. It’s more than you probably need, but I hope some of these tips will help you get introduced to the right employer and show why hiring you will pay off — even if you’ve been out of the market a long time. All are free online except where indicated:

Career coaches and pundits tend to avoid the “in-your-face” questions job seekers really need answers to. To explore the daunting obstacles that can stop you dead in your tracks — and to choose the help you need — check out the topic titles in the 9 PDF books that make up Fearless Job Hunting: The Complete Collection ($49.95).

Would you dare to chuck it all to survive burn-out on the job? Is this a risk worth taking? If you’ve done it, how did you get back to work — or did you choose another path?

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Protect Your Job: Don’t give notice when accepting a new job

In the February 16, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader talks about breaking the “rules.” Good.

Question

There is a good chance that this spring I will score the federal job I’ve wanted for years. I finally have someone pulling for me on the inside and HR is waiting to pull my application as soon as they post the announcement and I apply.

at-your-own-riskIf I get this job — and even with help it’s still a big IF, — it will be my last job. The salary and perks will get me through my last 20 years before retirement, and a few years in, I can even move anywhere I like in the world and work remotely. Sweet.

I’ve done a lot of googling about giving my current employer two weeks’ notice. I despise my job and everything it represents, and sometimes I wonder if they’d even notice I hadn’t come in for days on end. But here’s where it gets complicated and emotional.

A few months ago, I was offered and accepted a position. I had even created an account in their online HR system and chose my benefits. Three days later, the job was rescinded for no more than vague “funding issues.” So, now I’m terrified that if I get an offer, it will vanish after I’ve quit and I’ll be left destitute — a not-so-improbable situation since I lost my job in the Great Recession, was unemployed for two years, and lost my house to foreclosure. It left a lot of emotional damage.

So, finally, my question: Do I really have to give notice? I’m thinking of just saying I’m going on vacation, moving back to D.C., and then calling on my first day and saying I won’t be back. I know that even though I think I’ll never need them as a reference again, it’s a small world and blah blah blah, but honestly I don’t think I even care.

The world has changed a lot and I’d really like to think this won’t come back to bite me. Am I right?

Nick’s Reply

What I love about Ask The Headhunter readers is that you ask the tough, in-your-face questions. The conventional wisdom about quitting without giving notice is etched in stone: Don’t do it! Always give notice!

Bunk. Life and business are full of choices, and the conventional wisdom is always wired to benefit employers and to make life easier for career coaches, who just love simplistic edicts and soft pablum.  So let’s explore deeply the hard choices for your benefit. I won’t let you off the hook — but not for the reason people might think.

You’re asking me for permission to do something that is bad form and bad business practice. I can’t give you that permission — you must decide whether to do it.

You’ve put a new spin on giving notice. Having had one job offer rescinded, you don’t want to risk it again. You want to actually start a new job before you resign the old one — and this hedge against disaster makes giving notice virtually impossible. Let’s distinguish between what’s allowed, what’s bad, and what’s advisable.

Is quitting without notice allowed?

I don’t know of any law that requires you to give your employer more notice than “I’m leaving today.” (You’d have to check with a lawyer if you want to be absolutely certain it will not bite you legally.) So I believe you can quit your job and leave without notice. Bear in mind that in most jurisdictions employment is at will and an employer can fire you on the spot for no reason or any reason. Employers do it frighteningly often.

You’ve already experienced the ultimate termination: A job offer was rescinded, effectively firing you before you started. See Protect yourself from exploding job offers.

The only other consideration here is whether your current employer imposes any sanctions or penalties for what you’re considering doing. I know employers that will withhold severance or other benefits, or attempt to recover educational investments they’ve made in the employee. If you work in sales, there might be a recoverable draw you’d have to pay back. (Readers making job changes between commercial companies should read Gotcha: The Non-compete agreement.) Check your employee policy manual to make sure you’re not missing anything.

If the law doesn’t prohibit it, you can do it, even if somebody else doesn’t like it.

Is it bad form?

Now let’s consider bad form. As you point out, leaving without notice could leave a bad taste in your employer’s mouth — assuming they care that you’re gone. But don’t skip giving notice thoughtlessly; don’t hurt your employer unnecessarily. Lousy references could follow.

If word gets out, your action could tarnish your reputation more widely. You might upset a co-worker who respects you. The HR manager at the company might mention to HR people in other organizations that you left them in the lurch. A bad reputation can grow from leaving without notice.

Will this come back to bite you? It might. Is it worth the risk? If you do indeed spend the rest of your career at the new job you hope to get, it may not really matter.

Is there any chance your old employer might contact your new employer after you’re hired and poison your new well? Scorned employers sometimes do stupid, irresponsible things out of spite. I’m not sure how much I’d worry about this, but be aware of the possibility and factor it into your decision — and take precautions. Since you’d be taking a federal job, I’m not sure how easy it would be to immediately terminate you. (See The 6 Gotchas of Goodbye.)

The warning I’ll give you: Do not disclose to anyone what you’re about to do or where you’re going until you’re already at the new job.

You don’t want your old employer — or anyone else, whether intentionally or not — to nuke your new job or your old job before the deal is sealed. The risk may seem small if you talk, but the consequences could be huge. That makes taking the risk imprudent.

Is it advisable?

This brings us to what’s advisable. An action that might hurt your reputation may be worth the risk and the price — you must make that judgment. It requires balancing the costs and benefits.

In another, related scenario — I call it juggling job offers — I point out that the consequences of a choice that upsets others may very well be worth the benefits. This is from Fearless Job Hunting, Book 9: Be The Master Of Job Offers, pp. 15-17, and I think it addresses quitting without giving notice:

“Do I think it’s a nice thing to do? Of course not. It’s a crummy thing to do to a company… You will have to live with your decision and its consequences. It could affect your reputation. But life hands us painful choices sometimes, and we have to deal with them.”

In other words, calculate the adverse consequences of your sudden departure and be ready to pay for them. The new job could be worth it, and the risks may be acceptable. Hey — nobody said this was easy, and I’m saying there is no free ride.

What did you sign up for?

Finally, there’s the matter of contracts and agreements. People don’t realize what a can of worms they might leave behind when they quit. Think carefully. Plan ahead.

Study your company’s policies, because there could be grounds for legal action against you if you violate agreements you’ve made. Re-read the job offer you signed when you joined up — what did you agree to? Consider what you may have to sign in order to get your last paycheck. HR can be sneaky. (See The HR Gantlet: How to leave your job without getting hurt.) You don’t have to violate a law to get into trouble. You may subject yourself to a breach of contract that could cost you dearly.

Eyes open!

The last thing I’ll point out is that leaving a job — no matter how you do it — poses many routine risks. In Parting Company: How to leave your job, I provide a seven-page “Crib Sheet” about many of the gotchas people don’t think about. Leaving your job can exact costs you didn’t consider. Among the challenges covered in Parting Company:

  • What will happen to your stuff? Will you be able to take it with you?
  • Are you sure your vacation time will not be charged against your last paycheck?
  • Will you lose any benefits you are owed?
  • What happens to your pension plan?
  • Can the company take action against you over company property in your possession?
  • Do you know for sure “what’s theirs” and “what’s yours?”

I’m not trying to scare you. The new job you describe sounds great for you. And if you really despise your current job, it may be worth doing what’s bad form for the benefit of your career.

Hedge against HR

You shouldn’t have to risk your job if you want to accept a new one.

Nowadays, rescinded job offers have become frighteningly common — and as far as I’m concerned, it’s HR’s fault. You should consider whether you need a hedge to protect your current job when you get a new job offer. It may be prudent not to give notice when you get a new offer in case that new offer goes south — but be ready to pay the price of your choice.

If HR managers don’t like this advice, they should call on their brethren to stop rescinding job offers, because that’s what gives impetus to this hedge.

In any case, until employers start behaving with more integrity, proceed with eyes wide open. Protect yourself. Use your best judgment.

Did you ever quit without giving notice? How should this reader handle this situation? What other factors should you consider when deciding whether to give notice?

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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.

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

 

 

My boss won’t deliver a promised raise

In the March 10, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader complains that the boss laughs off a “small” raise.

Question

underpaid-crumbI work for the CFO of a huge company and I am grossly underpaid. When I brought this to his attention (several times) he finally thanked me and laughed it off, saying that I was slightly underpaid. He promised to work with HR to get me the small difference. That was in January. We are now in March. He even pointed out it wouldn’t really affect the budget for the year. It’s so small — yet he has no time to follow up on the paper work. I’ve been in contact with the compensation manager, who said they are waiting on my boss to make the next move. My boss keeps saying “it’s in process.” A “slight increase” to me is enough to cover gas for the week. I’m sure if he’s measuring it up to his $500k salary, it would be considered slight. What should I do?

Nick’s Reply

I’ve been in your situation myself, and I rationalized that “these things take time.” They do, but it’s incumbent on your boss to keep you apprised of progress — and to get it done. Or why is he the boss?

It sounds to me like he’s not on the same page about this, no matter what he says.

I see two disconnects:

  • You think you’re grossly underpaid, but he thinks the difference is slight.
  • He says he’s taking care of it, but the comp manager says that’s not true.

These are not good signs. You must decide whether these are signals that you need to be working for a company and boss that value you the way you think you should be valued.

I’m not suggesting you should stir up trouble. If you press this, you could get under your boss’s skin. Because this seems to be a trifling matter to a man who’s paid handsomely, it might be more of an irritation than he thinks you’re worth. In other words, it might cost you your job — and I don’t want to contribute to that if it’s not worth it to you.

But if your boss doesn’t come through with a reasonable increase, you should perhaps hedge your bet by having other options ready to go.

When I went through this once, I waited and negotiated for months. Nothing came out of it. But I finally lined up another job elsewhere. When my boss once again delayed a resolution, thinking he’d just keep me hanging, I submitted my resignation — and I let him figure out what happened.

Nothing makes you more powerful; nothing lets you make intelligent choices; and nothing keeps your spirits up — like having a good option B when option A doesn’t work out.

Because my option B was ready to go, I didn’t even vent my spleen on my jerk of a boss when I quit. I just smiled and moved on. It wasn’t worth explaining it to him because, thanks to the existence of option B, I really didn’t care and mentally I had already moved on! If I wasn’t worth an honest effort at correcting my salary, then my employer wasn’t worth a worry on my way out the door.

We came across a more extreme example of your problem last year: What to say to a stingy boss. While your boss doesn’t sound as bad, you’re still stuck without a raise after a lot of talk. Three months is plenty of time to be patient.

My advice: Even if you don’t need to use it, get yourself an option B. It will free you to look at this in an entirely different way. It’s not good to be under someone else’s thumb with nowhere to go.

For your next job, try this approach to compensation: How to decide how much you want.

How long would you wait for your boss to do what he promised? What else could this reader do?

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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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