Parting Company: How to leave your job

In the February 3, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, we take a look at how to leave your job without hurting your career.

Fired? Downsized? Need to resign?

pc-cover1-211x275In last week’s edition, Your Boss Hates You: The politics of CYA, we discussed a reader’s difficult parting with her employer. Some of the busiest areas of the Ask The Headhunter website and blog are about what happens when you leave your job. If you’ve been fired, downsized, quit or are considering moving on, you may have already read some of my advice about these difficult situations:

Although this blog is mostly devoted to Q&A — your questions and my advice — I’m going to take the liberty of using most of this edition to tell you about Parting Company | How to leave your job — a new PDF book that I’ve spent months preparing. I’ve gotten so many requests for a thorough Answer Kit about how to leave a job that I’ve produced this new 73-page guide that covers almost everything you could possibly need help with.

Parting company is a trying right of passage — and it’s important that you know how to do it on your own terms.

Resigning a job can be a stressful experience. Getting fired is far worse. But, on top of either, who wants to face a gut-wrenching exit interview on the way out the door? Suddenly, otherwise-confident people get clobbered by unnerving choices. You may have gotten fired or downsized, or you may be thinking of quitting — or perhaps you’ve landed a new job and you’re facing a confusing counter-offer from your old employer.

If you don’t part company on your own terms, you can get hurt.

Let’s look at an issue that’s not in Parting Company — but that suggests doing it wrong could cost you a great new job:

Question

I was recently let go without being given a reason. I believe it was because we had a disagreement. I felt my boss was too demanding and high strung, and he felt I was not aggressive enough. When I apply for jobs and they ask me what happened, what should I say?

I have been saying, “I was let go without being given a reason, without any warning.” Would it be better to say, “It was decided they need someone with a different type of background?”

Nick’s Reply

First of all, let’s quibble about semantics. “It was decided…” You make it seem that some unknown force took action. That’s how cowards phrase things. Use a definite source of the action:

“My boss decided the organization needed someone with a different background.”

Then add,

“I agreed. Our philosophies don’t mesh. In that business, it’s crucial to mesh. I’m looking for an organization that I’m compatible with.”

Don’t worry that you might turn an employer off by saying that. If you’re not compatible, it’s best to know immediately.

Don’t avoid discussing the fact that you were let go, but check your personnel paperwork carefully. Did they actually terminate you, or did they ask you to resign? In Parting Company | How to leave your job, see the section titled “Getting Fired is a State of Mind,” pp. 12-14. The attitude you project can make all the difference.

Parting Company | How to leave your job

Parting company fearlessly is just as important as joining a new employer confidently. For this new Answer Kit, I selected the toughest questions you’ve posed to me over the past 12 years — and I’ve enhanced and expanded some of the best advice I’ve shared on the website, in the newsletter, and on this blog. (You’ll find some articles are now gone from the website, because I’ve beefed them up and added more how-to juice to make them key parts of this new 73-page Answer Kit!)

These are just a few of the daunting challenges Parting Company is designed to help you with:

  • 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)

(Please take a look at the complete Table Of Contents.)

My goal with this new book is to help you make your next move successfully — and on your own terms!

The Crib Sheet

goodbyeIncluded in Parting Company is a 7-page Crib Sheet: A checklist of gotchas to avoid as you prepare to exit your company for the last time. I asked some of my favorite HR managers (Yes, I’ve got friends who are good HR managers!) to disclose their insider tips — about what departing employees must do to avoid trouble later, and to make parting as gentle an experience as possible. You’ll learn things that until now you never even worried about — but should have!

+ BONUS MP3

But I won’t leave you hanging after helping you move on from your old job. Parting Company comes with a BONUS MP3 mp3-logo— It’s “all the best stuff” distilled from a workshop I gave at Cornell University’s Johnson School of Management. A lecture hall full of Executive MBA students came to learn How to make contacts that can lead you to a new job! If you’ve enjoyed the How to Say It tips I sprinkle throughout Ask The Headhunter, you’ll love this short, tip-filled audio bonus.

If you’ve subscribed to this newsletter for any period of time, you know that Ask The Headhunter is where you can come for answers — and not just answers you pay for when you buy a book. Every week, I welcome you to bring your questions, comments, stories and suggestions about the topics we discuss here — on the blog — where I do my best to offer advice about the unique problems and challenges you face. And, as a buddy of mine likes to put it…. Mo’ betta than that… you’ll get the insights and advice of the entire Ask The Headhunter community.

Like all Ask The Headhunter PDF books, Parting Company | How to leave your job comes with a 7-day full-refund guarantee.

Got a question about something that’s not in the book? Post it to the blog and we’ll all do our best to help you. If you try Parting Company, I’d love to know your reaction to this new 73-page Ask The Headhunter Answer Kit!

Are you facing a downsizing? Getting fired? Moving on and need to resign? What’s your specific issue or problem? Post it, and we’ll discuss it — and share the entire community’s great advice and suggestions!

: :

Your Boss Hates You: The politics of CYA

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

Question

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

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

Nick’s Reply

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

First, assess where you really stand.

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

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

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

Regardless, you must also take action to protect yourself.

Second, establish a record.

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

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

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

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

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

Then ask HR for help.

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

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

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


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

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


Third, develop options.

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

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

(See Take Care Of Your References.)

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

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

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

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


HR: Friend Or Foe?

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


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

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

: :

Fired for my ethics!

In the January 14, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader gets fired for not cutting corners:

I am about to be “removed” from my present position. The background reason is because I do my work by the book and will not take shortcuts that are unethical. Management says I’m not a team player. In 15 years, I have never been fired or had this kind of problem before. My question is, how do I handle this in interviewing for a job? And can I leave this company off my resume? The situation has me very depressed. I’m not dealing with it well, but need to get on and find a job. How will a prospective employer view this? Thanks for your time and help.

Nick’s Reply

Don’t ever apologize for your integrity. Don’t complain about anyone else’s lack of it when you interview. Those two rules will stand you well.

youre-firedIf you’ve been with the company more than six months, it will be hard to leave it off your resume. When asked why you left your employer, it’s perfectly honest to say, “I want to work for a better company.”

If you’re asked what specifically made you leave your job, tell the truth, but keep it very brief and unemotional. Don’t dwell on it in an interview, but don’t be defensive about it, either. Decide what you’re comfortable saying, and stick to it. The employer’s reaction will depend a lot on how your attitude comes across. (Learn to use one and only one brief, business-like explanation no matter who you’re discussing this with — family, friends, or new people you meet.) The key in the interview is this: Turn your discussion back to the topic that really matters — how you are going to bring added success to the manager you’re meeting with.

This is where your good references come in. You need to provide an employer with compelling proof of your abilities. You’re going to need to be selective about what references you use from your last employer — but you should definitely have references from people there who know you well. This includes co-workers and managers in other departments that know you. (You don’t have any such references? Tell me who your friends are.)

Remember that your old company’s customers, vendors, and professional consultants (lawyers, bankers, accountants) can also be powerful references, if you had such contacts in your last job.

But take this extra step: Ask your references to call a prospective employer before he calls them. (I discuss this and other powerful reference techniques in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 5: Get The Right Employer’s Full Attention, especially in the section titled “How do I deal with an undeserved nasty reference?”, pp. 19-21.) A good reference won’t have a problem doing that for you, as long as you don’t ask too often. An employer will see this as a very powerful recommendation.

Don’t be depressed. Moving on is the right thing. When you wake up in the morning and look in the mirror, you’ll be looking at someone with integrity. Your previous employer may find an image in his own mirror that isn’t so pleasing. There are lots of companies that want ethical workers. To find them, keep your standards high.

Ever get fired because you didn’t “fit?” How did you handle it? What did you do for references?

: :

How much should I say about getting fired?

In the January 31, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks what to say in a job interview — if he got fired previously for doing something wrong:

I was fired for a minor policy violation. How much should I tell prospective employers about it? Everyone I’ve spoken to has agreed that my indiscretion did not warrant being fired, so in interviews do I tell what happened and hope for the best? Or, do I make up a story to cover it up? Should I refuse to speak about it at all? How much can my old employer say, or shouldn’t I use them as a reference even though they’ve agreed to do it?

Here’s the short version of my advice: (For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)

My Advice

Do not lie if you’re asked why you left your last job, and do not offer made-up stories to cover up the past. However, I believe the only ethical responsibility you have is to disclose anything that you believe would materially affect your ability to do the job the way the company wants it done.

Why not just ask your old boss what kind of reference will be given? (The policy violation was not “minor.” It was major enough to get you fired. This would be a good time to apologize, if you haven’t done so already.) If you know what the company is saying about you, you’ll know better how to handle it.

You can also research the reference indirectly. This is an aggressive approach, but if you do it without any misrepresentations, I think it’s legit… (This part is only in the newsletter… Don’t miss next week’s edition. Sign up now! It’s free!)

More important, you must line up at least two good references at your old company. Their words will count a lot, even if your ex-boss says something negative.

If you’re asked in an interview, respond candidly. Admit you made a mistake but keep it in context. Demonstrate your self-confidence, and make a commitment.

How to Say It
“My references will tell you I’m very good at my work and I’m trustworthy. You’re getting a talented, dedicated, hard-working employee who has learned a lesson, rather than someone who has yet to make a mistake. I won’t let you down.”

That last sentence is a very powerful commitment. You must live up to it.

Some companies will decline to hire you. Others will hire you based on what they see and hear. Then it’s up to you to prove they made a good choice.

Have you ever been fired? How did you deal with the facts in a job interview? Did it even come up? If you’re an employer, have you ever hired someone who was fired for doing something wrong? Why did you take a chance on the person? How did it work out?

What advice would you give about the situation in today’s Q&A?

: :