Headhunter demands I quit my job before his client will interview me

Headhunter demands I quit my job before his client will interview me

In the June 16, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter an executive gets an ultimatum from a headhunter.

Question

headhunter demandsI am an executive at a large U.S. bank. I was approached by a headhunter and have had serious and positive discussions with a company he represents. We were at the next stage of me speaking with the CEO of the company. However, it turns out that the company is a business client of my bank and the CEO of the company is good friends with my boss. On account of this, the CEO is not comfortable meeting with me. The headhunter informed me that the CEO has asked me to resign or notify my boss of my intention to resign before he will meet with me and resume discussions. While they have indicated that they would then “fast track” the process immediately after that, it’s not a guaranteed offer. This seems absurd to me. The headhunter tells me this is not unusual at my high level, but I have never heard of such a practice. What are your thoughts?

Nick’s Reply

This is a good example of the headhunter’s version of mixed signals. “Let’s talk about a job!” Then “We can’t talk to you about a job!” Not unless you quit your job first. Go, then stop, then go? What’s behind all this? The headhunter’s naivete or the CEO’s incompetence?

You’ve had multiple interviews with the company. They have undoubtedly read your resume and know where you work. So does the headhunter and the company’s HR department, which knows the company’s recruiting policies. Now the CEO interjects and implies there’s some sort of conflict in even talking with you because he’s your boss’s friend and the company does business with your bank.

What a mess. How absurd. How unprofessional. Why did they bring you in to interview at all?

Recruiting conflicts?

Perhaps the CEO thinks he’s a paragon of ethical behavior in not hiring anyone that works for any of his friends or who works at any company his company buys from. He has manufactured a significant and risky constraint on who his company can hire.

Podcast

Last week I chatted with Mac Prichard on his “Find Your Dream Job” career podcast. Have a listen: Choosing your target companies, with Nick Corcodilos.

I might understand if you worked for a customer of the CEO’s company. Then the CEO might risk losing the account. But would the CEO forego hiring an employee of the electricity provider that services his building? A lawyer from the company’s law firm? An employee of a restaurant the CEO frequents? A programmer from Apple if the company uses iPhones? Where does it end?

The only true conflict would be if the company’s contractual relationship with the bank forbids the company from recruiting its employees. I’ve never heard of such a thing. (However, it is common for a contract between a headhunting firm and its client company to forbid the headhunter from poaching the client’s employees. But that’s a different story.)

Friends and fiduciaries

If the friendship between the CEO and your boss is the issue, then that CEO should stop recruiting anyone. How many friends does he have and at what companies?

The CEO has a fiduciary obligation to his company. This means he must act entirely on his company’s behalf and best interest. That includes when hiring. Unless there is some contractual or legal obligation preventing him from recruiting and hiring you, the CEO may be violating his obligations to his board of directors. His duty is to hire the best candidates, whether his friends like it or not.

Do you think the CEO disclosed to his board all the companies where he has friends, and from which he will not recruit candidates (like you)? Does HR know which companies represent forbidden fruit? Apparently not. That headhunter certainly doesn’t know.

The CEO’s company will have no access to all those potential candidates (like you). The company would be foolish to limit its access to good candidates.

Headhunter demands it

Far more bizarre is that the headhunter demands you resign your current job just for the chance to meet with his client. Absurd? It’s insane, irresponsible, kooky and the sign of an employer you should cross off your list and warn your friends about.

Additionally, the headhunter’s explanation is disingenuous. If the company has a no-recruit list and your bank is on it, why doesn’t its headhunter know about it? Why did he recruit you from your bank, on behalf of the CEO’s company,  and put you through multiple meetings? The headhunter is wrong. He owes you a big apology for his and his client’s unprofessional conduct. (For more about how to deal with headhunters in such situations, please see How to Work With Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work with you, pp. 26-33.)

Off the rails

This is so far off the rails that you might consider having some fun with it. Tell the headhunter you’ll quit your job if the CEO will write you a check for a year’s salary if he doesn’t hire you for at least a 15% compensation increase within 3 months. You want the check now. You will refund the money if the CEO hires you.

Alternately, tell the headhunter you want to hear this directly from the CEO. You want to see the “no-poach” agreement the company has with your bank. You’ll get none of this, of course, but it’s a conversation I’d love to hear!

Good for you for stepping back for a reality check. You’re dealing with a very naïve headhunter and with a CEO that’s mismanaging his company, from the HR department up to the C-suite.

Perhaps he should hire his friend (your boss) to protect their friendship. Maybe that’s what he’s planning anyway.

On to the next!

What do you make of this bungled recruiting episode? Has a headhunter ever issued bizarre demands like this? What would you do if you were the candidate? What would you say to the CEO and the headhunter?

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I will make your life miserable if you quit!

I will make your life miserable if you quit!

In the October 8, 2019 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a boss threatens an employee who’s going to quit.

Question

quitI am planning to quit my job, but my boss said to hold off on quitting until we can at least hire my replacement. Otherwise, he said, “I will make things very, very bad for you.” How should I respond to this?

Nick’s Reply

The challenges of quitting a job seem to be much on people’s minds. (See last week’s edition, Can we make employees pay for quitting?) Maybe it’s because more people are choosing to quit their jobs and move on?

Once you have decided to quit, you are already psychologically and emotionally “done” with the company. It’s best to leave as quickly as possible. The first mistake you made was to tell your boss you’re going to quit. (See Protect Your Job: Don’t give notice when accepting a new job.)

A boss who threatens you is not someone you should trust while he tries to find your replacement.

Don’t get burned when you quit

Under normal circumstances, you should act responsibly when you quit. If you can, you should offer help transferring your work to another employee. But your boss turned this situation into an abnormal one. In any case, the company is no longer your responsibility. Don’t let anyone tell you it is.

Don’t burn a bridge if it’s not necessary, but be brutally honest with yourself: Your boss is trying to burn you. If you file a complaint against him with HR, all you will do is put yourself at more risk.

While some kindly HR person may try to do right by you, remember that HR’s first obligation is to the company, not to you. You’ll be gone; your boss will still be part of the company. Thus HR’s job is to protect your boss before it protects you.

How to quit

Your boss’s threat makes this easy. Tender your resignation in writing.

[Your resignation] 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.”

That’s it. Sign, seal and deliver. Any other details can be worked out through discussion, including… when you’ll get your last paycheck. If you are forced to take legal action for any reason, or if the company sues you for, say, stealing information, anything you put in your letter can be used against you.

Excerpted from Parting Company: How to leave your job p. 46

I would hand it to the HR manager personally.

How to Say It

Then say this:

“I would offer you two week’s notice but my boss has made this impossible. When I told him I was resigning, he threatened me. He said, ‘If you quit before we hire someone else, I will make things very, very bad for you.’ So as you can see, it would be unsafe for me to continue working here. How you handle my boss is up to you, but I will not participate in it. Please be advised that if my boss makes good on his threat to harm me after I leave here, I will turn the matter over to my attorney. My resignation is effective immediately. I would like to work out the details with you right now.”

Then expect HR to promptly process your paperwork.

Don’t complain, don’t explain. Keep it short and to the point. It’s not your job to help HR deal with the manager. There is no upside to you, but there is considerable risk.

Do not disclose to anyone where you are going to work next. You just don’t know what a bitter boss is capable of; for example, attempting to nuke your new job by making a disparaging phone call to your new employer. (See the sidebar above, More resources.)

A caution about exit interviews

If they ask you to do an exit interview, decline politely but firmly.

The best time for an employee to discuss concerns, dissatisfactions and suggestions with his employer is while he is a committed employee, not on the way out the door. There is no upside for an employee in doing an exit interview, other than having the chance to vent. And the potential risks are significant enough to warrant caution.

From “Exit Interviews; Just say NO” in Parting Company: How to leave your job, pp. 53-57

Get out

Do you think for a minute that if you stick around until your replacement is found, your angry, resentful boss isn’t going to make your life miserable anyway? Even if you are reassigned until you actually depart, you’ll be looking over your shoulder. During that time, even HR could make your life miserable.

The best response to such a threat is to protect yourself and to leave as soon as possible. You owe nothing to a company that has threatened you. That’s right: When the manager threatened you, the company threatened you because he represents the company. So does HR. You really are on your own. Get out.

I wish you the best.

Has your boss ever turned on you when you announced you were going to quit your job? What did you do? Was HR helpful? How did it turn out?

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Resigning Your Job? Don’t tell.

In the July  16, 2019 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader worries about resigning the wrong way.

Question

resigningI finally landed my next job after months of interviews. Now I don’t want to blow it until I’m actually on board at the new company. I say that because the last time I changed jobs I made the mistake of telling my boss too soon, before I even had a job offer. I thought he respected me enough to wish me well, but it blew up in my face. He told HR and I was walked out the door. I can use some advice. How should I handle it this time?

Nick’s Reply

Congratulations — now be careful!

Before I offer my suggestions, I’ll tell you about a vice president of engineering I placed. I moved Hans from the southern Florida “spook industry” (that’s what he called it) to San Jose, California, where he was hired to run an engineering department at a company that made state-of-the art communications equipment.

Resigning & telling

A week before Hans was to move his entire family and start the new job, the president of my client company called me. “Someone left me a worrisome voicemail. They didn’t leave their name and the number is untraceable. They said Hans has affiliations we should be aware of. What’s this about, Nick?”

The tight-knit Florida “spook industry” (purveyors of electronic equipment that spies use) didn’t like that Hans was leaving their little community and taking his insider knowledge with him. They made that call to nuke Hans’s new job — and his family’s future. Never mind how I found out; that’s my job. In the end, it all worked out and Hans had a long, successful career in San Jose.

What happened? Hans made the mistake of telling someone back home where he was going. Hans knew full well how to keep his mouth shut — that was the business he was in. But Hans also had a healthy ego and he wanted to impress some of his close friends, not realizing the risk he was taking.

Risking getting nuked

When I discussed this with him later — he was incredibly embarrassed at his own behavior — I explained risk to this seasoned executive.

“The risk that someone you told would hurt you was probably very small, so you overlooked it. The trouble is, even the tiniest risk is not worth taking when the potential consequences could be catastrophic. The tourist who climbs over the railing at the Grand Canyon to take a selfie knows the chances they’ll fall into the abyss are tiny. But the consequences are enormous. So it’s not prudent to take that risk.”

That’s why, when you plot your exit from one employer to another, you should never, ever disclose to anyone — least of all your boss and co-workers — what you’re about to do and where you’re going.

Don’t jump the gun

Ask yourself, who needs to know and what do they need to know? Your employer needs to know you’re leaving, but only when it’s safe for you to tell them. No one needs to know where you’re going — that’s private and confidential. And you can tell them later, when it’s safe.

The following is from my PDF book, Parting Company: How to leave your job. It’s just a short excerpt of the chapter, “Resign Yourself To Resigning Right,” pp. 42-43:

Too often, in the throes of deciding whether to accept a job offer, a person will start the resignation process too early. That is, he’ll let his boss know he’s thinking about leaving in an effort to get more input as he’s working through the decision. But he’s looking for advice in the wrong place. (See “Should I tell my boss I’m leaving?”, p. 38.)

Unless you have a rare boss who is more concerned about your future than about his own or the company’s, don’t do it. Regard any discussion about your potential resignation as tantamount to tendering it. Once you let the cat out of the bag… it may be impossible to put it back.

Word may get out among your co-workers, and it may affect their attitude about you. Your boss may view what you’ve divulged as an indication that you’ll continue looking, even if you don’t accept the job offer. And, if you haven’t yet made a decision, all that talk may lead you to make the wrong decision.

I’m a believer in getting advice and insight about a potential job change. But, I think it’s dangerous to seek such advice from people whose own jobs and lives will be impacted by your decision. If you work in a very tight-knit organization of mature professionals who respect one another both personally and professionally, your experience might contradict what I’m suggesting. But most people don’t work in such an environment. If you need advice, get it from a trusted peer or mentor who preferably works in another company. Don’t jump the gun. Don’t disclose your intentions when it might hurt you.

Protect yourself

My advice is to give notice to your employer only after you have a bona fide offer from the new employer in writing, signed by an officer of the company, and after you have accepted the offer in writing. Your acceptance letter should include a statement to the effect that you are “advising that my acceptance of this job will require me to resign my position at [the old employer] and to relinquish my income from that job, and that I will rely on the compensation of [$X — whatever the offer is] from you.”

Also covered in Parting Company:

  • Getting fired is a state of mind
  • Stock option handcuffs
  • Did you get downsized?
  • Should I take a package to quit?
  • How to handle exit interviews
  • What about counter-offers?

That “statement of reliance” is recommended by an employment lawyer who advises that it might protect you legally if the offer is withdrawn. (Please see Lawrence Barty’s comments in Job offer rescinded after I quit my old job, but please understand that this is not offered as legal advice in any particular situation.)

Don’t tell anyone at your old company where you are going, even if you’re so excited you could burst. Tell them you’ll be in touch once you’re settled into your new job (preferably for at least a couple of weeks) because you value your friendships and want to stay in touch. You can decide later whether you really want to do that.

If they beg to know where you’re going, just tell them that some headhunter once cautioned you to keep it confidential — and that when the time comes, they should, too.

Has resigning ever come back to bite you? What does your employer really need to know when you resign? How risky is it to tell people where you’re going? What “parting company” tips would you offer this reader?

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Two weeks’ notice cost me two weeks’ pay!

In the November 1, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader tries to do the right thing by giving two weeks’ notice and loses two weeks’ pay.

Question

get-outI have a new job, so I gave my two weeks’ notice to my employer. But my boss let me go the same day! He said, “I accept your resignation. And you’re gone immediately.”

I needed at least another week of work because I can’t afford two weeks off between jobs. Now I’m screwed. They gave me three hours that day and told me to leave. I’ve always given at least two weeks’ notice to be fair to my employer. Is it right that they did this to me after I did the right thing for them?

Nick’s Reply

Unfortunately, it’s not a question of right. For the employer, it’s a judgment call.

Here’s what your boss may be thinking:

  • Are you a liability or risk if you stay on another two weeks? In other words, will you be distracted and do lower-quality work?
  • Are you likely to “poison the well” and encourage other employees to think about leaving?
  • Or, is the manager just angry? Does he resent your “disloyalty” because you quit? Quitting a job doesn’t make one disloyal, but your manager’s ego might have gotten the best of him and caused trouble for you.

You never know how an employer is going to react. For some tips from my PDF book, Parting Company: How to leave your job, check this article: Protect Your Job – Don’t give notice when accepting a new job.

I think an employer is a dope to not take advantage of two weeks’ notice to help transition your work to another employee. But once you resign, your employer is not obligated to keep you on. There may even be a company policy about not letting employees who resign stick around.

While it’s a good thing to do right by your employer, this is why I tell people to consider their own interests first when quitting a job. If you think it’s risky, don’t give notice. This is just one issue when leaving a job. In the aforementioned book, I cover loads of other issues people never think about, including:

  • What you can and can’t take with you when you leave
  • Non-Disclosure Agreements and Non-Compete Agreements
  • Legal liability
  • What to say and what not to say in a resignation letter or during an exit interview
  • How to submit your resignation to protect yourself
  • How to plan your departure
  • There’s even a checklist shared by my insider HR friends

Two weeks’ notice used to be a standard courtesy. Although some employers still expect it, in some places it’s a risk to offer it. People like you try to act ethically and with integrity, but leaving a job is a business and financial decision that nowadays is handled coldly by many companies. While I don’t advocate quitting without notice, I suggest that people get their ducks all in a row before they walk in to resign a job. Plan for the worst.

This article may be helpful as you consider any new job offer: Protect yourself from exploding job offers.

Sorry to hear you got hurt in the process. But congratulations on landing a new job!

Have you ever gotten burned for giving two weeks’ notice when quitting a job? If you’re a manager, would you walk an employee who quits out the door, or do you want the notice period?

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Should I take a 30% pay cut to keep my job?

In the September 20, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader doesn’t see a pay cut as a good deal.

pay cutQuestion

Yesterday my company, which is experiencing cash flow difficulties, asked me to take a 30% salary cut to keep doing the same job and still at full time. Do you have any tips on how to respond? I feel like I’ve been bushwhacked.

Nick’s Reply

The obvious answer is to tell them to shove it and quit.

But if that were your first choice, you wouldn’t be asking for tips. There are several ways you could respond, so let’s consider some of the issues before I offer some suggestions you could tweak to suit your needs.

Let me ask a key question:

Did they give you any indication or evidence that they expect to return your salary to normal again? When?

If they’ve communicated nothing about that, it’s a bad sign. If they’ve made promises, ask for it in writing. How they respond will tell you all you need to know about the company’s viability. Good management is honest with employees and makes and keeps commitments. A company that leaves you in the dark about what’s really happening is in more trouble than it seems. Don’t ignore signals about this.

You need to decide how much you need that cash flow yourself. That will dictate what you should do next: wait it out or move on immediately?

Another question:

Is there anything you can say or do that would bring your salary back up?

In other words, if you decline the cut, would they keep you on at your regular salary? I doubt it. So the choice is, do you accept the new terms while you look for a better job (without disclosing that’s what you’re doing), or do you quit and focus all your time on a new job?

Only you can answer that.

Negotiate a pay cut

This might work if your employer is likely to recover financially: Ask if they’d leave your salary at 100% on the books, pay you 30% less, and issue a promissory note for the balance. That is, an IOU. Then you might have standing to collect when they go bankrupt and a judge has to decide whose debts get paid first by the court.

Or, play tit for tat: Take the pay cut if they’ll take a work cut. Offer to work 30% fewer hours. Always be aware that opening a negotiation can result in the other guy withdrawing the deal entirely. That is, they might just tell you to leave now. But you could just leave now, too.

Fall back on this

Now I’ll give you my second best advice. Talk with a good employment attorney before you answer about the 30% cut. I know an attorney will cost you a few bucks, but consider how much that pay cut will cost you over the next one or two months. An hour with an attorney will probably seem like a good investment if your goal is to work out terms.

If you’re pretty sure the pay cut will turn into a layoff, start preparing now. Here are a few other issues to consider, from my PDF book, Parting Company: How to leave your job:

Should you volunteer to get laid off?

You might be able to get a severance package that costs the company even less than keeping you on at a 30% pay cut — if you volunteer to leave. (See pp. 26-27.)

Should you tell your boss you’re leaving?

Are you going to start a job search? Your boss probably wouldn’t be surprised — but I advise you not to disclose what you’re doing. If you’re going to rely on whatever meager salary they’re going to keep paying you, don’t risk it by appearing disloyal because you’re looking for a new job. (See pp. 38-39.)

If you’re ready to quit, see How should I quit this job? If you’re not going to read the book, at least read the article Parting Company: How to leave your job.

Stand up to downsizing

Are you pretty certain the company is going to fire you soon? From the book:

“Be smart. If you’re caught in a downsizing, don’t let yourself be pulled under by the current of panic. Everyone grabs the same life preservers: the job postings, the resumes, the cover letters and the random interviews. By that point, the channels of the employment system are clogged with so much competition that surviving the trip is debilitating, if not impossible.” (See pp. 23-25.)

In other words, don’t be the last one out the door pursuing the same jobs as your laid off co-workers!

Prepare and plan for the worst. When employers ask their employees for money — make no mistake, that’s exactly what this is — it’s a bad sign.

The only thing that would make me feel better is if your employer puts some skin in the game, too, in one of the ways I suggest above. But here’s my best advice: Immediately start a job search and get ready to move on — but be careful. (See How your old boss can cost you a new job.)

I wish you the best with this, but I doubt it’s going to work out well.

Did you ever take a pay cut to keep your job? How did it turn out? What would you advise this reader to do?

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HR Technology: Who’s Bad?

badWho’s really bad in today’s HR Technology world?

  • Companies that actually spend money on software that peeps at employees and people they want to recruit?
  • HR Technology companies that make the software?
  • Investors who could be gambling their cash away in Monte Carlo? (And seeing a show?)
  • HR executives who brag that they’re peeping at employees who might be doing the nasty nasty with some other employer?

Who’s Bad?

A reader sent me this gem today, from the Washington Post:

This software start-up can tell your boss if you’re looking for a job

I’d love your take on it. I see a few things in the story of Joberate, a company that:

“scrapes publicly available data from millions of individuals’ online social media accounts, or buys it from other parties, to assign what it calls a ‘J-Score’ that estimates their level of job search activity, likening it to a FICO score.”

(Yuck. Digital dumpster diving. Scraping the bottom. Bad.)

First, I’d love a list of Joberate’s customers — so I could advise you to quit your job there if you have one, because who wants to work for a company that invests more in peeking at what you’re doing than it does in making sure you’re a happy employee? But alas, Joberate’s customers don’t want to be identified. (Ah… busted doing the nasty nasty… send the PR manager into fits!)

Second, I’d like five minutes with the HR jokers who convinced their companies to buy into this tracking technology: Where are you hiding? Don’t you have a real job?

Third, I have a few words for “Brian Kropp, who leads human resources consulting for CEB, which has a venture capital arm that’s an investor in Joberate”: You’re an HR executive and an investor? Do you write HR Technology software?

Finally, to Joberate’s chief executive, Michael Beygelman: Close scrutiny and analysis of public media (I did a big-data dump of the Washington Post and ran it through my algorithm) reveals you should be looking for a new job, even though you’re not. Or maybe you are. Someone could check. If anybody cared.

HR Technology + LinkedIn = Really Bad

I always check out people worth writing about. Mr. Beygelman’s LinkedIn profile reveals something you really ought to care about. (Hey, it’s a public profile, anybody can look at it without scraping anything.) He wrote an article titled “LinkedIn changes to InMail policy create business case for Joberate technology.”

Here’s the nugget:

“Instead of sending blind InMails to potential candidates on LinkedIn, recruiters can now use Joberate technology to track job seeking behavior of people they’re interested in contacting.”

HR can be bad with Joberate, but LinkedIn helps recruiters be really bad. Now you’re going to see where all those silly LinkedIn In-mails you get from “headhunters” come from — an algorithm that links up Joberate with your favorite junk-mail purveyor:

found-you“When Joberate technology tells the recruiter that a person’s J-Score went up, it means that person’s job seeking behavior has increased, alerting the recruiter when it becomes the ideal time to contact a potential candidate. At that point a recruiter can send an InMail to a prospective candidate whose job seeking behavior and activities have just increased.”

Whoo-wee! Thanks to HR Technology, a recruiter (or your boss — whoever pays for Joberate!) found you looking for a job! Kinda like looking in your peephole.

Who’s bad?

Would you hire Michael Beygelman? Would you invest your money with Brian Kropp? Do you worry Joberate is watching you? Is it time to turn off InMails on your LinkedIn account? Do we really need more software companies?

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New grad gets railroaded out of first job

In the May 10, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a new grad becomes the fall guy for HR.

Question

I am a new college graduate (male), with only three months’ work experience. This is (was) my very first job. I am working through a temp agency that has me on its payroll. I’ve been given no training. It’s not clear who is actually my boss, though several managers give me work. I put all my heart and my enthusiasm into it. I tried to reach out for help and advice to my temp agency liaison, without any of my calls being returned.

cut-it-outThe big problem is I started to be sexually harassed by a woman co-worker. (I am gay.) This became very uncomfortable. When I finally reached my temp agency, they told me to talk to the woman and tell her (nicely) to take it easy. When I spoke with her, she seemed okay, but then she sent me a very disturbing passive-aggressive e-mail. I forwarded that to my agency and to my on-site manager.

On a Friday, both of us were called in to HR, and HR gave me the option to leave or to stay. I chose to leave as I was really uncomfortable working there anymore. We said our good-byes and I left. Nobody at my agency would return my calls. On Monday, the agency left me a voicemail stating that because of the unprofessional way I behaved and because I resigned without two weeks’ notice, they cannot represent me anymore.

If I feel conflicted about my work environment, unsafe I might say, how can I get back to work there? Shouldn’t my temp agency at least listen to my version of the story? Thank you.

Nick’s Reply

I’m sorry you had such a lousy first-job experience. I think you were railroaded out of your job by the HR department because you complained, and your agency has dumped you because they don’t want to buck their client. Regardless of who was at fault, the process for handling your complaint is clearly faulty.

While you were justified to complain, some companies just don’t like dealing with difficult situations like this. Their “solution” is to get rid of the employee who complains. That’s wrong. They should have initiated a review of what happened, and no matter who was at fault, an ultimatum is not the appropriate solution. At the very least they should have documented what happened and communicated with you in writing. Since they didn’t, they may have a legal problem.

My guess is that because you’re new to work, they figured they could intimidate you out of your job. They succeeded. Don’t feel bad – you’re still learning what your rights are at work.

Most important, what you’ve learned is that this employer and this agency have no integrity. They’re not worth working for. They’re not fair. They took the easy way out of this difficult situation.

I don’t blame you for opting to leave, but I believe you may have a legal case if you choose to pursue it. I’d start by talking with your state’s department of labor. Explain what happened, and ask for their advice about your options. It makes no sense that, after HR pushed you to leave, they consider this a case of resignation without notice!

Or, talk with an attorney who specializes in employment discrimination. I’m not a lawyer and I do not give legal advice. Some lawyers will give you an initial consultation at no charge – check that up front before you meet with one. Just make sure it’s an employment law specialist. Getting legal advice does not mean you’re going to sue – it’s a way to find out what your legal options are. Sometimes the solution is for the lawyer to send a nastygram to the employer — and a settlement is made. Sometimes it gets more complicated. Find out from the lawyer how this can be handled.

It really angers me when an employee – especially someone just starting out – is treated this way by an employer (not to mention the other employee). You must decide whether to move on or to get legal advice.

To answer your specific questions:

  • If you feel conflicted or unsafe in a work environment, stay away from it. Why would you want to go back to work there?
  • Yes, your agency should listen to your story. What they did was wrong.

If you believe you did nothing wrong, then you should decide whether you want to work with people who are doing something wrong. I’m not sure what you think would be different if your job were reinstated — or why you’d want to work with people like this. My advice is, don’t. Find an employer or an agency with integrity. And decide whether to take legal action. This may be helpful: New Grads: How to get in the door without experience.

I wish you the best. There are lots of good employers out there. It’s important to look more carefully at a company before you join up. See How can I find the truth about a company? and Get the manager’s resume before you interview for the job.

There are two big issues in this week’s Q&A — the special challenges new grads face at their first jobs, and discrimination. What did you experience as a new grad at your first job? Have you faced blatant discrimination like this employee did? What advice would you offer?

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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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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.) 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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