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The hidden job offer "gotcha".
Date: October 20, 2001

RE: Don't get fired Day #1

Hi Nick,

I'm an avid reader of your Ask the Headhunter column even when I'm not looking for a job. I believe the knowledge I've gleaned from it has directly resulted in increased compensation of over $10,000 per year for me. So, let me take this opportunity to give you a heartfelt Thank You!

I'd like to share an experience of about a year ago which may be helpful to your readers. At that time my present employer had done a number of things which prompted me to seek other employment. (These differences were subsequently amicably resolved, and I remain in their employ. This is a separate story.)

I interviewed at a small number of good companies. I did my research, and in the interviews I demonstrated my ability to excel at the job and generate significant new revenues and profit as a result. It will surprise none of your regular readers that these techniques led to several offers. Here's where it gets interesting.

A good friend and colleague of mine had recently gone through the same process, and the company he was going to work for inadvertently gave him an "advance copy" of the employment agreement they expected him to sign on the first day of work. (I say inadvertently because they later admitted as much to him.) It contained several unacceptable clauses, and they weren't open to changing them.

Remembering this when I got one offer that seemed particularly interesting, I sat down with the hiring manager and a senior HR representative and said that in order to accept their offer, I would need a written agreement which clearly stated that they were required to fully disclose all documents I would be expected to sign (during the first six months) as a condition of employment. Such disclosure would be at least three weeks before my starting date -- sufficient to have my lawyer examine them and render an opinion. Further, if I was dismissed as a result of refusing to sign any document that was not so disclosed, they would pay a severance of six months' salary. I was required to notify them one week after disclosure if there were any documents I would not sign as is. I believed that I was being completely reasonable. Had my colleague not received the documents he was expected to sign in advance, he would have resigned from his previous position, and then had to decline to sign their agreement, and been dismissed as a result. I was determined not to be placed in that same situation, and I believed that if everyone was negotiating in good faith, then there should be no difficulties with advance disclosure.

Unfortunately, this potential employer did not want to tell me what they expected me to sign on my first day of work! I told them that I could not accept an offer from them, no matter how generous -- I will not work with a company that deals like that.

I was quite surprised when the companies that made the other two offers were quite willing to sign such an agreement and make full disclosure -- and there were a number of points which needed some negotiation.

In the end it all turned out to be moot. I decided to make a concerted effort to resolve the conditions at my present employer that led to my seeking offers elsewhere. My present employer was good enough to sit down with me and work things out. But it was still a valuable learning experience -- one I hope your readers can benefit from.

-- I.A., Software Architect

P.S. - In the discussions with my present employer I did not bring up the other offers I had received. The VP of R&D asked me explicitly if I was tabling another offer and asking him to match it. I told him that was not the case. I was not there to discuss other offers I had. They were not relevant to the discussion at hand.

P.P.S. - In one interview, when asked, "Where do you see yourself in five years?" I successfully restrained myself from answering the with, "Oh, is your average employee tenure over five years?" It was not easy, but I did it :-) :-) :-) It's a good thing they didn't ask me what animal I would be. I don't think I would have been able to stop myself from answering that I would be the sort of animal that eats people who ask such incredibly dumb questions. :-)



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