Say NO to tests prior to an interview

Filed under: Employment Tests, Fearless Job Hunting, How to Say It, Job Search, Q&A, Stupid HR Tricks

In the March 24, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader complains about investing time in employment tests before the employer invests time in an interview.

Question

I applied for a Senior Director position with a large healthcare software company. I was “selected” by HR to begin the recruitment process, which starts with “assessment tests” such as aptitude and personality tests. The largely canned e-mail they sent me states that I should block off two hours to complete these examinations, and I was provided with a link and logon information to the assessment website. Mind you, I still have not talked with the hiring manager.

no-to-testsI don’t really have two hours to perform these silly tasks, though the job itself does sound challenging from the description provided. Is there anything I can do to bypass this process, or should I just run and hide from this firm? How can I be sure the third party contracted to perform the assessment isn’t selling or trading my information with other employers without my knowledge? Thanks very much, I am a big fan of your blog.

Nick’s Reply

Glad you enjoy the blog — thanks for your kind words.

My approach to situations like this is not to say no. It’s to set terms you are comfortable with, and then let the employer say yes or no. If your terms are prudent and reasonable, and they say no, then you know something funky is up — and that you’ve really lost nothing in the bargain. You merely avoided wasting your time.

But I don’t think it bodes well when a company wants you to do tricks to get an interview, so you’re justified to be concerned. What I’m about to suggest will likely result in your being rejected from further consideration by this company.

  • I’d tell HR you’d be happy to comply with their request, but your busy schedule precludes you from filling out forms and going through administrative processing (tests) until you and the manager “establish good reasons to pursue the possibility of working together.” In other words…
  • No testing prior to meeting the hiring manager. Why invest your valuable time if they won’t invest theirs?
  • No testing with third-party firms unless they provide in writing (a) a disclosure that defines who will have access to your results, (b) a confidentiality statement (signed by the testing firm and the employer) stating that they will not disclose your results to anyone without your express written permission, (c) credentials of the test administrators and those who will score and interpret the results, and (d) written assurance that they will provide you with results and interpretation of your tests.

The last word about why pre-employment tests should concern you is this article by Dr. Erica Klein: An Insider’s Biggest Beefs With Employment Testing.

Now let’s get down to business. You’re interested in the job you read about, so pursue it on your own terms.

I’d contact the office of the person you’d be reporting to if hired. (See Should I accept HR’s rejection letter? for some tips.) I’d politely explain that you’re glad the company wants to interview you, and that you’d be happy to come in to meet and talk. If you mutually decide to continue discussions about a job, you’d be happy to take tests and suffer through the HR gauntlet.

How to Say It
“I get a lot of requests to do such tests but I judge how serious an employer is about me as a candidate by whether they will invest the time to meet me first. I always go the extra mile for a company that demonstrates that level of interest. In fact, if you have time to meet, I’ll be glad to prepare a plan for how I’d do the job — and we can discuss it.”

I’m sure you get the idea. The point is to say this to the hiring manager — not to HR. If you need help with that last part, see Fearless Job Hunting, Book 6: The Interview: Be The Profitable Hire, particularly the sections, “How can I demonstrate my value?” and “Are you an A or B candidate?”, pp. 8-11. I think that offering to arrive with a business plan in hand will reveal whether the manager is on the ball. How could any good manager not be intrigued?

As you’ve already surmised, the odds are extremely high that the HR department really doesn’t know whether you are a viable candidate. They’d rather spend money on tests to filter you in or out, than spend the hiring manager’s time to interview you to make a judgment. So, I don’t think you have much to lose. At this juncture, you’re probably not a serious contender. If you were, they’d handle you with kid gloves and they’d be seducing you rather than harassing you.

Of course, the tests might be useful, interesting and valid tools to judge your skills. After you talk with the manager.

Your last concern is valid. Those third-party testing companies invariably own your results. The papers you sign usually give them the right to share your results with anyone they want to, including some other company that obtains your resume — and looks up your test results because it’s already the testing firm’s client. You could get rejected without ever knowing why.

Be careful. Use your judgment. Be polite, be professional, but don’t be a sucker. Expect the kind of professional treatment and consideration that you give others.

Have employment tests taken the place of screening interviews? Is this just another way to save HR time? More important — does this extreme testing practice waste your time or help you get interviews?

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How to fix a bad reference the hard way

Filed under: Fearless Job Hunting, Interviewing, Job Search, Parting Company, Q&A, References, The job offer

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

Question

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

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

Nick’s Reply

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My boss won’t deliver a promised raise

Filed under: Job Search, Making money, Negotiating, Q&A, Quitting, Resigning, Salary

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?

Filed under: Changing jobs, Job Search, Making money, Negotiating, Parting Company, Q&A, Quitting, Resigning, Salary

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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How can shy people make job contacts?

Filed under: Fearless Job Hunting, Getting in the door, Job Search, Q&A

In the February 24, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks how to overcome shyness and capitalize on personal contacts as the path to a job.

Question

shyI am an intelligent, hardworking analyst who is also an introvert. Once I’m on the job, I’m fine and people like me. But getting contacts lined up to meet people to get the interview for the new job is difficult. There seem to be so many steps with so many people that I don’t know! I’ve read most of your web articles and haven’t seen this addressed. Do you have any pearls of wisdom for me?

Nick’s Reply

Believe it or not, I was quite introverted and shy when I was young. I would freeze up in front of a group. It was painful and embarrassing. Gradually, I realized I had to deal with other people, and I started listening to friends I trusted — they helped me practice appropriate behaviors. I’m still somewhat introverted, and sometimes I hesitate to initiate contact with others, but I’ve learned to behave in more outgoing ways. It doesn’t always work, but each time it does, I enjoy the rewards and I try to do it more.

I know quite a few folks who’ve tried Toastmasters groups to good effect. Toastmasters participants help one another hone their public speaking skills, working with one another in a safe, supportive setting. Their small successes make it easier for them to be a bit more outgoing with other individuals in public.

I don’t doubt being introverted can cause difficulties, but most human behavior is subject to conditioning and learning. (Sometimes the terms introversion and shyness are used loosely and interchangeably.) Look up social learning theory — you might find it intriguing and helpful. I had the good fortune to study under Dr. Albert Bandura at Stanford, and what I learned from his research about human behavior and modeling has had a profound effect on me.

The best advice I can offer is this: Think of one or two small behaviors that are more outgoing, then practice them as much as you can. For instance, walk up to someone (in an appropriate setting that doesn’t feel threatening to you) and say, “Hi, I’m [your name].” Reach out at the same time to shake hands. Then say, “I understand your work involves XYZ.” Then ask a simple, honest question about XYZ, and let them talk.

The secret to this technique (I hate calling it networking) is that most people love to talk about their work if you ask them. If they ask you about your work next, talk as much as you feel comfortable. If you get nervous, you can always just say, “Thanks, it was nice to meet you,” and move on.

The key to changing your thinking is to start by changing your behavior, but only one step at a time. Keep practicing. You’ll get to enjoy your little successes, and it will not seem phony or contrived as you get better at talking to others. This is the fundamental behavior behind meeting people to get job interviews.

Here’s an excerpt about making new contacts from Fearless Job Hunting, Book 3: Get In The Door (way ahead of your competition), (pp. 6):

Scope the community:
You could skip the resume submission step completely, but if it makes you feel good, send it in. Then forget about it.

More important is that you start to understand the place where you want to work. This means you must start participating in [your] community and with people who work in the industry you want to be a part of. [See Meet The Right People.]

Every community has a structure and rules of navigation. Figure this out by circulating. Go to a party. Go to a professional conference or training program. Attend cultural and social events that require milling around with other people (think museums, concerts, churches). It’s natural to ask people you meet for advice and insight about the best companies in your industry. But don’t limit yourself to people in your own line of work. The glue that holds industries together includes lawyers, accountants, bankers, real estate brokers, printers, caterers and janitors. Use these contacts to identify members of the community you want to join, and start hanging out with them.

Jobs aren’t found on computer screens and in postings — or even on LinkedIn, which is, after all, no more “social” than a phone book. You actually have to get out and meet people face to face! Most jobs are found and filled through the personal contacts we make and turn to.

Do you find it hard to talk to people when you want to make professional contacts? How do you break the ice?

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The 6 Gotchas of Goodbye

Filed under: Ask The Headhunter Products, Fired, Negotiating, Parting Company, Q&A, Quitting, Resigning

In the February 17, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, we discuss how HR can make your exit tricky — and how to protect yourself.

The last word on leaving your job

When you leave a job, HR is often waiting for you with a few tricks. I call this exit gantlet the 6 gotchas of goodbye.

gotchaThis is the last of three special editions about what happens when it’s time to leave your job — and what to do to protect yourself. We’ve already discussed How to leave your job and how to Leave on your own terms. Then, of course, there’s the HR process that kicks in (and often kicks you!) when you’re on your way out the door.

Some HR departments are actually quite helpful to departing employees. Others are ready to exact a last pound of flesh from you. In any case, it pays to understand some of the gotchas and to be prepared — in the midst of an emotional ordeal — to escape intact.

These gotchas and my advice about how to beat them are from the 7-page Crib Sheet at the end of the PDF book, Parting Company | How to leave your job. The Crib Sheet is an extensive checklist compiled from my personal discussions with top HR insiders who know how the system works.

The 6 gotchas of goodbye

1. Don’t vent.

Your employer can use anything you say against you later. If you’ve resigned, avoid official discussion of your reasons, unless you want them in your personnel record. (See also pp. 46-47.) If you want to express yourself to your boss or to co-workers, do it off the record, casually, and preferably off-site at a restaurant or coffee shop. (See last week’s discussion about why you should not consent to an exit interview.)

2. Protect your future.

If you’ve resigned, don’t discuss where you’re going. (See also “Keep your future to yourself,” pp. 47-48.) Disclose it later, after you’ve started your new job, when there’s no possibility someone might try to nuke it. I once placed an executive whose resentful old boss contacted the new employer and made wild claims that almost resulted in withdrawal of the offer — until I completed an investigation and my client was satisfied none of it was true. Some employers feel betrayed and can behave irrationally. Don’t risk it.


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3. Protect your stuff.

Don’t leave your personal belongings exposed. Upon termination or resignation, you may not be permitted to retrieve them easily. Some employers will lock you out and pack what they believe is yours and ship it to you later. (See “Get your stuff,” p. 46.)

Tip: Don’t presume you have privacy at work. What you consider private might actually belong to your employer. When you start your job, make it clear in writing what belongs to the company and what belongs to you. One of my HR buddies, who contributed some astonishing tips to the Crib Sheet, says her IT department will confiscate a departing employee’s company cell phone and e-mail account immediately — and will not return any contacts or other digital files, even if they are personal. Never take anything that’s not yours, but think and plan ahead to protect your stuff. (See p. 71, “Protect yourself.”)

4. Outplacement: Don’t settle.

Should you accept outplacement help, or should you negotiate for an even more valuable alternative? One of HR’s dirty little secrets discussed in the book is that some employers offer outplacement not to help you get a new job, but to protect the company from lawsuits.

Tip: Outplacement may be negotiable, as discussed in “Outplacement Or Door #2?”, pp. 28-30. Start by negotiating for as much as you want, and settle for as much as you can get. Don’t assume the company’s first offer is set in stone. You may be able to negotiate a cash alternative so you can hire the career coach of your choice — not one that reports to the employer. Or you can pocket the cash.

5. Document.

HR has an extensive personnel file on you, and it will document your departure. You should document the process, too. Without such records, you may be at a disadvantage if, later on, there’s any controversy about your exit. For example, if you were fired after being put on a Personal Improvement Plan (PIP), obtain copies of relevant documents. Even if you don’t expect to take any legal action, your employer’s behavior may lead you to change your mind. The outcome may hinge on what kind of information you can provide to your lawyer. (See p. 69, “Benefits & documents.”)

Tip: Bring a pad to all meetings with HR during your exit process. Take lots of notes, including names, dates and times — especially about any promises made or terms discussed. Be polite, but make it clear you’re documenting. This puts HR on notice that you’re not a pushover. Your diligence could save you from a trick or two.

6. Don’t be in a hurry.

gotcha1Perhaps the biggest gotcha of the exit process is that HR is expert at it — and you’re not. HR will run loads of forms past you. Don’t be rushed. Make sure you understand every step of the process. For example, if you are given a letter of separation to sign, consider having an attorney review it first. Don’t forfeit your rights in an effort to exit quickly. Protect yourself. (See p. 27, “Do you need a lawyer?”)

(These 6 gotchas are from the 7-page Crib Sheet at the end of the PDF book, Parting Company | How to leave your job.)

Your employer’s HR office conducts an exit process to protect the company. It might be the friendliest, most responsible process possible. Or it might not. The risks to you could be enormous. Think of leaving your job like selling a house. There’s a written legal trail for good reasons: A lot is at stake and no one wants to get screwed. When you exit, be aware of the gotchas. And be ready to protect yourself.

How smooth was your last parting with an employer? Did you ever get surprised on your way out the door? What happened? What advice would you offer to the dearly departing?

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Quit, Fired, Downsized: Leave on your own terms

Filed under: Changing jobs, Fired, Job Search, Parting Company, Q&A, Quitting, Resigning

In the February 10, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, we discuss how to know it’s time to go, what to say to exit interviews, and how to resign right.

How are you leaving?leaving

Last week I introduced you to my new PDF book, Parting Company | How to leave your job, and we briefly discussed a reader’s question about what she should say to other employers about getting fired.

But there’s a lot more to the challenge of “parting company” with your employer. This gets short shrift from career writers and advisors because it’s considered water under the bridge — everyone wants to talk about “what to do next.”

The thing is, how you handle leaving your job is largely up to you. It can affect your prospects dramatically — and it can hurt your career. Even if you get fired, you have choices. It’s important to know what your options are. Whether you quit, get fired, or get downsized, do it on your own terms.

Leave on your own terms

This week, I’d like to share some advice straight from the book — just a few of the many issues you need to consider before you take that big step out the door.

Say NO to exit interviews

Whether you get fired or quit, never do an exit interview. (pp. 53-57) I have polled HR managers for over a decade. None can name one benefit of the dreaded exit interview for the departing employee, but I can name several serious risks. Whether you say complimentary things in an exit interview, or make critical comments and vent your frustrations, your words can be used against you.

Most obvious: Suppose you need to take legal action to get your final paycheck or a bonus you’re owed, or because you later realize you were discriminated against. Your employer can use your verbose comments to support its own case. Or, if someone later calls this employer to check your references, any negative comments saved to your personnel file might influence the quality of references you’re given.

Consenting to an exit interview just isn’t worth it.

HR managers argue that they need your candid comments if they’re to improve the company and their processes. But if that really matters to your employer, then HR should be asking you exit interview questions regularly, while you’re an employee, so you can benefit from any resulting improvements.

These are just a few reasons why, when you’re leaving your job, the prudent response to an exit interview is, No, thank you.

Read the signals now

Is it time to go? (pp. 9-11) You should be the best judge of whether it’s time to leave your job, before your employer decides for you. People often get fired because they don’t see signals that it’s time to go. It may be time to go when:

  • You’ve got no professional support. You’re the “top dog” in your department, and there’s no one to mentor you further. You start to stagnate, while everyone else comes to you for help doing their jobs.
  • You’re always ahead of your employer. You understand your work, your tools, the market, and trends better than your employer does, but no one listens to you.
  • You are isolated. There are too many walls between your job function and the rest of the company. You’re not allowed to put your head together with other departments to produce the best solutions. Everyone is isolated.
  • You’re not growing. Your employer doesn’t encourage continuing education and offers little, if any, training. They like you just the way you are, and they want you to stay that way.

Resign right

Do you know how to resign? (pp. 40-49) Many people simply don’t know how to resign properly. This can be catastrophic. Get your ducks in a row before you do it.

  • goodbye1Check your employer’s exit policy. You may be ushered out the door instantly, without being allowed to return to your desk. Find out how others have been treated, and check the written policy.
  • Never resign on job unless you have the new offer in writing. I’ve seen too many people treat an oral offer as bona fide, quit their old job, and find themselves on the street when the offer is never finalized, or rescinded.
  • Get your stuff. Never take what’s not yours, but if you announce your departure too early, you may have to fight to get your belongings back. Plan ahead.
  • Resign in writing, one sentence only. This is no time to hand your employer ammo against you. Keep it short: “I, John Jones, hereby resign my position with ABC Company.” Sign and deliver to your boss with a copy to HR. Anything you say beyond that can be used against you by your employer. A resignation is business, not personal. Keep it simple.

These tips are excerpted from Parting Company | How to leave your job. There are far too many topics in the book to summarize here. (Check the Table Of Contents for a complete list.)

Next week, we’ll take a look at the HR process that kicks in when you’re on your way out the door. I’ll tell you about The 7 Gotchas of Goodbye. (Oh, yes — HR is waiting for you with a few surprises!)

Have you been fired or downsized? Did you quit for a better job? Did anything happen in the process that you didn’t expect or plan for? How have you controlled your departure from an employer?

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Parting Company: How to leave your job

Filed under: Ask The Headhunter Products, Getting fired, Job Search, Parting Company, Q&A, Quitting, Resigning

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!

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Your Boss Hates You: The politics of CYA

Filed under: Changing jobs, Getting fired, How to Say It, Parting Company, Q&A

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?

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Bait & Switch Job Offers

Filed under: Changing jobs, Interviewing, Job scams, Job Search, Negotiating, Q&A, Salary, Stupid HR Tricks

In the January 20, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job seeker interviews for a senior job only to receive a silly offer for a lower level job.

Question

I have not been on the job market since 2007, and after a layoff early October 2014 I am fighting my way through this job market. I have the background, experience, and personality a high tech company was looking for when they advertised a senior technical position at $96,000. After all the interviews, we seemed to be doing great, until my final face to face interview, where I was informed there are now two positions — one senior and one junior. During my initial screening with the company recruiter I was clear on my salary requirements.

When I recmousetrapeived the company’s offer letter, it was for $75,000, way below what we had discussed. I was insulted, shocked, and angry. When I called the recruiter, she stated there were a lot of strong candidates, that there were actually five positions, and that I fit better into a junior role at the salary offered. I replied that I applied for only the senior position at $96,000 and that there was no discussion of four other positions. I asked about the differences between the positions, and it’s clear from what the hiring manager says that there are none but the salary!

I want to send a response letter stating that I was a candidate for only the senior job, re-emphasizing my experience and expertise, and referencing the original senior salary range. What would you recommend?

Nick’s Reply

If you stand a few feet back from this and look at it for what it is, I think you’ll see the proper answer. I’m going to show you how to improve this job offer dramatically, but you must be ready to play this game for keeps.

First let’s do a reality check. This employer is playing you. You laid down the terms for the interview when you (a) applied for a senior technical position, and (b) when you stated your salary requirements and they agreed to proceed with those two understandings.

Now look at the facts:

  1. They offered you different job
  2. At a much lower salary.

We could just call this a stupid HR trick, but there’s another name for it: Bait and switch. A car dealer baits you with a test drive in a car you want to buy after you saw the price. You show up with a check, and they offer you a different car at a different price. You’d kick them down the street for switching the deal and wasting your time.

You did what you were supposed to do, so you’re thrown for a bit of a loop. You interviewed for a certain job at a certain salary level. They knew your expectations, and they agreed to proceed with the interviews. Then they changed all the terms and made a ridiculous offer. Had they made no offer, I’d just say the match didn’t work out. But this employer is clearly manipulating applicants. (I find this is most common with staffing firms that hire people and assign them to work for their clients. See Bait & Switch: Games staffing firms play.)

You’re trying to behave rationally, and you’re looking for a reasonable explanation and next step. The recruiter and manager should be trying to impress you — see Baiting the talent — but they are doing the opposite. They are breaking basic business rules and pretending the problem is yours.

But two can play at this, and you can play without doing anything unprofessional. First, you must decide that you are willing to walk away from the junior position at the junior salary. (If you’re desperate for a paycheck, then you know what you must do.)

What I’d do is sign the offer letter and send it back to them. But I’d cross out the salary and enter the salary you told them you wanted. Initial it. Cross out the junior title and write in the senior title you interviewed for. Initial it. Accept the position at the salary level you all discussed. Add a note that says:

“This is the job I applied for and that you interviewed me for, at the salary range we discussed. If you are prepared to sign off on the original terms as we discussed them, I am ready to start work in two weeks.”

Then let them figure it out.

My prediction is that you’ll never hear from them again. However, there’s a chance that, having a solid acceptance in hand, along with a start date, from a candidate they have judged worthy of hiring, they might negotiate a reasonable salary for the job you want. You’ve written your own ticket, and it’s up to them to join you for the ride. If they decline, you’ve lost nothing (having already decided you wouldn’t accept less) and you’ve preserved your integrity and self-respect.


For more about dealing with the final stages of the interview process, see Fearless Job Hunting, Book 9: Be The Master of Job Offers.


If they decline, write them off and move on. These are jerks of the first order and I’d never talk to them again. This is an unscrupulous recruiter who advertises a high-level, desirable job at a high salary to entice seasoned, experienced technical people like you to invest plenty of time in interviews — just so they can short-sell you on a lower-paying job that they’d prefer to fill with much more highly qualified candidates at a huge discount.

fishhookThey are con-men. You told me off-line who this company is: one of the biggest, most respected computer companies in the world — but it doesn’t matter. They’re still con-men.

Many, many people in today’s job market would fall for this and rationalize that it’s the best they can do. Maybe so — but when you add in a confidence game, we’re left with a bunch of self-deprecating job seekers who let themselves be suckered. Con-men love that.

I’d be interested to know what you do and what happens. The problem, of course, is that there are desperate job hunters who will accept any job under any terms and at any pay. This employer counts on that. It’s what’s wrong with our economy today: Crooks and suckers. They create a market that can’t last. It can only go south. For more about this, see Employment In America: WTF is going on?

(I mean no disrespect to job seekers who need to put food on the table and who will take any job to do so. I’d do it myself. But the economic reality is that being put in this position creates a vicious downward cycle that encourages more of the same from ruthless employers.)

There is nothing wrong with you or your expectations. If you can afford to walk away from this, I would not look back. Jerks make lousy employers. You need only one employer with integrity.

Did you ever feel pressured to accept a lousy offer for a job you never applied for? What’s the most bizarre job offer situation you’ve been in — and what did you do? Was I too tough on this reader? What would you advise?

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