April 14, 2014

How your old boss can cost you a new job

Filed under: Changing jobs, How to Say It, Job Search, Q&A

In the April 15, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader worries about how much “notice time” is enough when quitting a job:

I’m a licensed professional working in a small firm. During lean years a few years ago, my boss arranged for me to do some other work so that he wouldn’t have to lay me off. I even did some dog and house sitting for him. So we are close. Nonetheless, now it’s time for me to move on. I will not consider a counter-offer or any back-and-forth negotiations.

I’ve heard my boss say that if anyone leaves the firm, he’d like a month or two notice. I’ve read your thoughts on this, and I agree a long notice is a bad idea — potentially a trap for being abused during the transition period, and who would wait one or two month’s for a new employee to start work? Frankly, I’m hoping to give two weeks’ notice and to take a third week for vacation between jobs.

When I leave, I’ll do all I can to leave my desk in good shape for my replacement, but the firms I’m interviewing with will want me to start quickly. Is there a good way to go about this?

Nick’s Reply

Your boss’s wishes are one thing. Reality is another. As you’ve clearly realized, your own career safety is paramount, no matter how friendly you feel toward your current employer. Your old boss can cost you your new job.

quittingHere’s the message you need to deliver to your boss when — and only when — you have a bona fide, written job offer in hand and you’ve accepted it and have a firm start date:

How to Say It
I’m afraid i It’s time for me to move on. I’ve accepted a job at a firm where I can continue growing my career in directions that are important to me. I’d like to give you two weeks’ notice. Of course, I will devote that time to helping organize my work to facilitate the transition to someone new – anything you need.”
[Note: I've modified this suggestion thanks to a comment from GEM below.]

Stop there. Your boss may not ask for more time. Or, it’s unlikely but I’ve seen it happen, he may ask you to leave immediately. (There’s no guessing at how an employer will react, so plan for the worst.)

If he presses you to stay for more time, try this:

How to Say It
“I wish I could do more, but in today’s economy no company I’ve talked with permits the kind of transition time I’d like to give you. My job offer is contingent on a quick start date.”

Don’t complain and don’t explain in any more detail. Do the right thing within the constraints you have. And let your old employer deal with the rest. Don’t let him turn your business with your new employer into his business. Don’t fool around with requesting an extension on the start date for your new job. The answer might be a withdrawn offer. (Be sure you’re Starting a job on the right foot.)

Again, be prepared to be shown the door immediately if your boss gets upset. (Now I’ll shock you a bit: If you have personal belongings in your desk, get them out before you announce your plans.)

There’s a standard for doing the right thing, and that’s two weeks’ notice. I know it sounds cold, but you don’t owe anyone any more, even if they cut you a break during hard times. If you want to try to return that favor, do it in a way that won’t cause problems at your new job. Offer to recommend a candidate for the job, if you can. Offer to help write the job description and to help interview applicants during your notice period. Offer to work late during those two weeks, if necessary. (The guy did you a solid; do one for him to the extent you can.)

Part friends if you can. And when you get that new job offer, remember that there is no sure thing. I wish you the best.

What do you owe your employer when it’s time to move on? I’m sure you have more ideas and even some personal policies. Should this reader try to extend the start date at a new job?

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23 Comments on “How your old boss can cost you a new job”
By Some guy
April 15, 2014 at 12:24 am

I’ve seen an old boss respond to a former colleague’s two-week notice by cornering her in her office, closing the door, going absolutely ape sh*t mad screaming and yelling to the point where she broke down crying.

This same boss came into my office guns a-blazing–yelling, and shaking his finger at me- a few days earlier. The second he put his hand out towards me shaking and pointing, I stood up and walked towards him and stood nose to nose to him for just long enough, and then walked away. I didn’t even have to say a word.

I resigned through HR and shared all of this with them. I already had secured two good references from other departments. They knew that he was a toxic a-hole. This was someone who reneged on two promotions over the course of the previous three months.

Pretty soon, 25 percent of the staff left, two VPs left, the CEO was forced out by the board, and, years later, from all accounts from the grapevine, the organization is just recovering.

By Azhra
April 15, 2014 at 2:20 am

I gave a two-week notice and intended to train a co-worker in some of my job duties. However, I learned some things during the transition that made me very angry, so I dropped by the office on the weekend, one week after I had given notice, picked up my belongings, and left my keys and a note saying that I was not coming back. Probably not the best way to leave, but shouldn’t an employer, after all, be prepared for the unexpected? Employees sometimes do die unexpectedly or get hit by a bus. I did not want to stick around for any conversations or suggestions that I extend my work there. I had a lot of underlying anger about things that had happened during my work there, and the things I learned during my final week were “the straws that broke the camel’s back.” Glad I’m out of there. Sometimes you just have to leave.

By Edward
April 15, 2014 at 2:42 am

My last boss considered anyone who left her team to be a traitor and she considered it a personal insult that they quit. She would bad mouth them for months afterwards and call into question their work or blame them for things they never did. Company policy was two weeks notice, but she would feel so offended that someone actually took another job, that she had us walked out that very day and in some cases that very hour. This was her way of trying to humiliate people.

She always preached how she was always there for us and was so focused on what was best for us. I’m glad I never drank her kool aid. I’m sure she trash talks about me all the time. The nice thing about her is, I made it a point not to treat my people like she did. My team members were comfortable telling me ahead of time that they wanted to move on. I’m still friends with many of them and keep in touch because they are good people. There is no reason to let a corporation get in the way of knowing good people, you never know you could end up working together in the future.

By Ben There
April 15, 2014 at 8:51 am

I was working for a small company (the boss, his wife, me) that did not have enough business but the boss was and alcoholic and lazy and his wife was lazy, argumentative and mean. I did all the work — boss could not focus on the clients. When I found a better job and was on my first week of a two week’s notice, the wife stole a Christmas gift card sent to me by a vendor. I saw it come in the mail, heard them talking about it twice — so I knew what was what. They just did not give it to me on the day before Christmas so that was my last day. I had already cleaned out my desk and I ended up mailing the keys and saying you stole my gift card so I am not coming back.
Moral of the story – if your boss is unethical, lazy, mean or just an AH, then expect bad treatment and be prepared to stand up for yourself.

By Dave
April 15, 2014 at 9:45 am

I would give the standard 2 weeks notice, unless bound by some other contract, etc. I think most employee handbooks also spell out the preferred time as well.

Your boss may not be happy – who would if an employee quits? But such is life…

By Warren
April 15, 2014 at 9:55 am

In some industries it is normal practice for the employee to leave immediately after giving notice. If this is the normal practice for your industry I would make sure all personal items are removed from the workplace before giving notice. I have seen situations where the employee was not allowed to return to his work area.

By Julia Forbes
April 15, 2014 at 9:57 am

The best some people have done is to offer to come in on a contract basis after hours or on weekends to help train a new person. Sometimes the new organization will allow one or two days to come back to help orientate the new hire.

I agreed to a long transition before leaving the organization and it was humiliating. I did my best to behave professionally, but ended up leaving early.

Finally, I worked at a company that hired in a new manager. She decided it was not working and gave a couple of months notice, thinking it would be appreciated. The second week the management removed her desk from her office. She came in, saw this and left on the spot.

In most instances, office “friendships” aren’t real…your boss helped you out once, which is nice, but if it all happened over again, it just as easily could mean zip….you are a subordinate and expendable. Don’t think that the organization or your old boss can’t operate without you!

By Julia
April 15, 2014 at 9:59 am

orient…

By EDR
April 15, 2014 at 11:07 am

I have seen many people with decades of loyalty to a single company laid-off with absolutely no notice. Because of this, I do not believe an employee “owes” an employer 2 weeks notice (double standard.) That said, I would give 2 weeks notice to any employer who treated me decently. Definitely remove all personal items from your work area prior to resigning. When they lay you off it is business and not personal. When the shoe is on the other foot, employers do indeed often take it personally. I would never offer more than 2 weeks notice. It puts the new offer in jeopardy and it is the employer’s problem how to transition. That is why they make the big bucks!

By Jim
April 15, 2014 at 12:03 pm

I got a new job, after my employer told me that I would fly to New Hampshire whenever the company wanted me to, with no notice. I cleaned out my personal items, and handed in my 2-weeks’ notice, along with a transition plan. The manager pulled out my resume and gave me until the end of the week. Later on, I found out that the manager, director, and VP were all dismissed.

By Nick Corcodilos
April 15, 2014 at 12:41 pm

@Julia:
“I agreed to a long transition before leaving the organization and it was humiliating. I did my best to behave professionally, but ended up leaving early.”

I almost suggested that the reader offer to come in for a few weekends after starting the new job, to help out if necessary. But I didn’t for exactly the reason you cited. Just too much chance for recriminations, and no one needs that filling their mind while they’re trying to enjoy starting a new job. So much depends on those first few days and weeks – it sets the tone with the new employer. In most cases, it’s not reasonable to leave “part of yourself” at the old job. When it’s time to move on, cut the string and move on.

By L.T.
April 15, 2014 at 2:32 pm

I agree with EDR. Considering how most employers treat employees, two weeks is a gift.

There have been a couple small time places with bully owners that deserved notice on Friday: “This is my notice. You’ll notice I won’t be here Monday.”

By GEM
April 15, 2014 at 3:11 pm

Never start your notice discussion with “I am afraid…” If you have doubt about the move, why are you doing it? A simple statement including your anticipated last date should be sufficient. No need for a lengthy discussion.

Also, no need to give your present employer a reason. However you intend it, what you say may be taken personally or out of context.

Above all else; be ready to be dismissed/escorted out after giving notice (remove personal items prior to giving notice). Although many companies are still professional and accommodate two weeks notice, others will dismiss an employee immediately upon receiving notice.

By Steve Amoia
April 15, 2014 at 4:00 pm

“Those intending to leave the employment of the company, are to give at least two weeks’ notice thereof to their overseer.”

— John Avery, Agent, Hamilton Manufacturing Company, 1848.

Source:

http://www.historyteacher.net/AHAP/Readings/FactoryRules_1848.htm

The more things change, the more they remain the same. The factory mindset is still alive and well. :)

By Scott
April 15, 2014 at 5:07 pm

At one job people were only walked out the door when resigning when they were going to work for a competitor. Therefore it has become common practice in Silicon Valley to not tell anyone where you are going until your two weeks are up. However two weeks left gives you a certain degree of freedom which could be refreshing in a bad job. During my two weeks I went home at 6 pm and not 9, and enjoyed myself thoroughly.
Besides the stuff in your desk, if you have any personal non-proprietary things on your computer, they should be copied and removed also. The company will be able to recover them probably even if you delete them, but it makes life easier for the person getting your computer.

By Ros
April 15, 2014 at 6:45 pm

I once worked for a guy who’d set up a very small charity in his retirement which he lived and breathed. I knew,he wouldn’t be happy with my leaving so gave I thought a very generous 2 month’s notice. He gave me a really hard time for not giving him 6 month’s notice which incredibly is what my predecessor did! He spent his career in the British Army where they do have to give 6 month’s notice and he seemed unaware of how things are in ‘civvy street’ I’m very tempted to forward him this piece! Coincidentally today he has just sent me a friendly email after 3 years.

By Nick Corcodilos
April 15, 2014 at 7:01 pm

@GEM: You’re right. No “I’m afraid.” I take it back.

By marybeth
April 15, 2014 at 10:18 pm

When I was 20 and in college, I had three jobs. I wasn’t always getting the hours I needed at one of them, so I searched for and found another job. I got along well with my boss and worked well with the boss and my co-workers. I decided to take the other job–I was going to be getting more hours and the pay was better (not much, but I would still be making more money), so I gave the customary two-weeks notice. My boss didn’t take it well, and told me they’d mail me my last paycheck, and not to come in for the rest of the week (much less two weeks). It was as if he took it personally, and I was hurt and puzzled because we’d always gotten along and worked well together. I learned several valuable lessons that day: just because you do the right thing and give two weeks notice (instead of saying today is my last day, I don’t care about you or the team or the business) doesn’t mean they will give you equal courtesy. I had planned on starting my new job in two weeks, and planned on working two more weeks at my old job, and suddenly I was down to only two part time jobs and a two week gap which meant not making the money I had anticipated. Lesson: save up so if this happens to you, you have a cushion. Lesson: many employers want you to give notice so they have time to find your replacement and so you have time to train him or help them transition, but they are not required to treat you with the same courtesy. They can tell you that since you gave notice, your services are no longer needed, and don’t bother coming in. They can walk you out–hence the excellent advice about removing any personal items from your office or cube as well as any non-proprietary items from your computer. If you’ve developed connections–get that info too–don’t wait until you’re not allowed into your office and can’t remember or get the names and contact info of people you worked with or did business with. The job I wrote about above was only a part time retail job–lousy pay, bad hours, but it was still a job, and until I found a slightly better one, I needed it. I was surprised by the reaction and in my youth and ignorance, hadn’t realized that what my boss did was not only perfectly legal but commonplace.

Reactions from most bosses at subsequent jobs at which I gave notice have not been that extreme. Most were gracious, and I always offered to help transition (write an SOP, train the new person, etc.) but I never stayed longer once I’d given notice.

All of the advice is sound–don’t wait until you give notice to gather your things, and don’t assume that because you get along well with your boss that s/he won’t react badly. Prepare for the worst (I give two weeks’ notice, I’m walked out the door and can’t even get my coat, umbrella, and pictures of the kids) and hope for the best.

For the most part, my decisions to move on were smooth with no hard feelings or pettiness, and I’ve wished those I’ve worked with well when they’ve moved on to bigger, better things. Life is really too short to be that petty. People aren’t required to work someplace for life, and if they’re good colleagues and bosses, then why not wish them well and be gracious?

But I did have a boss at one job where things were not going well. There had been cuts to staff, remaining staff were overworked and unappreciated as well as no raises much less recognition for years. More staff cuts were coming due to lost monies, and when a temp was hired and I was told to teach her everything about your job and train her to do your job, I asked my boss point-blank whether I was getting fired. I was already working over 60 hours per week, and he wanted me in at 6:30 and to stay until the work got done. There was no overtime. He wouldn’t answer me, and when I pressed him on it, he told me that I was a “low level person and didn’t deserve anything”. Only earlier that day I’d been cc’d on an email sent to him praising me for all that I’d done to help, and how professional I’d been. He didn’t like it when I was praised, so even though I knew it was jealousy speaking, it still hurt…a lot. The more I was praised, the angrier and meaner he got. I’d been asking for a job review for nearly two years, and he still hadn’t done it. Asking him about the temp when we had budget problems set him over the edge. First he denied saying it, then he told me “yeah, I said it, but so what? Everyone loves me, I have friends, and you’re a nobody. You’ll never be able to prove what I said”. I sat in my office for long time, then typed up my notice, effective immediately. I spent the next 5 hours boxing up my personal belongings, removing my personal file, and cleaning up the computer. I didn’t remove any work-related/proprietary files or information. Months ago I’d asked and received the okay to contact people I’d worked with at their home or business addresses (left it up to them–no pressure from me–I respected their wishes regardless of what they were). That is the only time I ever left a job without giving a customary notice. My boss’ boss had done this with four other staff–had to make cuts because she lost a significant amount of money, but she let those people go, then wondered why none of the work was getting done and why things were going to hell. After four mis-steps, when it was my turn, I think they (the big boss and my boss) thought they’d be smarter–plan to get rid of me, but hire a temp first, then have me train the temp to do my job to the program doesn’t fall apart, but the temp makes less than $10.00 per hour and no benefits. What’s not to love? They forgot about security too–temps weren’t given access to confidential info, and I’m sure that my boss thought I’d have the temp trained in a week and then he’d get rid of me when she was up to speed (let alone that it took me months to learn my job when I started). I still don’t like the way I left, but I have no regrets. Incidently, the temp quit less than three months later because he called her names, belittled her, provided no support, etc. I’m still in touch with some people who work there, and when the temp quit, they told me that she didn’t give him any notice either–one day she just didn’t show up. It didn’t occur to him to treat staff as people, and maybe when someone praises staff, pass it along and say “good job” instead of muttering slurs under his breath. An employee who does a good job makes her boss look good. Why it bothered him when I got praised is something I’ll never understand, and his behavior in reaction to it drove me out (although I do think I had a big target on my back–I’m sure I would have been fired had I stuck around).

By Jim
April 16, 2014 at 6:12 am

I’ve only left one job without notice, but unless my current one gets better, this will be the second one.

Last week my supervisor, who is the owner’s sister, told me “I know you’re old (I’m 62) and don’t like change, but you don’t matter.”

I’d prefer to give 2 weeks notice, but at this point, if I have a definite place to go, that is in doubt.

We are short-handed, but I hesitate to allow anyone to contact my present owner for reference because they have become so small-minded and mean-spirited as the business has grown and they make more money, which they do not share with the people who make it for them. We have not had a raise in 5 years.

Three people have left us in the past three months, two with no notice whatsoever. That speaks volumes in my view.

By Nick Corcodilos
April 16, 2014 at 10:17 am

@Jim: Well, I suppose the owner would prefer no notice to a discrimination case, which it seems they deserve given his sister’s comments to you. The hidden message in this is, if you’re going to join a small, family-run business, consider that you’ll have few degrees of freedom in a crisis – like when you need to leave. Remember that references come in all flavors, including customers, vendors, consultants you deal with, as well as former bosses and co-workers who will speak up for you.

By dlms
April 16, 2014 at 10:42 am

I work in a small business and there are few opportunities to move up. So, I’m training in programming now and plan to use that training and my project management certification to get a new job.

I made a grave error telling my boss that I was learning this trade and am planning to use these skills elsewhere. I wanted to give him a heads up so there could be planning for transition.

My advice: If you are planning to leave your current employer in a few months or so, keep those plans to yourself. Give 2 weeks notice, leave, and don’t look back.

By Don
April 16, 2014 at 11:12 am

To me the measure of a good boss is someone who works with people, particularly with the development of their career. No boss can guarantee employment, but they can do a lot to build marketability. And by career development I mean totally. That means honestly assessing whether you can match the growth potential (no money)a person has found elsewhere, then help them on their way. What goes, round comes round. If you have to part with someone who you value highly, your recruiting to bring them back starts the day they leave (And I don’t mean knee jerk counter offers. If they go out into the world..send them out as advocates.
Conversely, and I’ve done this more than once, I’ve followed the “don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions” rule. As people have noted, organizing the handoff, training a replacement, or if possible find and/or identify potential replacements. Again what goes round comes round.
But all good things come to an end. Unless you leave abruptly, you know you’re on the way out well before the resignation and you usually have time to do the aforementioned.
There are bosses out there who really do this. I did, and when I was a recruiter I was really impressed with one of my candidates who used his current boss as a reference. I talked to him and he basically told me what I noted above. That he was a really good guy, knew his stuff, by he couldn’t do anything more for him in for foreseeable future. Hence he gave him his blessing to move on and help him get there. I did place him and he performed as advertised.

By GEM
April 16, 2014 at 11:22 am

Several jobs ago I worked for a V.P. who told me that his one of his responsibilities was to develop me for my next job/position.

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