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Fix It Or Forget It?

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

It’s important to know the what and why about the company you’re interviewing with, but for your sanity, dig deeper. The more you can learn about an organization’s “personality,” the better. See what Orson* and Peggy * did.

Orson* interviewed for a sales rep position which would cover a several county area.  He was pleased with the salary he had negotiated, and learned that he would also be getting a company car to cover his territory.  This was in an area that was new to him, and moving expenses were included.  All in all, he was excited for his new challenge.

When his offer letter came, however, his excitement soon faded.  A provision had been inserted which said that he would be starting at 80% of his negotiated salary, on a 3 month probationary period!  This had never been discussed – not during any of his interviews, nor over the phone.

He called his manager for clarification, asking why this had been put in the offer letter.  Her only response was that it was “standard,” and she wouldn’t budge.

Orson had also met with his manager’s supervisor during the interview phase, so he then felt he had no recourse but to call the district manager.  It wasn’t the best way to start out a new job, he felt, but he had been offered his full salary, and told the district sales manager so.

The district manager agreed, and a new offer letter was sent to Orson, stating that he would start with the originally negotiated full starting salary!  Orson was proud that he had Fixed It! and signed the offer letter and returned it to his manager, hoping that there wouldn’t be repercussions.

Shortly after he began his new position, he asked his manager, “How do I take care of my moving expenses?  Does the company get billed, or do I get reimbursed?”

She responded, “Oh, you don’t get moving expenses.  Didn’t you read your offer letter?”

“I was so burned up!” Orson said.  “I actually called her boss again.”

This time, though, the district manager was less inclined to be supportive.  He asked, “Does this prevent you from taking the job?”

I said, “No,” Orson recalled, “But looking back, I wish I’d played hardball.”

Orson later learned that his territory had two reps before him in the past year, and his company’s sales reps for the entire state saw more than 100% turnover in one year!

“I, too, ended up leaving the position within the year,” Orson recounted.  “That organization was terribly unhealthy, and I wish I’d noticed the many, many warning bells that were going off around me!”

Peggy* had made it as a finalist for a job she felt would be a good step up in her career, and was interviewing with the woman who would be her supervisor, should she get the position.

Things had been going well, and Peggy began to ask some more direct questions about the history of the organization and specifically, the position itself, such as, “How long has this position been vacant?” and “Why did the last person leave?”

Typically, these answers are not only revealing about the position, but also about the person answering them, and whether or not they are forthcoming.  This is true especially if the previous staff person departed under difficult circumstances, such as getting fired.  Seeing how delicately (or not) a manger handles describing such a situation is very revealing.

On the other hand, if the organization promotes from within, it can be a good sign – and also a bonus to know that the staff member will be available to answer questions while learning a new job.

Peggy was relieved to learn that the answer was somewhat benign:  The former staff member left a month ago because she had a baby and decided to become a full time mother.

The director continued by saying what a loss it was to the organization when the staff member left, then added, “And it’s really so foolish of her, sabotaging her career like that!  I even offered to let her work part time, too!  What can she be thinking?”

Peggy was so startled, she didn’t know what to say.  It certainly seemed as though she was being given a directive that if she had children (or was planning to have them), she’d better not be considering staying home full time and leaving her job!

Before Peggy could think of what question to ask next, the director continued the conversation and changed the subject back to the job and organization, much to her relief.  Peggy finished the interview, all the while searching her memory, wondering if she had dropped any references to her family situation during the interview.

A couple of weeks later, Peggy got the job offer, but politely declined, saying she had accepted another offer (she hadn’t).  She decided to Forget It! and not work for someone who so obviously declared that she knew what was right for everyone else’s situation.

Do you have a Fix It or Forget It? story to share?  Send it to me, and it might help others.  Identifying features will be altered prior to publishing.

___________________________________________________________________________________
Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.
—  Rita Mae Brown

 

            

Fix It Or Forget It?

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

Nearly every workplace has cut budgets in order to survive, but how they do it sends messages to staff about how they are valued as people.  Many employers are surprised – or oblivious – as to what messages employees receive with these changes.

Lucy* was somewhat embarrassed to tell me her story when we met.  I began by asking her basic questions about her work, employer, coworkers, etc., and was puzzled about why she was looking to leave and find another job.

While she did have talents that could likely reach beyond the position, she could probably be promoted after spending more time with the company.  It seemed like it was just a matter of time.  I had trouble finding the problem that was leading her to look elsewhere, frankly.  Was it salary?

Again, the response was that she would be delighted to earn more, but her pay was appropriate for her education, experience and time with the company.

Finally, she admitted that over the last year or two, the company had experienced a harsh several rounds of budget cuts, which led to a different office environment.  Although people weren’t pleased, they didn’t seem to be hostile toward one another.

The final difficulty for Lucy, she told me, was that the ladies’ restroom had replaced the toilet paper with something so abrasive, it ended up causing her problems.  She had begun bringing in her own bathroom tissue to use, she confessed.

She was mortified to do this, and to have to constantly have the presence of mind to hide prepared stashes of toilet paper in her desk, and to conceal wads of it on her person whenever she went to the ladies’ room at the office.  It had become embarrassing and stressful for her, worrying about being discovered.  Eventually, she was resenting her employer for putting her in such a position to begin with, and decided to Forget It! since this was simply not a topic she could ever discuss with HR or her supervisor.

“Even if I could bring it up, I don’t think anything would change – except that I’d be an object of ridicule,” Lucy told me.

Along with her interview preparation of good questions to ask, since this was a topic of importance for Lucy, she added arriving a bit early to her interviews and making a trip to the restroom as part of the visit.  After several months, she found a new job that was a good fit with a different company.

“I would have never thought that this would be a factor – or deal breaker – in employment,” Lucy said, “And of course, I couldn’t tell my previous director my real reason for leaving.  I simply said, ‘I was looking for new challenges.’  What else could I say?”

Mildred* had many duties in her position with her company, including managing events, and when her director informed her about upcoming budget cuts that would affect staff activities, she tried to explain to him how it would affect morale, which, frankly, had already taken a few hits over the last year.

Her director really didn’t understand (or seem to care) that there had been more theft of food in the employee refrigerator, or that people’s lunches were cut shorter, now that one of the microwaves had broken down, leaving people less time to prepare their food – and more time waiting in line.  The lower quality coffee, cream, etc. didn’t go unnoticed by staff, either.

Now, he informed Mildred that the semi-annual company parties were to be eliminated from the budget.  She worked to persuade him that celebrating twice a year and congratulating the staff for a job well done was a necessity – and pointed out that the cost of food and facility was not terribly high.  What about having it on company premises, she suggested, as a compromise?

Her director cut the compromise deeper than that:  He told her that the only way he would agree is if employees essentially paid for it all themselves, by bringing all of the food, and taking no more than a two hour lunch break.  Then, to add insult to injury, she felt, he remarked, “Make sure everyone lists what’s in their dishes . . . I have allergies.”

Although Mildred was both shocked and insulted at her manager’s short sightedness and pettiness, we discussed it as a potential opportunity.  Instead of choosing to update her resume, she decided to Fix It!

Mildred worked on convincing her director that, since they were having the potluck lunch in-house (and saving on caterers, etc.) it would be necessary to officially have the event run all afternoon.  Because it would be on the premises, many people would go back to work anyway, but others would be needed to help prepare, clean up afterward, etc., so they wouldn’t be able to return to work immediately after.  Also, the goodwill of having the afternoon to socialize would help counter the surprise response to not having the entire day.  He finally agreed.

To help offset objections staff might have to cooking the food themselves, Mildred pitched the event as a Share Your Favorite Recipes event, and encouraged people to boast and bring dishes that they were most proud of.  This also took care of participants labeling dishes, for attendees with any allergies, but in a much more positive way.

Since Mildred’s background was that of an event planner, she also worked with other departments and secured several prizes from local vendors in exchange for advertising in the company newsletter.  Participants who brought dishes signed up for various categories of food, and attendees voted on “best of category” at the lunch.  Later in the day, Mildred awarded the prizes to the winners.

Mildred posted photos of the winners and participants on a designated Facebook page, allowing participants to review, comment and enjoy the event for days and weeks afterward.  The comments posted on the page clearly demonstrated that staff members enjoyed themselves . . . to the point that people were already providing input on what the next staff event should entail.

Overall, staff response was quite favorable to the in-house, low budget event, and Mildred’s director was very pleased with how she handled it.  In the future, he made a point to consult her for more decisions, and trusted her judgment on how to deal with staff matters.  Within the next year, morale improved and Mildred was glad she stayed.

Do you have a Fix It or Forget It? story to share?  Send it to me, and it might help others.  Identifying features will be altered prior to publishing.

___________________________________________________________________________________
Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.
—  Rita Mae Brown

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Barney* and Courtney* deal with micro-managers

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Fix It Or Forget It?

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

Sadie* felt lucky to have stable employment in this economy, but she hadn’t really been able to get additional assignments over the years and didn’t feel her boss took her seriously for anything beyond her current job. Just how long was she supposed to spin her wheels?

Sadie stayed in her position longer than she might have, due to the unstable work environment, because she told herself, “I’m luckier than a lot of other people: I have a job.”  What Sadie wants, though, is a career that she can build upon over time.

Whenever she approached her director – who repeatedly assured her that he would be “showing her the ropes,” he always had some reason why there wasn’t time “right now” for her to spend time on “that,” and he needed her to continue doing what she had always been doing.

Later, she called him on this, because, although she realized she had performed adequately during the year for business as usual, she had fallen short on some of her “additional” goals.  Her director responded by turning the tables on her saying, “You need to consider what you really want here,” and implied that her previously negotiated telecommuting was preventing her from being considered a serious professional.

“I was so stunned,” Sadie said.  “I felt as though he was telling me that I had to choose between my family and ever being promoted!  Not only that, but he acted as though this is what was ‘holding me back’ all along!  If that was the case, why didn’t he say so a couple of years ago, instead of ‘Not now . . .’ all that time?!  I was hurt, shocked and infuriated!”

Sadie decided to Forget It! and “lucky to be employed” or not, we began her job search.  She wanted to pursue her career, and knew that, although the job market was difficult, it wouldn’t be that way forever.  She wants to plan for the future and work in an environment that is more supportive to her building her career and doesn’t make excuse after excuse, or penalize her for having a life or a family.

Sadie’s search did take many months, and when she found a position, it didn’t pay as much as she made before, but she was pleased with the other benefits it offered, including a great deal more autonomy, training, room for advancement, flex time, etc.  She feels that several years with her new employer will have a much greater payoff than the past several years has.

I had been coaching Tanya* on a variety of ways to help improve her chances of becoming a finalist candidate for second or third interviews, and the resume I designed for her had helped her acquire quite a few first interviews over the past several months.  She realized that the chances of her being able to match her previous salary were slim to none.

Eventually, Tanya reached the point of not only being a finalist candidate, but entered into negotiations with an employer who was ready to make her a job offer – at a salary that was significantly lower than her previous pay.

While Tanya did want to take the job, she also knew that an employee has more bargaining power during this point of negotiation than at any other time . . . and that women often leave too much money on the table.  On the other hand, she didn’t want to push too hard and talk herself out of a job.

She examined all of the facets of the offer, as I instructed her to do during this phase of negotiations.  Many candidates are also concerned with other aspects of a position, besides pay – such as Sadie, who cared about telecommuting and/or flex time, to be with her children.  For other candidates, they might bargain for items such as a better title, more vacation time, a larger office, or other perks or benefits.  A great deal depends on the person, industry, and so forth.

Tanya noticed that the health benefits offered by this employer were quite good, but she already had health coverage through her husband’s employer that was sufficient.  She proposed to the employer that instead of providing their health coverage, they give her an additional $5,000 annual salary, and she would waive the health benefits.  The employer happily accepted these terms, and Tanya was hired.

Tanya still didn’t start at the same salary as before, but this was a workable compromise to all parties, so that she was able to Fix It! and move forward with her career, rather than spend an additional unknown period of time interviewing and eventually finding something else that still may have paid less anyway.

The employment landscape has changed, and so have many of its rules.  The more adaptable you are – and able to negotiate – the more marketable you are.

Do you have a Fix It or Forget It? story to share?  Send it to me, and it might help others.  Identifying features will be altered prior to publishing.

___________________________________________________________________________________
Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.
—  Rita Mae Brown

Similar Posts:

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(When) should I start looking elsewhere?

Monday, September 6th, 2010

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In honor of Labor Day, I help examine a question that millions of workers ask themselves on a regular basis.

In addition to the time I’ve personally spent on both sides of the interview desk, over the years I’ve heard numerous stories from clients I’ve either counseled for months during their job search, or just chatted with while designing their resumes.  Certainly, many people are currently out of work and looking for whatever employment they can find right now.  It does help to do a targeted search, though.  Making the best use of your time can improve your odds significantly.

For many people, making the decision to start looking for another job is the most difficult step of all in the entire process.

Is it the right time?  Is there anything better, anyway?  At least what I have is a known quantity, right?  How do I face all of that rejection, interview after interview, before I get an offer? What are my strengths and weaknesses?  I don’t even know where I see myself NEXT year, let alone in five years . . .  Maybe I’d better wait and see if it gets better . . .

Here are some guidelines I give to people, as a sort of mental checklist, to see if staying or looking might be a better move at this time.  Each person has to decide for her/himself, of course:
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What priorities do you have with employment?

Location?  Salary?  Title/Authority?  Benefits?  Training?  (Consider your reaction, for example, if your salary increased by 20% but your commute time doubled.  Would that matter?)  Make a specific list of the top five aspects of a job that you seek.  What are you receiving and what are you lacking?
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Don’t wait until you’re miserable at your current place of employment

ALL job searches take months to complete.  Not only will it make the process seem longer, but it might actually be longer!  Presenting a positive outlook is important when interviewing, and you are less likely to do this if depressed.  In addition, you may be more desperate to leave, so that you end up taking something you typically wouldn’t and are no better off.
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Think ahead about your career and act instead of react

Escaping a bad situation is one reason to leave a position, but that is reactive.  What do you want as the next step in your career?  Can you get that where you currently are?  If yes, list the steps you need to take and begin on #1.  If no, then it probably is time to start looking elsewhere.
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Realize that everything you do and don’t do is setting the stage – or blocking your path – for your next position, promotion, assignment, etc.

This has to do with more than your wardrobe, although that is certainly an element.  Are you punctual – and work more than required hours when that’s what it takes to get the job done?  How good are your writing, spelling, grammar and computer skills?  Do you contribute ideas or wait to be asked?

How many people outside your immediate department know who you are and what you do?  If someone (not necessarily your director) were asked for input on an important project, would they respond, “[Your name] would be great for that!”?  How can you make that a reality?  Many jobs are hired through word of mouth and networking instead of from responses to listings; therefore, you need to be known for your expertise through various channels.
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Invest in yourself

It’s best if your employer has a training budget and pays for you to attend various courses and seminars, but if not, attend these on your own.  (This should also be an indicator to you about whether or not you want to stay with this employer: How much can you grow and learn here?  Will they even care or reward you if you do?)

Many online trainings are available, and you can see a variety of free and low cost courses listed on the Bilou Calendar, depending on what you’re looking for.  Membership in professional societies also provides valuable face-to-face networking opportunities.  How many online publications do you read to stay informed about what is current in your field?  Finally, in this competitive job market, having your resume professionally designed and/or a career counselor can help give you an advantage over other job seekers.

Whatever your final conclusion is, most people feel more assured if they run through a checklist similar to the one above and actually do an assessment, instead of constantly wondering, “What if . . . ?”  Only you can decide to Fix It Or Forget It! in the end.

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Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.
—  Rita Mae Brown

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