short answer Sunday

It’s short answer Sunday! Here we go…

1. Resigning soon after my boss died

I am a manager in a mid-sized organization. I have been looking for a new job back in my home area for the past few months, but only seriously since July. In mid-August, our director (who was very much loved by all staff) passed away. Since that time, the board put me in charge of the director’s duties while they search for a new one. I have no problem with this, but the process is slated to take a few months because the board is looking for someone very specific for the position. I do love my job and the people I work with, but I have been homesick for quite some time after working here for a number of years and I am ready to move on to the next stage of my life. I have started getting a few interviews back home and am ready to take a position should it be a good fit for me.

Will it look bad if I resign during this time and leave the board (and staff) in the lurch? I feel badly about the potential of this happening, but I don’t want to give up a great opportunity if it came my way. Also, who do I resign to? Normally it would be the director, but since we are without, should it go to the director’s secretary, or the board chair? We don’t have an HR department.

No, this stuff happens. People leave jobs, often at inopportune times. However, depending on the dynamics in your organization, you might consider giving the board chair a heads-up that you’re considering moving out of the area. Obviously, don’t do this if there’s a risk that you’ll be pushed out earlier than you’re ready to leave, but in many organizations, an early heads-up like this would be appreciated and handled well.

And when the time comes to resign, talk to whoever you’re currently reporting to — which sounds like it’s likely the board chair.

2. Should I really follow up with HR?

My friend and I had applied for a job, the same job. It is to be a resident assistant at a retirement home. The position has been open for two months now, and a friend, let’s call him David, who works at the front desk told both of us that not many people have applied yet and they have not found someone to fill the position. My friend finished her application and resume about a week before I did and turned it in through David. About one to two days later, she gets a call from HR just asking about her availability. She decides to decline the job because it requires double shifts and someone with at least a five day availability.

Instead of turning my application in to David, I go directly to the retirement home to give to the secretary. She quickly flips over my application and resume, and tells me I should call HR after 3 days to check up on the application. I am a bit confused because your advice says it annoys the employer to “nag” them with calls. But the secretary directly gives me the HR’s phone number and advises me to call her. It has been a week since I have turned in my application and I haven’t received any calls from them. I’m not sure if this is a waiting game or maybe I should ask about the status of my application? Would it hurt my chances if I call?

You were directly instructed to call, so call. The advice I give here isn’t supposed to trump specific instructions that an employer gives you, which may indeed at times differ from what would be effective with another employer.

3. Sending letters to our boss’s boss after we resign

I have a question from myself and several of my co-workers. Around nine of us have quit in the past few months because of the poor management practices from the director of our department. The human resources department at our employer is under-staffed and does not conduct exit interviews. However, we all feel that someone needs to tell our director’s boss what’s going on and why there is so much turnover. Obviously just from the numbers of workers quitting, we feel she must be worried (or at least we hope she is!), but we’d like to give her the details about what’s going on and our insight into what can change.

We’ve decided to each write our own letter to our director’s boss, and to send it after we leave (we are scared of repercussions if we send it while finishing up). What do you think about this? My husband is worried that I should wait until I’m secure in my new position just in case my boss is vengeful, but I’m not sure it’s legal to do anything (such as contact my new employer) because of feedback after quitting, and I feel that the sooner the company knows the better. Any advice?

Writing letters is more work than you need here, and it also means that your old boss could read exactly what you wrote if her boss happens to show her the letters. Why not just talk to her boss directly? Once you’ve resigned, ask if you can talk with her confidentially before you leave, to give her feedback about the high turnover in your department. (And if she turns you down, that’s her problem.)

When you talk to her, make it clear that you’re worried about retaliation from your director and ask for her help in protecting you from that.

[By the way, nine of you quitting in a few months time isn’t something a good manager would overlook. So either she’s poking around on her own to figure out what’s going on (and will be grateful for your perspective), or she’s not a very good manager, or there’s something else going on that you don’t know about. So that’s something to add to your view of this situation as you proceed.]

4. Explaining interest in a long-distance job

You say that one should state in their cover letter why they’re applying, what caught their eye re: the position, but what if what caught my eye was (mostly) the city it’s in? I currently work for a very good company that most people would think it’s crazy to leave, and most of the companies I’m applying to are not as prestigious. When I apply for start-ups or small businesses, I usually address the fact I’m looking to move to a more dynamic environment with more growth opportunities (which is also true), but when that doesn’t apply, is there an elegant/okay way of saying I’m basically trying to relocate in city XYZ and that’s why he’s interested? Some positions are basically the photocopy of my current one, which I guess leaves one wondering why I would like to change at all.

You should certainly mention that you’re planning to relocate to their city, but you don’t want it to sound like that’s the sole reason for your interest in them. (Just like how if you were applying for jobs locally, you wouldn’t want to sound like your main interest in them was because they were located near you.)

5. Resigning when you know you’ll get a counter-offer

I am currently a finalist for a position that I believe I’m a very strong fit for, and evidently the prospective employer agrees because they’ve informed me that I am one of the last two candidates in the running. If offered this position, I fully intend to accept it. The problem is that I anticipate a counter-offer from my current employer, because frankly, this is part of the culture when somebody quits within my organization and I know that I am a valued employee who would be difficult to replace (at least initially). While I realize the job is by no means in the bag for me, I’m hoping to be prepared for this if and when it comes to pass. In fact when the hiring manager for the new position asked me what I would say if my current employer countered, I was somewhat at a loss.

Is there a way to circumvent the counter-offer before it’s ever put on the table? I well know the conventional career wisdom surrounding them, but I feel like it would be incredibly difficult to be faced with it, particularly knowing well (and respecting) the people who would be asked to place it in front of me. Just curious if you have any advice on a tactful way to tell my employer upfront that I am not interested in a counter-offer, while keeping it respectful?

I can’t really think of a way to preempt it without being rude — I mean, you can’t say, “And don’t even try to keep me, because I’ll say no.”

All you can do is explain that you’re resigning, politely and firmly. If they counter-offer, simply say, “I really appreciate that, but I’ve made the decision to move on.” Or “I’ve really enjoyed my time here, but I’m committed to this new opportunity” or “thank you so much, but no, I’m really excited about this new role,” or whatever wording sounds most like you. Then repeat as necessary. Simply being prepared with the language you’ll use will make this easier than you’re anticipating it will be.

6. Confidentiality when interviewer with competitors

A competitor of a company I recently left reached out to me on LinkedIn about a possible job opportunity (they are not a big player yet, but based in the same city as my former employer, and definitely in the same industry). I spoke with them today and did my best to err on the side of caution when discussing my former employer (no discussion of numbers, product plans, product delivery in my location, etc.) I also made clear that I was bound by some contractual agreements (non-solicit of employees, non-solicit of customers, etc.). However, I found myself a bit ill at ease regarding what could be construed as proprietary and what could not, and I think I made this made my answers less than compelling and also made me appear less than informed about our industry. My former employer rarely made explicit what information was what (at least not to me), and while I considered reaching out to them for clarification, I don’t trust them to be fair and half expect they would use it as an opportunity to keep close tabs on me (maybe this is paranoid, but the company has a history of suing employees and general sketchiness). What are some good general guidelines when interviewing with competitors?

Is there even a confidentiality contract in play here? You mentioned a non-compete and a non-solicit agreement, but those aren’t confidentiality agreements. Is there a confidentiality agreement? If so, be guided by its specific wording; it should spell out what remains confidential after you leave the company. But there’s no need to burden yourself with a higher standard than whatever you signed. (And if you didn’t sign anything in this regard, then there’s no real worry.)

7. Should you include a 6-month job on your resume?

If someone is laid off or fired after 6 months of work, should that be included in the resume or is it better to leave it off? And if you do leave it off how do you explain the 6 month gap and the gap prior to finding the job, which would make it 4 more months of not working.

Laid off: Yes. Positions get eliminated, and it’s not generally a red flag.

Fired: Much trickier. Probably yes, but it’ll depend on how you can spin it. Read this and this and then use your judgment about your particular situation.

{ 22 comments… read them below }

  1. Phlox*

    #6 I don’t think many interviewers will fault you for not giving out much information about your current company or its products, just the reverse – after all, they wouldn’t want you blabbing about their proprietary information should they hire you. There is nothing wrong with saying you are uncomfortable discussing anything that your current company might deem confidential.

    1. #6*

      Thanks for you thoughts on that. I haven’t heard back, but that could have been unrelated to my uneasiness.

      As for AAM’s questions, I was under the impression that any employee, regardless of whether they signed a formal agreement or not, is entrusted to maintain confidentiality. That being said, I *did* sign a formal agreement w/r/t this, and even though it “spells things out,” it throws in the whole kitchen sink, IMO. From the agreement:

      “Proprietary Information” includes, without limitation, trade secrets, copyrights, ideas, techniques, know-how, products, methodologies, inventions (whether patentable or not), and/or any other information of any type relating to designs, configurations, documentation, recorded data, schematics, master works, master databases, flow charts, formulae, works of authorship, mechanisms, research, manufacturing, improvements, assembly, installation, intellectual property including patents and patent applications, business plans, past or future financing, marketing, forecasts, pricing, the identity, contact information and preferences of customers, potential customers, vendors and suppliers, the salaries, duties, qualifications, performance levels, and terms of compensation of other employees, and/or cost or other financial data concerning any of the foregoing or the Company and its operations generally or its strategic partners and their operations generally, whether or not marked as “confidential” or “proprietary”.

      I think there are gray areas here. While it’s clear that I can’t name my former employer’s customers, it’s not so clear whether or not I could mention that my company has been hemorrhaging customers in some key regions. I can’t mention “operations generally,” but can I mention that they are inconsistent at delivering their products? I can’t mention the duties of other employees, but can I mention that their positions have been eliminated? I’m sure my former employer wouldn’t want a competitor to know these things, but are they proprietary?

      1. CM*

        Unless what you listed is public knowledge, then yes, it is part of your confidentiality agreement. I don’t see why not talking about this would cause you to lose points in the hiring process.

        1. Jamie*

          ITA. Infact I’d think divulging confidential information in an interview would be one of the fastest way onto the no pile.

          Showing professionalism and discretion would be appreciated by any reputable company.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Ah, well with that wording, I can see why you’re confused! (And I have a feeling a court might find that agreement to be over-reaching, just as they’ve found many non-competes to be.)

        1. Kimberlee, Esq.*

          I actually disagree. I don’t think it’s overly broad, I think it’s suuuuper specific, which is actually better. Like, I think when they are that specific.

          But on that note, I agree with CM, and given the extent of the agreement, I think I would actually advocate getting a lawyer of some kind to look at that agreement, talk to you, and maybe even sit on on an interview with this new company.

          Yeah, it would be SUPER weird. But it would also demonstrate your dedication to working within the bounds of the agreement you signed. (Also, is it against the agreement to share with them the actual agreement, so they know what kinds of info you’re allowed to share?)

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Do not have a lawyer sit in on your interview :)

            You will terrify the prospective new company.

            But you could certainly have a lawyer review the agreement and advise you on its ramifications, including whether it’s overly broad.

          2. Anonymous*

            The problem is that disclosure agreements that specific basically preclude you from bringing any knowledge at all, especially in a professional services context. For instance, if you work in finance, when you build financial models, I’d say that those are the employer’s IP, so would fall under the prohibition above. How does one take their modeling practices to the next job without technically violating the CDA?

            1. Anon*

              No, no, no. Building new financial models is not the employer’s IP just because you learned certain ways of building them for the old employer. Absolutely not. And this is why it’s a good idea to talk this over with a lawyer. Not so you avoid divulging something you shouldn’t, but so you wouldn’t be worried about doing perfectly normal things that are completely okay.

        2. Anonymous*

          I think people might be surprised by what’s shared out there. In some cases I’ve seen, hires are valued becuase of the information they might bring. Of course, they don’t want you sharing THEIR information. It makes for a very cutthroat and paranoid environment. (this is with a CDA in place).

      3. EM*

        I work as a consultant and I left my last job for another consulting firm in my field. Based on the types of work my last office and my current office do, I wouldn’t say they are direct competitors, but it is possible.

        I signed a similar agreement when I left (although I crossed out the section stating that if they decided to sue me I would foot the bill) and honestly, it’s never come up. Are you at a higher level where you know trade secrets? I certainly wasn’t, so it really was a non-issue. Even during my interview (before I signed any agreements) they never asked about any processes or information about my then-soon-to-be-former employer. They asked questions to figure out what skills and qualities I would bring to the team.

        If the competitor is grilling you about products and processes in great detail, then yeah, you certainly don’t want do divulge any proprietary information. However, if they want you to work on their team, they will need to know what you bring to the table. I’m sure you can figure out how to say I possess skills x,y, and z without saying specifically how they were used in products or processes. And really, telling them that your other company was hemorrhaging customers and laying of workers is irrelevant to whether or not they would want to hire you.

  2. Gene*

    This is going to sound harsh, but…

    #2, what particular brand of fool are you? You were given specific instructions on their hiring practices and ignored them based on something you read on the internet (even if it was AAM)? Call them tomorrow, even though it’s a holiday; a lot of service industries work through them. If the HR person is out, call first thing Tuesday.

    1. Liz*

      Whoa – that is way too harsh. It would be reasonable to suppose the person at the door was completely wrong or didn’t know the correct procedure. And on the face of it, this is a really unusual request.

      1. V*

        ITA, especially since “David” didn’t give them correct information and he is closer to OP than this secretary. People get nervous. It happens. Relax.

  3. #6*

    I think it becomes an issue when one tries to explain why he or she wants to leave, or worse, why he or she was let go. I tried my best to say the right things – looking for a change, more responsibility, a role more like the one you are offering, oh great competitor – but there were many moments during the interview when it would have been so much easier to answer with candor. Explaining how the company has dumped over 30% of its full time staff makes me sound like a sensible woman jumping off a sinking ship. Some fake-y response about there not being any appropriate openings for my skill set makes me sound like I’m hiding something (because I am, but it doesn’t have to do with me). “How are there not openings when your company is growing?” Yeah, no. Not growing. But I can’t say that! Blergh.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Wait, you absolutely CAN say that. If you’re looking because your company is experiencing significant cutbacks, you can absolutely explain that in an interview.

      1. #6*

        Okay. This was what I was gunning when I asked for “general guidelines.” I was concerned that divulging cutbacks could fall under “financial data” or “forecasts” in the agreement, but from what you are saying that’s not the case. Are there any other norms like this you can think of? Maybe I’m being overcautious, but I really, really don’t trust my former employer, so I just want to have my ducks in a row as best I can.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I think you’re definitely being way too cautious, but it’s hard to give you norms. You might really benefit from reviewing your agreement with a lawyer — make sure you go to an employee-side lawyer, not an employer-side lawyer, so you get someone used to arguing the employee’s side. You might contact Donna Ballman to see if she has recommendations in your state.

    2. EM*

      Is your former employer publicly-traded or even a large privately-held company? The type of company where layoffs and cutbacks would be in the news? If that type of information is public, then there’s no reason you can’t mention it, I would think.

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