The check is in the mail and other corporate fables

Some of you appear to be on the verge of changing jobs and I thought I might do my part to demystify the process of figuring out what the prospective employer or HR person really means when making any of the following statements:

1. We are looking for someone with an advanced degree for this position

2. You are really overqualified for this job

3. We will start you on a provisional basis and in six months, after you have proved yourself, we will give you a raise based on your performance

4. I know we didn’t get the offer letter out, but we’d like you to start immediately

5. Your interview travel reimbursement check will be cut at the end of the month

6. We don’t have a workstation for you yet. Do you have a laptop of your own?

7. We are like a family here.

All of these statements have been said to me at one time or other, and they were delivered with the utmost sincerity. The reason I am writing this is that all of these statements were totally false.

The executives who said them were either clueless or consumate liars. In some cases, they were both. When I confronted them with the truth, they were astounded that I was making an issue of it.

If you hear any of these statements during your interview or during the first week of employment, head for the nearest exit. If you are persuaded to stay, as I have been once or twice, you will be most unhappy with your decision.

Here is what they mean:

1. We are looking for someone with an advanced degree for this position. We don’t care what you have done. Our policy is to fill senior positions with PHDs so it looks good to the board/ to analysts/etc.

If this is said by an HR person, it means that he is covering himself by ensuring that candidates are totally qualified on paper, because he has no clue if you are qualified otherwise.

2. You are really overqualified for this job. You are too old, too experienced, and I’m afraid you will expose me as an incompetent if you are hired.

3. We will start you on a provisional basis and in six months, after you have proved yourself, we will give you a raise based on your performance. If we can get you started at a salary lower than we agreed upon, we can defer giving raises to the other employees. In six months, we will have found so much fault with your performance that you will feel lucky if we keep at any salary.

4. I know we didn’t get the offer letter out, but we’d like you to start immediately. We should not have been so generous with the offer. You are so desperate we could have negotiated a better deal. We think we can get you to come on board with no written offer and we will begin renegotiating your deal after you have been working here for several weeks.

5. Your interview travel reimbursement check will be cut at the end of the month. Your new employer is playing funny games with money. You will find that this company has great difficulty paying bills of any kind. Whenever the subject of money comes up, the executives of this company will become evasive, change the subject, and will even attack you for your unprofessional attitude. Get out before it costs you your sanity.

Your termination check will be in the mail…for a very long time. Enough said!

6. We don’t have a workstation for you yet. Do you have a laptop of your own?. This company has its attention focused only on getting production out of you, not on providing you with the tools to do your job. If you fall for this opening gambit, you will be using your own laptop and providing your own supplies from here on out. Just wait until they try sending you on your first trip. They won’t have a credit card for you either and will ask you to put the charges on your personal card and fill out an expense report to get reimbursed. If you fall for this one, you should wear a T-shirt that reads, “Terminally Gullible!”

7. We are like a family here. This covers a multitude of sins. Quite often it means that all of the execs are related and the stupid ones are above criticism by non-family members. It also means that regardless of your competence and performance, it will be a cold day in Hell before you join the inner circle of executives who make decisions.

It can also mean that we do things together outside of work. This can get cloying if you have a life of your own.

Family owned companies are like benevolent dictatorships. When they work, they can be incredibly efficient. The problem comes when power is transferred to the next generation. Incompetent family ranks way above the competent outsiders when it comes to promotions. If you are any good, you will do better in a company that rewards performance and eases the incompetent toward the exits.


Last of all, one of the hardest things to learn is that you owe NOTHING to your employer, except good work for fair pay.

We learned the traditional idea of loyalty to the corporation from our parents before we could barely speak. Work hard, be loyal, and retire with a pension. Today, you are as indispensable as the person who mows your lawn or cuts your hair. When economic circumstances change, you cut back without a second thought. Same with companies.

You probably signed an agreement when you were first hired that you could be dismissed for cause or for no cause. You are an employee at will and can be let go with little or no notice. Think of yourself as a mercenary who honors his/her contracts and you will be mentally prepared for the modern workplace.

Trust in yourself and in your fellow mercenaries as they show themselves to be worthy of trust. Deal fairly with your boss and insist that he deals fairly with you. Never forget that HR people are not your friends. They exist to protect managers from you. They will always side with management, even when there is management wrongdoing. Finally, when it comes to trusting upper management, watch what they do, not what they say. There are some good guys out there. Just don’t assume that all are that way.

Hope this helps. Have I missed any of the really bizarre fables?

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0 Responses to The check is in the mail and other corporate fables

  1. fletch says:

    Excellent words of wisdom from someone who has been there, and especially timely for me personally. I only do mercenary(contract) work now and work is simply a business deal, not an emotional or family like relationship. This is the reality out there and many have a difficult time facing it. I have so many bizarre fables that I could write a book. The most common bizarro situation though is what you mentioned: hiring a highly paid contractor and then not providing them with the basic tools to get the job done. In most cases it’s not intentional, the manager needs “something” done, has a budget, hires someone, but doesn’t have a clue how that something should be done themselves, and doesn’t want to spend any more money since after all, YOU are the expert to get the something done. Thanks for sharing your wisdom.

  2. Interesting! In the situation I wrote about, the employer expected the new employee, who was not a contractor, to supply his own workstation.

    Clueless employers have been around for a long time. As job turnover increases, job-seekers will encounter more of these problem employers and should be prepared to deal with them.

  3. Denny says:

    It is SO helpful to have a realistic perspective like this.

  4. I am perpetually stunned by the amount of false information that moves through an organization, inside and out, in meetings and in advertising/PR…the funny thing is, no matter how much spin management puts on things, everybody in the lower ranks sees right through it–they just don’t speak about it openly because of fear. You would think facts, trust, and frictionless communication would lead to profit, but it is strangely rare.

  5. Linda says:

    You’ve been riding on my shoulder, watching my workplace again, haven’t you, David?

    🙂

  6. I know for a fact that David was sitting there observing the last company I worked for until such time as the incompetent President’s son (IPS) took over the position. IPS liked the fact that I had the most profitable territory in the entire company because he wanted to take it for himself. What he did was remove all of my contracts by withholding them. They needed “head office” approval in an evil change he made to a company policy which never was used before. We still did very well on next to no contracts but I buried myself by telling him off in person. IPS’s never like to be questioned because of their divine superiority. I was fired for being too competent and way too innovative. Remember, this was a company where two absolutely dreadful money losing offices (managed by two old cronies) were allowed to continue their losing ways because my territory subsidised them both. IPS immediately took over my offices and spent a month having it repainted and brand new furniture brought in. In the meantime, he hired an incompetent beyond belief office supervisor who drove away my best employee and fired my second best one. Sales collapsed to such a low point that the President had to remove IPS to another less than marginal office. He made its sales numbers even worse, if such a thing was possible in that company. I certainly didn’t want the job back!

  7. Carrie says:

    God, this was such an incredible post I think you should write a book.

    I got burned with believing in the loyalty factor and working for a family owned company. Never again will I work for a family. I prefer professional relationship and my free time to myself.

    One thing I have always known, thank goodness, is HR is a waste of time for purposes of my career. I’ve always bypassed them which helped.

  8. Thanks Carrie!

    I have been thinking seriously about writing a book about what I have learned the hard way.

    I even have a title worked out: An Employee’s Manual to Corporate America

    Subtitle: Things you wish you’d known before you started working

    I plan to have a free on-line version and a dead-tree version. How does that sound?

  9. A book sounds like a great idea, both online and in a more traditional tactile format. 🙂

  10. IB Bill says:

    I find the mercenary mentality works, but can be tiring, too. It’s also what lets me survive in my current job. I see my employer as a customer — and my job is to service this account, for the pay, benefits and work materials they provide. I’d love it if they’d just let me help them build the business, but the bosses here are the ones who make decisions, and they don’t like to ask for help. So I’ll look for other accounts.

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