New Job Build a Strong Foundation

    August 18, 2003

Jennifer’s free lance gig was winding down when her old friend Nadine called. Nadine’s business needed some expertise that just happened to be Jennifer’s strength. Nadine hired Jennifer as a temporary manager on a six-month contract.

Thirty days into the job, Jennifer was ready to jump. “I have no life,” she said. “I have no time to scout for new clients — and I’ll need them in six months, when this gig ends. I can’t take long lunch hours or leave early. I don’t feel I can walk out because the business really is in trouble. Nadine helped me out when I was getting started. Besides, if I hang on, I may get a bonus.”

“Was the bonus promised in writing?” I asked.

“Of course not,” Jennifer snapped. “We’re friends!”

Jennifer could have negotiated for limits on face time, emphasizing the unique expertise she would bring to the organization. And any agreement about compensation — salary, fees, bonus — should be in writing.

Following a job search, George was happy to land two offers. One job required him to begin work right away, while he still had to wrap up some independent consulting projects. Another was vague about his responsibilities.

George decided to ask the first prospective employer if he could delay his start date and have some flexibility to finish his contracts. He asked the other for a job description.

The first employer was eager to cooperate and happy to hear that George was the kind of person who honored his previous commitments. The second offered a job description that still left George uncertain about how he would be evaluated. The choice was easy.

After accepting the first offer, George wrote a polite thank-you letter, summarizing everything that had been discussed over the phone. He was friendly rather than legalistic, but he got the point across. “I am especially pleased that I will be taking a week without pay in March to attend a special event that I had already booked;” “I look forward to working from home two days a week, as we discussed.”

If your boss is the kind who says, “We don’t need anything in writing. We’re all friends here,” you can usually — though not always — expect trouble ahead. People have short memories and the boss’s job may be a high-wire juggling act. In my experience, on the rare occasion a manager repudiates a written promise, you are probably facing a disaster that calls for immediate bailout.

Once the knot is tied in any relationship, you’re negotiating from a one-down position. Freedom means planning ahead. A mentor, career coach or counselor can help you recognize potential pitfalls: they’re more objective and they see more horror stories. Anticipating the “what can go wrong” question can save your career and maybe your sanity.

Cathy Goodwin, Ph.D., is an author, speaker and career/business consultant. Your Next Move Ezine: Read one each week and watch your choices grow!