I have one skill that has brought me both spectacular success and untold heartache in my corporate career: I give a damn good interview.
In fact, if I were to choose my own fantasy job (other than the whole "being a ridiculously rich and successful author" one), it would be "interviewing for money." I'd just go on round after round of job interviews and at the end of each one someone would write me a big check as a "thank you" for the pleasure of my company.
I don't understand why so many people dread job interviews. To me, it's a dream come true: not only do I get to talk about myself for hours on end, people are actually being paid to sit there and listen to me tell them how great I am! My favorite interviews are those all-day multi-person ones, where I discuss how great I am with a succession of people from the same company. If I am particularly lucky, at the end, I'll even get to give a presentation to the entire group on my favorite topic: me! What could be better?
The trick to giving a damn good interview, I have discovered, is to always keep one simple little business rule in the back of your mind: most companies do not have a clue what they are doing or what they want. All you have to do is go in with strong opinions and sound like you know what you are talking about, and they will fall all over themselves to hire you, simply because they don't know any better. If you come across like an expert on whatever it is they happen to be making, or selling, or whatever, you're in. And they'll think they are lucky to have you.
So as far as I am concerned, getting a job is really no great shakes, and if that were all it took to be a smashing success I'd be a millionaire several times over by now. Unfortunately, there's one other simple little business rule I've always tended to overlook: once you get a job, people typically expect you to work to keep it. That's the part where I usually get hung up. It's not that I'm lazy, or have a poor work ethic or anything. It's simply that it took me twenty years post-college to discover that it is possible to make money doing something you're good at and enjoy, as opposed to just being miserable for the sake of making money. So if you're thinking of hiring me to write something for you - never fear! But be forewarned: I don't file.
For all of these reasons, as good as I am at getting jobs, I've also become something of an expert at leaving them. In fact, I have left so many jobs in so many ways I pretty much take it for granted now that whenever I start at a new company I'll end up leaving it in relatively short order. One way or another.
So, in the interest of sharing the wisdom born of brutal experience with those of you who are novices to the art of unemployment, I have compiled a little appendix to my famous Rules of Dis-Engagement (see book) to help employers and employees alike navigate the perilous waters of involuntary job separation. I like to refer to them as "The Rules of Dis-Employment."
The Rules of Dis-Employment, Part 1: For the Firer
According to a spate of recent articles on the emotional and physiological impact of layoffs and firings, employers too suffer their own brand grief and anxiety during these stressful events. Symptoms range from weight loss to insomnia to migraines, and even to thoughts of suicide if the employer is especially guilt-stricken.
I guess I should feel bad for them. Given how much I hate confrontation I couldn't imagine having to ever actually fire someone. After all, I've kept the same cleaning service for ten years because every time they screw up and I call to terminate the contract the owner begs me for "one more chance" and I take pity on him and back down. He also throws in a free cleaning, which I suppose makes the whole thing one of those "win-win" situations we hear so much about in the business world. Except for the fact that my apartment is still a disgusting mess, but that's a story for another blog.
Nevertheless, I have a little more trouble drumming up sympathy for other employers faced with the task of firing an employee. I mean, when it comes right down to it, who cares how hard it is for you? You still have a job, asshole, so suck it up and stop whining.
What I can do, however, is give you some advice as to how to reduce your guilt levels by making the process a little easier on your intended victim. I'm not necessarily saying that any of the following actually happened to me…but let's just say they're all true stories and leave it at that.
1. Let "stealth" be your watchword. A sneak attack is the way to go here—it's kinder to everyone concerned. This means you should avoid signaling your intentions by committing any of the following pre-firing blunders:
a. If terminating an employee is a critical element of your business plan for the upcoming fiscal year, you might want to refrain from forwarding the plan to the Firee for proofreading and comment. She might just happen to stumble across her name, which would lead to 1) an embarrassing confrontation which you are ill-equipped to handle; 2) a hasty resignation before you have a replacement lined up; 3) a lawsuit; 4) all of the above.
b. Another very bad idea is to put the business plan onto any type of shared network drive where other employees (i.e., the Firee or friends of the Firee) can access it (see subsection a, item 3, above, for an idea of how this one will probably turn out).
c. If you have the inclination to get drunk and cry into your martini about how hard it is to be the one who has to announce an upcoming layoff, it's usually best to not do this in front of your entire team. Especially if they're the ones on the chopping block.
2. It is almost always best to fire people in person, but there are certain occasions on which the Firee might actually appreciate a more impersonal approach. If the Firee has not actually started work, for example, do her a favor: don't call her up and force her to come in for a "meeting" so you can deliver the bad news in person. Gas is expensive! And she's going to need the money even more now. Similarly, locking her out on her first day of work while you hide behind the curtains in your office peeking out is just cruel. If she's as resourceful as you thought she was when you hired her, believe me, she'll find a way in, and you can only pretend to not know someone for so long before the ruse falls apart. Just bite the bullet, make a phone call, and be done with it. Trust me; she'll thank you for it someday.
3. When booking a conference room for a firing, please make your own arrangements. Don't ask the Firee to do it for you. That's just mean.
4. It would also help if you actually showed up on the day of the scheduled firing. But if by some misfortune you can't make it, having HR call the Firee to reschedule your "meeting" will pretty much negate your stealth advantage, since the only time HR is ever involved in scheduling a meeting is when someone is about to be fired anyway.
The Rules of DisEmployment, Part 2: For the Firee
Of course, much of the pain associated with firing could be avoided if the Firee were just not so damned trusting. Here's some friendly advice: Being about to be fired is a lot like suspecting your significant other is having an affair: you don't want to believe it so you tell yourself it can't possibly be true. Well, guess what—it usually is. So, Firees, if you suddenly find yourself being excluded from meetings and no one wants to have lunch with you anymore, trust your instincts and get those cardboard boxes ready!
For those of you still in denial, here are a few more tips to help ease you along in your precipitous slide off the corporate ladder:
1. If you are put on a "performance improvement plan," take my word for it: they don't want your performance to improve. They want it to cease entirely. Along with you. The "tasks" and "milestones" you have been assigned as measures of your "progress" are diversionary tactics designed to keep you too busy to notice that guy with the measuring tape staking out your cube.
2. Observe office scatter-patterns. If you bathe regularly and still find that people duck for cover when they see you coming down the aisle, just remember this maxim: Some people think unemployment is contagious and behave accordingly. 'Nuff said.
3. If you find your workspace has been relocated, pay close attention to where you land. As in real estate, it's all about location, baby. You will have cause for concern if you find your desk, chair, and belongings have been moved to any of the following locations:
a. A conference room. Especially if you are never allowed inside because people are always meeting there.
b. A converted storage closet. Or, even worse, an unconverted one filled with many open containers of toxic cleaning substances.
c. Your car.
d. The sidewalk.
e. The middle of the highway.
And finally, to those of you who have never suffered the pleasure of being fired, here's one last piece of advice: feel free to keep in touch with those who have gone before you. But be forewarned: it's considered very bad form to gripe about work in front of them. Especially if you're now doing their old job. You might just get smacked upside the head.
For your own safety, I recommend you stick with a safer topic. A happier topic. A topic with universal appeal.