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Quitting your job? Here's how not to do it

He deleted most of the source code – the little @£$%%...

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There is a tradition of “off-site backups” for handy bits of code and data that you’ve worked with at your current employer. At most firms you could fit every line of source code together with a complete customer list on the free USB stick you got at a conference. This is a really dumb thing to do. Many firms now lock their USBs and so when you see an open one you have to ask yourself: is it sloppy security or a trap?

The “trap” element is partly driven by employment law. There is a daft charade in EU countries where your job is declared “at risk” before you are made redundant, usually leaving you at your desk with more yesterdays than tomorrows. They are going to have to pay you off and that can be real money so if you’re dumb enough to copy data when they’re expecting you to do it, you really deserve what is coming to you, including losing that payoff. Or as a Goldman Sachs programmer found out last year, this can mean sitting in jail, while the courts decide whether you've committed a crime or not.

As a Reg reader, you’ll have worked out that this applies to printing and FTP as well. It nearly applies to social networks, since although systems exist to monitor traffic, most companies haven’t installed them yet.

Don’t trust verbal offers

In the good old days (2006) a verbal job offer was good enough for you to quit, but now more people have to sign off the headcount and they are more likely to refuse. That means you should never give notice until you have a written job offer. In itself that is actually almost worthless, since if they renege then your legal position is not likely to get you more than the notice period they would have to pay if they fired you on your first day – and even that is far from guaranteed. However a written offer from HR means that the process has been completed. Marks & Spencer reneged on offers it made to a bunch of people years ago and it still gets talked about, so HRs try really hard to stop offers going out until they are kosher, but before then trust no one, especially recruiters.

Notice Periods

Just because they are usually enforceable, doesn’t mean you have to work them. If your manager is smart he will know that a motivated employee for six weeks is vastly more useful than a strag who grudgingly puts in face time for three months and given that discontent is contagious he doesn’t want others following you.

The trick is to review the work you’ve been doing to spot things that need to be done by you personally before leaving and separate them from things that can’t be done by then. Take the initiative by presenting this timescale having added time for a proper handover to get the time you can present to your boss for departing, say that you’ll do these things properly and go. Sweeten the deal by promising not to encourage the others to leave, with the polite but implicit threat that he can choose easy or hard.

The handover process is also a good place to leave hooks to bring you back for occasional days when the value of your experience is worth more than a day’s paid holiday from your next employer. What may not be intuitive is that the better the handover, the more likely this work will materialise, since a good handover shows that you were doing a lot of things for the company and that you did them professionally. Since you’re being paid to do the handover anyway, ensuring a smooth handover helps you get a better reference.

References

Good references are always useful, but if your boss puts in writing that someone is crap then the person can sue with a decent chance of winning if it is not provably true. My favourite case of this was the huge investment bank that gave a true but very negative reference. Sadly they gave it for the wrong person, costing the ex-employee his new job and the bank serious money. That’s why if you’ve ever bothered to read your employment contract, you’ll probably find yourself forbidden to give any references, requiring you to leave it to HR, who will write the very briefest reference they can.

Of course there is the verbal reference which your boss will usually be willing to give and that part of the dark art of recruitment is trying to read between the lines when they want to say bad things but don’t want to cause trouble. Managers are extremely reluctant to say really bad things, even when in a couple of cases the candidate has told me that their role ended basically with them shouting “Screw you!” and walking out. So there are pregnant pauses, odd intonations on answers. It has to be said that a manager who flatly refuses to talk about you sends a very negative signal.

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