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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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You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave

This cuts both ways. I hired a network manager out of ICL/Fujitsu in spite of my opinion of the firm – because he’d actually kept calm and achieved things in spite of the environment. I needed someone like that and was prepared to overlook his having the oddest reference of anyone I’d ever heard. He flatly refused to give a referee since when he’d told his boss, she’d actually broken down and cried, not because she was a girlie, but because anyone else would have been crushed by that project. Some managers get even more emotional, treating you like you’ve slept with their sister, especially if you’re going to a competitor. It’s dumb to shout at a deserter but that doesn’t stop it, or even make it very rare.

Buybacks

You might be expecting them to realise they can’t live without you and upgrade your pay and conditions; this is a risky bet in the current market but it can pay off. One thing your employer might already know is that around 60 per cent of buybacks leave in a year anyway, so you have to try to price a year of your services when working out what to demand.

One reason for buybacks either failing immediately or just ending up buying you a little time is that the reasons you want to leave rarely change: they underpaid you because they did not value your work highly enough; your boss is an arse because of his childhood; the obsolete tech is irritating but there’s no budget for a complete upgrade; the training budget is £3.75; and any other number of irritants that won’t go away.

Buybacks can generate serious bad feelings and your employer may try to claw back the pay by cutting your bonus next year and refusing requests for training or even refusing to upgrade the software you use to be more productive. That’s not rational, is it? But unfortunately it's not as rare as it should be – if firms managed their staff rationally I would have to get a proper job.

If you’re playing the buyback game, be aware that your boss is in a tricky position, since he has to argue for more money, so you have to arm him with things he can use, in this case the antiquity of your tech environment can actually work for you, since the more “customised” the system is, the harder it is to get someone off the street to take over. He also needs a hard number: he will be asked what it will take to keep you and will want to be really sure that if he gets that you will stay. When the whole network team in one of my projects quit, it actually helped me because I’d warned (in writing) that we’d gone past the point of just saving money and some lucky recruiter had found a good team who were only to happy to move. We outbid Bloomberg of course, but preparation and getting a hard number from each party made me look good.

Your evil ex-boss is actually a nice guy

As I mentioned in a previous article, slagging off your previous employer always worries interviewers, so no matter how awful their criteria for choosing you to be shafted because the marketing people were incompetent, you need to talk what you achieved and learned there because as a headhunter I will share that. Often a good percentage of the reason they are interviewing you is the brand of your last firm, so sharing its failures makes them think that decision was wrong.

Another reason to try to leave on good terms is that downsizing a group is a lot harder than building it up, and so it’s very likely they find that they’ve fired everyone who knows how to do some obscure but vital task. You don’t know how long it will take you to get a new job, so leave the door open for a few days at contractor rates.

Getting rebound work

This requires some subtlety. One of my earliest employers had ditched all its programmers as it desperately tried to keep afloat, hiring a green newish graduate (me) to replace a dozen who had built the system. The source code was still there, the makefiles weren’t. There were anywhere between five and 20 versions of each file with no apparent structure for how I might fit them back together. It was pretty clear that these critical files had been “lost” when the developers found out that they were being shafted but the salespeople “who bring the money in” weren’t. So when my boss got a call offering “consultancy” on that, the ex-programmer got very short shrift.

Finally you have to remember that the world is a surprisingly small space, made smaller by the particular industry and technology you work with. It may be satisfying to get revenge for the broken promises and hassle that caused you to leave, but my advice is that money is the best revenge. ®

Dominic Connor is a City headhunter a t QF Search with a sideline in teaching C++ to bankers.

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