Re: FWD: Getting out of a bad situation

Subject: Re: FWD: Getting out of a bad situation
From: "Steven J. Owens" <puff -at- netcom -dot- com>
To: johnbri -at- primenet -dot- com
Date: Mon, 7 Feb 2000 00:07:19 -0800 (PST)

Somebody wrote:
> I'd guess if you are brutally honest with yourself, you really do know or
> can figure out what the reason for the conflict with your second boss was.
> --Were you a threat to him?
> --Did he just not like you for illogical reasons (race, gender, sexual
> preference, clothing, etc.)?
> --Did you actually deserve some or all of his criticism?

Such situations are rarely one-sided. After failing to survive
the fifth reorganization in three years as my first employer tripled
in size, I had misgivings about exactly what contributed to my
departure. I didn't feel my job performance reflected my true
capabilities, but I also felt that the cause was not entirely within

That's an important lesson for younger workers - particularly
bright technology workers (programmers and the like) who haven't
gotten quite so good at playing the blame game - need to learn. They
end up in an untenable situation, they fail, and they carry a cloud of
shame, guilt, self-blame and regret. You are _responsible_ for your
productivity (ultimately, you're the one who will pay the price if
your performance drops) but you should not feel _guilty_ about a bad

Your boss is also responsible for creating an environment -
practical and emotional - that will let you get your job done. If
your motivation sucks because you've seen all of your work constantly
go down the drain due to company politics, for example, that is not
your fault. Get past worrying about the blame and focus on the

Moving on to solutions, the solution to what you say at the

First, don't worry so much about not being able to give your
previous boss as a reference. In the US most companies don't place as
much weight on references, because most companies will not give out
more than the bare minimum of facts when called for a reference. If
they say anything more than "yes, he/she worked here from 1993 to 1996
as a technical writer" they're opening themselves up to a lawsuit, so
most won't.

Additionally, if you're still working there, it's quite
acceptable for you to tell them not to contact your current employer.
If they care enough about acquiring you as an employee to want to
contact your current employer, they'll care enough not to risk
alienating you.

Of course they're going to ask you why you left your old job, or
why you're leaving your current job. If you're still employed, the
politically safe answer is that you've advanced as far as you can and
you need to move on to continue your career. Everybody understands
the need for more money, as long as you avoid looking _too_ mercenary.
Indeed, if you're still working, then obviously you haven't screwed up
yet and so you're being truthful. Your current boss is holding you back
and you need to look elsewhere to advance.

If you've already left your old job, then the question becomes
why? The classic reason given for a poor outcome to a job is
"personality conflict", and we've all seen this happen. Of course, if
that's your response for why you left each of your last five jobs,
then the interviewer will see a pattern. But hopefully that's not the
case for you; if it is, maybe you need to reconsider whether you're
temperamentally suited for this field. Being a techwriter is not for
the thin-skinned.

One subtle phrasing that a more experienced employee at the
above-mentioned job told me was "the company changed and I was no
longer happy with the job, and it began to show in my performance." I
like this phrasing, as it accurately depicts much of what happened
without assigning blame to anybody. It also shows that I take
responsibility for what I do, without accepting blame for
circumstances beyond my control.

Steven J. Owens
puff -at- netcom -dot- com

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