Job Talk: My brother is angry that I quit his firm
Dear J.T. & DALE: At my brother's request, I moved back home to be a project manager with his company. It seemed like a good move, but after a few years, he started to change drastically. I, as well as others, noticed that he was becoming unreasonable. Although the company was doing quite well, the working atmosphere grew worse, until I decided to quit. I found another job, but it's in sales, with low pay, so I am now going back into the job market to look for a project manager position. When I interview, how do I answer the question of why I left my brother's company? If they check with him, I expect him to be bitter. We no longer speak, except at Christmas. — Ray
J.T.: When asked why you left, take the high road, and stay objective: "I chose to leave upon realizing I wanted to broaden my experience beyond working for a family-run business. It was entirely my decision. I have since found work, but hope to find something that will challenge me a bit more." Let your track record of success in the industry be the compelling part of your story, not the drama with your brother.
DALE: Yes, but there still may be the problem of a new employer calling your brother as part of reference checking. If your brother goes negative, it doubles the impact — after all, a new employer would expect relatives to be particularly generous in their praise. So, once you near the reference-checking phase of the employment process, you'll need to mention that your brother was offended by your departure; doing so, you inoculate against the bitter remarks they might hear. However, better yet, and much more importantly, this is a chance to heal that familial wound. Go to your brother and ask for his help with the reference. I know, I know: It's going to be difficult to swallow your pride and ask, especially when you feel you did nothing wrong. But which do you want to be: the bigger person or the smaller person? This is your chance to rise above, improving your family and your job.
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Dear J.T. & Dale: I am in discussions with a prospective employer. They have asked for a letter from my current management or HR/legal department stating that there is no "conflict of interest" in me pursuing employment with them. That's because they continuously get business from my current company. I don't want to jeopardize my job, but I am very interested in bigger things with the other company. Advice? — Sam
DALE: Ayyyy ... this is one of those situations that's like asking your best friend if it's OK to date his ex-wife — even if he says it's OK, it's not OK.
Corporate example: Early in my career, I worked for a Fortune 500 company. One of our consultants and I became friendly, and we started talking about me working for him. He went to the head of my division and got permission to hire me. I started the new job, and all was fine — until the company president heard what had transpired and declared that the consultant would get no further assignments, ever, saying, "We can't set a precedent that it's acceptable for a supplier to cherry-pick our employees." Thus did my new employer lose its biggest client, touching off a financial death spiral. The result? I had to hurriedly find another job.
J.T.: However, if you are determined to pursue the other company, tell them that you will ask your employer for the permission letter only AFTER you receive a written job offer. Tell them that they can make their offer contingent on you getting the permission letter, but get the offer in writing. That will mean one less risk.
DALE: Asking for a written offer will, I feel certain, put an end to the discussion. After all, the company you want to work for wants you to get a letter to cover them, and giving you a written offer is creating proof that they're pursuing one of their client's employees, thus uncovering them. It just isn't worth the risk, on either side.
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