Heard a Recruiter is Shopping Your Job? Here’s Nine Suggested Steps

“People don’t mind being used,
but they don’t like being discarded.”

– Unknown

ACTUAL CASE HISTORY: Barbara, a Human Resources Vice President, had worked for 12 years for a large Midwestern hospital, where she oversaw professional staff development. All seemed fine at work, and she was soon to take a vacation. She called us at the suggestion of a former client of ours.

Barbara had just received a telephone call from another HR professional she knew from attending conferences on the topic of professional staff development at hospitals. The purpose of the call from her colleague was to inquire about the hospital’s overall company culture and, specifically, its “family-friendliness.” Barbara’s colleague also asked her “Do you mind sharing with me why you are leaving?”

Leaving? Barbara had no plans to leave. The caller explained that she was told by an executive recruiter that Barbara’s position was soon to become available, and he was assembling a list of candidates to fill Barbara’s position. Barbara did not know what to say, and finally uttered, “There must be some mistake.”

Barbara found it hard to catch her breath. Was this a mistake? Was someone disappointed in her work? Her performance reviews had been “Exceeds Expectations” for years. She had not been accused of any bad behavior. Who should she speak with . . . if anyone?

Mistakes of all kinds happen. Was the caller confused about what she had heard? Was the recruiter in error? Was it possible Barbara was being replaced? Might her compensation be too high? Her creativity too low? All sorts of questions were buzzing around Barbara’s mind.

LESSON TO LEARN: In your experience, do you believe most employees find a new job before they resign from their present one? Sure, that is exactly what most employees do. Should employers do the same, that is, find a new employee before they terminate one? From their point of view, that is the exact same thing.

Is it disloyal for an employee to find a new job and then resign? No. Well, from an employer’s point of view, it is not at all disloyal for an employer to find a new employee and then terminate the one they have. Yet, most employees feel upset, perhaps taken advantage of, or abandoned, if they find out their job is being “shopped.” Why?

I think the anger, upset, even sense of being “discarded” by means of disloyalty felt by employees who find out their job is being “shopped” is due to the seeming “behind the back,” secretive nature of it all. It would seem so very “up front” to (a) be told there is a problem, and (b) work together on an orderly transition. The problem is that neither employees nor employers ever act so “up front.” They act to protect themselves and their interests. You must admit that few employees tell their employers they are out interviewing, but rather “behind the employer’s back” find a new job, and then resign.

All that said, the employee’s feelings of dishonesty, abuse, disloyalty and abandonment are real, and not to be ignored. But, your responses to hearing your job is being “shopped” cannot be based on emotions. Instead, they must be based on clear thinking, and be a focused, rational response.

If what happened to Barbara ever happens to you, what should you do? Who should you speak to . . . if anyone? Should you begin a job search of your own?

Having helped clients in this circumstance, we share with you the responses, and the order of responses, we have found are best to make in this circumstance. Taken together they represent a mindful plan of action, which is the best response of all.

WHAT YOU CAN DO: If what happened to Barbara ever happens to you, consider these steps, and, of course, modify them as seems most sensible to the specific facts, events and circumstances of your job, career and life:

1. Don’t let your emotions lead you astray. This point just cannot be emphasized enough. Hearing that your job is being “shopped” can lead to a whole array of emotions, most of them negative and self-defeating. Fear, in particular, is the first emotion to arise, and fear rarely results in clear thinking. You can acknowledge your emotions, but you do not have to share them with your colleagues and managers, most particularly, in a negative or accusatory fashion.

Whatever you do to control your daily stress and anxiety – so long as it is not alcohol, cigarettes or drugs (illicit or legal) – do a lot more of it. Walking, exercise, swimming, prayer, yoga, meditation or otherwise, do a lot of it, and do it daily.

2. Might you have misunderstood what you think you were told? Sometimes we are told one thing, and we hear something else. Sometimes, after we hear the first few words of an upsetting conversation, we fail to accurately take in the next words spoken. Also, it is true that people sometimes have their own interests in mind when they speak, and their own motives to speak mistruths to us.

It just can’t hurt to check again with the person who advised you that your job is being shopped to make sure that he or she really said, really meant, and really knows what he or she expressed. Doing so might just “nip the problem in the bud.”

3. As objectively as you can, consider whether what you have been told makes any sense. Considering all that you know about your performance, your conduct, your relation with your manager, your company’s financial state, and related subjects, does it make any sense to you that your employer would be seeking to replace you?

A few thoughts to ponder: Performance reviews positive or negative? Any bad incidents lately? Disappointing results come in? Any cost reduction efforts underway? Reorganizations under review? Might you have taken credit for something your manager believes belongs to him or her? Any bonus or commissions that are soon due you, that if not paid would help your team’s P&L? Large amounts of unvested company equity soon to vest? Company under consideration for sale or merger? Any of these might increase or decrease the likelihood of your position being shopped by your employer.

Imagine being your manager, and viewing yourself through his or her eyes. Would you seek to replace you? You might also ask others, not at work, for their input on this, as well.

4. Believe it or not, some recruiters do try to “drum up business” by spreading false rumors about positions being shopped. As an analogy, it is not unknown for some real estate brokers to spread false rumors that a highway is going to be built right through a quiet neighborhood, in hopes that frightened homeowners might try to sell their homes before home values would drop. It’s a way to drum up new business where no business exists.

In like fashion, a recruiter may be trying to get you to leave your secure position, so that he or she has an open position to possibly fill, and thus earn a hefty commission. Sound preposterous, or even paranoid? I have seen it happen, more than once. Rather evil in nature? Sure; 100%. But it does take place.

5. Whatever may be happening, it never hurts to “fold your parachute.” No matter what you think about your job possibly being in jeopardy, taking a few precautions might be in order. As examples, you might put off, for the time being, the purchase of a new car or home. Taking out a loan to do a large home renovation might be put off, for the moment at least. So, too, might a large party, or a long vacation. Likewise, “dusting off” your resume and reconsidering your LinkedIn profile may be wise moves, too.

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6. Consider contacting the recruiter directly. Here is where the “rubber begins to meet the road.” The first proactive step you might take is to write to the recruiter seeking his or her explanation. While it may seem “confrontational,” it need not be, so long as any such communication is respectfully written.

Approaching the recruiter directly, in a written letter or email, seeking his or her explanation to “Is it true, as I have been told, you have told others that my position will soon be open?” can only provide some valuable data with which you can make a better decision about what to do next. If, for example, you are told, “That is absolutely, 100% untrue,” well, that is additional data to be factored into your decision about what, if anything, to do next.

7. Do you have any mentors, “godfathers” or “rabbis” of influence in your organization who might provide more information, or possibly assistance? ”Friends” or even “friends in high places” might be contacted to ask whether they either know of any plans to seek to a replacement for you, or to ask for assistance either in (a) retaining your position, or, at the least (b) serving as a reference should you, if in fact, be replaced.

This is undoubtedly a sensitive issue to raise with others, but if it might just be helpful in retaining your position, or of assistance in gaining a new position elsewhere, the step is worthy of the attempt. After all, this may be a matter of taking care of your family and your career.

8. A candid conversation with your manager may be next in order. With the “data” you may have come upon in the steps suggested above, you would be best prepared for the step that is the most direct, potentially the most sensitive, but likely most the effective step: requesting a candid conversation with your manager, or a more senior manager, to address your concern “head on.”

Sharing (i) what you have been told, (ii) what you have learned and (iii) what you seek – the simple truth – should be made in person, face-to-face, if at all possible. Requesting 30 minutes on someone’s calendar to discuss “a career issue” is the first step to take. Preparing an outline of your presentation – sharing information, presenting your concern, and requesting to be told whether what you heard is true – is a simple “1, 2, 3” agenda of your meeting.

If you receive assurances that what you have been told is not true, a “Thank You” email, expressing your appreciation for the meeting, and the assurances received, would be in order, both as an expression of gratitude, and a memorialization of those assurances. If you are told “I will look into it,” that same “Thank You” email is in order, but modified to share what happened at the meeting, and requesting a response “as soon as is possible.”

9. If job separation seems inevitable, consider proposing a “dignified employment divorce.” On the other hand, should you not receive the assurances you have requested, but instead either (a) being told outright that your job is, indeed, in jeopardy, or (b) being told “I will look into it,” it may be wise to consider proposing a transition comprised of (i) mutual respect, (ii) mutual commitment to each other’s interests, and (iii) mutual attention to each other’s reputations.

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That is what we mean by a separation arrangement that is fair to all and harmful to none, in the form of a severance agreement that sets forth for both “sides” what is positive (a) timing of departure, (b) terms of departure, and (c) tone of departure, should a transition take place.

Resignations can be tricky – and treacherous. To help you, we offer a 100-Point Master Pre-Resignation Checklist. All you need to know and remember. To obtain your copy, just [click here.] Delivered by Email – Instantly!


In Summary . . .

Transitions are tough enough; unexpected transitions are even tougher. So, if you may be facing an unexpected transition, (a) keep calm, (b) get as much information as you can, and (c) make and (d) execute a plan of action. It’s easier said than done, but in all events it is something that needs to get done.

P.S.: If you would like to speak with me directly about this or other workplace-related subjects, I am available for 30-minute, 60-minute, or 120-minute telephone consultations. (Even 5-minute “Just One Question” calls.) Just [click here.] Evenings and weekends can be accommodated.

SkloverWorkingWisdom™ emphasizes smart negotiating – and navigating – for yourself at work. Negotiation and navigation of work and career issues requires that you think “out of the box,” and build value and avoid risks at every point in your career. We strive to help you understand what is commonly before you – traps and pitfalls, included – and to avoid the likely bumps in the road. Hearing that your job is being “shopped,” is one heck of a “bump in the road.”

Always be proactive. Always be creative. Always be persistent. Always be vigilant. And always do what you can to achieve for yourself, your family, and your career. Take all available steps to increase and secure employment “rewards” and eliminate or reduce employment “risks.” That is what SkloverWorkingWisdom™ is all about.

*A note about our Actual Case Histories: In order to preserve client confidences, and protect client identities, we alter certain facts, including the name, age, gender, position, date, geographical location, and industry of our clients. The essential facts, the point illustrated and the lesson to be learned, remain actual.

Please Note: This Email Newsletter is not legal advice, but only an effort to provide generalized information about important topics related to employment and the law. Legal advice can only be rendered after formal retention of counsel, and must take into account the facts and circumstances of a particular case. Those in need of legal advice, counsel or representation should retain competent legal counsel licensed to practice law in their locale.

Sklover Working Wisdom™ is a trademarked newsletter publication of Alan L. Sklover, of Sklover & Company, LLC, a law firm dedicated to the counsel and representation of employees in matters of their employment, compensation and severance. Nothing expressed in this material constitutes legal advice. Please note that Mr. Sklover is admitted to practice in the state of New York, only. When assisting clients in other jurisdictions, he retains the assistance of local counsel and/or obtains permission of local Courts to appear. Copying, use and/or reproduction of this material in any form or media without prior written permission is strictly prohibited. All rights reserved. For further information, contact Sklover & Company, LLC, 45 Rockefeller Plaza, Suite 2000, New York, New York 10111 (212) 757-5000.

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