Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Ask CJ: when to tell prospective employers about being laid off?

Another reader writes in with an interesting question:
  1. You're working at Company A, but informally talking to a representative of Company B about opportunities there. Company B is interested in you.
  2. Company A lays you off, for economic reasons. 
When do you tell Company B? I assume that the answer is "as soon as possible", especially if your supervisors/directors at Company A are willing to vouch for you. 

Readers, what do you think? Can anyone make the case for not telling until you have to? 

16 comments:

  1. I don't know that you would be under any obligation to tell B that A laid you off. As long as you don't lie about term of employment I don't know that it's any of B's business.

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  2. I might consider holding off if was given a good severance package that would be forfeited or prorated upon acceptance of another position (I have heard of stipulations of this type in cases of timed payouts/stock options) or I wanted to take "time off" before seeking a new position (I of course would rather get a new job and then negotiate start date if wanted and could afford to decompression).

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  3. Vouch for you? When I was downsized from MegaChemCorp, my ex-coworkers were specifically forbidden to vouch for me by their legal department. This was made clear in the severance package as well. I had to tap back a decade and use references from grad school (beyond my PI, who I still have a good relationship with).

    "Fortunately" over the years since that incident, enough of my ex-coworkers from MCC have been axed that I have a couple I can use as references at that time.

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    1. I wonder if we were laid off from the same place. I was hired in a rush at my next employer, before my reference check was complete, and a person who had agreed to serve as a reference caused some major headaches for the HR drones when she ignored a series of increasingly frantic calls and emails from both myself and them. I later found out that she had gotten spooked by the company legal department's warning, and was too timid to talk to any of us and admit it.

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    2. Why would legal at MCC tell people they couldn't serve as references for someone that was laid off. There's so much press about the long term unemployed. This just seems like a kicking someone while their down that you can't get a reference for a new job from your previous coworkers/supervisor.

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    3. The Aqueous LayerJune 5, 2014 at 12:30 PM

      My MCC has a "no written recommendation" policy. Phone calls are deemed acceptable.

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    4. "Why would legal at MCC tell people they couldn't serve as references for someone that was laid off"

      Pretty standard even at small companies. Having a positive word about an employee can create problems if said employee is laid off and wants to claim discrimination for being wrong color/age/gender. Many many companies policy is just to allow employees to confirm dates of employment. Actually seems prudent to me.

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    5. Interesting - I always thought the fear was that a negative comment could lead to a defamation suit, and I figured a positive review was harmless in spite of official policies. Maybe if management could be bothered to explain their reasoning to us peons, we'd be more apt to listen.

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    6. @biotechoreador: Anyone could make a claim of illegal discrimination/wrongful termination when being laid off given they kept copies of their performance evaluations. Each employee is typically given a copy of their annual performance evaluations. I'm with Anon@3:17 about companies worrying about defamation. Personally, I also ask possible references ahead of time whether they would feel comfortable giving me a positive recommendation regarding a new job, and any company I've put in applications with never divulged what my references had to say.

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  4. Interesting situation. Until May 17, I was assistant professor of organic chemistry at the university of Alaska Fairbanks. However the admin suddenly wanted me to do research in environmental chemistry and biochemistry, not organic chemistry (for which I was hired). So i lost my job. What do I tell new prospective employers in academia? Fortunately, my former colleagues in Fairbanks are willing to vouch for me in reference letters that I did nothing wrong. And I have held off on taking revenge against an incompetent and short-sighted administration, because doing so might hurt the folks who supported me there.

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    1. Unfortunately, you were set up. They likely wanted you out of there. It's a sad situation but it is quite common as it has happened to me before. Very rarely do people get "laid off" anymore. If they want you out, they will likely find or "fabricate" a reason for doing so. The only thing that you can do is use your references and maybe tell them that you were offered to do research in other areas that didn't interest you and for career reasons, you declined. Academia is terrible and full of politics and games. Basically, if you're are not willing to play politics, write endless grants and do research that brings the department money...then you are gone.

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    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    3. Non directly related, but there is no way that UAF has a Prof. Iceman (http://www.uaf.edu/chem/faculty/ciceman/). No way....

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  5. Hi, "biotechtoreador", actually, Chris Iceman was hired to do lots of teaching, not research. His "lab" is a closet. Or are you thinking that was some sort of silly pun related to the location of UAF?

    Hey, "AnonymousJune 5, 2014 at 4:33 PM". I don't deny that "they" wanted me out.... but you have it wrong on the question of “fabricating” reasons. Alaska is a hire-at-will state. The admin –in particular the Dean and the Chancellor- refused to state a reason because I could have taken them to court if they had admitted that I was being fired for being an organic chemist who does research in the same. Especially since I was just doing the same research that I promised when I interviewed for the job, three years back. This is in spite of LOTS of students who protested my dismissal. The Dean just smiled, and ignored them.

    I still don’t know why I was hired in the first place, but now the environmental chemists and biochemists are in control, after some of the people who hired me went into retirement. My PhD student there was an interdisciplinary PhD student, so he could still do organic chemistry. However the environmental chem and biochem grad students have neither interest nor competency in O-chem.

    So the Dean insisted in writing on hiring a biochemist and an analytical chemist as replacements to teach Organic I and Organic II. The candidates held demo lectures, which were deemed to be incompetent by my colleagues. They were still hired. I am wondering if UAF Chemistry Department will lose its ACS acredation, because there is no possibility for undergrads to do research projects in organic chemistry any more, and the people who will be teaching the subject have neither empathy, enthusiasm nor post-graduate experience in the field. There were undergrads who wanted to continue on in PhD studies with me, but who are now forced to go elsewhere.

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  6. "Or are you thinking that was some sort of silly pun related to the location of UAF?"

    Silly pun. It still makes me chuckle.

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  7. Interesting dilemma.
    In my experience from the UK, the community here is so small that the person hiring will know very soon after you do (practically after your meeting) that roles are being made redundant where you work.

    After they find out, you'd be very lucky if they continued to talk exclusively to you - they'd want to know who else at your company might be looking for a position.....

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