Brutally honest signs there’s trouble in paradise
By Chere B. Estrin
Does this sound familiar? You landed your dream job at a firm that promotes from within, has given you a salary that surpasses anything you have ever received and has all the same values you have ever sought in a position. Added to that, the atmosphere is great, teamwork rampant and well, let’s not even go into the fantastic benefits. You’ve arrived.
But after a while, something seems to have changed. Sure, it seems like things are normal on the surface but there are subtle signs that the tide is turning and that dream job is not so dreamy anymore. At first, you ignore the signals. Then, you begin to wonder what’s going on. You tell yourself it’s not you, the firm is changing. Yet, you can’t point to what it is about the firm that has changed. Finally, you realize, “uh, oh…..I just might be in trouble here.” That’s trouble with a T: no praising with a P.
Has your boss stopped calling? Stopped introducing you to new clients or handing you a new matter? When was the last time you saw a pay raise or a promotion? Falling out of favor with your boss – particularly when you believe everything is fine – is a tough blow to the ego. In fact, sometimes it stings so much that employees take shelter in denial and pretend everything is A- OK . However, unless you turn around and face the tiger and acknowledge what’s happening, you will waste time working for someone who is not exactly high on you anymore and your career is at dead stop.
Here are signs that your boss may not be in love with you anymore:
1, You’re receiving assignments beneath your level of competency. It’s hard to get ahead when your boss views you as the office intern. Despite your awesome credentials, your boss has chosen you to be his errand runner or lower-level clerk. Or, you frequently stay after team meetings to clean up the conference room and remove the coffee cups. You have a sharp mind, have had a hard climb up the ladder and thought this was the job where you would get ahead. But it’s hard to do that when your boss views you as the office intern or the clean-up crew. Although you’re one of the hardest workers on the team, your efforts are being wasted on menial tasks or lower-level assignments.
Job-saving tip: It all depends on your boss and your specific situation. If this is a highly competitive job that will be a steppingstone to a high salary position in a year or two, maybe you stick it out. But if you don’t want to quit yet can’t bear the thought of being a glorified intern or part of the clean-up crew, take some positive action. First of all, stop ordering the birthday cakes, bringing in the Friday bagels and washing the coffee cups. You are creating the perception that you are an intern, not the competent professional that you are. Then, make yourself a “brag book” and fill it with specific examples of your noteworthy successes while on the job. Go to your boss and present him/her with it, asking for added responsibilities. Pitch a new project or idea you’ve been cooking up, and tell your boss you’d like the opportunity to pursue it. Ask for the assignment above the ones that you have been getting i.e, you are destined to order medical records. Ask to write the discovery brief that illuminates the hot docs.
2. Your firm is not making money.
If your firm is unprofitable, it’s ripe for some kind of change whether it is job cuts, reorganization or the pursuit of a new business strategy. You notice that there are a lot of meetings behind closed doors, consultants are called in, there is a rumor of partners leaving. You feel that you might not be able to survive this crisis. No matter what, you have to realize your job may be in jeopardy.
Job saving tip: Pay particular attention to the way your department or practice group is viewed inside your firm for further clues. If their function is viewed as a commodity or the “step-child”, the partners may decide to outsource the entire department or replace the department head with someone cheaper to cut costs. If there is work just trickling in, it’s definitely a red flat. Either way, start looking for a new job.
3. Your top priorities don’t match up with your boss’s. This is a clear indication that you and your boss are drifting apart. Unless you get back in alignment with her, she may decide to let you go. Similarly, if you find your lines of communication with your boss are drying up—or worse, she assigns you to report to someone else—it means you’re no longer a priority in her mind. If you were, she’d devote a portion of her precious time to you.
Job-saving tip: Check in with your boss regularly to make sure you’re on the same page. Send regular status reports to let them know where you are and what’s going on,
4, You screw up big-time. Screwing up an assignment has cost countless legal professionals their jobs. If you consistently miss project milestones, whether you’re an attorney, paralegal or other legal professional, your boss is going to toss you out and hire someone who can get the job done. And if the project for which you’re ultimately accountable causes your firm to lose a client, you can count on getting canned.
Job-saving tip: Come up with a way to spin your failure so that it doesn’t appear to be such a big liability when you interview for your next job.
5. Your boss places unreasonable demands on you. If your boss or management team continually asks you to do something without the right resources, such as implement a database for a case with millions of documents but fails to provide the right software platform, beware. Conversely, they may place these demands on you without understanding what’s humanly possible in your role, It’s your job to educate them. Sometimes, a new boss who wants to get rid of an incumbent employee will often take the tactic of setting unreasonable expectations. He’s setting you up to eliminate you..
Job-saving tip: Being set up to fail is a tough situation. The best you can do, especially if this is happening under a new boss, is to “take the high ground” and try to understand your new boss’s demands from her perspective. They may not be all that unreasonable—just different from what your previous boss wanted. On the other hand, this may not be a job that is going to work for you anymore, and it may be time to start perusing Indeed and calling your nearest recruiter.
6. Your boss asks you to work on “special projects.” Special projects are a euphemism for busy work. When you’re assigned to special projects, it may mean the boss has lost so much confidence in your ability to perform your normal duties satisfactorily, that she’s trying to get you off the projects you had been working on until she can find a replacement for you. The whole purpose of special projects is to put someone on an island without having to give them a lot of maintenance
Job-saving tip: Unless the special project is one that other high-level employees are involved in or it’s an incredible move for the firm, it’s too late to save face. The best you can do is keep a smile on your face in the office while blowing the dust off your resume.
7. You notice paper trails between yourself and your supervisors. Suddenly, you now notice everything is happening through emails instead of casual conversations. There’s a reason for that. HR requires written/printed evidence of everything if there’s to be a firing. A paper trail is necessary to determine that your manager did everything by the book, and to record every single one of your screw-ups. They keep a document you prepared riddled with typos. They may quote a complaint from a colleague. So, if you’ve gone from getting a few emails per week, to a daily deluge of paper and a full inbox, you can bet your sweet bottom that you’re being watched very, very closely.
Job-saving tip: Have a heart-to-heart with your boss. He will either come clean about what’s going on or continue to keep you in the dark. Either way, that ole handwriting prominently on the wall.
8. You are suddenly told that you are “not a good fit”. This is the career buster of all career busters. Firms are not only seeking the most talented, skilled and savvy employees, they’re also looking for employees who can mesh well with the firm’s goals, culture and values. Any conversation you have about your fit should be treated as a warning sign that your boss may not like you.
“You are not a fit” is code for “You’re causing too much friction here” or more directly, “People just don’t like working with you.”
A lot of managers use ‘lack of fit’ as the magical potion for dismissal, since it can’t really be disputed. It’s all in eye of the beholder and if that beholder is your boss, you just ran out of luck.
Job-saving tip: It’s hard to tell someone to change their personality. If you don’t fit in anymore or your personality drives people at work nuts, it’s time to open up your network and find out what’s happening in the job market. It’s far better than crying in the shower every morning because you think few people like you.
9. You complain about your boss, your colleagues or your firm on social media. You should know by now, that nothing really gets erased on social media. Many people have been fired for ranting about their jobs or their bosses online. Obviously, it’s just not something you would do if you had a positive working relationship with them. However, complaining about the work environment, hours, culture, billables, attitudes, working conditions and more are simply out of the question. That’s it. Out of the question.
Job-saving tip: Don’t even think about it, much less hit the send button.
10. Your personality seems to be a problem. People don’t get hired for their skills. They get hired for their skills and their personality. The reason that most people get hired is the same as the reason most people get fired.
And that reason is personality.
You get chosen for an interview because your resume and maybe a prescreening phone call confirms that you have the desired credentials for the job. But every other candidate interviewed will also have those same skills.
So, the hiring decision almost invariably comes down to personality. Which candidate did the hiring manager like the most? Which one is a better fit with the team and the firm culture? That’s who gets hired.
It’s also why people get fired. One of the most common reasons people are let go comes down to personality. Most employment relationships come to an end over some form of personality clash between an employee and a manager or a staff member’s fit with the overall team. That’s because teams evolve.
Staff come and go, people are promoted, new managers are brought in, and firms are restructured. The job your personality got you hired for could have a completely different vibe six months or a year down the road.
I always say in my career motivational, rah rah seminars that “A job is not a marriage. At some point, you leave.” Don’t stay until the bitter end. It can cost you your mental health, make your family unhappy and you may find yourself out on the street with no Plan B.
Most people lose jobs at some point in their careers. I was once fired from a Bob’s Big Boy job I had as a teen, when, as a new server, I was carrying a tray and dropped six root beers and a coffee on a customer. Life does go on, believe me and this is where you pick yourself up, learn what you can from the experience, and just move on. There are wonderful new experiences on the way. It’s time to go and seek them out.