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July 07, 2010


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This is the best approach to your career. Nothing else should even be considered. You have to look out for your own A at all times. I am going through the same struggle currently at a large financial services company. 4 managers in 3 years, each one gives me a run down of what I need to do to the next level, then my manager gets switched, and then a new set of rules is defined. The new manager also contradicts the past expectations and then in the end, I am left with a ton of disdain for the company.

The bottom line? I am not doing enough on my part to handle my stuff. I have to look out for me and only one, regardless of what BS i am fed.

In every field there are companies that go to extraordinary measures to keep good employees through tough periods and then there are heartless companies where huge periodic layoffs are the way of life.
When you talk to your fellow workers, especially the senior ones you quickly learn which companies have a heart and which ones do not.
The industry that I was in was totally dependent upon government contracts and there were always slow periods when one contract ended and there was a lull before the next one was awarded. The first level of supervision was a group leader in charge of around 20 or so engineers and all group leaders were required to make up a "stacking chart" of the employees in their group. Every year when you were called in for your annual performance appraisal and to receive your annual merit raise you were also told where you were on the stacking chart. It was a great source of comfort to know if you were in the top 25%, whereas if you were in the bottom 25% you knew that you needed to turn in a better performance, show more inititive or improve upon your education.

My company was probably the best in the industry but shortly after I retired they merged with another company that had a bad reputation where its employees were concerned. Soon after the merger, the character of the new company started changing and many benefits were slashed. Some of this was due to large cuts in defense spending after the Cold War ended and inevitably the company was forced into a significant downsizing. In 1992 they needed to downsize and offered an excellent incentive program to employees that were eligible for retirement. In my case it worked out well and I received a lump sum of 32 weeks pay for retiring 6 months earlier than I had planned.
When I was a junior employee, and also a new father, I realized that I was vulnerable to any large layoff so the three things I did were:
1) Work on getting my Master's degree.
2) Try to be the best possible employee I knew how.
3) Keep an extra large emergency fund in case I had to move my family out of the area to find another job.

This was my comment left on the post FMF referenced.

I think it is sad that I reached such a conclusion, but my mind has not changed in the month or so since saying that.

I think, in a lot of ways, it applies to all areas of life (not just your career). People are really looking out for themselves. It is sad, but I think mostly true.

When was younger, I used to think that people mostly tried to do the right thing and be fair to people. Now, I believe my immediate family is looking out for me, but past that, I highly doubt it.

As an update to the story...

Since that time, my boss (part of the ownership family), has refused to address any concerns or questions of employees. Basically, it looks like one day towards the end of the year, we'll come to work for a new company without any warning. Might have a job - might not.

In response to the original post, I would say this is more of an example of how unforeseen circumstances happen all the time along the career road. Any boss that ever tells you that there is no possibility that the company will ever be sold to someone is being disingenuous. I think the original poster wanted to believe that because it allowed him to stay in his comfort zone at a job that he seemed to like, but step back from the situation and look at it objectively and it's ridiculous to believe something like that. Never say never, and never believe someone who says never.

I had a situation about four years ago with an employer who I liked very much. I had an offer from another company to pay me more money. My employer offered to match it with a promotion and a comparable salary but they wouldn't do it immediately and they wouldn't put it in writing. I knew that pretty much all they wanted to do was keep me (an excellent performer), they were looking out for THEIR interests, not mine, and that there was absolutely no guarantee that they would follow through on what they told me or that I would ever get a window of opportunity like I had with the other company again. Ever. So as hard as it was to do, I left.

You do have to watch out for yourself. You are the only one who owns your career.

This story makes me think of murphy's law which, as most probably know, "if it can go wrong, it probably will." All the more reason to plan your career (and your finances, like having an emergency fund) accordingly.

You just never know. I left a community bank about 3 years ago when it was bought out. I opted to go with a larger, regional bank closer to home even though another community bank located downtown would've paid me more. I just didn't want to go through another takeover. Fast forward 3 years - the smaller community bank has not been bought out - maybe I should've gone there instead. But you just don't know anymore, especially in banking. After 20 yrs in banking, I can say the smaller, community banks are usually more fun, better organized, have more advanced technology, attract higher quality employees, etc. The larger banks tend to be more disfunctional, use older software, less efficient, have more dead wood employees that can hide behind the performance of a profitable department, etc. And today, even larger banks get bought out.....

Some companies do care.

1) I currently work for a non-profit with about 300 employees, I'm in IT. I have first hand knowledge that the CEO and HR have been working very hard to improve employee benefits, improve the workplace and increase salaries.

2) I am leaving my current job for a new job next week. The new company is a startup, and my new boss has been doing everything he can to make sure that I know the risks and have an adequate safety net if the company fails. He has opened the financial books to me, and openly discussed what will happen if the company doesn't take off in the planned timeframe.


I have worked for companies that didn't care, and it wasn't fun. There are some out there that do care though.

@Bobbert.....The point is, though, that even when people care, there are times when they can't do anything to help you. If your non-profit is forced to downsize or goes extinct for lack of funding, you'll still be filing for unemployment, no matter how much anyone cared about you.

The point I got was that companies will stab you in the back for a buck and that you should be taking care of numero uno. While success and a job is never guaranteed (even if you're self employed or carefully watching out for your own interests) there are bosses out there that care and who do work to take care of their employees.

No one cares about you as much as you, but some people do care about you.

Companies end up moving in cycles- I am in the phase of running the company where we are performing more and rewarding our people with more pay rises and bonuses. These are appreciated at first but then are soon taken for granted by many of the people.

We need to manage our margins, stay innovative and ensure we can stay competitive- if we are too generous and get behind our peers in the industry then we would be under huge pressure to make cuts.

The irony with live is that you want to maximize your situation but so does everyone else and if everybody gets their desires then nobody is better off, comparatively speaking.

For example our business uses a lot of metal as a raw material and in early 2009 the metal prices crashed with the economy. So we could buy cheaper and although our sales were low our margins were higher as we kept a higher margin on the lower metal price. Then the economy picked up and sales picked up more but metal prices went back up. Some employees were grumbling about why metal prices can't be much cheaper. My comment was that if they were our sales would be down.

So I'm big believer in cycles. Besdies being a good performer and picking up new skills, another key to a successful career is to take advantage of the upside part of a cycle to grow your career and in the downside part minimize your losses (losing a job, getting a pay cut, getting demoted, etc.)


When I was an intern at one of the Big 5 (pre-Enron) my counselor told me that if I learned only one thing from him that summer, it was fine. That one thing? "No matter what, always look out for #1." Admittedly I have not always been the best at this, but I am taking steps to rectify this situation.

Over the past 2 years of the financial crisis I have seen people, who under normal circumstance would almost be a slam dunk to make partner within Big 4, get treated like dirt and walked all over, but told what they want to hear so they will stick it out. The reason, their boss is looking out for #1, him/herself. Life is easier with experienced, hard workers around, and the boss knows that.

Yesterday was my last day within Big 4, and I could not be happier (btw, I am not referencing myself in the above paragraph). Including internships, I have spent 11 years there, and while I have learned a ton, the most important lesson I have learned continues to be always look out for #1.

Last thing, this is one of many blogs I read, and this post from a Seth Godin's blog a few weeks back called "Validation is overrated" goes well with this topic (FMF, if I am breaking some sort of rule by posting this info, feel free to delete).

"If you're waiting for a boss or an editor or a colleague to tell you that you do good work, you're handing over too much power to someone who doesn't care nearly as much as you do.

We spend a lot of time organizing and then waiting for the system to pick us, approve of us and give us permission to do our work.

Feedback is important, selling is important, getting the market to recognize your offering and make a sale--all important. But there's a difference between achieving your goals and realizing your work matters.

If you have a book to write, write it. If you want to record an album, record it. No need to wait for someone in a cubicle halfway across the country to decide if you're worthy."

This post and discussion is a good reminder that the possibility of losing your job is generally higher than you think it is. When things are going well for your company, and your performance reviews are good, it may seem extremely unlikely that your job could be at risk in the near future.

It is easy to forget all the ways that could change: your company could be acquired, your boss could leave and be replaced by someone who doesn't appreciate your work as well, your industry could change to the disadvantage of your company, leading to cutbacks, the economy can deteriorate, leading to a drop in demand for your company's products.

If you can face up to the true risks inherent in any employment position, it helps you plan your personal finances in a way that will protect you in the event of a job loss.

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