JOBSEARCH: Prepare Three Envelopes


Remember the old joke?

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A newly-hired top executive for a major company is just settling into his new office when he is visited by the form chief, who had been fired. The displaced executive appears friendly, shakes his hand, and says, “Look, if things get really bad for you, I have something that may help.” And he handed the new executive three envelopes. They parted amicably, the new executive quickly dismissing departing executive’s visit as a result of the shock of his situation. The three envelopes he tossed into the bottom drawer of his desk. Six months later, things were in crisis for the new executive. He was worried, and did not know where to turn or whom to call. Then he remembered the envelopes. He opened the bottom drawer, and took out the first envelope. Inside there was one sheet of paper with a single sentence: “Blame your predecessor.” What a great idea! He followed this advice, and things went very smoothly again. About 6 months later there was another crisis. The new executive again was desperate, when he remembered the envelopes. He reached into the bottom drawer and took out the second envelope. The page inside said, “Reorganize.” So the executive completely reorganized the corporation, and things were going quite well again. About 6 months after reorganizing, things began to fall apart. After employing the best consultants and trying everything he could imagine, things were still getting worse. Then he remembered the third letter. He was sure it would save him. He tore it open, and read the message inside. It said, “Make three envelopes.”

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To my fellow abused corporate “employees”:

May I give you some advice? Painfully learned. From before the time you “get” the job, you must be aware that it will end. Maybe badly. So, my advice is to prepare, from before you start, for it to end badly.

You know of all the hurdles getting in and you need to know all the hurdles in getting your value out. Here are my thoughts:

(1) You must have at home all the things you will need for your “employment” lawyer to review when you bring your claim to him. (And, you will. When your future employer hands you that severance agreement to sign and you feel you’ve been screwed, tattoed, and not even give a t-shirt! You’ll be visiting a very expensive lawyer wnating him to punish that employer.) Carve out a dedicated space for all the material you’ll have to collect.

(2) Every communication from your employer should be captured and catalogued. An index is essential. That’s the initial offer letter, performance appraisals, copies of checks, expense reports, and the final severance offer.

(3) Like the sneaky bastards they are, there will be a lot of stuff that magically doesn’t get put on paper. That extra week of vacation, concessions, comp time, over time, consideration for being on call 24×7, yada, yada! Oral agreements are worth the paper that they are printed on. You must get in the habit of documenting everything. You don’t know what will be that one fact that could weigh in your favor.

(4) You must be the “chronicaler” of all personnel actions. Keep a “desk book” (i.e., that blank book that has one page per day) of every thing that heppens to your co-workers. Layoffs? You need to itemize every name, age, and anything else you can think of. Capture all org charts. No org charts? Make your own. Same for promotions, demotions, laterals, and transfers. You have to be your own HR department!

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