I read your columns, but I still struggle to take your advice.
I left my job in December because they cut my hours.
My boss’s boss reached out to me in January and asked me if I wanted him to introduce me to a guy he knows who has a company here in town.
I said, sure! I was flattered. I got a call from the guy who owns the company, “Martin,” the next day.
Martin wanted to have coffee and talk about his need for a new project manager in his company.
We had coffee. It was a great meeting. We were at the coffee shop for two hours. When we left the coffee shop, Martin said, “Let’s try to put something together next week.”
I sent Martin a thank-you email message right away. Three days later, I heard from his admin “Becky.” She asked me to come to the office the following day. I did.
That was a three-hour meeting with Martin and two of his Project Managers. It was another great meeting. I asked Martin, “Is this a full-time position, or a contract?” and Martin said they weren’t sure yet.
A week went by. I heard from Becky. They said they wanted me to come in and work for half a day. I wrote back to ask, “How does that work in terms of your payroll?”
Becky said, “I don’t know. Just come in on Friday and we’ll figure it out.”
I did. I worked a half day last Friday. There was a planning meeting and I sat in on that, I asked good questions and everybody seemed to be glad I was there.
Around 10:30 in the morning I asked Becky, “How will I get paid for today’s work?” She said, “Let me find out.” She disappeared. After 45 minutes she came back and said, “We’ll pay you for this half day once you’re on the payroll.”
That was two weeks ago. I haven’t heard a word from the company since then.
I’ve left email and voicemail messages. I just got a voicemail message ten minutes ago from Becky. She said they want me to come back next week and work on a “small project.” When will these people hire me? Or are they just stringing me along? What should I do?
Also, Liz, what steps did I miss? I feel that I should have been more assertive, but how?
When Becky said she wasn’t sure how you would get paid for your half day of work on Friday, your next step was to ask her to figure that out and get back to you (in writing).
You can’t agree to take a consulting engagement before you’ve settled on the business terms.
You cannot agree to work for free again and let them pay you “once you’re on the payroll.” What if you never get on the payroll?
Now you have a new opportunity to straighten things out. You can call Martin directly, and tell him that you were happy to jump in two weeks ago and participate in the planning meeting. Tell him that you’re looking forward to firming things up so you can come back again next week.
You cannot go back in there without a job offer or a legal contract. Right now, you are working for free. Don’t dig an even deeper hole for yourself (and lower your perceived value) by working for free again!
Here are 10 things never, ever to do for free:
1. Sit in a staff meeting or show up at work like a person who is employed by the company. If they want you to do that, they can either hire you onto the payroll or hire you as a one-day or half-day consultant at an agreed-upon rate.
2. Create a marketing plan, website copy or any other type of deliverable just because you’re a nice person. I understand that you may have to donate some work time to let them see how smart you are. Limit that donation to one hour of your time. No marketing plan ever took just an hour to write!
3. Interview candidates or sit in on interviews.
4. Visit clients or prospective clients, work the booth at a trade show or participate in a virtual client meeting.
5. Travel on behalf of the company.
6. Develop a training program, Power Point presentation (beyond the one-hour limit) or otherwise teach what you know. They may never hire you or anyone else. They may schedule a whole week of dog-and-pony shows just to get free ideas from job candidates.
7. Interview more than three times.
8. Solve the company’s biggest problem in detail. If they ask you do this, tell them, “I’d love to dive into that project if you’re ready to formalize our relationship with an offer letter or consulting agreement.” Tell them how you would step into the project — not what your conclusions are likely to be.
9. Give up your personal contacts.
10. Take phone calls from your hiring manager or others in the company who simply want to pick your brain. Politely guide them back to the topic at hand, which is the current job opening they are interviewing you for (and the status of your candidacy).
Here’s a script to guide you:
You: Malinda Smith!
Them: Hi, Malinda! This is Greg from Itchy Systems. We met last week. I wanted to talk with you for just a minute about your thoughts on a client issue, if you have a second.
You: Hi, Greg! That sounds great. Listen, where are we in the recruiting pipeline? I’ve lost track. Is there an offer letter on its way to me? I’d love to help you, of course. If we’re coworkers, then we’re in great shape.
Them: I, uh, umm, I don’t know. I think you still have to meet with a few more people here.
You: Oh, OK — thanks for that info! That sounds good. I’ll wait to hear from HR in that case. Maybe you and I can talk once that’s all settled.
Them: I just need a little of your time now —
You: I understand Greg and I’d love to talk, but it’s not appropriate — I don’t work for the company yet. Maybe there are wires crossed somewhere or the process is just winding its way through. If you want to find out and have somebody contact me, I could even call you back once everything is official.
Them: Er — OK.
Nobody ever got a great job by hoping against hope that the company would do the right thing while keeping their mouth shut and tolerating every type of disrespect thrown at them.
The only way you will clarify whether they really need you or whether they’re just taking advantage of you is to call them on it. Set a boundary. You are a professional. It’s time to speak up!
Mother Nature desperately wants you to learn this lesson now. You’re ready for it. Go ahead and take the next step!
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I was a Fortune 500 HR SVP for 10 million years, but I was an opera singer before I ever heard the term HR. The higher I got in the corporate world, the more operatic the action became. I started writing about the workplace for the Chicago Sun-Times in 1997. Now I write for LinkedIn and Forbes.com and lead the worldwide Human Workplace movement to reinvent work for people. My book Reinvention Roadmap: Break the Rules to Get the Job You Want and Career You Deserve is here: amzn.to/2gK7BR7