IT Employment

Talking smack about former employers not advisable

Toni Bowers cautions those who leave their jobs (willingly or otherwise) to be careful about those farewell messages they leave behind.

There's a scene in the movie Broadcast News, between an employee who has just been laid off and the guy doing the laying off. The manager, dripping with insincerity, asks if there is anything he can do. The employee replies, "Well, I certainly hope you'll die soon."

Although that makes for some good entertainment in a movie, it doesn't work as well in real life. For one thing, in most cases the person delivering the news of a layoff in person, is most likely not the person who made the decision. It may be hard to believe when you're on the receiving end of such news, but it's not very easy on the person who has to deliver it either.

Recently, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Dan Neil announced he was leaving the Los Angeles Times to go work for the Wall Street Journal. Here is the farewell message he sent to the newsroom on Feb. 11.

I will admit that that had to have been an enormously satisfying memo for Neil to write. But he's already landed a pretty impressive gig and doesn't have to worry about potential employers being concerned with his having a negative attitude (at least this time around). He's also fortunate that he is a rather high-profile person in possession of a Pulitzer.

But someone without those characteristics -- which would be most of us, I'm guessing -- should be more concerned with leaving a company on a bad note, especially that publicly. It really is a small world. (My husband and I once went on vacation to Florida and, while there, struck up a conversation with a couple who lived just down the street from us and knew many of the people we knew, though we didn't know each other at all.)

Even if you mention something derogatory about a former co-worker or boss in what you consider the relative safe territory of Facebook, you're taking a big chance. Keep in mind the theory of seven degrees of separation, which is the idea that, if a person is one step away from each person they know and two steps away from each person who is known by one of the people they know, then everyone is at most six steps away from any other person on Earth.

Spouting off negatively about someone you worked for might feel good for a short time but the repercussions could dog you forever.

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About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

34 comments
revlarry
revlarry

While I am definitely not knocking the concept of professionalism, it can be very difficult to describe or explain a situation in which you have been mistreated by an employer and taken advantage of for years, without appearing inappropriately negative or having to fabricate some false story with a happy ending to avoid discussing something negative that wasn't your fault in the first place. Of course it's natural for an interviewer to be wary of a candidate who seems like they might have a chip on their shoulder. and sure it is more encouraging to speak to someone who has a positive story to tell about something they overcame. But on those occasion when the world didn't work like that, just what are you supposed to say? I wouldn't pretend to blame myself over something that I knew wasn't deserved, but to avoid the topic completely might seem to leave unexplained a period of what could be perceived as career stagnation on a resume.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

And it's neither very professional so as far as I'm concerned it's not happening. Though to be perfectly honest I have walked away from more positions than I care to think about or remember and have never been fired though I'll bet sometimes I've got in first. :D Though one particularly stupid employer fired me immediately when I handed in my resignation and didn't want me to work out the Required Time. I wasn't overly concerned because that meant a Months Pay in Lieu of Notice coming may way. ;) But if people didn't realize that the person giving the Not So Good News isn't the decision maker they are living in Ga Ga Land. Unless any worker goes way out of their way to cause problems the Immediate Manager of them isn't going to be the one in most cases asking for them to be terminated. That decision comes from much higher up in an effort to cut costs and in no way is concerned about how that department actually runs. After all it's much cheaper to get rid of the people doing the productive work than it is to fire one of the Board who are effectively Parasites on the Business as they only consume resources and produce nothing to wards the profitability of the business. :0 Col

wlportwashington
wlportwashington

While in might not be advisable not to "Talk Smack" about your former employer, there is nothing that says that they can't talk smack about you. And belive me, they do. Oh you can try and sue, but that will get you no where. No attorney will take a case like that especially since it is all verbal.

dwekisl
dwekisl

Absolutely s/w companies follow the great great tradition of Ass Licking one another!

Wild Card
Wild Card

But when my current employer asked my why I left my former, I told the truth. Some of it involved bashing, but it was necessary. I was supposed to be transferred to the IT dept at my former job. I kept getting the runaround and they offered me a management position to shut me up. I never accepted or declined the position. I just went out and started looking for another job. I was going to start working for a local ISP. I had gone through three rounds of interviews and they just wanted to contact my employer and negotiate a salary and I was in. A week later I was "laid off" because of budget cuts and the ISP will not even answer my calls. I finally get told that the position is no longer available, but I know someone that works there and he tells me that no one has been hired yet. Both my former company and the ISP are shady, underhanded, no good, doubledealing, backstabbing worms. The only reason I don't name them here, is that this is my last bastion of anonymity and I want to keep it that way.

TheProfessorDan
TheProfessorDan

Though we may not see it this way at the time, what do we actually gain from trashing a former employer? When you sit down and think about it, nothing. I know there are those that argue that it will make you feel better, it will provide you some sense of satisifaction but to be honest, in the real world that is useless. On the flip side, the negatives can be huge. It's career Russian roulette. Yeah more than likely you will be fine but when you hit the chamber with the bullett.....

aeiyor
aeiyor

Thanks for the posting on the article. I understand a lot of the mentality with how it is relatively easy to post your thoughts and share your mind. As we all do with BLOG's and articles where we can put in our respective $0.02 worth. However, there's a thing that most do not take into consideration is how their words can resonate into the ethers and bring about consequences that were never intended. Like a practical joke gone bad. I'm not that's entirely innocent. I've sometimes given my tid bits of how irrate or discontent I am at certain places in the past. However, I also point out that I appreciated the things I achieved, received or got noted for. I also believe its good to bring out or speak about the good that people you work with or for have done or brought forth. Too often, it's very easy and quick for us to go into the bad or difficulties we have had with people or about people. There's an importance in acknowledging the positive things that have come about because you were in whatever situation or job or career path you were in. There are some things I regret but I also come forward with them to the people that matter. And there's a lot that I am glad and satisfied about that involved interactions with myself and others. In general, courtesy, common sense and consideration go a long way. And ultimately, this too shall pass. Sincerely, D.

highlander718
highlander718

he actually expresses his love and gratitude for the LAT and his colleagues (including supervisors). His grudge is with some remote owners and it seems to me like most of his colleagues would agree with him. I don't think the owners get to do direct hiring in this case so I would say he is pretty safe. Otherwise I agree, better not do it.

Englebert
Englebert

How does a person win a Pulitzer Prize award for journalism when the best he can do to express himself is by using a 4-letter expletive ?

ExecQuest
ExecQuest

This is particularly "deadly" in an interview with a potential new employer. Regardless of how difficult a separation you had from your previous company you must leave it at the door before sitting in front of an interviewer.

NotSoChiGuy
NotSoChiGuy

...it is fairly well known that Sam Zell is a grade A jagbag. If someone were to interview one of his former employees, and hear something glowing, you'd have to wonder about their integrity! ;) Overall, though, the point is valid for those of us that work in the 'real world' (I don't count media, entertainment, fashion or sports as being a part of that). Asides from looking bitter, you can never tell who sits next to each other at charity board meetings; or works out next to each other at the latest froofy sports club.

santeewelding
santeewelding

Who got smack? (There are only two ways in my life I have heard or used that word. This ain't either.)

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Someone who doesn't agree with your reasoning won't employ you? Someone who thinks you might point out there errors in turn won't employ you? Someone is that much of a wimp they can't face the prospect of criticism? A question. Why would you want to be employed by someone like that? Any one who considers facebook 'relatively safe', is too stupid to employ. If you don't want someone to hear what you have to say, don't say it.

DMambo
DMambo

With everyone's on-line life, deniability is a thing of the past. We're way past the stage of just hollaring at your boss on the way out. Now the evidence is there for everyone to see. Wether it's blasting your employer on facebook or getting into a "don't tase me bro" situation for all to see on YouTube, it's staring the world in the face. I don't believe that anyone just "thinks" anything anymore. We all seem to be driven to post our every thought. (Kind of like I'm doing now!)

LCH-IT
LCH-IT

The only thing that moves faster than the speed of light is gossip.

jkameleon
jkameleon

When management of dysfunctional organization looks for somebody to blame, the laid off folks are most suitable to point finger at. They can't defend themselves, and blaming them makes management look wise, like "It's all Ted's fault, oh my beloved leader. It was very wise that you laid him off, he left a total mess behind!" And, once repeated long enough, such crap eventually finds its way into the world.

scheherez
scheherez

That is where karma comes in. Keep making enough mistakes, and you eventually fall down. That goes for everyone. Me, you, him, her, it...(the dog!) We all do it. We pay for it later on, too. I've seen it happen.

Ed Woychowsky
Ed Woychowsky

My response was that it was in the newspaper, which made it simple.

Jessie
Jessie

Not being a Pulitzer Prize winner myself, but generally well-educated and well-spoken, I honestly cannot think of another word or phrase that gets quite the same emphatic message across. I'm rather fond of the "F" word and it's not because my vocabulary is in any way lacking. There simply is nothing in the English language to rival the power of that one word.

Ron K.
Ron K.

You're 'above' that word? I thought it added powerful emphasis, about what I would EXPECT from a Pulitzer prize winner. When I read something I want it to move me.

MikeG3b
MikeG3b

I wonder how a Pulitzer Prize winner has such a limited vocabulary that he resorts to cuss words? You'd think the goodbye email is the perfect time for really clever kiss-offs, put downs, whatever. His reliance on gutter language doesn't impress me in the least. Maybe the PP was a fluke and his true colors show in that email. You'll notice the editor who posted the message didn't add any commentary. It seems to me that not everyone agrees with the sentiments he expressed in the message.

ExecQuest
ExecQuest

I understand your point but in an interview when you are there to sell yourself to the new potential employer spending time bashing, rehashing, and dashing, your old boss, company, employer, or otherwise is a waste of your time and the interviewer and more importantly takes away from your desirability as a candidate. I do agree that you should only work for companies that are open to suggestions, criticism, and change through constructive dialog, but companies want to hire positive, motivated, people, who can handle tough situations and not dwell on them but learn and move forward. Again, that IMHO and $3 will get you a small at Starbucks.

dcavanaugh
dcavanaugh

Reputations are worth more than you think. The risk is that your name will ONLY be associated with confrontation, argument, disagreement, etc. What is the value in proving you are right and they are wrong? If your career is a product, how does this fit into your marketing plan? The things you say in the heat of the moment are not necessarily the impressions you want to leave in peoples' minds forever. And web postings are effectively "forever" -- see the Internet Wayback Machine for more information. Trash talking and revenge is an expenditure of time and effort. I would rather work towards positive results.

scheherez
scheherez

Ummm...gossip can go even when you DON'T do anything.

TheProfessorDan
TheProfessorDan

for everything and that was the wrong time and place to use the F word. I agree with the rest of the posts.

MikeG3b
MikeG3b

The trick is not sounding as though you're 10 by using it.

santeewelding
santeewelding

For appending such an agreeable post to mine.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Trying to explain why you are looking for a new boss without saying your old one was a complete arse, is a necessary skill. If I post in here about some huge screw up a previous employer made, and it is recognised, tough. You can't learn from your mistakes if you won't admit you made them.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Are they negative is the question? Can't but feel you are more worried about your rep than mine Mr Manager sir.... I tend to be fairly incoherent in the heat of the moment, give me time to think, and I can demolish people. As for marketing myself, I've been in employment since June 81. Never sacked, never made redundant, all terminations, either at the end of contract, or voluntary on my part. Despite having an obnoxious habit of telling the truth, I happen to be very good at my job. I don't go out of my way to rub people's noses in it, but if they repeatedly make a mess, house training get's brutal. Employers with brains and spines don't have a problem with this. The others, who gives a crap?

Ron K.
Ron K.

You telling some of the service men and women I've met that they sound like ten year olds when they swear.

MikeG3b
MikeG3b

I said "BY using it", not "WHEN using it". An adult using swear words almost always ends up sounding like a 10-year old throwing a tantrum. But, hey -- it's your career. Do as you wish.

Jessie
Jessie

I shall endeavor to refrain from using my little girl voice the next time I have an opportunity to tell someone to F#$% off. :D

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