Talking Shop: Protect yourself when your job is on the line

Put priorities over OS preference

Question: The organization I work for recently announced it was outsourcing the IT department. The outsourcer has told me it will maintain my current status and position for the next six months. During this period, it will evaluate my work, my skills, and my experience. If it likes me, it will keep me on here or at another company.

My experience is in Novell, not Windows, which is what the IT director here wants us to adopt as quickly as possible. I have the skills for Windows, but my resistance to it here has given me something of a reputation as being negative. I also don't know to whom I may end up reporting under the outsourcing management. It may be the same management people and colleagues who view me as more of an obstacle to their grand scheme than a contributor.

I have a good faith offer for a position with a different company that can benefit from my skill set and knowledge, not to mention my passion for what I know about. The only problem is that the company is currently under a hiring freeze. I have been assured that once the freeze is over, I will receive a good offer.

Should I stay or go, hoping to get the offer from the other company?

Answer: It doesn't sound as though you're happy with the situation you are facing, but if you leave, you will be totally dependent upon this other company coming through with its offer. Since you don't have any idea when that company will be in a position to hire you or whether the offer will be suitable, the most prudent decision would be to stay where you are—for now.

During the next few months, your major focus should be on buying yourself some time to allow the other offer to come through, while you also prepare yourself to leave the company. You need to update your resume and start looking for a few offers from companies that can take you on right away.

Sad to say, but that other offer might never come through. I can't tell you how many times I've heard about people who put all their faith in an offer like this one, only to be disappointed later. Situations and needs change, so when the freeze is over, the company might have changed its mind. If that happens, the person who made the tentative offer isn't about to call you up and rescind it. You'll probably just hear later that the freeze was lifted and that you won't be contacted.

Even if the company does come through with the offer, you will want to be in a strong position so that you can objectively evaluate its details. What the company considers a fair compensation and benefits package might not be enough for you. If you still have a job and are looking for another, you won't have to jump on one that is less than what you expected.

Protect your status
Assuming that you decide to stay put for the time being, you need to be sure that your current position remains acceptable after the IT department is outsourced. Protect yourself by carefully reading any contracts the company may ask you to sign. Since it has you in an awkward position—no compliance, no job—it may ask you to sign an agreement that gives them every option and you none.

Red flags will be restrictions on the kinds of companies you can work for after you leave, the ability to dismiss you for any reason even if your performance is good, and a salary reduction. If you find any of these stipulations, or any others that concern you, have a good employment lawyer review the agreement before you sign it. He or she might tell you that the agreement is unenforceable or that you should try to alter it.

If you sign the agreement, don't bet on having a full six months to find yourself another job. There is no guarantee that you'll be retained for the entire time, particularly if, as you envision, you end up working for people who don't like your approach. With any luck, everything will work out and you will have a better employment situation than you do now, but be prepared if it does not.

Learn all you can
You should also start keeping your opinions to yourself and make it a point to learn as much as possible about what's involved in making such a system transition. It can be difficult to treat a situation like yours as a learning experience, but it really is the best way to approach it. As you've already discovered, once the decision has been made, anyone who continues to criticize it won't be treated as a hero. That doesn't mean you can't keep comparing systems and asking questions, but do so quietly and much less frequently than you have been doing.

One more tip: Do some in-depth research on the outsourcing company that is about to move into your department. You can probably find out a lot about the company on the Web, particularly if it is a publicly held company. Check Hoovers or Forbes ASAP site, as well as any trade magazine sites that might cover the company.

You can also ask around on some IT bulletin boards (discreetly—and don't use your corporate e-mail account) for comments about the company. Your goal is to find out if it's reputable, lives up to its promises, and is financially stable. Comparing the performance of this company to its competitors will also help you get a sound perspective.

If all indicators say it's a fabulous company, you might want to approach management after it's taken over and quietly request a transfer to a Novell-friendly shop. If you find out that the company is not well run, you'll know how to assess their promises, and you'll have the impetus to get moving on that job search.

Got a career or job search question for Molly?
Career expert Molly Joss helps IT pros by answering job search questions and providing solutions to career dilemmas. If you've got a question for Molly, send it in!


Editor's Picks

Free Newsletters, In your Inbox