Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Wonderful World of Onboarding, or "Hey, do you remember the password for the build machine?"

You are hired new. Or, you're hiring someone new. New hires are expected to hit the ground running, which is fine as long as the have the tools for their run.

As a manager, you're job is to have those tools--at least as much as you can--ready and waiting for them for day one. As a person being hired (perhaps being hired as a manager), your job is to acquire those tools as quickly as possible without being a pain in some new co-workers tuckus while you do it.

Both cases require you to think like you are the person being onboarded, as you want to look at the experience from the perspective of the person who needs the tools (and, of course, if you are that person, all the better perspective).

1) How are you going to communicate?

This question encompasses process, technology, and knowledge that you need to acquire quickly in order to succeed: how to know who knows what and when and what is okay to ask them.

Let's start with technology:
o You'll need a working phone that allows you to dial internally, externally, and allows you to set up and access voicemail.
o You'll need email access (sending and receiving).
o Does the team use Instant Messaging to communicate? This needs to be set up for you, too.
o Is there a common share where documents, useful urls, etc. are kept? Maybe a SharePoint? Access to this share/SharePoint needs to be made available to you.
o Timekeeping systems, are they in use? Are you set up to access? Do you know how to use them?
o Tech to do your job; this varies depending on your job. Do you need bug database access? Source control access? Access to the build machine? Access to the FTP servers? Access to download the proprietary software used to to build the code? Access to the web browser software to manage project management tasks? Automated tools access?

o You need to be invited to all the regular meetings: daily, weekly, team, etc. Those have to get on your calendar somehow. It does help if you have access to your calendar.
o Reporting: is there a reporting process on progress that needs to be made verbally (say in a daily meeting or weekly 1:1) or in a written form once or twice (or more) per week? Is there a format you need to learn/have access to?
o Team processes, rules, and mores: you need to know how the team does specific things so you can do no harm when starting to do your job. So, for example, is the normal method of defining variables camel case? Do tasks get entered under user stories in the project management tool? Is the expected results and actual results section of the bug report before the body of the reproducible steps? When do you stop arguing your point of view in the group (does quitting early lose you respect but arguing too long cause you to be ignored)? Does the team wander out to lunch together every day, and you should probably go at least once a week or every other week so they know you feel like you're part of the team, or is the lunch imposed by higher ups who think its a great idea but no one ever goes?

o Tech to do you work: who knows what that is, how to help get you set up, and who can troubleshoot with you when things go horribly wrong (tm)?
o Communication of social rules, mores and already-made-technical decisions: who is going to advise you on how the team writes code, what to avoid in the deli, and the team definition between a bug and a feature request?
o When those two point people--tech and communication--aren't available, who are the fall back folks?
o Who might you should get friendly with outside your team? I generally recommend making nice with admins and executive assistants, because, a) they tend to be extremely nice people or they don't last long in their jobs and b) they know EVERYTHING.

Finally, how do you communicate these meaningful pieces of information?

As the manager, when the employee comes in, write up an email with this data in it while having your first 1:1. Include who can help, and other friendly faces in the organization. Pre-load the links and usernames and passwords, where possible, so you can leave time open for answering questions about the materials and the people.

As an employee, when you first come in, see to your basics first: phone and email. Make friends with the people who sit near to you (but try not to annoy them). Schedule a meeting with your boss and set the agenda to cover these basic items. While waiting for that meeting, go visit the front desk and chat with the admin about where supplies are and ask him/her how they are doing.

Once you as an employee have the basic information, make a folder for it on your computer and one on your email, and start putting every new thing, every new url, ever new password into both places.

As a manager, work with the team to arrange for a single location that connects to all the necessary things, so that, in the future, the email you write with the employee is considerably shorter, because he or she can go to this location and delve into the depths for all the information they may wish to know.

Also, as the manager, try to arrange for a lunch with the team either the first day or sometime in the first week. Give people a chance to talk to the new guy and, if your budget allows, pay for the lunch so people will actually COME. Too many people see new folks as a potential problem or burden; while one free lunch is unlikely to undue all that potential worry, it's a good start to a soft step with a new person.

If you are new and no lunch has been set up, ask people to lunch with you. You're going to have to talk to them sometime, and doing it when you can shove food in your mouth rather than answer, immediately, an awkward question puts the odds in your favor of making a better initial impression...just as long as you aren't constantly shoveling food. Make sure to ask about other people, make occasional eye contact, and really listen; occasionally repeat back what you've heard so they know you are listening to them. The first doors of trust open if people think you are actually paying attention to them, and the good kind (not the stalker kind).

Onboarding is never an easy time--the whole team is disrupted, and of course, the new guy is, too. But it doesn't have to be very long or very bad, and it can certainly help set the stage for a new, successful team member and a stronger overall team.

What to do when bringing a new person on board/into the group. --tech --communication --team introduction --etc.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Leaving a Gig Professionally, Rather than Petulantly, Part 3: Someone's leaving, All the Stuff The Boss Probably Ought to Do

Whether an employee has elected to leave you for another opportunity, you are forced to lay them off for various reasons, or you are firing someone for cause, employees leave you and your team from time to time.

First, go to Human Resources. I'm a great source for a ton of managerial concepts and theories, but they are the experts at your place of business about legal requirements. Get things straight, as they say, from the horse's mouth about what must be done. The items listed here are just available to help you remember things and keep track of them.

1) How are they going?

a) Under their own power. If they've accepted another job opportunity, you have two options. One, proceed as you would with any employee leaving your team or two, attempt to persuade them to stay.

Rarely are you going to get them to stay by force of your personality alone; even if they agree to you in your office, they may be just afraid of you and still on their way out. No, if you're going to try to persuade someone who has gone through the resume submittal process and at least two interviews and finally accepted a job offer elsewhere, you need to bring a little more to the table than more of the same that caused them to submit that first resume. For that you'll need to talk to your boss and to human resources; can you get them extra vacation days? A bump in salary? A reduction in duties? More work from home? What is on the table for you to offer AND does your boss and Human Resources agree its worth the time and money to offer it?

If your boss and HR aren't feeling it, no harm, no foul, wish them luck and work with them as they leave. If, however, you do get support, then schedule a meeting with that individual and ask them about their experiences in the current job. Is there something causing them to leave? Is there something in the new job drawing them away? Open ended questions like "What would it take to keep you here" are very pressuring and hard to answer. You need specific questions that give you specific answers, so you can lead into what you've been allotted to give them in order to help them make the choice to stay. Note, I said "make the choice to stay." This is not about bullying them, or making them feel guilty, its about helping them weigh what is best for them professionally, because that's the decision that caused them to choose to try to leave your organization. Making it about you, or the organization isolates them from the conversation, makes them feel unimportant, and pretty much kills your chances of a successful renegotiation.

Keep in mind, even if you do it all right, there are reasons that many employees will not share with you, about why they are going. You may never know what the true problem is in order to help fix it. Or, in some cases, you might, but it might be beyond your power to fix. It's not a failing on your part as a manager, these things sometimes happen. Just do the best you can, be on their side, and let them know your door is always open and you're a phone call away in case they need anything. You might not get them back to the job where you're working now, but that kind of friendly support might make it easier when you're pulling together a dream team of individuals at another job, or, as this job under different circumstances.

If they are still leaving despite your best efforts, you need to schedule when their permissions and access will be revoked from the system.

Let's talk about permissions for a moment. When you first start working at a company, you're given access to email, maybe a share drive, the network so you can log into your computer...and then a variety of other potential accesses are given over time so you can check in code, or modify a SharePoint portal, etc. All of these are ways for users to access company resources and make modifications and/or send information for and from the company.

When someone is leaving the company, you will need to cancel those permissions in an appropriate manner to reduce their liability regarding company security and to protect company security. Angry former employees who still have master passwords can do a lot of damage to a company, and former employees who aren't angry but don't have particularly clever passwords can be liable for data lost by thieves who might guess those passwords.

Best to protect everyone and schedule with your Information Services/Operations department when their privileges will be removed, and all passwords they knew that must be in use should be changed (sometimes you can't say, take down a vital database, but you can change the password). It's best, for employees leaving under their own power, to know when their passwords won't work anymore/permissions are revoked, so they can complete their work and any other obligations to your company before they go.

Sometimes these permissions have physical manifestations--such as a hardware pass key to make sure that users are allowed on an internal system or a badge that allows them to enter the building. You can remotely deactivate both devices, but its also a good idea to get the company hardware back from them so that it can be used by others and so that there are fewer risks that someone who wants to break into your network or building doesn't have the first building block to do so. Physical manifestations also include computers, monitors, peripherals, etc. Letting employees walk away with company resources costs the company money (and might personally cost you if the company decides that you were not diligent in retrieving those resources).

So, in the talk with the employee about their leaving, set up an appointment to discuss it, or discuss it then, but schedule a time to end permissions, change passwords and hand in all the company resources.

b) Not under their own power. You have lost a headcount. Your division is being dismantled and there aren't spots for everyone on the team in other places. One of your employees was unable to make his obligations under an improvement plan and all other options have been tried or you are in one of those rare situations where an employee must be terminated immediately with indisputable proof of a situation so bad they cannot continue to work here.

None of those is fun, by the way. As we'll explore in a future blog post about handling "Great Events" such as an explosive firing or a series of layoffs, there's a lot to do for the survivors of the event; calming, reassuring, securing their position (even if its not entirely secure). This is to discuss what to do for the person who is not surviving this.

As noted in a movie recently, "Would you rather be shot in the head, once, clean, or shot in the chest multiple times and bleed to death?" Appropriately, the person being asked said "Are those my only choices?" The answer, when removing someone from your employ, is yes. You can try to break it to them gently and slowly, which I believe is really more like shooting them in the torso and watching them bleed to death, or shoot them in the head with a gentle, firm, and quick termination. Of course, no matter how upset you get with someone, you really shouldn't shoot them, literally, at all, no matter how badly you want to.

It's important to know what you're going to say before you talk to them privately--as noted above, talking to HR about what you want to say can help you stay within the realm of legal things that are unlikely to leave you open to a lawsuit.

Next, you need to know when they are leaving--as soon as they leave your office are they going to be escorted out? Will they be allowed to pack up their things and clean out their personal items from their computer? Will it be another week before their project is over and they're being asked to stick it out until then?

Human Resources can help you make the decision about when they are leaving. A general rule of thumb is, if they are likely to make a scene and/or react very negatively, walk them straight out the door and handle getting their things to them later. I don't mean silently sobbing, I mean screaming, yelling and potentially damaging internal systems. Or getting very quiet and making you worried they might do something violent (or any other signs of potential violence). Even if you walk into the meeting with them thinking they can clean their desk and their computers before they go, and they give you some kind of sign that they might be dangerous or do harm to the company, skip your original plan and have them walked out. It's better to be safe than sorry, and, in addition to your obligation to the person you're terminating, you have an obligation to the people that remain that they will be safe and to the company that their data integrity will remain safe.

A brief note about safety and the workplace fits nicely here: if any employee on his or her way out for whatever reasons makes threats against you, other employees of the company, or the company in general, write down what they said and when they said it and who was present at the meeting. Caution them against threats and threatening behavior, as many people who are angry leap directly to the empty threat model to make themselves feel better. If anything happened after those threats, that person would have made him/herself a suspect, and they need to not dig that kind of a hole for themselves. Additionally, it can hurt their future prospects, from references here (at the company they are leaving) to a potential police arrest or report. This is not to be mentioned to them as a threat, but from the perspective of someone watching out for them; for example "I don't want you to get in trouble if something random you had nothing to do with happens after you've said what you're thinking in anger."

If you ever feel unsafe in a termination meeting, excuse yourself and get additional help. Company security, HR, whatever; they don't pay you to be a bouncer for the company. Try not to get other members of the team of the person being terminated involved; one, it might make them targets of his/her anger but two, its hard enough being a survivor when someone is let go, its doubly hard if they have to witness someone they worked with every day and may have called a friend break down in a nasty and terrible way. Obviously, though, if choosing between safety and the mentality of the surviving team members, I'd go with safety. Just remember to think of everyone's safety and not just your own.

We'll talk more about what to do with a person who is leaving in just a sec, but to wrap up the safety thoughts: if someone has made threats, even if they were empty, "blowing off steam" comments, document everything and pass that on to HR as fast as you can. In the unlikely event that person does anything on their way out, or after they're gone, its safely in HR's court to handle, and no longer your responsibility and liability. You can even comment on the comments in your notes to HR about the person just seeming temporarily upset, and that they didn't seem to mean it, but report it; failing to do so and having that tiny percentage chance of something going wrong isn't worth it. No one should be hurt or scared in their work environment and as a manager, you have to take actions you may not want to take to protect them and the company.

So, if you are walking an employee about to be terminated straight out of the office, have their permissions canceled/passwords changed before you walk them into your office to be told. This may mean they are unexpectedly locked out of some systems and there are some awkward moments. But it's better to be safe than sorry (as noted above). If you are letting them collect their things and clear personal information from their computers, talk to IS and lock down their access to internal systems while allowing them access to email and their computer. It's up to you if you feel you can trust them not to take company property (intellectual property) and send it to themselves (or others), or if you want to hang around while they do it; I have rarely had a time where it wasn't better to hang out, help them pack, and hover while they clear things off. It creeps them out, and usually pisses them off, but it keeps you both covered against liability in case of issues with proprietary company materials getting into the wild.

If you have an employ working for a length of time before they leave, then you'll need to have the same talk with them that you did with those going out under their own power so they know when their permissions will end so that they can get what remains of their job done. I once experienced my boss's colleague turning off all my permissions when my upcoming layoff was announced a full week before I was supposed to go, rendering me unable to work for about three hours. I'm not opposed to them paying me to surf the net while they straighten such things out, but as a manager you probably should be opposed to people surfing the net instead of being able to get their jobs done. Details, I know.

2) What about the paperwork? No matter how they end up leaving your employ, there will be paperwork for employees. For those leaving under their own power, you'll need to do an exit interview and fill out appropriate paperwork, and get them copies of any papers they need from their files (such as visa forms or proof of insurance, etc.). You'll also need to clarify their address for their final check and how they'll choose to get it--auto deposit, picking it up, etc. For this, like any other professional paperwork at the office, you'll need to consult with HR to make sure everything is done according to the law and company policy.

For those not leaving under their own power, the same needs are present, but, depending on how they are leaving, the time during which to provide those materials might be somewhat compressed. Additionally, they need to know about unemployment options (if you are at liberty to discuss it with them--if your company knows it will contest an unemployment claim, you probably don't want to provide them materials on unemployment) and COBRA insurance, which covers folks who have lost their coverage when leaving a place of employment.

3) Did you dot your i's and cross your t's? After the paperwork is done and the person is out of the office, you need to meet with HR again just to make sure you got all the proper papers filled out and to discuss any potential issues; if the person said words like "kill you" or "sue you" (or any other threats as noted above) you'll need to pass that information on to them and your documentation of it, so they can get the security and/or lawyers warmed up, and to make final additions of the signed documents to their files on those employees. You always want to follow this last step, handing over responsibility for the terminated employee to HR, so that you do not have to do any additional work in this area; it reduces your liability and your workload to do this. Once you've met with them and talked it out and handed over papers, send a quick email summarizing that you've officially handed things over, and then quietly avoid dealing with any additional items around terminated employees by handing them to HR.

No one ever said management was glamorous. These are simple things, but they are things you need to know, to think about, to consider, and to protect yourself with.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Leaving a Gig Professionally, Rather than Petulantly, Part 2: You don't Initiate Leaving, But You're Leaving Anyway.

It happens, eventually, to everyone. You're working at your desk and your boss or the a human resources rep asks to see you in his or her office. You wander in, a small amount of dread in your mid section, and you discover that you are leaving the company.

In current times, you're usually being laid off (as "firing" is a lot easier to dispute in a court of law) and honestly, they may well be laying you off for legitimate reasons. Whatever the reason for the layoff, you're on your way out. It just depends on whether it's that very afternoon or you have been given some time to complete projects.

In some cases, you're being fired. You did something that the company prohibits, disapproves of, or otherwise has issue with for any number of reasons, or for none at all--many states are "at will" states, so you can be fired at will (just as you can leave at will). Note, most places have actual reasons in place for a "for cause" termination, so that they can be protected in case you decide to sue for unlawful termination. In this case, it's not a matter of how long you have to complete projects, that's not really an issue anymore. You're going from the meeting with HR or your boss out the door, and its a matter of whether they'll let you pack up your stuff or if they will do it for you.

No matter the reason you're suddenly not having a job anymore, it sucks. Even if you've been expecting it, even if you hate the job with a passion of a thousand fiery furnaces in hell, it sucks to have someone who is not you choose your fate, and choose it in an area that affects your life and livelihood so profoundly. Leaving a job hurts, but being removed from the job hurts more; you're always wondering what you did wrong, or, in some cases, not wondering at all and maybe feeling like a bad person.

I'll start with the good news: what people tell you when you are being terminated from a job (laid off or fired or whatever) is sanitized before you hear it. For the same reason you shouldn't lay into your boss or type up a letter about how much everyone sucks when you're choosing to leave a place (per last week's blog post), companies have to be very, very careful in what they tell you when you're leaving employment under their power and not your own. So no matter what they say, you're probably never going to know the exact reason that you were let go, and that means no future employer will ever know, either.

I recommend in the case of laying off or being fired you request an exit interview. During the interview, you are going to ask for tips and information about how to improve your job performance at your next position. You are going to not get angry and yell and scream. You will take each point and accept your flaws if you agree with their assessment, and make a counterpoint if you do not. This is not arguing for your job back, this is making a statement that, with what they've said, you're going to write down and you'll send it to them in an email when you get home as a summary to make sure you understood what you were told and so you have a written record, in case they opt to change the story later. You will not include your verbal agreement on the flaws that you did agree on, only that the flaws were mentioned, and you will include a neutral argument against the flaws and issues that you do not believe. Again, this is not to argue with them--the job is GONE. But to set the stage so that if they are called on a reference in the future, they are aware that you're the type that keeps records. They'll be more inclined not to tell an interviewer calling about your time working there anything negative (either directly or through tone) and keep it professional.

You'll also be able to take that same set of notes and use them when, inevitably, while interviewing, your interviewer asks why you left that job. You can explain that there were some differences of opinion which were squared away in the exit interview, and, if you must discuss specifics, keep it general in regards to what you've done to improve yourself since that time. Note, if in a future interview you fear that a company may say something bad about you, you often have the opportunity to check in the application "do not contact." If you can, do that. Obviously try not to do it for every employment opportunity you've had, but if you can keep these people from talking to the folks that fired you/laid you off for specific flaws, then you should.

If you cannot prevent them contacting this employer, then you should disclose the fact that you did not part with that particular company/boss on good terms; again, keep it general: "We had a difference of opinion; he was the boss, his opinion was what should count--as the boss he should get what he wants--and so I left. I worry that he or the company may not look favorably upon me after our last conversation."

Obviously, if you were laid off for budget reasons, because your division was terminated, because the company closed, or other reasons that have nothing to do with your performance, feel free to volunteer that information at the nearest opportunity.

But back to the office you're about to leave. If you were laid off and they gave you a week, two weeks, or a month to finish projects (as some companies do), treat it like giving your notice as noted in my previous article:

1) Try not to burn any bridges on the way out
2) Take all your stuff on the last day
3) Leave all their stuff (badges, etc.)

If you are leaving that very day, then you need to find out about disposition of your things--will you be able to pack them and take them to your car, will they pack them and you will wait, or will they pack them and you will collect them at a later date? Find out from your boss/HR person, and then comply with their wishes. If there is an item or two without which you cannot live, ask for that item and they will accommodate you. On days when you're being walked out of the building, the company REALLY doesn't want to make a scene, so they're likely to give into your needs.

And that's sort of the important part here: DON'T MAKE A SCENE. Making one could make you liable if other employees take actions detrimental to the company because of your leaving; ie: they follow you to a new company, protest and cost the company money in lost productivity, or a variety of other potential actions. As eager as you may be to see the company embarrassed and/or brought to its knees, this is not an 80's feel-good-summer-movie; it never works out that way, and in this litigious society, you could be unemployed and end up owing money to the company that made you unemployed.

Also, it's unprofessional. I know the last thing you're probably thinking about when you get laid off/fired is "how can I seem the most professional," but seriously: handling this type of thing with aplomb and professionalism is what will increase the chances of a good character reference, good professional reference, and/or change the answer the company might give when asked by another firm interested in hiring you "Would you hire this person again?" from a "No" to a "Yes." As much as we hate it, as much as its unfair, future jobs may contact this job and you want to increase your chances of that being as positive an experience as possible for the sake of getting employment in the future.

Now, if you feel you're being fired unfairly, STILL DON'T MAKE A SCENE. State it in your exit interview and your summary notes. Then I recommend talking to a lawyer to see what your options are. The more professional you appear and treat the situation, the more likely a future judge will reflect positively on your behavior.

Okay, you have your stuff, you're driving home, you've been fired or laid off. Now what?

Now you go directly to your computer. After you type up your notes and send out a summary, you go to the local state unemployment site and immediately, do not pass go, fill out your unemployment paperwork. Most states have a lead time (a week or two) and you want to wait as little time as possible for unemployment insurance to come in; some money is better than none at all.

Next, update your resume with the details of your last job skill set.

Now, take a break and mourn the loss of your job; have a nice dinner. Spend time with friends. Do something non-work related and non-work-finding related. Yes, things suck and might be dire, but your not in the right head space to sell yourself to other people--which is really what job hunting is about--so, take a little time, at least that very evening, and give yourself some time to relax, mourn, and heal.

Then start kicking the tires on the job market.

Note, in some rare cases, employers will challenge your right to unemployment benefits. In most states, to get them, you need sign off from your former place of business. If they opt not to provide that, or delay in doing it, you should check what your recourse is with your local state unemployment bureau. It could be a simple letter from the unemployment department, a mistake that got made and could easily be fixed, or actual reason on the part of your former employer to deny you (whether those reasons are legitimate or not). You have options. Your local state unemployment office can help point you at the right ones for you, if they cannot outright resolve the issue themselves with your employer.

Aside from dealing with the trauma and the need to get back into the saddle with a new job, keep in mind that losing a job is not a measure of your self worth. I have trouble with that myself; the economy sometimes just sucks. Other times, you have just a really bad boss. Other times, you have had an interesting learning experience. But it doesn't mean that you won't do better next time, or that you are a bad person. You're a person without a job, who will eventually, become a person with a job, and that's all that it means.

Next Week, the final installment in this series: Someone's leaving the job, All the Stuff You Probably Ought to Do as Their Boss.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Leaving a Gig Professionally, Rather than Petulantly, Part 1: You Initiate the Leaving

People change employment and/or lose employment every day. Most people know the basics:

1) Try to give two weeks notice
2) Try not to burn any bridges on the way out
3) Take all your stuff on the last day
4) Leave all their stuff (badges, etc.)

Let's go over what I actually mean by those basics.

1) Try to give two weeks notice. There are always going to be times when you cannot give two weeks of notice; you have a vacation planned or the new job is "get in here ASAP or don't get in at all" are reasons that commonly come up.

However, no matter how upset you are with the company you are leaving or excited to be going to the new job to which you are going, you usually give two weeks of notice to prove that a) you honor your commitments and b) give the company you are leaving time enough to sort out what happens because you are leaving.

Honoring your commitments is important to note, not just to maintain good relations with the job you are leaving (and subsequent references), but for the job to which you are going--sure, they want you as soon as they can get you oftentimes, but some part of them will keep track of what you're willing to do to your current employer in order to get into your next employer's good graces and will, eventually, do the math that they could end up as the current employer being screwed at some point in the future. That's not a good thought with which to start a new working relationship.

You may believe, by the way, that you will never do this again--the company you're leaving is toxic and horrible and deserves a short amount of time before you get out while the new company is noble and awesome. However, the old company started with some kind of awesome before, or you wouldn't have worked there at all. So no matter how toxic it feels, stick it out for suggested two weeks. You have, after all, only known the new company for five hours of interview time (or less) plus some email and random web searches; how much do you really know about how awesome they really are, other than they are not the current toxic place? They might not be worth shortening that expected time frame and causing friction with a potential employment reference in the future.

2) Try not to burn any bridges on the way out is one of the hardest things to do for some folks; its not that they are bad people, its just that the situation has become so problematic and been left for so long that its hard to stay amicable during the last days of employment.

You'll be tempted to tell your boss what you really think about (insert the blank). Or worse, send an email or a memo about things. It's common sense, but let me state for the record here: don't.

Almost all future employment forms ask for your boss's name. In most states, legally, your boss cannot say anything negative about you in those phone calls with a company calling to verify your employment--if the company verifying your employment (or anyone else) responded with negative things that were said about you to you, you could sue your boss and the company for defamation and/or slander. Since no one wants to be sued, typically the whole employment checking/reference checking thing is done very carefully. However, you aren't on that phone call and neither is your lawyer. The standard question most commonly asked when checking in with this type of reference (to avoid legal issues) is "Would you hire this person again?" and if your boss says "No," even if he cannot legally explain it and therefore, does not explain it, he has just kabashed your future prospects. In other instances, he or she could use tone of voice to convey their true thoughts about you telling them how much you hate that purple tie they wear every Thursday.

So, try not to piss off your boss any more than you already have by finding another job.

Next, DON'T PUT ANYTHING IN WRITING. Let's say that again: don't put any of your displeasure, unhappiness, feelings about work or whatever, in writing. Writing lives forever in an HR file. Companies can quote it when they're providing a reference, because its words you said, yourself--no risk of slander or defamation. Rant to your friends, write letters at home you tear up, but resist the urge to write things down that are wrong about the current environment and send them to your boss, HR, or any directly responsible parties.

But what, you may ask, about your exit interview? First of all, not all companies provide exit interviews, or, they are handled by your current, direct boss. In the case where something is so bad its possibly illegal or may cause other employees to quit the company, you may wish to request an exit interview with a person in Human Resources so you can communicate what's going on. But you rarely want to tell your boss directly unless you have an iron clad, tight relationship with him or her, and even then its best to wait and talk to HR.

Provided you have an exit interview, spend some time BEFORE the interview figuring out what you are going to say. To avoid burning bridges, you will remove all emotional language and treat it as just the facts: for example, "Kevin, my boss, is a super human being but cannot make his own meetings on time, usually on the scale of 1.5-2 full hours late, during which time the team is unproductive while we wait for him, because not waiting for him causes him to get upset with us and reflects on our regular reviews" rather than "Kevin, my boss, is always late. ALWAYS. He treats us like our time means nothing to him and we're here to just wait around for him. Once he rolls in, two hours late, and we're not there because we're actually getting work done, he threatens to write us up in our reviews for not making his meetings."

While I kissed up a bit in the first example--calling Kevin a "super human being"--I otherwise stated the facts of the case. In the second example, I complain about what Kevin has been doing as I try to explain what he's been doing; that erodes my credibility over the actual facts and paints me as a complainer/whiner rather than Kevin as a bad boss. Negative emotion injected into an exit interview recitation of issues and events affect your credibility and not the credibility of the person who you are responding to negatively. So keep it neutral, polite, to the point, just the facts, and be able to provide examples.

Prior to the exit interview, there's that two week window you have to work while everyone knows that you are leaving. I think of it as "Dead Man/Woman Walking" time. Basically, people avert their gaze, stop talking when you walk up, and/our plaster fake smiles on their faces while they ask pleasant, but expected questions about your next opportunity. It can get a little tiring, and as tempted as you might be to write out all the answers to the questions you keep getting asked and then hand the card to the next lucky questioner, control yourself. Be nice to everyone. Smile, even if they avert their eyes. Any one of these people could go to work at another place and pass on your resume if they think you're a decent person, should you ever need that sort of help in the future. Any one of these people could field the reference call about your work experience here. Best to keep it light, sociable, slightly regretful, but most of all, professional.

Finally, there's battling the clock. First, a lack of interest can be the problem: sometimes called "Short timer's Syndrome," there's this lack of urgency about things because in X number of days you'll never have to worry about that problem again. It might make you fail to deliver on your final deliverables, or otherwise be construed as a person not taking the job seriously. This is not the performance you want people at the job remembering about you (because, remember, you won't be here next week to remind them you're cool and get stuff done).

Second, there's an over interest in trying to get everything finished before you're gone and you cannot get it done anymore. This slavish loyalty to completing a project, helping your friends at this job, or just being loyal to the company can lead to you taking on too much work and not being able to complete it, causing people to remember poor performance on your part as you leave.

The trick is to walk the line closer to "less work" but still in the "getting work done" realm. Promise completion of projects that you know you can complete in less time than what is left, and then get any additional items you can get done, done, in the time after. So, for example, if I know that finishing the documentation on how to do all the items I know how to do will take a week, tops, I'll probably tell them it will take two weeks; when I finish, I'll take on additional small assignments until I go so that they feel like I really worked hard for them at the end--look at all the stuff she got done right before the end...rather than setting impossible expectations and having them be disappointed with your performance.

3) Take all your stuff on/by the last day. I should add, "and tidy your work area." No one wants to empty your filing cabinet of all the soy sauce packets you've collected in the last three years because you (rightly) realized you didn't need to take them with you. Plan out your move if you have a lot of stuff in your cube/office/on your desk, and make sure that the last load is gone on the last day. Don't try to arrange to come back later for more of it--it's just awkward and leaves things with the company and/or your manager feeling awkward; again, not the last emotion that you want to leave with them about how they feel about you prior to picking up the phone and responding to another company checking a reference.

4) Leave all their stuff (badges, etc.). Talk to your boss shortly after you announce leaving and set up a process by which to get work stuff into work. For example, the last day/time you will check in code to the repository, where you will drop off your badge, where you turn in your keys, etc. It's small stuff, but it leads to a lot of security issues if its not worked out, which may leave you liable for any security violations that happen after you leave (especially if you didn't do them, but your stuff--such as your badge--was used). Don't want to be sued for stealing company secrets your racing to get away from, so set this stuff up soon and follow the plan with your boss.

The four things seem pretty basic, but most people don't have a complete understanding of all the things going on under the hood. I'm not entirely sure I know everything about it--enough to be dangerous and share with you, I suppose.

Look out for the next article in this series, Part 2: You don't Initiate Leaving, But You're Leaving Anyway.