I sat facing my potential new boss and noticed that he had a strangely unsettling smile. Like a elderly but boyish Uncle trying too hard to be liked. He was dressed in a tweed suit and exuded the air of a country gent. He had brought in a colleague from another office to help him with the interview. Short and serious and clearly suspicious of me. This man was more like me insofar at least that he had a similar background and did a similar job to the one I had been headhunted for.
Let’s call them Rupert and Dave to get the measure of their respective upper and middle Class positions. Yes, class distinctions in England definitely still exist!
The organisation was a medium sized, English property agent of Partners and had all the hallmarks of an old established firm. I was going to be a salaried Partner in charge of a specialist team.
Except I wasn’t. Three months later I started work and within an hour of arriving I was called into Rupert’s office. With exquisite manners and a smattering of don’t worry smiles, I was effectively told that the job I had come to start that morning no longer existed.
Within an hour I had been demoted. That surely must hold some kind of world record!
What had happened was that whilst I was serving out my three months notice, they had begun negotiations to take over another small firm. The negotiations were completed the day before I arrived and part of the deal was that the ex owner of the other firm was given my job!
I was shafted. Employment lawyers I spoke to all told me that I had no reasonable chance of successfully suing the firm. I had no job to return to. I couldn’t afford to just leave that day. All I could do was take it in the arse and smile.
The thing is, my instincts at the beginning were telling me that something was wrong and I should have left the interview saying thanks but no thanks. I’ve looked at my day book notes of that interview and reviewed my thoughts. I think the signs that something was wrong were obvious with the benefit of hindsight.
- Uncle Rupert spoke very highly of my abilities, yet he wasn’t a specialist in my field so couldn’t know how good I was.
- He never spoke of what the work actually entailed but told me a lot about the failings of the team and that he wanted me to help.
- As far as I could tell, the sub-department didn’t have many reliable or high earning clients and not a great turnover.
- Dave was shifty and seemed reluctant to be there.
However, my ego was being polished, a very large salary uplift was being offered including a golden hello.
I should have walked away.
In the end I decided to play along and squeezed two years of exceptional salary for doing bugger all and contributing precisely zero to the firms profits. Then when I felt I’d had enough, I left.
The thing is, Rupert knew he didn’t need me within days of my interview. Why the hell he let the charade continue is beyond me.
Moral. Trust your instincts.