Reader 1: We hired an associate who, after only two months, informed me that she would be leaving in another three months for graduate school. I appreciate her informing me now so we can prepare a transition plan.
That said, as her manager, I believe she interviewed under false pretenses. Though we did not explicitly ask if she was applying for grad schools, we did ask about her future plans, and she never mentioned grad school during multiple rounds of interviews. We’ve invested significant time and resources in her, and she’ll depart just when we most need an associate in place. I wish her the best, but I think she’s fallen short as a professional.
What should I make of her decision, and how can I mitigate the possibility of this happening again?
Karla: Trying to avoid another dud hire is like trying to avoid getting your heart broken — harder, because you can’t just decide not to hire anyone. No matter what questions you ask, (1) candidates can lie and (2) life happens: illness, falling pianos, lottery tickets. It’s impossible — in some cases, illegal — to ask enough questions to cover all outcomes.
Working with a recruiter might help you weed out less dedicated candidates. You might also consider offering a signing bonus that must be repaid if the hire leaves before a set date. (To clarify, I don’t recommend the latter as a romantic strategy.) Or you can just write this off as one unlucky encounter, and try not to let it dominate future interactions.
Had the associate asked me, I would have advised her to say nothing of her alternative plans during the interview, in case they didn’t pan out. I also would have told her to strap a pillow to the seat of her pants before announcing her planned departure, in anticipation of landing on the sidewalk right after. You’ve been generous; other managers would have cut their losses and reached for the runner-up’s résumé.
Reader 2: Is it all right to leave a temporary position early if one gets a permanent position elsewhere? I would be burning bridges, since I verbally agreed to stop looking for other jobs until the end of this assignment. There’s a small chance this temp position could turn permanent, but I feel turning down a proper permanent position would be foolish.
Karla: Define “all right.” Is it legal? Without a contract stating otherwise, employment is at-will, so odds are slim that your employer could succeed in a lawsuit over an oral agreement to stick around. Is it ethical? Don’t expect a good referral, but do request as much transition time as your new employer can spare. Now strap on that butt-pillow, and happy landings.
Thanks to Amy Epstein Gluck of FisherBroyles and Diana Funk of Human Capital Strategic Consulting.
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