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Should I quit or let them fire me?
November 23, 2011 12:46 PM   Subscribe

I got a job six months ago as a technical recruiter for a third-party contractor whose field techs replace parts for warranty customers. It's a family business with about a dozen employees in the office. Things are hinky there. Please help me understand what's going on and make a decision. Sorry, but it's very long.

When I was hired my boss, the operations director (also the son of the CEO) said that this was a growing company and there was plenty of room to move up. He said that the $9/hr was entry level, and after three months I would most likely get a raise and definitely get benefits. The benefits part turned out to be true.

A week or so after I was hired, he brought me into his office for a meeting and showed me a rubric of recruiter expectations that were tied to raises. During the interview he had NOT mentioned that raises were similar to commissions in that they were directly tied to how many techs we hire.

"Level One" was to fill four job requisitions (reqs) per week. My boss said the current recruiter was accomplishing that. I was hired to replace the current recruiter as he had gotten another job. Part of the expectation was to maintain a contractor retention rate of 80%, measured monthly. I was completely new to this industry so I took everything on face value. I didn't have any way of evaluating how realistic these expectations were.

"Level Two" was to fill 5-8 reqs/wk, "Level Three," 9 res. "Level 4" did not have a numerical goal, it just said "fill all reqs per week." This position also included more admin work and training new recruiters.

There were no salaries in writing attached to these positions, but my boss said it would go up by a dollar an hour per level.

Here I should note that I am a mid-career professional entering this new field due to the lack of jobs in my own. I have made two to four times more than this wage and I spent six years as a freelancer, so I am completely unaccustomed to this sort of job environment. I really needed an income, though.

I was often pulled away from normal recruiting duties to call customers and apologize for work not being done. Other times, a tech quit abruptly (usually over really low rates that would not even cover mileage) and I had to spend one or two days just trying to find someone to fill the position. My boss would pile task after task on me without telling me how to prioritize my work and I felt like I couldn't get anything done. A lot of these tasks were administrative even though the sheet he had given me said administrative tasks were part of Level Four.

I took a moonlighting job just to stay afloat. It also pays $9/hr. Between the two jobs I don't have time to look for anything new. The moonlighting job has no benefits but I could work 40 hours there if I wanted to. They do offer small performance bonuses. It's a friendly, fun atmosphere.

My three months came and went without a review. I did get benefits, though. I did not push for a raise because I was feeling iffy about the job and did not know how long I planned to be there. It was very stressful work for me and I didn't feel I was performing up to par. I felt like if they gave me a raise I would be obligated to stay, or if I left, I'd leave on a bad note and not get a good reference. But I didn't expect them to give me a raise anyway. I wasn't meeting the objectives because there were too many fires to put out. My boss also had me start hiring for projects -- temp jobs that pay hourly. He said those counted as filled reqs.

During a meeting, I said something that I had no idea would be considered a big deal or inappropriate. My impression was that my company was being underpaid due to what the market will bear in the new economy and we were forced to pay the technicians substandard wages because of that. I had heard from some of the ex-techs (who were still in our system, and whom I periodically would call to see if they wanted to be reactivated) that my company used to pay ten times what they pay now. I asked my boss if he thought we might be able to pay a more competitive rate at some point. I thought it was understood by everyone that in the economic downturn, businesses were forced to pay less than they realized was sustainable.

To my surprise, my boss told me the rate was very fair and reasonable, and really was competitive with what other companies paid per call. This is not what I had heard from most of the techs. To be fair, some of the techs are OK with that rate, but it seems to depend on what part of the country they work in and at what point they are in their career.

I didn't argue. I got the impression that I should just keep my mouth shut and I did. However, ever since that conversation, my boss has continually harped on me that I "don't believe in what I'm selling." He has told me that the retention rate depends on how well I sell the job to technicians. This doesn't make any sense. I have no control over a person's decision to stay at a job once I hire them. I am not their manager. No one has blamed him for the high turnover in the office, for which his misleading, confusing management style is directly responsible, as well as the low pay. I feel I am being set up to take a fall or that they are planning to force me to quit or fire me "for cause" with a paper trail to prove it.

A month ago my boss gave me a new rubric. He had raised the bar. The new "Level One" was to fill 10 reqs per week. "Level Two" was 13. "Level Three" was 15. The wages remained the same. We had another recruiter at that point who left. I was the only one. All of a sudden my boss started being really nice to me. He told me I was a "great recruiter" and he wanted to expand the department. He asked me if I would be willing to train new recruiters and maybe write some in-office instructional manuals and I jumped at the chance to use my true skill set, writing and training. He said I would get a raise to do this work, but he would have to talk to his dad first. I thought I might have the chance to grow with the company.

Last Friday, he met with me and told me that I hadn't accomplished the numerical goals he had set, so a raise was out of the question, and they weren't sure if they needed any writing tasks done. (They do, but that's another story).

I had accomplished the goals of the initial rubric, by the way. I had hired 5.5 techs per week. My retention rate was lower than the rubric, though. Unsurprising as I have no control over these people. My boss at that time said I had hired for more projects than I had for field techs. However, I was just doing what he had told me to do. He said projects are only 8% of our business. But before, he had said they counted as reqs!

I told him he didn't have to give me a raise, I just wanted to do the writing and training projects (I was thinking I could use them as marketing tools for a real tech writing job but I did not tell him that). I told him that my true gifts were in writing and verbal communication and training, and I wanted to make a contribution and found that kind of work very fulfilling. Co-workers have moved from position to position and I didn't think this was a bad thing to bring up. We had even had a meeting the previous week where they said they were changing their customer service structure so that people could work in jobs that were more tailored to their talents and interests. I tried to be as positive as possible even after having been told I would not get a raise.

I told him a high-pressure sales job was not the best fit for me, but even so I would try to do my best at it. That was all he wanted to hear. I told him that if he met with me and gave me concrete goals for the day every day -- how many techs to hire where and by when -- it would help me be more productive. He agreed to do that, but then proceeded to take the next two days off and not even bother to tell me.

He hired a new recruiter. At one point she asked me about raises and I took her outside to tell her about the rubrics I had been given. The CEO saw us talking but was too far away to hear. A few minutes later the other recruiter said our boss (the son) had just emailed her and told her not to ask me questions about the job. This was after he had said he wanted me to train new recruiters.

At that point I thought, OMG, I am about to get fired. But that was yesterday and so far, I am still here. I don't know what I've done wrong, though. I've worked really hard here and done every task my boss has told me to do, but I have not been able to meet these arbitrary reqs. They are completely unrealistic, especially the retention issue. And I'm quite demotivated at this point. I know that no matter how hard I work, he will always move the bar or set some other expectation I can't meet and will never give me a raise even if I work myself half to death. I want to quit. I feel I've been wronged and I don't want them to get another thing out of me. I may write those manuals on my own and use them as a mockup to try to get another job.

But I have benefits here. And people are advising me to wait until they fire me so I can get unemployment. But the unemployment I could get from a $9/hr would be minuscule, if they even allow me to get it. Should I quit, keep my dignity, work the 40 hours at the moonlighting job that are available, and just hope I can get something to supplement that? Like the freelancing I used to do when the economy was better? Should I suck it up and try to do the impossible at this job? I hate it. It's horribly stressful and killing my soul, but I'm scared of only having one underpaid job without benefits.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (14 answers total)
Is there any way you can stay and just... not try as hard? Show up, collect the benefits, and do the minimum?

Soul-crushing versus having health insurance is tough.
posted by chickenmagazine at 12:57 PM on November 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Honestly? I'd go for the 40-hour moonlighting and start looking for something different in your area. I don't know anything about your area of work, but what I see from your post is a manager who implied things that turned out not to be true, constantly moves the goalposts and is using your lack of knowledge of the field to persuade you to believe things that your reason tells you make no sense. I say get out while you have your sanity.
posted by fearnothing at 1:03 PM on November 23, 2011 [6 favorites]

If you can use your benefits in any way (dental work, doctor check up, etc) you could continue working at the bare minimum while you take advantage of the benefits as quickly as possible. When you are done with that, GTFO and moonlight.
posted by sarahj at 1:06 PM on November 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

Confirm you can get 40hrs at the 2nd job without a hassle, then quit the "day" job. Restart your job search as soon as you quit (if not before).

I don't know where you are, of course, but have you tried Workforce Solutions/WorkSource (search on one or the other and your state to get links)? They have employment experts and access to all kinds of employment programs that could be a big help to you.

Good luck!
posted by batmonkey at 1:09 PM on November 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

First off, do not think of terms of "It is not fair if they give me a raise and then I leave." This is a business. You are a resource to them, and they will use you accordingly. Your boss is (obviously!) not your friend.

As far as not performing "up to par"--well, they keep raising the bar, and I think giving your soul to a company counts as "performing".

So I would make sure you can get those 40 hours at the other job, take advantage of any benefits you have, as mentioned above (get your teeth cleaned, have a check up, whatever), and demand a raise--the reason the boss is "being nice" to you is that now that the other recruiter left, your value to the business just went up. So this is the time to act. Be assertive: as you are training new people you should have a higher rate of pay, raising the bar means that more is expected of you, etc.

What's the worst thing that could happen? You get fired? Now you have unemployment pay coming in.

If you don't get fired and you get the raise, then you can decide if the increase makes up at all for the level of stress you are under, and you can relax a little while you look for a better job.

Which, OMFG, you so need to do.

And if you don't get the raise but they don't fire you either, then you can quit and do the moonlighting job with clean teeth and not a shred of remorse. Because seriously, this place is poison.

Even though your regular area of expertise has dried up, you should be okay for a while; if the moonlighting job isn't enough and you have to work two jobs just to make ends meet, you could resort to a position in retail to get you through the holidays, because they always need extra help then. So I think you could probably pick up more hours that way until January, when you can try looking in your field again.
posted by misha at 1:34 PM on November 23, 2011 [4 favorites]

They are doing something that might be gaslighting you.

To describe the situation charitably, this business is badly managed and disorganized, and leadership is in over his head.

To describe it less charitably, they are manipulating and underpaying you. They have repeatedly promised things that they haven't delivered, and have changed the rules on you in order to keep you off-balance. They have instructed others to treat you like a pariah, and they have blamed you for things that you have no control over.

I would say that you are in an abusive situation.

That's not to say that you should get out, quit, change to moonlighting full time. It's up to you whether this position is worth it. But please understand that how abuse works is that it undermines your ability to stand up for yourself, to believe in yourself. If you decide to stay, please be on guard against internalizing the messages that they are sending you about yourself, about your abilities and your worth as an employee and a human being.

Those messages will follow you forever if you let them. Please don't let them.
posted by gauche at 1:56 PM on November 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

When they give you work that is unrelated to the goals set for you, ask them to clarify the priorities Boss, I'm happy to take on Non-Prioritized Task, but can you tell me which is more important - this task, or my retention goal for the week?

Meet w/ Boss: I saw that you were surprised by my comments about pay rates, so I did some research, and it shows blah, blah. Here are the resources I found. In addition, I have called X techs who used to work for us, asked if they were willing to be reactivated. Here are the reasons they gave for not returning to work for us: XX% pay, XX% found perm. position, XX% etc.

Ask Boss to meet with you more often, and/or email/paper him. At the beginning or end of the day: Boss, here are/were my priorities for the day. Here's what I accomplished. Challenges today were: this, that, etc., Successes were: this, that, etc. Plan for tomorrow is: this, that, etc.

You can affect the contract staff by being friendly, calling to see how it's going, and solving problems for them. I used to temp, and worked for a company that had a strike. My contact said: We don't want you crossing a picket line. If that happens, call us asap, etc. Working on reasonable pay for the area and position is part of taking care of your workers, and would really affect retention.

Pay attention to what the real issues are. Maybe the family is trying to take too much $$ out of the business, or is having cash-flow problems, or is tanking, or paid too much for real estate, etc.

Be tough right back. Tell them you were hired with 1 set of expectations, and promised a raise. Tell them you may leave if they change the job requirements and don't deliver on the pay. In my state, you could leave for that reason, and probably get unemployment. Go to work, be organized and do good work, but don't let them bleed your soul dry for 9/hr. And, yeah, I get that it's easy for me to say, since I'm employed. Good luck.
posted by theora55 at 2:10 PM on November 23, 2011

I will see your gaslighting and raise you a "moving the goal posts".

This is the classic toxic workplace. Whether they can't afford to pay the techs more or not, you cannot attract the type of talent the company requires at the rates they pay. With that the case, you stand a very good chance you will not hit your targets, and when you do, they move the goal posts. I just don't see this situation ending well at all.

>> Should I suck it up and try to do the impossible at this job?

Suck it up temporarily and get your outside-work situation in the best situation. Get your head in order too that this job might come crashing down by your choice or your employer's. Do not feel bad about it not working out.

From your description, it appears that your boss is on a classic track to fire you with cause. He is changing the requirements of the job and monitoring your progress. I would say he is less interested in whether you do good for the company and more interested in seeing how much he has to pile on you to the point that you fail. That way, he has everything he needs to claim you did not do your job. I don't know where you are and what the unemployment eligibility rules are, but it might be something for you to look into so you know what you are up against.

Get out of there. You really cannot win with this type of idiot and your mental health is far more important than $9/hr even with benefits.
posted by lampshade at 3:30 PM on November 23, 2011

You are absolutely being screwed around with here. $9/hour seems ridiculously low, even in this economy, for technical recruiting, but I don't know where you are or what the market is really like. From what you've described, it is clear that your employer does not particularly care about his employees and has little interest in keeping them around for the long haul. Constant reorganizations, moving standards, and inconsistent job descriptions are all classic signs of a dysfunctional workplace. The fact that your recruits keep quitting in a down economy is also disturbing and is another sign that your employer does not value its people.

Even more troubling is the fact that your boss emailed your brand new colleague and instructed her not to speak to you about the job. Why on earth would fellow recruiters for the same company not discuss strategy and share results, especially when one is brand new to the company? It's not as if you are contracted recruiters who are competing with each other; you are both employees working on the same team. This is a huge red flag for me.

You cannot "suck it up and try to do the impossible" because the job cannot be done. Without any parameters for what you're supposed to be accomplishing, your boss will still be upset no matter how well you perform. If sucking it up and not getting fired until Date X will help you financially or with your benefits, then that might not be a bad strategy, but recognize that there is absolutely no long-term game to be played here and the sooner you can get out, the better the prospects for your career and sanity.
posted by zachlipton at 3:47 PM on November 23, 2011

$9.00/hour for technical recruiting? My girlfriend makes more than that packaging cakes at Whole Foods. Find a new job ASAP!
posted by oceanjesse at 4:04 PM on November 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

I can only offer this: the reimbursement rates that the warranty providers pay to their partners who do the work is abysmal and going down.

The industry is changing. It is getting more automated. Diagnosis over the phone, customers encouraged to replace FRUs (CRUs) on their own, and low reimbursement rates. Yes, techs used to get more, because the companies were paying more. It isn't a career job any more, it is a McJob that people do until they get a better one.

The red flag to me is the retention rate. For every 10 employees, 2 are quitting every month? One, this means that field management has their heads up their asses, and two, this isn't fair to you.
posted by gjc at 5:23 PM on November 23, 2011


1: Make sure that you can get 40 hours/week from the other job, the one you like. In writing, hopefully. As in, get a start date set up for it, say, one month from now.

2: Spend the first two weeks applying for jobs and slacking at your recruiting job. If you're on the verge of being fired right now, this might push you over that, but hey, it was going to happen anyway, based on what you describe. And you'll have the other job waiting for you, and two weeks to interview for other jobs.

3: Spend the second two weeks trying to keep your current 40-hour job the way you want to keep it. If he's not giving you priorities, demand them. If you think the tiers are f'd, tell him so. And so on. Either you'll get fired -- and you have the other job lined up, and presumably can keep the benefits through COBRA -- or the job will get better, and then you can keep it. Or, some of the jobs you applied for in the first two weeks come through for interviews, and you might get a lead there (which you could leave *this* or the other job for.)

In short: this sounds like a crap job, you don't enjoy it, and you're only doing it for the benefits. So it is definitely a job to move on from, and fast. The boss is just trying to get you to hire as many people as possible, because they know they're not paying enough, and so they have high turnover. By presenting you with these tiers, they're just trying to make you think that you are the problem, but as you say, they're tying your compensation increases to things you don't have control over. That's a non-starter, in my book.

Or, to summarize: they're going to push you harder and harder to get as many hires as they can, until you can't take it any more and you leave, at which point they'll repeat with the next guy. After all, you had no experience in this field; why would they hire you, unless experienced recruiters wouldn't touch 'em with a 10-foot pole?
posted by davejay at 8:07 PM on November 23, 2011

$9 an hour? That sucks. As of Jan. 1, you'll be making 20 cents more than minimum wage where I live, and 4 cents less than minimum wage where I work. What kind of benefits are you talking about? You will have the right to buy in to your office health-insurance plan through COBRA. If you don't opt in right away and then something bad happens, you can still get retroactive coverage within 60 days. So take that 60-day period to shop around for health insurance and to seek out a job with benefits.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 8:20 PM on November 23, 2011

I think they actually do have plans to fire you but only if you don't say "unnecessary" things to the new recruiter. By "unnecessary" I mean truthful things, like about the unreasonable work load. And if they don't fire you, I agree with davejay, they'll keep pushing people until someone either quits or takes it. :/

In terms of job goals you sound EXACTLY like me and your job sounds EXACTLY like the kind of job my recruiting agency keeps giving me. I'm great at training and writing and explaining things, but I keep getting sales jobs or high pressure customer service because people seem to think the skills are the same!
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 12:13 AM on November 24, 2011

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