It's not you it's me (but you really)
December 8, 2009 7:16 PM   Subscribe

I have an annual review coming up at work, but I'm looking for another job - what to say?

Our company is a non-profit and has been in a mess for about a year, our manager quit six months ago and hasn't been replaced. Our team is now 'managed' by our department head but she is largely absent as she's been off working on another project. We only tend to see her when she comes in to dump on us about how ridiculous the place is. We have no direction or targets and our roles are becoming increasingly blurred. Despite all of that, the team has been pulling together to grind out the business-as-usual stuff.

However, I'm burnt out. I've been unhappy in the job for a long time, it's never been a great fit but I've managed to work well, but I've had enough now and my work is starting to suffer.

So my fear is that when I'm asked about my performance and plans. I'm worried about what to say. I know some the problems stem from the organisation itself but my general unhappiness is not making things any better. I could quit now as I'm on a ten week notice period (standard for my type of job) so there's a time cushion and I have enough savings to tide me over for up to six months, but I'd prefer to have something to go to first, and I'd hate for people to think I quit just because of a poor review. But if I don't I'll have to lie, and I'm not sure I can pull it off. The job market sucks and I can't afford to be fired for lacking team spirit or whatever. Does anyone have any advice?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (14 answers total)
I think you answered your own question when you say "I can't afford to be fired." Come up with some plausible-seeming reason for why you might have appeared to be unhappy recently, and a passable action plan for how you'll fix that problem, in case you are asked about it. Also, come up with goals for yourself that don't have anything to do with you being unhappy, in case they don't ask. Practice a little bit if you need to. Then go to your performance review and just grit your teeth and deal with being uncomfortable about having to maybe lie.

Your first responsibility is your financial well-being in this case, so you don't want to have to worry about being out of work... while you look for another job to replace the one that is burning you out. Don't put yourself in the position of needing to rely on your savings.

Good luck!
posted by dammitjim at 7:33 PM on December 8, 2009

Also, totally don't worry about people thinking you left because you got a bad review. You should be leaving for a better opportunity, and people will understand that.
posted by dammitjim at 7:35 PM on December 8, 2009

You don't need to tell them you're looking for another job. In this economy it would probably be best to stay there until you find a better position, and keep mum about the job hunting. When asked about plans, think about what you would hypothetically do if you're still there next year and tell them that.

Don't worry about people thinking you quit because of a bad review - employees quit all the time because they don't like a job, and everybody knows people who've done that. I can't think of anybody I know who quit in a snit over a review. So just tell people you didn't like the job and they'll believe you.
posted by Quietgal at 7:41 PM on December 8, 2009

do NOT tell them you are looking for another job. They may very well fire you for this. And you are under no obligation to tell them until you give them what should be preferably 2-weeks notice after having signed an offer. TRUST me on this one, you don't want to learn this the hard way.
posted by saraindc at 8:31 PM on December 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

Here's how every review I've ever had has gone:

1) They give me a little sheet with ratings on it. They're mostly high, but not so high that I'll be able to say "Well why can't I have a raise then?" They give me a "5" on work quality and a "3" on something like "initiative" that can't really be quantified. (that's their favorite to fake-mark-you-down for, because by definition you can never have "enough" initiative.) Anyway it all averages out to "4" so I feel neither insulted or underappreciated.

2) They say a bunch of bullshit that doesn't really mean anything.

3) I say some bullshit that doesn't really mean anything.

Seriously, don't sweat it. You can probably dance around whether you're "happy" or not, but if you have to lie, lie. I'm sure they'll have no qualms about lying to you. Keep looking for a better job and when you find one, take it and quit.
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:39 PM on December 8, 2009 [5 favorites]

If asked about your performance, just say that you've been focused on execution of core business functions. Since it sounds like it's business as usual despite organizational upheaval, say yes you are proud that you focused on execution and spout some bullshit about doing a good job on doing the right thing for your [customers, partners, whoever depends on you] in a climate of change. Then just listen to whatever they have to say and pretty much ignore it. Don't try and respond, it's a trap. Try to let it just roll off your back.

I doubt they will try to do career development on you since it is obvious that they don't care. However, if pressed, say that you are looking for more breadth in your role and ask for cross-functional training, skills development training, community outreach or partner engagement (basically anything that will broaden your network). These are things that will help you escape. Somehow spin that as an organizational gain to them.
posted by crazycanuck at 9:21 PM on December 8, 2009

When I was having a review for a job I was all but certain I would be putting my notice for in a few months, I just talked about the things that I was doing and the things that I would like to be doing that I think would make the place where I was working a better place. Try not to complain about things how they are, but more say how you'd make them better. Perhaps one of your major issues is the lack of management, that is certainly worth bringing up in a review. It's hurting everyone else in your department too. Be nice about it, though. Say that it'd be great to have someone take a stronger role in the management aspect to provide bla bla bla.
posted by that girl at 9:48 PM on December 8, 2009

I have an annual review coming up at work, but I'm looking for another job - what to say?
Whatever you say, don't tell them you're looking for another job.
posted by bunny hugger at 6:09 AM on December 9, 2009

The first thing I would say is that you should always feel free to lie to your boss in order to protect your well-being, as long as the lie is not covering up some other unethical behavior. Bosses routinely lie to employees, at least by omission, especially about the things that matter the most (like whether or not you'll have a job next month or next year.) You should consider your core relationship with your employer to be adversarial insofar as they will demand but rarely offer loyalty, and insofar as they will try to exploit you whenever possible. (Low pay for hard work isn't "natural," it's exploitation.)

In terms of what you should say: you should speak for the position, and not for yourself. This is honest, and it accounts for the work that needs to get done, regardless of who is there to do it.
posted by OmieWise at 7:10 AM on December 9, 2009

The purpose of a review from your standpoint is to make the best sales pitch for yourself that you possibly can. It's a game and a dance. Nobody else will advocate for you, so do it. If you think you'll be getting a poor review, be ready to offer a counter argument as to why you've been a valuable asset this year. If someone is deciding your raise percentage, give them good reasons to give you more money. It doesn't matter if you're leaving tomorrow - at review time, you always make a tip top case for yourself as though you will be there forever.

Go through your files and your emails from the previous year and tote up all of the things you accomplished. Write them up as though they are points on your CV, because really they are. You always find more than you thought you would. Be ready to talk about these points. Talk about goals and targets and things you'd like to do (if you were to stay there). And keep the job until you get something else.

Having these talks while knowing you're looking for something else is a slightly awkward situation but happens every day all over the world. Employers know that people will come and go. Never shoot yourself in the foot.
posted by Askr at 8:21 AM on December 9, 2009

Be honest; just don't reveal things you don't want to share. Goals? "I'm committed to the mission of Agency. Let me tell you how I've worked on that this year." Make notes about what you've accomplished, and discuss those things. You could touch lightly on the difficulty of having no fulltime manager, and the many ways you and your coworkers have coped. This director is likely really overworked, so make it easy by having good information prepared in advance, and leading the conversation to your strengths and accomplishments.

You are possibly missing an opportunity. In the absence of management, the person who steps up, organizes the team, and leads, has the chance to learn a lot and potentially be promoted.
posted by theora55 at 8:39 AM on December 9, 2009

I'd hate for people to think I quit just because of a poor review.

(1) You're not going to be working with them any more. Why would you even care what they think?
(2) Everyone else is right: it happens all the time.
(3) Both of those points aside: if you quit in order to take up a better job offer and you ever have to explain yourself, then "taking a better job" is the obvious reason, not "because of a poor review."
posted by kittyprecious at 9:21 AM on December 9, 2009

I'll just repeat: Do NOT tell them you are looking for a new job. What happens if you decide to stay, for whatever reason? You have revealed your less-than-100% commitment to the company. You will immediately become marginalized.
posted by crickets at 9:29 AM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

I concur with drjimmy on this. It's really gonna be all bullshit. You're not going to get a raise. If they don't specifically have issues to pick on you about, it'll be fine. If they ask you about training, come up with a few ideas and know that you probably won't be doing them anyway. In general, go into the review pretending that you plan on being there for years to come, and talk about stuff on that level. Pretend that you care still and are committed, at least until you've got another job offer in hand.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:22 PM on December 9, 2009

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