Stanley Bing

Ask Bing: Should I sign a contract?

Everyone wants one -- it makes us feel loved! But the little known fact is that these deals always benefit the company more than they benefit you.

By Stanley Bing

This is kind of strange. I'm not sure I'm not being kind of crazy. But here's the deal: My bosses offered me a three year contract. I'm a corporate guy, and that's not all that usual around here. I'm happy they want to sign me to a deal, but it makes me feel nervous to know that no matter what happens I'm stuck here. Should I sign? If I don't I know they'll be mad.

Yes, they will be, and you will probably have to sign. But a word about deals to all my readers: Everybody wants one, of course. A contract makes you feel loved. But the little known fact is that deals almost always benefit the company more than they benefit you.

They limit severance for long-term employees. They make it impossible for you to get away when you're really unhappy. Often, they cap your raises and bonuses. They literally tie you up. Sure, you probably have to sign them when they are offered, because organizations take a refusal in that area the way a drunk handles rejection.

But know that you are imprisoning yourself with the deal as well as securing the next few years of employment. If you're really nervous, see if you can make it for a shorter time than the original document, and in no event more than two years. And try to get some perks built in, for goodness sake. Are you aware of the gravy that a true executive contract contains? See if you can get a few of the drippings.

Stanley, your Bulls**t Jobs is what brought me here, believe it or not, through a chain of e-mails that my co-worker and I traced through 7 different LARGE institutions and over 200 different people. I have a classic situation and would love some advice.

I graduated from college with a liberal arts degree and wanted some time off. Once finances got short, I decided to try and pick up a 'necessity' job. A temp agency landed me at a large financial institution, and because of my education, however unrelated it is to the job, they hired me full time after a 1 month grace period.

All was well when the lending industry was still lending, however because of a downturn and increase in delinquencies, the job has become far more difficult.

To cope, I openly accepted additional responsibilities that have expanded my knowledge well beyond my job title, and pay grade. Because I am in a commission-based role, my boss (who reminds me of the boss from your July 10th, 2007 column, inept and insecure) has openly responded to my query about a raise with "You won't get one from me!"

Should I say goodbye once a full year rolls around? Or do you think I could get out sooner? Transferring to another department is something I am comfortable with doing since the size of the organization will limit my interactions with my current division.

Should I continue to pursue a raise? And is this a situation where I can lay out my new skills in comparison to the jobs listed in our careers database, (which I am more than qualified to do), and use that as a stepping stone to a promotion/raise opportunity?

Thanks for writing, and I hope this letter reaches you while you're still festering. Your story reminds me of mine, actually. I entered the corporate workforce more than 20 years ago as a temporary hedge while I was waiting to become a famous actor. They didn't really hire me right away, they just let me drool along, hang around, do things, make friends, drink coffee, take up an office that was lying around after the latest headcount reduction.

After about six months of pushing, somebody eventually got around to asking Human Resources if I could be hired officially. The head of HR told my vice president that I would never make it in corporate life because I was "a flake." He's now a wooly headed consultant somewhere in Outer Mongolia, by the way, and I've been chained to this recliner for the duration.

During that time, I've asked for a lot of raises. Most I haven't gotten at the time, but the incessant pressure on the bladder of the system has eventually forced it to issue forth an increasing, if slightly constricted, stream of money. I certainly would be making more right now if I had jumped ship a couple of times during my career. But then, I wouldn't be the emotional slave to our organization that I am now.

I like the fact that your organization is large enough for you to move around a bit. This gives you some leverage. I don't like your boss. There are a lot of ways to bulls**t a needy young person who is capable and in need of more money, but one you don't want to make happy because you yourself are a miserable, aging future crash-test dummy on the scrap pile of life.

You could say, "You look good for a raise, Charlie, but you know about the downturn right now and blah blah blah." Or you could say, "Dude, you haven't even been here a year yet. Talk to me when your anniversary comes up," and then give the guy 1% over the corporate average. Or you could say, "Sure!" and then not do it until next Flag Day. So many ways to disappoint without saying, "You're not getting one from me!" What a doofus.

I would adopt a whole new attitude. Be real loose. Use the doorway, but not a chair. Hang in the doorway and say, "Hey, boss, I'm just checking. You're serious about the no-raise thing?" and he will say, "You're not getting one from me!" and you can then smile a little and say, "Okay." And go away. That will make him thoughtful, if not even a bit nervous. What are you up to? Show no pique. That will get his goat, too.

In his blanket statement, he has given you a sort of carte-blanche to begin secretly making other moves. Do your work. Do not slack. Take on more responsibilities. Be terrific. And while you do, begin to talk to everybody. If Human Resources can be trusted, go ask what the policy about raises is, say 'Hi,' informal-like. Inquire about other things that are going on within the company.

A lot of the times, there are job posting boards that corporations are required to maintain. They are usually behind the pet yak they keep as a mascot next to the cafeteria supply closet. Go see what departments are posting jobs. Then go see them. Tell the guy who's interviewing, if he or she doesn't appear to be a complete dick, that it's delicate, you work for Bob Sputnick in Loans and you don't really want him to know you're expanding your career opportunities. Do this carefully. But do it a lot. In this way, the managerial class will begin to know there's a guy who wants to get ahead in the organization.

If Bob Sputnick finds out, be cool, don't be apologetic or paranoid, just say, "I like this company, Bob, but since I can't get a raise here I have to think a little about the future." He will fuss and fume, perhaps, but so what? The guy is taking you nowhere. If he says it's having an effect on your work, calmly tell him, in polite language, that such is not the case. He sounds like a weasel to me. He's not going to kill you. He may even get you that raise.

And if, after six months of this, you don't find yourself with a new job in the company or with a raise in both pay and grade, then get out of that place. You sound smart and capable. You don't want to be there 20 years from now making bupkis, looking up at the executive suite with drool on your chin. To top of page

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