Solving the How Much Notice Dilemma

A colleague was wound up in knots. He'd been interviewing with a company where he really wanted a job. The job was a step up in responsibility, the product was “way cool,” and the commute was 10 minutes. His current job was a technology he was tired of, the company was in the decreasing sales spiral, and this project was supposed to end in a month. My colleague was convinced that he couldn't give notice until the project was over.

I asked him these questions:

  • What's the worst thing that could happen to the project if you left in 2 weeks, as opposed to a month?
  • Is there a way you could organize your work so that you don't have to be the one to do it?
  • To whom or what do you feel responsibility, so that you can untangle these threads and see if there are actions you can take to leave earlier?

We spoke for about 30 minutes, and determined that he felt responsibility to his team, not to the company. Since the project was almost over, and as test manager, his job was to organize and report on the results of the testing, he could hand that off to others (he'd already done the automated data gathering part of the job). We also talked about the worst thing that could happen, which in his case was how he would feel about himself, having left the company before the project was complete.

He decided to give 2 weeks notice if this new company offered him a job. They did, he did, and he organized things the way we'd discussed, so he felt as if he'd done everything he'd needed to, for a solid transition. (He's happy at his new job now.)

If you're a hiring manager faced with a candidate who's reluctant to give notice, ask first if your potential employee is willing to have you coach him/her out of the when-can-I-give-notice dilemma. Not everyone is willing to be coached. (And this is information for you, as a manager.) Consider asking the questions I asked (or adapt them), focusing on actions the candidate can take to acknowledge and deal with conflicting emotions, such as a feeling of responsibility and reluctance to leave the current team.

To be frank, your job as a manager starts when you interview a candidate for the first time, not when the candidate starts as an employee. It's ok to act like a manager and jointly problem solve the notice problem. You'll have to be tactful and solution-focused. You can't tell people, “Don't feel like that.” They do. What you can do is help them see they have multiple courses of action. Remember the rule of three (generate at least three possible solutions to a problem) to help the candidate see options. In this case, we generated these options: stay at the job that was making him miserable; give notice and leave, making sure there was a clear transition plan; give 4 weeks notice and start part-time at the new company; give 2 weeks notice and stay part-time at the old company.

If a candidate wants more than two weeks to separate from his/her current company, ask what's preventing that person from moving on. The longer the candidate waits to join you, the less likely the candidate will turn into an employee. Joint problem solving might be just the thing to help your candidate become a happy employee.

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