Not many folks, even those who are close to me know this. I wrote my first resignation letter on my manager’s desk after borrowing a pen and a blank sheet of paper from him, while an unsupportive audience (several folks from the HR dept) looked on.
If you find the trailer interesting, here’s the full story of how I went from having a top engineering job to becoming a number in the unemployment in India statistical records. All within the first few days of starting my career.
It started almost a year before I graduated from my engineering college. This big, well-respected leader in its sector came to campus.
Their annual recruitment process for engineering jobs happens at a national level. This includes the entire gamut – mechanical engineering jobs, electrical engineering jobs, civil engineering jobs, computer engi…you get the point.
They visited a select few engineering campuses, including the IITs (I’m an Indian IT male engineer, but not from an IIT) and had an elaborate filtering system spread across multiple months with strict academic grade cutoffs, aptitude tests, multiple interviews.
The few who got the final offers felt like the chosen ones, for getting into a company where one-job-for-life has been and continues to be pretty much the norm.
In the first week, we felt really pampered. Company buses plying employees across the city. Unlimited buffet for lunch. Big meeting rooms where we had training sessions. Corporate life seemed good.
But along with the pampering, we started getting hints that we’d have to soon make up our minds about moving to another city.
This wasn’t part of the deal when I signed up. Recruits from Mumbai (where I was recruited from) had been told that the posting would be in Mumbai.
So I thought it’s a matter of choice for those who weren’t from Mumbai, so why worry. Maybe when they have enough numbers to fill the other cities, they’d allow us to stay back, I thought.
I was wrong. The gentle prodding soon became more aggressive and finally changed to an ultimatum.
I had not even completed 2 weeks in the job and the management team started putting deadlines on us to communicate our decision.
The company knew that the fresh-faced, wide-eyed, nerdy kids they recruited from campuses were in no negotiating position against the juggernaut in the industry.
They felt they could arm-twist the freshers into saying yes.
Add to this the fact that they had a 3-year bond to stay in the company with heavy penalties for breaking it. [Forget about the practice being professional, I’m not even sure if it’s legal to have such a bond]
The bond would come into effect after the first fortnight. After saying yes to some random posting, if I didn’t like the location/work/culture, I’d have to keep my mouth shut for 3 years. Nice way to turn on the heat!
While my colleagues reluctantly said yes and accepted whatever posting they were offered, I kept saying no.
I had never stayed away from home till graduation. That was probably another reason why I was trying to avoid the relocation.
I proposed a counter-offer saying I wouldn’t mind relocating after 3 months once I get settled in the new role. Nobody had asked me for my esteemed opinion, and so no one listened to it.
As the final pressure tactic, the manager called me into his office. I saw a bunch of other folks from the HR department, another manager and also the librarian waiting for me. Talk about an elaborate build-up!
There were no pleasantries. Mr Manager said I was being uncooperative when all the other recruits had agreed to their ‘request’ He asked me to say yes or write a resignation letter ‘right here, right now‘.
At that time, it felt bad. It felt humiliating. And I had no other job in hand as a backup option. They knew this.
The dream start I was hoping for in my career was turning into a nightmare.
I tried to keep my composure.
‘Can I have a blank page and a pen please?’ I asked the manager.
If that sounds cool and macho, let me assure you, it wasn’t! I was sh*tting bricks (pardon my French) in that room, with a ton of questions going on in my head.
‘Have I just killed my career before it has started?’
‘It’s a small world. What if the word spreads? Will this destroy my reputation in the industry?’
I hadn’t walked into the room expecting a negotiation and being treated with kid-gloves. But neither was I expecting this.
I wrote a few lines on the paper, gave it back along with the pen to the manager.
My spontaneous work of art was accepted on the spot.
I don’t recall what happened next because my mind was blank. But I’m guessing no one shook hands to wish me good luck on the way out. Maybe they just kicked me out on the street.
It didn’t matter. Blank mind to the rescue. Thank you Mother Nature for the natural pain killer.
I reached home earlier than usual that day, but no one asked me what happened. They probably saw this coming before I did.
I had several days to think about it and I kept asking myself if this was the worst mistake of my career.
Was I being too rigid? Would flexibility have saved my job?
In hindsight, I think it was the right decision. I don’t think I’d have thrived in the ‘supportive, considerate and caring’ corporate culture that they spoke about during their campus visits.
Luckily, I found a better job after a few weeks and life moved on. This incident has had no adverse impact whatsoever in the longer term on my career.
Coming back to the relocation part and being flexible, I moved across many cities and countries over the next few years, sometimes at a very short notice. But all this was intentionally, not because someone was arm-twisting me to do so.
I guess this experience did instil some sense of how much importance one should give to a corporate entity.
Over the next few years, I re-set my career graph several times and moved into new careers – some dramatically different from the earlier ones.
To some extent, I’m sure this incident also influenced my decision to move out of the corporate world completely.
As I got the first big career blow when there was very little at stake (no dependents, no financial obligations, no social image to live up to), I was relatively unfazed.
For others, this can happen at a phase in life when the damage can be greater. It could be a mass layoff. Or some politically coloured event where you become the scapegoat. Or any other reason where the axe falls when you are least expecting it.
Do you know how to recognise the signs that a layoff is near? What are you doing about it? Any skirmishes that you’ve had with the HR department? What were the repercussions and how did you deal with them?
Image source: careerminer.infomine.com