Dear Evil HR Lady,
I left my company after 6 years of employment about 8 months ago to go back to school and get my MBA. I will admit, I did not leave on the best of terms. I recently found out from several former colleagues who were acquaintances of mine, that HR wants to know where I plan to be this summer for my internship and when my internship starts. HR was asking my former colleagues if they knew this information.
To put it lightly, I am concerned. I don’t know why they care where or what I am doing next. The company is in some trouble right now. However if they want me to come back, I don’t understand why they don’t just pick up the phone and ask me to come back. It feels like they are just keeping track of me to find some way to screw me over. Can you provide any insight?
I needed a bit more insight into this situation, so I emailed and asked: Define not the “best of terms.” That will give me more information and a better guess of what is really going on here. He responded:
Well for a long time I was considered Top Talent and was being promoted through the ranks. Then I had a meeting with an HR manager who has a lot of influence. The meeting was part of some internal networking program. Well the conversation did not go well. His feedback was that I was arrogant. Anyway, after that conversation I had all kinds of issues. I wasn’t being considered for bigger roles and my raises became substantially smaller so I started applying for MBA programs.
When I turned in my resignation, I basically just said I’m done with this company and I plan to get a job on Wall Street making real money. Many leaders in the business told me to just play the game with HR and request a Leave of Absence, that I love this company and just want to expand my skill set, but I was fed up and had no intention of going back so I told the truth. I got an awesome internship offer for the summer that pays a ton and is exactly in the field and location that I wanted and I’m worried that they are trying to find some way to screw that up for me. I know it sounds like paranoia but that HR organization behaves like they are the CIA.
I had two more questions: Are you arrogant? (Think long and hard before answering this.) and What tier MBA program did you get into?
No I am not arrogant but I am proud of my accomplishments and I’m not going to pretend like I am not as good as I am. I know I have development needs like everyone else. In my experience, I have always gotten along very well with A players, other top performers. However, B and C players are usually threatened by me and usually find me to be too action oriented and abrasive. I don’t sugar coat and I know how to get results. I am at a top 15 MBA program. I received a full scholarship and I made sure to mention that in my resignation letter.
It’s extremely unusual for HR to follow up with a terminated employee, other than an exit interview. We’re much too busy to track down former employees to ruin their lives. And it’s not like there is a secret HR network where we make lists of employees to never hire. Heaven knows we wish we had that secret network, but we don’t.
(Note to self: start secret HR network.)
This is what I think is going on here.
1. You are arrogant. The fact that you identify yourself as an “A Player” and know that Bs and Cs don’t like you tells me that you’re probably pretty annoying. There are people who have this ability to simultaneously suck up to the boss and screw over coworkers and I’m guessing you’re a person with this talent. This may serve you well, but the reality is that it also make enemies. Which you have.
2. The HR person doesn’t like you. Now, some HR people are actually good at their jobs. I cannot say, without at least meeting both of you, if this is the case with this HR person. He may have been able point out to your boss that while your work was good and you’re smart (undoubtedly true given the MBA program you’re in), that you have social skills problems (good managers need the B and C players to respect them), as a result you shouldn’t be on the fast track.
Or, he could be someone that is intimidated by brilliance and determined to destroy you.
I suspect the former with a little touch of the latter thrown in.
3. Since more than one of your former colleagues has been asked about your plans, I can say it’s not just casual conversation of the, “Hey what’s Jim up to? How’s his program going?” variety. It does seem like he wants to keep track of you for whatever reason.
So, here’s my suggestion: Send a nice email to the HR manager and say:
“I’m finishing up my first year at Business School and I’m excited to start my summer internship at [company]!
I wanted to thank you for the feedback you gave me while I was working at [company]. It was just the kick in the pants I needed to realize that an MBA would help me gain the skills I need to be successful in this business. I’ve really been pleased with this program, especially the [management/finance/whatever] emphasis. I thought it might be helpful to you, as you counsel with other employees to let them know about this option.
Thanks again for your help and advice,
Now you might look at that and say, “What a suck up kind of a letter! I’m never going to write that!” But here is what this does.
- It lets the HR person know that you’re not scared of him or what he can do to you. What you’re doing isn’t a secret, and you’re not concerned he’ll call up the new company and bad mouth him.
- On the off chance that he is interested in bringing you back, you’ve done a very nice networking letter. It’s best to try to put the fire out on that bridge you tried to burn.
- You’ve told him he was right. People LOVE to be right. It will actually make him like you more (or dislike you less, as the case may be).
Try at your internship, though, to be a little less arrogant. Get along with everyone. Yes, be a hard worker and straight shooter or whatever, but for heaven’s sake be nice. You need to learn how to gain the respect of the whole office, not just the boss.