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Signs You May Lose Your Job (Part 2 of 2) Mark Swartz, M.B.A. M.Ed.

About the Author

Mark Swartz, MBA, M.Ed., is Canada's Career Activist. His insights reach millions yearly as the Career Advisor, as author of the best seller "Get Wired, You're Hired," also as a professional speaker and coach on career/work issues. A former Toronto Star careers columnist, Mark's advice is forthright and practical. For Canada's biggest directory of free career articles, and for personalized coaching, please visit

Mark Swartz
Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Dear Mark: My last employer fired me for what I consider to be a petty reason. I had argued with my supervisor in a meeting over a change in procedures while her boss happened to be in the room. I realize it was bad form on my part and that I'd made her look bad. But I apologized after the meeting, even though I was right in what I was saying. Anyway, a few months later my boss called me at home one night to make sure I showed up for work the next day, where she promptly gave me my walking papers. If I'd known beforehand I was on her hit list I'd have prepared. Are there signs you should look for that can give a heads up about what's happening?

-- Kyle F., Medicine Hat, Alberta
Dear Kyle,

In last week's article I talked in general terms about some of the signals to watch for that might indicate your job is in jeopardy. Your letter takes us a step further, directly into the realm of being alert to clues that you're about to be pushed out. As it happens, there are some fairly standard things to keep your eye out for in the future. Some are pretty obvious, while others are deceptively subtle.

On the obvious side, you might find yourself on the receiving end of a very negative performance evaluation. Unless there's a plan in place to remedy the issues that are identified, and your employer makes it known that they are willing to give you a chance to improve, it could be a bad sign. So could the following: being demoted; stripped of responsibilities and/or of employees that reported to you directly; passed by for promotion or a raise; or being put on probation.

Sometimes these blatant changes could amount to a situation where you could claim 'constructive dismissal.' This is a legal term that may apply when your job has been so gutted that you end up in a role that's a shadow of your former one. But don't quit until you learn about your rights and obligations here and here.

The warning hints that you're being targeted for termination can take less obvious forms. On one occasion, back when I was in the corporate world, my boss suddenly stopped inviting me to play squash with him at lunch. A few weeks later he began freezing me out of important meetings with other staff. Then boom -- I was out! (I knew I should have let him win at least one squash game). Other understated signs might include your peers making efforts to avoid you. Or rumours in the workplace that you're in the dog house. Maybe people start ignoring your input or your requests. And when your boss starts minimizing your accomplishments and efforts, or it seems like a paper trail is being assembled to document your actions, watch out.

Most people are reluctant, once they become alert to signals that they're in the bulls eye, to approach their boss and try to get things out in the open. Instead they might start working more frantically than ever, to hopefully prove their worth. Or go to the opposite extreme: at one company I worked for, a sales rep who was due to be downsized disappeared, literally, for several weeks. He had to be chased down in another city in order to be fired!

If you are on the verge of being let go, you have several options. A straightforward talk with your supervisor could be just the thing that's needed to set things right. At a minimum you might know better where you stand. Or you could start looking for work while still employed, getting a head start if it appears that your job loss is inevitable. Getting legal advice on the situation never hurts. Conversely, resigning just to stop the uncertainty could come back to haunt you, imperiling your eligibility for Employment Insurance, and making it tough to explain to future employers at interview time.

A quick tip? Make note of all your work-related accomplishments as they happen, and update your resume every six months or so. It comes in handy when you need it most.

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