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Ask the Headhunter: I said goodbye to my boss bully

Nick Corcodilos started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979 and has answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community.

In this special Making Sen$e edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards or salary negotiations. No guarantees — just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.


I don’t normally publish such long “questions” from readers, but the instructive quality of this reader’s story depends on the gruesome details.

Question: After four years with my company, I made a choice to abruptly quit (even before I have officially secured a new job). I know that’s idiotic and irrational, but ever since new management took over last year, I’m mentally drained. They are a twisted bunch of jerks, to be quite frank. One incident in particular was the final straw for me!

Last month, one of my new managers flat-out bullied me. I’ve never had an issue with a boss or co-worker ever, so it was devastating to be a target for no apparent reason.

As I was walking back to my department, one of my managers ignored my friendly hello and hastily asked me why I had gotten disorganized so suddenly with my workload. She said it in a confrontational way. I thought I was being overly sensitive, so I politely smiled and told her what my plan was to fix the problem, and I walked off to my destination.

Suddenly, she yelled at me over the PA system to go to her office pronto. I sucked up my pride and did as I was told. She was seated like a high school principal about to expel a mouthy, troubled teen. She looked angry, but I passively tried to discuss the issue she seemed to have with me.

She barely let me say one word. Instead, she yelled at me that I had answered her in a rude, sarcastic manner. I told her: “I am having a pretty bad day. Maybe I came across as rude, but I didn’t mean to be.”

READ MORE: Ask the Headhunter: How can we get rid of our boss?

She paged another manager to join her in scolding me. She exaggerated everything to the other manager and got her upset at me too. Obviously, my adrenaline was starting to flow now. I was in that fight-or-flight mode. It’s extremely rare for me to get upset in public or at work. I was about to have a panic attack from the stress.

I quietly told her that I needed to walk away and use the restroom. I was fighting tears at this point, so I excused myself. She then yelled over the PA system again for me to go back to the office. So I did. Mistake! She was straight-up cutting me down this time. I felt threatened. I snapped and said shakily, “Let me get back to my f***ing job and stop micromanaging me.”

She and the other manager then cornered me and yelled at me that I needed to go home immediately. I thought I was being fired, so I cried as I walked past my co-workers. I’m not normally a wuss, I just felt animosity towards the situation.

The next day I called to see if I had gotten fired. The HR lady said, “No, of course not.” After I explained to her what happened, she barely seemed to care at all. After four years of being a good employee, I felt appalled by her “whatever” attitude. I then wrote out my resignation notice and dropped it off on her desk.

I finished out my last day yesterday. I have an interview for a potential new job tomorrow. I’m optimistic that I’ll land it with no problem. I’ll never tolerate that level of drama at any job, ever.

Having read “How your old boss can cost you a new job,“ I am afraid my old employer will not give me a good word for my potential new job. I’m hoping my possible new employer won’t find it necessary to call my old job.

I could have fought harder to maybe get my wrongdoers in trouble, but with the complexity of their office politics, it wasn’t worth trying. Sometimes you really do have to simply … quit. We are creatures of habit, so it takes guts to break routine and start fresh! But I feel a person’s mental well-being is more important than almost anything else.

I’d still like your opinion: Did I do the right thing? What can I do about getting a bad reference?

Nick Corcodilos: Never apologize for abuse.

I very rarely tread in the waters of clinical psychology, but you may have very well encountered a psychopath — or at the very least a boss with psychopathic tendencies. Don’t let the term intimidate you. Understand what it means so you can recognize it sooner next time. A psychopath is marked by:

…a mental disorder in which an individual manifests amoral and antisocial behavior, lack of ability to love or establish meaningful personal relationships, extreme egocentricity, failure to learn from experience, etc.

Sound like your boss? Read on.

…he lacks conscience and empathy, making him manipulative, volatile.

Abuse is never acceptable

I had a boss that displayed such behavior myself during a long year in my life. This company president abused and terrorized employees in company meetings, ridiculed them and encouraged others to attack them verbally, too. He held himself up as a godlike figure whose opinions were law.

I didn’t realize what was going on until I heard a company customer — during a phone call — dress my company president down and abuse him the same way he abused us. Even though this was on the phone, the president physically cowered, “Yes, Sir”-ed and did exactly as he was told. A classic case of a person accustomed to abusing others being abused. I quit soon after to save my own soul.

In cases like this, as the verbal violence increases, your mind tries hard to rationalize it: “Maybe I should learn to accept such behavior. After all, we have such big-name customers. Our boss must be doing something right. Look at how much money he makes. Maybe this is what it takes to be successful.” And so on.

But it’s not alright, ever.

READ MORE: Ask the Headhunter: How to deal with a stingy boss

It doesn’t matter that you don’t have another job to go to — your health and well-being must come first. I think your choice was correct and prudent. You preserved your self-respect and integrity. You were right to quit. Here’s the thing: You will quickly recover. Your former employer will not. Rest easy knowing that.

Although I understand why a person might “go off” like you finally did, cursing in front of your boss is never acceptable. She succeeded in momentarily pulling you down to her level. In the future, avoid getting baited like that. Otherwise, I think you handled yourself with aplomb in a very difficult situation.

Use a preemptive reference

I think that any reference from that company will be worthless or toxic to you. The business community probably already knows the company and its management for what they are. All you need say to any prospective employer is: “I’d prefer not to provide references from my last job. I don’t disparage anyone I ever worked for. I always look forward. I want to work with a good company that encourages me to use my skills to produce profit in a healthy environment. My last employer was not a healthy environment.”

Then provide excellent references from everywhere but your last employer.

There’s a way to use your best references, so they’ll really pay off, no matter how negative one reference might be. Here’s a tip from “Fearless Job Hunting, Book 3: Get in The Door (way ahead of your competition),” that can work wonders in a case like this.

Your most powerful reference is the one who calls an employer before the employer calls him. A preemptive reference speaks up for you, not about you. Actually, this is not a reference at all, but a recommendation or a referral… A preemptive reference thinks enough of you to pick up the phone to call the manager you want to work for, and recommends you. This is a big step beyond a reference; it’s a true professional courtesy.

Choose your next job carefully. As you learned while facing the sick wrath of your boss, “It’s the people, Stupid.” (No offense intended. We all need to think about that.)

When I resigned from my employer, I did it on my terms like you did. I compliment you for not resigning on the spot in anger. It’s critical to take time to think and to act with forethought and grace. (See “Parting Company: How to leave your job.”)

I wish you the best. Leave that sick company you survived behind you. You’re healthy. Go work with healthy people and let the past go.

READ MORE: Ask The Headhunter: Dealing with an undeserved nasty reference

Dear Readers: Have you ever had a boss with psychopathic tendencies? What were the signs? What did it take for you to escape? How would you advise the reader in this week’s Q&A?


Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth “how to” PDF books are available on his website: “How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you,” “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps,” “How Can I Change Careers?” and “Fearless Job Hunting.”

Send your questions to Nick, and join him for discussion every week here on Making Sense. Thanks for participating!

Copyright © 2016 Nick Corcodilos. All rights reserved in all media. Ask the Headhunter® is a registered trademark.

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