Goodbye, COBRA!

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These days, there's a little phrase many of us long to hear: "Will you ... work for me?" After all, nothing could be more thrilling than being able to say, "Goodbye, COBRA!"

Sadly, a headhunter recently told me, "Companies are taking more time today to find the perfect employee than people are taking to find a spouse." Although I'm not sure what that really says about our society, it may be helpful to review some guidelines before you say yes to either type of proposal.

Is the suitor gainfully employed?

Oops, guess I've disqualified myself from positively answering at least one of life's major questions. All disappointment aside, the question should perhaps be, am I employable? Yes. Is the company (or suitor) offering something that fits my background, interests, and salary requirements? Will I be able to afford more than Old Roy dog food on the salary? If yes, negotiate and accept.

What kind of car does the suitor drive?

I once had a conversation with a confirmed bachelor who asked if I would date someone with an old car. He was astounded when I said yes. It is not the age of the car that matters. At this point it may be whether or not it's up on blocks in the yard. Moving to the employee parking lot, if the asphalt is full of prime sports cars and expensive imports, it either means the salaries and bonuses are great or everyone has maxed out their credit. If the repo man is lurking, drive away.

Is the suitor kind to animals and small children?

Even if you're unencumbered - without so much as a goldfish - this point still matters. I nearly lost a couple of friendships when an ill-chosen match of mine chewed out someone else's kids. At the office, this translates to a healthy work/life balance. Run from an employer who doesn't understand the occasional - and we hope rare - doctor's appointment or family interruption.

What's the balance sheet?

Yeah, money troubles fuel most breakups, at both the office and at home. I should have run for the hills when an employer offered me only $500 more a year than I'd been making two years previously. Or when the ill-chosen match asked on the first date, "So, do you have any money?" Consider how deep the pockets are, but also pay closely attention to the general attitudes toward money. Even trust fund babies can be tight (maybe particularly so). Shareholders may love companies that are run close to the bone, but if you have to turn in a two-inch pencil stub to get a new one, it may not be a good match. And if you have to write a check to reimburse your date for an evening out, you're better off single.

Do you have similar values and goals?

If you're looking for a firm commitment, you're kidding yourself by hanging out with someone who's been on more beds than a set of sheets. You're also naïve if you don't realize a revolving door at a firm usually signals a negative environment. There's a reason people leave. Can you say "sweatshop?"

Do you enjoy each other?

Sounds obvious, but do you get a big, goofy grin on your face when spending time with your crush? Or is it a case of relationship ambivalence? If you can't decide, you need the book Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay, not a marriage license. And, if that job interview felt more like waterboarding, you're probably not going to like the corporate culture. Take a clue from that pounding headache and look elsewhere.

Where do you want to be in five years?

I know, employed. Try to be a little more specific, even if it's only knowing you don't want to ask, "Do you want fries with that?" Me, I want to write my own ticket, find fame, fortune and love, and get out of the doublewide. My path to success does not include being a trophy wife or a CEO.

How does the suitor - or prospective employer - rate with the friends and family?

Don't forget the dog, either, since they can be excellent judges of character. If no one has ever heard of the company you're interviewing with, it may or may not be significant. After all, the financial services industry can be very esoteric. If, however, they've all heard of your suitor through detailed SEC or police reports, call it off.

How long has this been going on?

With divorce and lawsuits rife, everyone is cautious. Still, two or three years of dating, accompanied by three breakups and reconciliations, could be a good indicator that you're involved with a commitment-phobe. Similarly, two or three phone interviews, a writing test and a face-to-face meeting should lead to a decision in a month or less - one way or the other.

How stable is the suitor?

While it's still not entirely acceptable to unfurl the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator on the first date, it might be a wise consideration before getting wedlocked. One company I pursued administered the Wonderlic Personality Test to examine my aptitude for learning and problem solving. Pity I couldn't have tested them!

Just remember that in spite of our best efforts, there are still those times when we wind up in an ill-fated career or love match. Those cases are what attorneys are for.

Jenny L. Herring, APR, is a financial writer and public relations professional with experience in both institutional and retail asset management.

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