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Just because your boss said it doesn’t mean it’s real.
I learned an important lesson listening to Serial. In the very first episode of the series, which chronicles the holes in the criminal case against a Baltimore teenager named Adnan Syed, host Sarah Koeing asks dozens of teenagers if they can remember what they did on a specific date. As you can imagine, most of them fail miserably, either completely blanking out or oscillating between one of a zillion moments that could have happened on that day…or maybe it happened on this day? It’s impossible to say.
Now, think about the last job interview you went to. What day was it? What were you wearing? Was it sunny out? Was it cold?
If you remember any details about that day at all, congratulations! Your memory is far superior to most. Memory, like a muscle, needs to be exercised, but no matter what we’ll forget some portion of the things we learn. There’s a theory, called The Forgetting Curve, that charts the rate at which we forget things. Some folks will remember more than others, but we all experience some degradation of our memories over time.
If you do remember anything about your last job interview, it was likely the information that would impact you the most. For many, that’s money. You might remember a dollar amount, or you might remember phrases like, “wage increases are given out every six months” or “it’s X amount an hour but really Y with tips and benefits.”
These are the details meant to tantalize you—meant to lure you in and pick this job over any others. But I imagine for many reading this, they have taken a job based on these promises, only to realize that they will never be fulfilled.
This happens every day, at every job, in some capacity. I bet you could name at least three instances when a boss promised you something they failed to deliver on. It might seem hopeless to challenge your boss, but the solution to this starts earlier. If you can, get everything in writing. If your boss won’t provide any documentation, write it down yourself.
Most people don’t remember what they had for lunch yesterday, let alone the details of a job interview that could be weeks or months before you even start a new position. It’s nobody’s fault—if we’re lucky to remember anything, there’s a good chance we’ll remember it incorrectly anyway—so it’s important to create safeguards to jumpstart your memory and capture details.
For as little as you might remember in an interview, the person interviewing you probably remembers less. Depending on the job, they could have interviewed dozens of people, and trying to remember moments from each of those interviews can be difficult.
However, a bad memory isn’t an excuse for ignoring a promise made.
Writing things down is powerful. It’s not just helpful for job interviews and future wage guarantees, but it’s helpful in any workplace situation. Any time you meet with your boss or anyone in a leadership position, take notes during the conversation. Summarize the meeting, and send an email to the person you chatted with highlighting the main points. You can say something like, “I want to verify some of the main takeaways from our conversation last week,” and share your notes.
Notes are especially helpful if you need to make a complaint to a higher authority. A complaint against a boss or coworker is strengthened if there’s some form of documentation, and it can be as simple as a past journal entry.
Recently, I was talking to folks about their company’s shady HR department. Folks would detail meetings and complaints they made, but when I asked if there was any documentation of these meetings they said no. In following up with the HR manager, many discovered that there was no record of their conversations, leaving space for plausible deniability on the part of their employer.
This is how companies get away with things like workplace harassment and discrimination: if there’s no paper trail, they can deny ever knowing something was wrong.
This is not the sort of advice I like giving. This leaves the burden on you to protect yourself and hold a company accountable. Yes, it’d be great if employers eagerly fulfilled their promises and gave raises fairly and in a timely manner. But having a promise or a guarantee in writing provides a safeguard. There’s at least some documentation of said promise happening, an establishment of some form of shared understanding.
Writing things down protects you if things between you and your employer become adversarial, but it also helps create a baseline for people who maybe remember things differently. Going back to the interview example above, it’s likely you’ll recall certain moments from that interview differently than your boss will. This isn’t malicious—and in fact there’s a name for this phenonenon, The Rashomon Effect, where individuals remember the same event completely differently.
So grab a pen, and start scribbling! Taking noteshelps establish an agreed-upon set of facts, which is important is important for future negotiations, promotions, and benefits. Bring a notebook with you to a job interview. Ask for an offer of employment in writing. Circle back with your boss via email after a meeting and detail the main points. It might seem excessive—until the day it isn’t.
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