When I think about the things people need to do at a job, I think of Serial. You know, that podcast that made everyone a sleuth in training? In the very first episode, 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…who knows?
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 at all, they were probably about money. You might have heard a phrase like, “wage increases based on performance” or “it’s X amount an hour but really Y with tips?” 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, these promises are rarely fulfilled.
I’d say this is the number one thing I hear about when talking about work—that jobs fail to deliver on the the promises they set out on day one. So how can we challenge that? 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 have lasted hours (no joke, I interviewed for a barista position at a coffee shop in New York that lasted over three hours). It’s nobody’s fault—if we’re lucky to remember anything, there’s a good chance we’ll remember it incorrectly anyway—so creating safeguards to jumpstart your memory and capture details is important.
And for as little as you remember in an interview, I can guarantee you that 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 surprisingly difficult.
However, a bad memory isn’t an excuse for ignoring a promise made during an interview or a job acceptance. So write those things down.
Writing things down is powerful. It’s not just helpful for job interviews and future wage guarantees, but it’s helpful in any situation. If you’re about to meet with your boss or HR professional about a workplace dispute, write down the main points of your conversation. Ask your boss to take notes, and then email each other after to see if you had the same takeaways.
If you have a workplace grievance ALWAYS WRITE IT DOWN.
If for whatever reason you need to take it to a higher authority (like someone else in the company or an organization like the EEOC or even a lawyer) it’s important to have written documentation of any workplace dispute.
Recently, I was talking to folks about a shady HR department, and was surprised by how little documentation there seemed to be of any wrongdoing. I think that’s because we assume HR is out to protect us, and diligent note taking would seem to be part of their job. However, many discovered that there was no record of their conversations, leaving space for plausible deniability on the part of the employer. This is how companies get away with things like workplace harassment and discrimination—because there’s no paper trail to prove it.
I’m not saying I agree this is right—by suggesting you document everything, this leaves the burden on you to protect yourself and hold a company accountable. However, this is an argument about outcomes. Yes, your employer should be ready and excited to give you a raise they promised at your first interview, but this often doesn’t happen. Having a promise or a guarantee in writing makes sure that there’s at least some documentation of said promise happening, and you can move forward with a shared understanding.
Writing things down obviously protects you when things between you and your employer become adversarial (“I don’t remember you telling me that,” or “I’d never promise you a raise this early,”) 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 details from that interview than your boss will, and establishing an agreed upon set of facts is important for future negotiations, promotions, and benefits. Sometimes it’s not that you’re in conflict, but it’s so easy to remember things differently—there’s even a name for the phenomenon.
So if you can, write things down. 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 detailing the main talking points. It might seem excessive—until the day it isn’t.
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