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The coach: ‘I suspect that we have hired a fraud’

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Matthew Turner has advice for an architect who suspects an employee is not all he claims, and for a mother returning to practice

How do I fire my suspect employee?

Normally we only employ through our networks, but recently we have had to widen out to get staff. I now suspect that someone we have just employed is a fraud. I say this because in the first weeks he clearly doesn’t have the experience he claimed at interview. This week, on a pretext, I rang the practice where he said he had gained experience in our sector and it seemed to me they remembered him in a negative way. Though it wasn’t said directly, it was implied he had not been a good worker and they were very happy to let him go. How should I get rid of him?

It is hard making the choice about employees at interview, a bit like going on a blind date and agreeing to a relationship straight away. I have removed the name of the firm where your employee said they had gained experience, but enough to say it is very well known. Perhaps architects rely too much on the assumed cachet of named practices. If I were being harsh, I would say you have to take some responsibility by being star-struck and not researching the person enough.

If you choose to confront, make sure you have evidence up your sleeve

It is not easy though. References are only partly useful as, not only are they self-selected, but employers tend not to take them up until the job is offered. Also, for fear of reprisals, former employers can of course pass over the negatives, leaving you to guess any issues from the gaps. In your case, it sounds like you have had the misfortune of coming across someone who is good at blagging in interviews.

So what to do now? You could make it clear you are not happy with him and work on it, though of course this might suck in a lot of your time managing him. Or you could find some other reason to dismiss him, though of course you’ll know that really comes down to the form of his employment contract, and any probationary period described. If you choose to confront, make sure you have evidence up your sleeve that proves you have been misled, and prepare yourself for some rancour. Sometimes those fighting their corner can show huge determination, suddenly revealing hidden strengths as an expert in their own employment rights.

Will I lose my seniority if I work part-time?

I am just coming to the end of my maternity leave, and working through how to negotiate coming back to work. My practice is the kind that demands a lot of commitment and they don’t have a recent experience of supporting returning mothers. My job used to be pretty intense, and I built up pretty good experience as a project architect. How should I approach them to return part-time, but to retain my status?

The balancing of a fulfilling career and a fulfilling family life is one of the hardest work issues to manage. Added to your challenge is the fact that the profession is notoriously poor on employee conditions, and work-life balance. While people with children under 16 have the legal right to request part-time work, accepting any old role doesn’t make the most of a highly skilled returnee like you. The fact remains that many employers are extremely nervous of part-timers, because it can be a difficult fit when running a small business.

Build on your value as an architect and don’t be apologetic

Your letter has an admirable sense of your own value as an architect, which is great, and this is something your employers are likely to share. I would say build on this and don’t be apologetic. Concentrate on communicating your skills and competencies, but put as much effort into answering what you think might be a potential employer’s concerns.

So, with timetabling, you could offer only being out of the office for one day at a time; propose ways in which team briefings can be efficiently managed when things go wrong; plan how you can multitask your school run to function with maximising time working. Show you can help minimise the difficulties of your proposed hours and show you can pre-empt as much as possible. Of course many working parents will say the best laid plans aren’t much use when your daughter gets chickenpox in the week of a tender submission. But demonstrating you are willing to think from the employer’s perspective rather than only your own is going to give you more of a chance of a better arrangement.

AJ coach Matthew Turner is an architect and careers consultant who runs the Building on Architecture consultancy. To contact him with your questions, tweet @TheAJcoach or email him in confidence at hello@buildingonarchitecture.com

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