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I've just given notice to my current job for a new position which offered near triple my current salary ($37k as a software engineer). I knew that I was underpaid when I took the job but as a previous felon I couldn't be too picky about that. My manager really pressed me for why I was leaving in my exit interview, and I caved and told him that it was solely about money, nothing personal. He said that it was very unprofessional of me to get a new job without asking him for a raise first, and he'll have no choice but to say that in any reference in the future. I'm a bit naive to corporate work culture - was this really an unprofessional move?

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    As one additional bit of information, did you tell the manager just how much of a raise in pay you are getting at your next job? (Or even just a ballpark "I'm now getting around industry standard for my skillset".) – Michael Richardson Jun 24 at 21:45
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    Your boss has no business conducting an exit interview with you in the first place. If a company does want to conduct exit interviews, it should be handled through an impartial party in the company, such as HR. – Tac-Tics Jun 24 at 23:03
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    @Tac-Tics "it should be handled through an impartial party in the company, such as HR" HR are not an impartial party in the company. They represent the company's interest, not yours. – AlexB Jun 25 at 10:12
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    Did you tell him how stark the difference was? I may be annoyed (mildly, nowhere near the childish degree you describe) if one of my people left for a higher-paying job without asking for more first. But if they said "I got offered 3x", well, if I could afford to triple somebody's salary I'd already be paying them more. – Jared Smith Jun 25 at 14:28
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    @AlexB The point of an exit interview is to give the employee an opportunity to give the company a review. HR is impartial enough for this purpose. If you have grievances about the company, it's in the company's best interest to identify them, and if possible rectify them so that they don't lose other valuable employees. – Logarr Jun 25 at 15:41

17 Answers 17

580

You were not unprofessional at all.

Your boss was taking advantage of you, pure and simple. When he lost that he just got nasty and his comments reflect this.

You'll encounter people like this from time to time in your professional life, it is inevitable.

Move on and concentrate on your new job. Your boss is only in a salty mood because he's now faced with having to find someone else who will work for peanuts.

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    And if he writes that in a reference, all you need to do is tell them how much he was paying you and everybody will understand. – DJClayworth Jun 24 at 1:13
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    I wouldn't use him as a reference at all - instead find a senior colleague who didn't stamp their feet like a child. – Player One Jun 24 at 1:16
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    @PlayerOne interestingly, in some parts of the world a reference is from the company or not at all - in the UK you wouldn't expect to see a reference from anyone other than a previous employer, and adding random colleagues would raise eyebrows. Here in NZ, I was asked to get my previous employer to fill out what can only be described as a multipage survey, and I simply said that wasnt going to happen (even though I have left all previous jobs with good feelings between everyone). – Moo Jun 24 at 21:13
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    @Moo good to know. My experience (mainly in Aus and NZ) is "At least two people you've worked with in your last job or two, preferably at least one who you reported to in some way". It's an important point that that's not universally applicable. – Player One Jun 24 at 23:51
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    @Moo Really? Not my experience in the UK at all. Not to mention it would be against the law to write "unprofessional" in the reference, plus the libel aspect would give any litigious lawyer a "happy feeling". – Aron Jun 25 at 3:33
219

This is normal operating procedure.

Your boss is being a jerk. Did he think you were working for fun? You are working to earn a living. When someone offers you a better living or better employment terms, you take it. That's how the working world works. You are under no obligation to ask your current employer for anything. You can if you want while you are there, but once you get a better offer it is usually a good idea to just take it. If he is trying to make you feel like "you didn't give him a chance", remember that he had every chance to pay you better while you still worked for him. He didn't, so he misses out.

Considering you found another job paying you 3 times more, you were quite a the bargain for your old boss and he is likely feeling bad because he knows he will have a hard time getting away with paying someone with your skills so little again. If that's the way he is going to treat references for you, that's easy. Don't use him as a reference. Since you already have your next job, you won't need his reference anyway. Concentrate on doing well on your next gig and don't look back for this jerk. He's the one being unprofessional.

One last note, for future reference, you aren't under any obligation to tell your employer in an exit interview why you are leaving. You can if you want, but it's entirely up to you. If they press you (which would be unprofessional) you can simply say you found something that was a better fit for you and/or your career goals and that you thank them for the opportunity.

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    i second the advice regarding the exit interview. a lot of the times exit interviews are optional. if you can't avoid an exit interview you can always give generic answers that don't give away any information. the usual expression is to say something with "better fit" which is exactly what SethR's written answer uses. – syn1kk Jun 24 at 13:29
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    Exit interview is suppose to be more about the company finding out where they could improve and to spell things like the fact that the NDA is still enforceable, etc. Questions beyond personal curiosity related to what you will be doing in the future are not professional. – Phil M Jun 24 at 19:42
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    With the OP getting a 3x salary at the next job, he had no reason to think they could get a raise to match, so this is entirely correct. If the company is underpaying that much, there's no reason to believe a raise this big would be within company policy, let alone whether it's within the budget. – computercarguy Jun 24 at 20:07
  • @syn1kk If someone repeatedly presses you, that's the time for the mysterious ticking noise. The company just ticked off one more point on the list of reasons to leave ... and the train for some additional feedback left toot toot ;) – Frank Hopkins Jun 25 at 0:48
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    oh also i forgot to mention exit interviews are 100% for the COMPANY and 0% for you. in many cases exit interviews are worse than 0% because you can easily say things that burn bridges (it's human nature to answer when asked a question). – syn1kk Jun 25 at 12:33
80

Absolutely not unprofessional. If your new salary is three times higher and assuming that the new company isn’t run by total idiots and that new salary is reasonable, the old company has been underpaying you for a long time. I very much doubt they would have tripled your salary (and you will get lots of advice against accepting such a counteroffer even if it was made), and they are definitely not going to compensate you for your losses earlier.

It’s unprofessional to massively underpay you for your work. It’s professional to find a better job, give notice, and then leave.

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    +1 for comment about accepting a counter offer. – Tony Ennis Jun 26 at 18:22
  • Why would it be unwise to accept a counter offer? – Dennis Schröer Jun 27 at 8:59
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    @DennisSchröer Accepting a counter offer means you are a marked man. They will get rid of you as soon as you can. We even had cases here where someone accepted a counter offer, and when the other company's offer was gone, the counter offer was retracted and in one case the employee was fired. – gnasher729 Jun 27 at 22:13
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I feel, in addition to disappointment on part of the manager, there was a misjudgement on his side:

He most likely assumed that you were leaving for 'no good reason', i.e. for only a few percent more money. If you had asked him, he would have given you that 10% raise, or even an extra-generous 15%. At least that's what he tells himself now.

If you told him that you were going to triple(!!!) your salary, he would have shown understanding because a) any sensible person, including himself, would have taken that offer and b) he would never have been able to even get close to that offer. I guess even if the manager/company knows you are currently underpaid they would never be able to offer you more than like 25% of a raise; because of budget limits and/or as a matter of company policy and/or to maintain your and other employees' morale and motivation.

So, no, you were not unprofessional. The manager showing his frustration was.

Tip for the future: When asked for the reason you're leaving, always say that you feel it is time for a change for you to learn something new, how different companies and different company cultures work &c. So you're leaving for the change; that's something which by definition your current employer cannot offer, so they won't be too frustrated.

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    Or just be honest and articulate and say you're leaving for money because another company offered you triple the salary! – DJG Jun 24 at 14:46
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    I think this answer touches on an important point. Leaving for 5-15% without giving your current employer a chance to counter is kind of harsh. There is about 0% chance that your employer would be willing to triple your salary and even if they did how long would you stay knowing they felt you were worth three times what they had been paying you. The magnitude of the change makes the situation completely different. – Myles Jun 24 at 15:38
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    @DJG What benefit could that possible provide? – Matthew Read Jun 24 at 15:46
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    @gnasher729 Even if the old company would have been able to pay the adequate salary in the first place, they now just cannot admit they were intentionally exploiting the employee by adding 200%. Besides the other reasons I mentioned in my answer. - On the other side, the salary at the new company may be a bit to a lot higher than would be adequate/common. If that is the case, i.e. someone offers you much more than is common for a position, you are either some kind of genius and they know it before employing you, or, more likely, there is a catch. Happened to a friend of mine: It turned out – JimmyB Jun 25 at 8:23
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    @DJG, normally I would say "Honesty is the best policy." In this case, though, it's like being honest about what you're holding in a hand of poker! I'd advise the question asker to maintain a "poker face", offer little to no information that can be used against you. You valued what you learned there (even if it was chiefly, "I am underpaid and you are taking advantage of me"), but it is time for a change to see what other company cultures may have to offer (even if it is "only" 3x the pay), and you thought this was the best avenue for professional and personal growth. – Forbin Jun 25 at 22:32
23

You do not specify which country you are in, but at every American company that I have ever worked for, the HR department made it absolutely clear to all managers that they were never under any circumstances to say anything when giving a job reference except to confirm the period of employment. The primary function of HR is to manage risk for the company and giving a bad reference increases the risk of the company being sued by the former employee. Your manager's threat to give a bad reference is either empty or stupid.

Your only real obligation when leaving a company is to give them adequate notice. I personally consider it a professional obligation to do whatever I can to provide a clean transition by making sure that all of my work has been checked into source control, my portions of documentation have been completed, etc.

  • Your manager's threat to give a bad reference is either empty or stupid, A reminder for you. The OP is a previous felon. All the manager has to do is to state that fact with a little emphasize, and that could do huge damage to the OP. – scaaahu Jun 24 at 14:54
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    @scaaahu The OP's criminal record has nothing whatsoever to do with the manager's ability to give a bad reference. It cannot do any damage whatsoever to the OP if the OP has already disclosed it to the potential employer. Most hiring companies don't start calling references until they've performed a computer background check which will reveal the criminal record before the manager would have the opportunity. And the existence of a criminal record does absolutely nothing to change what I said about bad references and the risk of lawsuits to his company. – krb Jun 24 at 16:33
  • @krb of course, OP would first have to know that his former boss said something more than "he worked here from date A to date B". – RonJohn Jun 26 at 1:17
17

I want to add a more open answer because you did the right thing even if your boss wasn't an asshole nor was exploiting you (which he was and did).

There's a lot of people for whom the workplace is a war/competition/jungle and find normal to exploit people until they fight back. For these people, asking for a raise against leaving is normal behaviour.

But I think you'd prefer to work with nicer people, in which case armwrestling your salary will never be the best way to go. Doing what your manager described, aka asking for a raise with the threat of leaving, can very easily deteriorate your working conditions (having a good relation with your boss/manager is important) and you'd end up leaving the company anyway in the end.

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    Well strictly speaking no one need to threaten to leave, right? Sure it may be implied depending on the circumstances. But threatening to leave is not mandatory in that context ... – 0xC0000022L Jun 24 at 12:32
  • Saying "Someone else proposed me X, match it please" pretty much imply that you'll leave if it is not matched. – Echox Jun 24 at 15:25
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    Yes, but instead you could say: "I need a considerable raise." ... of course giving away that another offer exists, kinda implies that you walk out if it doesn't get matches. In the same vein as you don't have to give details during an exit interview, no one forces you to give details about other offers when asking for a raise. – 0xC0000022L Jun 24 at 15:29
16

It is a good thing you found yourself a new job.

Let's consider what would of happened if you asked your current employer for a higher salary before searching for a job. Judging by what was said so far about him, he would tell you he can raise it maybe 2 or 3k per year, or in worse case scenario, realise that you have gained consciousness about your skills and try to literally put you down ahead of you applying for new jobs, telling you you are not good enough. This would mean you would have lost the confidence to change your workplace, and that he could keep paying you pennies.

On the other hand, there is a situation where you would have asked after being offered your new position, if he could pay you more than you were being offered there. Chances are he is so scummy he would tell you no, and you would have had to deal with bad attitude from him for the contracted period after you put in your resignation, which is usually one month.

You took the best course of action. The only improvement would be to indeed skip your exit interview unless you work at a company where you're easily replaceable, and so they won't be missing you and will thank you for your time at the company.

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    I'd never skip an exit interview unless I'd be convinced the whole company is a total mess and I would want to cut all ties. Otherwise it can give you as much insight into them as it can give them about you. It can be a nice open discussion that can give you an indication on whether to ever consider returning to that company or not. And it potentially can give you some honest feedback you'd never get otherwise. Sure, it can also be nothing of that and just a plain exchange of formality nothingness, but hey, it's work time. In this case, OP learnt something about his past employer/manager. – Frank Hopkins Jun 24 at 12:05
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    The general consensus on here seems to be that accepting a counter offer instead of leaving is a bad move. In part because it makes you a marked man due to your perceived lack of loyalty. In addition money is only part of the equation, so that once you have justified why you want to leave a job, suddenly being offered more money doesn't negate all the other reasons you have to move on. – Peter M Jun 24 at 12:18
  • @FrankHopkins I guess you would indeed know whether it is worthwhile to attend on a case-by-case basis, but sometimes it feels like even those closest to you turn foes when it comes to business. Id kindly reject an exit interview unless I'm 100% sure it will be a positive one. – Tryb Ghost Jun 24 at 12:40
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    @PeterM I don't see it that way. "I really like working here, but Company B is offering significantly more money" makes you reasonable, not treasonous. – RonJohn Jun 26 at 1:22
  • @RonJohn Saying "I really like working here, but company B would offer me more, so can we talk?" is very different from saying "I really like working here, but I've already interviewed with company B (and probably a lot more places) and I have a firm offer in hand, so dance little monkey, dance me up a pay increase or I'm out the door". The former is a conversation, the latter is a threat. – Peter M Jun 26 at 3:41
7

He said that it was very unprofessional of me to get a new job without asking him for a raise first, and he'll have no choice but to say that in any reference in the future.

That's all you need to hear. Of course he has a choice. "He left at his own choice" is all the amount of accurate information he is qualified to specify, leaving it to you to specify any underlying reasons. It is highly unprofessional to hand out information given in an exit interview which is supposed to help both parties getting closure information helping them. Trying to use it for extracting extortion material and threatening you with it is poisoning this resource for future employers.

If you ever hear of such a reference, you can say "yes, he threatened to do this at the exit interview" and explain that the salary was so far substandard that you basically only accepted because doing nothing at all until getting a reasonable offer was not really making more sense. I would not, unless necessary, specify this employer as a reference anyway since maintaining their outward image (and the manager's in-house image) sort-of necessitates that an underpaid employee is not regarded highly (since it would be plain stupid to severely underpay a valued employee). If they paid you a pittance, they will not give you a glowing review, even if you'd want to think that would make you deserve it more rather than less.

5

All the other answers seem to be qualifying your professionalism on the basis that you were clearly underpaid. I think that’s irrelevant.

IMHO: professional steps to leave a job: Step 1: give adequate notice Step 2: there is no step 2.

You say you gave notice, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt that it was adequate. Congratulations, you satisfied the sum total of what’s expected to leave a job on normal terms anywhere I’ve ever worked (US).

  • Not a wrong answer, but if the raise were more modest (say 20%) then a discussion with the boss would have been prudent. – Tony Ennis Jun 26 at 18:25
  • @TonyEnnis sure, possibly. there's plenty of helpful ancillary information in the other answers and comments, but I wouldn't want to give OP the impression that the only reason it was ok to leave in this way is because their boss was taking advantage of them, because that's not the case. – thehole Jun 26 at 20:47
4

Big difference between being underpaid and being exploited.

Very early in my career, I was employed by a consulting company that paid me 15 euros per hour and billed me out for 100 per hour.

I changed to a different company and immediately started earning 60. My previous employer was upset that I would leave, paid me a small bonus (a few thousand euro) and gave me a bottle of wine.

Too bad for them, they were exploiting me and there was no way I would go back or feel like I owed them anything.

Moral of the story: if someone is exploiting you, get the hell out of there. And if they then offer you a raise, it's just breadcrumbs compared to what they really are making off you.

Eventually my previous boss was kicked off the project, whilst I got to stay. Karma ;)

2

Its not unprofessional.

Your boss' reaction was though.

Think about it. If you asked for that kind of raise do you think they would have given it? And even if they did they probably would have thought they did you a favor instead of brining you more in line with what you're worth. That could cause they to not want to give you good raises in the future.

2

Can you specify what country you're in? I'm assuming USA but your country's laws might differ.

Leaving because of pay is very common, otherwise we'd all be working at a fast food joint. It's extremely unlikely that someone is moving horizontally with the same pay, the same job, and the same position but just merely to change company or setting (unless they are moving to a new city due to family or otherwise). It's more than common for someone to leave horizontally in the same position and job but with better pay. So your boss doesn't make sense in this context. At 37k for software developer, that sounds horrible. Well below the market and I'm very doubtful your peers at the same company are making the same.

As far as telling future references, just tell him you won't include him as a reference. Legally he'll probably get into pretty big trouble for slander if he's trying to say you did something wrong by quitting. The conversation would be pretty funny though. "Do you know Onsen?" "Yes, I do. He quit because he didn't want to get paid a 3rd of what you guys are going to pay. I told that cheapo he has to live like starving people. That builds character." "Okay, thanks."

Edit: An extra thought though from your boss's POV. How long were you at the company? Given you have a felony and he took you on, he could see it that you used him to get your foot in the door. If you worked there for 2 years or more, I really don't see why he'd be upset you're quitting at the same salary you started. Otherwise if you been there a few months, then maybe he got a point but not really due to accepting you without a contract to stay on board.

2

In addition to all the things already said:

  1. Exit interviews are rarely a place for complete honesty. Unless you think you can really make a difference for your co-workers left behind, it is best to stick to vague platitudes like "this seemed like a good opportunity to advance my career in a different direction."

  2. Once you threaten to quit, even if you stay, your value to the company goes down. A good boss will be thinking ahead to how to replace you when you quit for real.

(There are counter-examples, though. I once threatened to quit a job when my previous employer offered me a 40% raise to come back; my employer asked me how much it would take for me to stay and met that number almost to the penny. I stayed on until the project wound down.)

  1. A company that underpays you will likely continue to underpay you. A one-time raise that brings you up to, or close to up to, market value salary in a penny-pinching or struggling company is not worth as much as moving over to a company with a better pay scale where you will likely continue to see your salary rise over time.

  2. You don't say where you are located, but a $37K salary for a software engineer seems absurdly low, even for someone with no experience and a criminal record. If you were jumping ship for 10% or 20% it would be one thing, but if your employer were serious about treating you right they would have increased your salary to something more reasonable after you had proven your worth to them.

tl;dr: it's not unprofessional to give notice and quit.

2

Your boss did not have your best interests at heart. Interns in this field make more than $40K a year. Junior Developers more than $60K a year. Even as a former felon, you were being taken advantage of in this situation.

As a Software Engineer, you need to know a couple things about Employment & Labor Law:

1) This field is At-Will - it means you can leave for any reason without disclosing and they can terminate you for any reason without disclosing.

2) Never sign a No-Compete - That will handcuff your future prospects.

Kudos to you for turning your life around and learning a trade.

0

Just to quickly "+1" the respondents who said you weren't unprofessional -- you weren't.

Now for my real answer --

Asking for a raise is an extremely challenging process as the correct approach is to "sell" your skills to your boss, and not just walk in and ask for money. There are other reasons to ask for more money, but you were being underpaid for your skills. Presumably your manager was otherwise happy with your work, and you should have either been given a raise, or been told what kind of schedule for a raise you were on as some companies only give raises at certain times of the year. In short -- your manager was the unprofessional person, not you.

When it comes to having a job offer in hand, asking for a raise based on another offer is equally challenging. One of the instructions I've been given, as a manager, is that an employee who comes in with an offer, and asks it to be met, should be asked when their last day of work is. There is good research which shows that employees who use offers to obtain a raise typically leave within a year anyway.

I wish you all the best, and congratulations on being paid what you're likely worth.

0

Your boss responded poorly, but unless you pretty much hated him, I'd say you could've handled the situation more professionally.

From my experience, a company hardly pays an employee poorly just because they can get away with it, they have a financial planning that can be adjusted within some margin. Now, if one employee who's not exactly earning minimum wage receives a much better salary offer, this is expected to go off the planning margins. This partially means that hardly any coworker would be doing a job similar to yours and earn double your salary, let alone the triple.

As others have said, if they did offer to match the salary of your new job, many people would advise you against accepting. But then again, you had no obligation of sharing the number.

If I were you, I'd consider explaining that I received a better job proposal, mention a few advantages and maybe that you'd enjoy a refreshed work environment. Make a point that the salary on the new position is "significantly higher" but you'd consider with good faith a counter offer. Refuse to give the number, as you are expecting to be given a "fair offer" from your employer. Note that a 20% raise is already significantly higher, and so is 200% or 500%.

The reasoning behind the "fair offer" is: If your employer knows what your new salary is, he is only concerned if he can or should match that number, regardless of what is reasonable or not. Whatever he decides to offer you provides no insight on the company's situation and the value you have for them. However, when you refuse to give them this hint, their best choice is to give you what would be fair within the conditions your current company has.

The advantage you get is that even if they surmount the offer you received, and you want to leave nonetheless, you can still claim that the other place is paying more. Remember that a salary proposal is only valid if written and signed.

You should consider preparing some constructive feedback to your former employer, and he should appreciate this, as he does not want to lose more employees and people often won't complain about some delicate matters when they want to keep their jobs or ask for a promotion.

In your case, by refusing to give them a chance to negotiate and to provide any feedback, the manager might be concluding that you are hiding something. Maybe something you are not telling him, but you are telling everyone else. Maybe money isn't the issue, maybe you are just fed up with him and/or the company.

Note as well that you should periodically ask for raises or at least for clarifications on the conditions for receiving a raise. This would prevent your salary from deviating too much from the market average over the years, or, if your boss refuses to negotiate salary on a yearly basis, then he can expect no better than you to consider that negotiating salary isn't really an option.

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    Companies underpay all the time because they can get away with it. 10-20% underpaid is one thing, but 3x underpaid is hardly due to ignorance. – aidan.plenert.macdonald Jun 26 at 2:08
-4

In my opinion, since you said that you had no complaints about your role in your previous job, and based on the fact that you accepted to work even though you felt underpaid and never tried to negotiate that, leaving without discussing was unprofessional indeed. If what you say is true they didn’t know that you felt not well paid, so since you had no other complaint you should first discuss with them and give them a chance for a counteroffer.

Afterall they gave you the opportunity to prove yourself, be part of something big, evolve professionally and be able to have triple the money offers. That being said, saying that he would not recommend you was unprofessional from their side too. He should praise your abilities since he would be willing to consider a raise if you gave him the chance, meaning that you could deserve it. You were both foul.

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    That'd be fine if he was paid correctly...and wasn't obviously being used. There is nothing professional about a company screwing over their workers and paying well below industry standards....regardless if the individuals past. The OP knew he was being paid less, yes, and the company took advantage. – morbo Jun 24 at 23:09
  • @morbo regardless if the individuals past.? I had never been an employer. But, I used to share an office with a felony. It was the most terrible time I had during my career life time(30 years). I had to make sure my drawer was locked everyday before I took off. I never dare to say any joke (I was afraid he could kill me). I can imagine how much efforts that manager had to take to keep the OP. If the OP is not a felony, then, yes, the OP can leave at anytime he wants to. But, in the OP's case, he owed the manager at least a notice. – scaaahu Jun 25 at 9:01
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    @scaaahu you’ll find that many people including my self have had those same issues with non felons who also couldn’t take a joke and stole things constantly. This is not unique amoung people who have commited crimes. The whole ‘once you’re in, you’re always in’ mentality the public oppresses on people who did their time is simply misguided...i will admit, the USA is very poor at rehabilitation within their prison system, but the onus is on the public to accept. The OP owes the public his time, which he did. He owes the manager nothing, and most certainly does not have to stay underpaid. – morbo Jun 25 at 9:10
  • @morbo If my office mate wasn't a felony, I would not have worried that much. OP's manager would have to go through a lot trouble to make sure the people would not worry (we are humans, after all). So, the manager had to pay extra efforts to manager the OP – scaaahu Jun 25 at 9:59