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I've recently gotten an interview in software with a company who notoriously has the highest turnover rate in the career field.

The reason the company is notorious for this is because they have a record of executive-imposed firing the bottom 'x' performers every so often. To my knowledge, this practice is still in effect.

The natural response of this for managers who like their team is to hire people, and them fire them a short while later in order to fulfil these quotas. This practice is well-known in the industry, and there is no doubt that it's going to be a requirement for the position I'm interviewing for.

Given that I want to take the position at all costs (walking away is strictly not an option), in my interview, how do I address this? Obviously I don't want to be another employment statistic in the high turnover rate. Is there any sort of guarantee that can be had or given to help against this? What information pertaining to this statistic is necessary to know going into the job?

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    If you want the position at all costs, then I suspect you shouldn't try to get special arrangements. Oct 20 '21 at 0:05
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    There is a small chance that your new manager, if asked "what do I need to do to hit the ground running and not be one of the cannon fodder only hired to let you keep your current team?" would tell you something useful. But there's no chance an interviewer will. Oct 20 '21 at 0:22
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    If you want to join at all costs, then you won’t be concerned about the turnover rate.
    – Solar Mike
    Oct 20 '21 at 4:23
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    @tuskiomi That doesn't make sense. You say you want the position "at all costs". The biggest cost in this case is the risk you'll get laid off in a year, that's the fundamental problem. Are you saying that actually you don't want it "at all costs" ? Oct 20 '21 at 9:57
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    @tuskiomi: Let's say hypothetically you ask and the interviewer says, "Unfortunately, I can confirm that you are indeed being hired as fire-fodder, and will 100% be let go in 6 months to a year." Would you still take the position then? Oct 20 '21 at 18:35
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You don't. What would you expect to get out of doing so? They won't give you a "no fire" contract. They might verbally tell you whatever they think will soothe you, but you can't trust it. Even if your manager really means it, its not under his control. And having worked at such places, its cutthroat politics to decide who gets to be kept, even if he goes to bat for you he can fail.

So bringing it up will be at best a placebo for you, at worst harm your chances. Really your decision is do I want this job even if it means I have a high risk of being fired in a year, or do you want to walk away. Since you've already decided against the latter, you just deal with it. Then if things are looking like you'll score very poorly on your first review, start dipping your toes in the job market then while you wait for the results.

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  • 'just dealing with it' as it pertains to an interview is what I'm asking about, and the majority of my question.
    – user53861
    Oct 20 '21 at 0:11
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    Just dealing with it means doing nothing. Do your work as well as possible, that's the only thing that may effect things. I would say if you think you're going to working there and having any anxiety about this- don't take the job. The mental and emotional burden isn't worth it if you can't just forget about it. Oct 20 '21 at 0:12
  • wait, so your answer is then to walk away or do nothing? That's... confusing
    – user53861
    Oct 20 '21 at 0:13
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    @tuskiomi You either don't address it at all and take the job, or you walk away. Bringing it up in the interview won't get you any special accommodations. They may say "oh don't worry about it", but that promise means nothing and they won't be held to it. And bringing it up at all could be a red flag on your application. So yes- either ignore it and accept the risk, or walk. Oct 20 '21 at 0:14
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    This is the answer. If you want the job despite this, don’t bring it up and take the job. Bringing it up would just label you as a slacker-to-be to an org that believes in this.
    – mxyzplk
    Oct 20 '21 at 0:49
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Consider your BATNA -- Best alternative to a negotiated agreement.

In negotiation theory, the best alternative to a negotiated agreement or BATNA (no deal option) refers to the most advantageous alternative course of action a party can take if negotiations fail and an agreement cannot be reached... The BATNA could include diverse situations, such as suspension of negotiations, transition to another negotiating partner... BATNA is the key focus and the driving force behind a successful negotiator. A party should generally not accept a worse resolution than its BATNA.

What is your BATNA if you can't be made comfortable with the issue at hand in this interview process? Unfortunately, if it's really true as put in the question that, "I want to take the position at all costs (walking away is strictly not an option)", then you have by definition surrendered all negotiating leverage. Your primary power was to say "no", but that's been taken off the table.

So I'd be forced to agree with the other current answer. Say nothing, as it can only throw a wrench into your being hired. If you want to have any pushback against this policy, then you need to find some way to regain your ability to say "no" to the offer.

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Given that I want to take the position at all costs (walking away is strictly not an option), in my interview, how do I address this?

The standard use of the idiom "at all costs" in this context means that you will take this position no matter what.

So you can ask anything you like. But your premise is that the answer you are given doesn't matter - you will still take the job.

Obviously I don't want to be another employment statistic in the high turnover rate. Is there any sort of guarantee that can be had or given to help against this?

You can ask for a guarantee that you won't be fired even if you are one of the bottom 'x' performers. But obviously, you won't get such a guarantee. Why would any employer give one, never mind this particular employer?

What information pertaining to this statistic is necessary to know going into the job?

You could ask the criteria they use to measure "the bottom 'x' performers" in hopes of avoiding inclusion in that group.

But frankly, if you have already decided you want this job no matter what, you shouldn't bring up any of these questions, as there is a risk that they won't be happy with them and won't want to make an offer. You could learn the answer to any question after you are hired.

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Don't ask any HR-related question which will not impact your decision as to whether or not to take the job. There is no benefit to doing so; you have no leverage with which to negotiate if you've already decided you will unconditionally take the job, and there's every reason not to because it makes you look hesitant about the company when in fact you are not hesitant. Furthermore, it wastes time in the interview that could be better spent asking other questions that may be more relevant.

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    This is exactly right. You can ask questions, but the only questions you should ask are the ones that are going to make your potential employer MORE willing to hire you. They are basically fake questions where you don't care about the answer, you only care about giving some sort of positive impression of yourself. Oct 21 '21 at 1:34
  • Edited the answer; "will or will not" in the first sentence was incorrect; I meant to say "will not"; if you ask an HR-related question where you don't care about the answer but they might care that you asked the question, then it's not worth it. Only ask HR-related questions that you actually care about the answer to, or that will make the company more likely to fire you. Apologies to anyone who upvoted the previous version of the answer.
    – Ertai87
    Oct 22 '21 at 15:11
  • "Only ask HR-related questions that you actually care about the answer to, or that will make the company more likely to fire you." I don't get it. Oct 22 '21 at 15:14
  • Oops, typo; I meant "hire", not "fire".
    – Ertai87
    Oct 22 '21 at 15:15
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Don't ask about it during the interview. Spend the first few days evaluating one of your team members to sabotage, instead.

Put simply, given the workplace policies of this business, you're almost certainly being hired as "cannon fodder" for the next round of firings, and there's no real way to avoid that by making a deal with your new boss, because he's still got to answer to his own bosses, and firing no-one will be unacceptable.

As a result, if your goal is to acquire a long-term job at this company, your goal is to get one of your coworkers fired instead. Spend the first bit of time working there evaluating them, then decide which of them you're going to knife in the back, and start sabotaging them.

You don't need to run faster than the lion, you just need to run faster than the slowest antelope - and if that antelope is slower than you because you put a metaphorical knife in their leg, such is life.

Obviously, all of the other team members would also be aware of this, so you can expect them to be doing their best to sabotage you, instead, as the newest group member. If you can find any cracks in the group that you can use to turn them against each other, so that they're not all focused on sabotaging you, so much the better.

Needless to say, this sort of behaviour would lead to a toxic and counter-productive work culture, which is why many large companies have abandoned this practice. I would personally reconsider your desire to work at such a company "at all costs".

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    Rather than putting your energy into sabotaging the rest of your team, it'd be more productive to focus on your own performance. Whether through your own choice or the company's annual cull, you'll move on from this company eventually and you don't want a reputation for dishonest or underhand behaviour.
    – simonc
    Oct 21 '21 at 11:23
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    @simonc in a company with sane policies I'd agree; but stack ranking creates an environment where only the most ruthless back stabbers can survive. It's a horrible toxic environment and I'd advise anyone to stay away; but if you want to work in a company that does it for some reason your only way to remain beyond the first annual massacre is to destroy one ore more of your coworkers so they get the chop instead of you. Oct 21 '21 at 11:26
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If you want to ask about it, the terminology for the system is "forced ranking." Ask about whether using such a system is part of the company management philosophy.

..... if you're ready for potential cans of worms that might open.

They might ask you why you want to know, in which case, I'd leave it as a simple "I just want to get complete picture of the potential opportunity, and the atmosphere and company philosophy are part of that picture."

If you express concerns about your own skin, you would basically be making a declaration that you expect or are concerned that you'd fall into the very bottom group or rank when compared to your future co-workers. That would pretty much insure you won't be hired, so, if you want to ask, tread carefully. If you're already pretty sure this is the practice, just keep it in mind, and don't ask.

If you think it's an arbitrary and unhealthy practice, then don't move forward additionally with a company that promotes that as part of their management philosophy.

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Reading between the lines: it sounds like you're absolutely desperate for any sort of paycheck, and the main reason you're worried about this is because you don't want to be fired 1 month from now and still be without a source of income.

So, I'm going to give you advice I never thought I'd give: don't mention a single thing about turnover, take the job, and expect to work 50-60 hour weeks for the next 3-4 months without even being asked to.

Keep in mind, you don't want this job long-term. Or even medium-term. The only reason you'd accept this job is because you're so desperate that you can't conceive of walking away from the "opportunity".

So remove the desperation. Get the paycheck coming in, and then start immediately looking for a job without the desperation pressing in on you, where you can conceive of walking away from a job offer. And since you don't want to be in that 'cannon fodder' zone, your best chance of avoiding it is to go so far above-and-beyond that your boss would rather fire anyone else besides you. Volunteer for unpaid overtime tasks. Volunteer for grunt/annoying/boring work. Volunteer for anything. You'll start burning out if you try to do this long-term, but it'll let you look for a job while having a paycheck to support you.

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    Some of this advice is contradictory. Since looking for a job takes time, going "above and beyond" or volunteering will take away from the most important task, which is to find a non-sucky job. I would just assume I'm going to be fired whenever the next cycle comes around, and focus on getting a better job. Oct 21 '21 at 17:09
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    @DJClayworth It's sort of contradictory but not really. Yeah, you'll have to work hard squeezing it all in, but that's the reality when you are forced to take a risky job, but need job security. The best you can really do is work hard to keep your head above water while trying to find another job. Oct 22 '21 at 0:13
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I don't think it would hurt to ask during the interview in a non-judgmental(!) way if the rumors of that "fire bottom x% every year" policy are true and whether or not it's still in effect. You can easily frame it into a positive by claiming that you support this policy because you work best in competitive environments and that it means you are going to work only with highly qualified and motivated colleagues (it doesn't, but that's what HR wants to believe). So asking this question won't necessarily lower your chances to get hired. And honestly, any company which works based on a hire-and-fire policy can not afford to be picky. Especially on a market like software development where qualified people aren't easy to come by. So as long as you don't spit the recruiter in the face you will likely get the job anyway.

And there is actually a good chance that the policy isn't actually in effect anymore. I know of several tech companies which used to operate under that policy, but then realized how self-destructive it is and abandoned it (like Microsoft, for example). Yet, such rumors take quite a long time to die.

But if it is in effect, then it is very unlikely that they will make a special agreement with you which would make you exempt from this policy. Especially when you are just yet another employee without any special leverage in the negotiation. So in that case all you can do is prepare for it.

  • Either you accept that your job is just temporary and that your employment will be terminated in a year. So you better don't get too comfortable, do the minimum of work necessary to not get fired out-of-schedule and keep looking for other positions.
  • Or you decide to not accept it, and make sure you won't be in the bottom x% in a year. You would do that by finding out how your superiors make their yearly firing decision, and then make sure you stay above their line. If they fire depending on productivity and skills, make sure you appear more productive and skilled than your peers. If they fire based on sympathy, make sure that they like you better than your peers.
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  • I guess the only risk is that the manager is expressly hiring someone who they can fire, instead of their established, more experienced team-mates in a year's time.. In that case they don't want someone who will complicate that by being better than the existing team members. Oct 22 '21 at 12:25
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    @mattfreake In that case you would use that year to convince that superior that their established and experienced team-mates are actually incompetent or subversive and need to be fired and that you are a preferable alternative. No, that's not very nice or constructive, but if that's the game they want you to play...
    – Philipp
    Oct 22 '21 at 12:27
  • I was just worried they might not hire someone who is keen in the first place, when they know they want someone they can fire, so they keep the established members, But (thankfully) I've never worked anywhere like this, so don't know if that's a realistic possiblity Oct 22 '21 at 13:13
  • @Philipp unfortunately in my own experience with this form of "management" it was clear that the manager was going to keep his buddies and get rid of someone else, no matter what the relative competencies were. It's really impossible to perform your way out of such a situation.
    – DaveG
    Oct 22 '21 at 22:00
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You won't change that kind of company. Not in an interview, not at all. They change this themselves when they figure out that it is damaging, like Microsoft did.

Just take it into account when you decide which job to take. The obvious disadvantage is that you might be in the 10% that they let go. (Which doesn't mean you are in the 10% of lowest performers, but that someone higher up doesn't want to lose someone else and therefore puts you into the lowest 10%. So if your manager doesn't like your face, you're gone).

The not so obvious disadvantage is that everyone can stay outside the lowest 10% not only by making themselves look good, but also by making others look bad. Where I work right now, if someone else does a good job, I'm happy for them, and it makes my life easier. In this kind of company, if someone else does a good job, I'd try to make them look bad because they put me into danger.

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