14 Subtle Little Cues That You’re About To Lose Your HR Job…And What To Do About Them!

By Alan Collins

No one in HR immune from getting fired. 

Sometimes the reasons are within your control.  Sometimes they’re not.

The key is to recognize the early warning signs so that you can take control of the situation as soon as possible.

Early in my career, I was doing some work for my boss, the HR director at the time, when we were about to present an offer to an executive job candidate.

But he called me into his office that afternoon and told me: “I can’t go through with this offer…and I can’t do this job anymore.” 

I was shocked and just a bit confused.

He then got up and closed the door to give us both some privacy.

“I have to tell you something.  I just got a new invoice for an HR job search from a headhunter we haven’t dealt with in three years.”

“No problem boss,” I said.  “I’ll just call the company to find out what the invoice is for.  It was probably sent to us by  mistake.”

“Don’t bother.  I did exactly that.  And I found out that…”

“The invoice is for MY job!”

Wow.  Talk about getting blindsided.  Stunned that my boss would tell me this, I didn’t quite know what to say or do.

He then let me in on the whole story.

His boss, the VP of HR apparently had begun a search to replace him.  And he obviously didn’t know he was being replaced.

In the prior six months, this new incoming VP had fired everyone on the HR leadership team, except for him.  My boss was literally the last person standing from the old regime. 

He thought he had done a terrific job of bonding with his new boss and collaborating with the new members of the HR team who had been hired as replacements.

And now, with this invoice clutched nervously in his hand, he made a career changing decision:  “I can’t stay here.”

He had gone in to see the HR VP, taking the invoice with him.  “I don’t get it,” he said, “I thought things were going fine.”

The HR VP squirmed, “Hey, we were just testing the waters,” she said. 

“Bullshit, I don’t buy it!”  he replied, clearly angry and swearing which he had never, ever done before at work.

He continued: “You know and I know that we’re doing major cost cutting in HR.   We can’t afford to spend $40,000 on a job search and not intend to hire someone.  That doesn’t make sense.  With our business in the toilet right now, the company isn’t going to let you window shop with that kind of money.  Why didn’t you just tell me?”

For my boss, it became an issue of trust more than one of job security.

He then told her that the time had obviously come for him to leave, and that it was now a matter of coming up with a severance package and a departure that was dignified.

He handled it very professionally, got his severance package and walked.

Unfortunately, his mistake was that he didn’t objectively assess his relationship his new boss very well from the very start.

He allowed himself to believe that, even though big changes were being made in HR, he somehow would be the exception.

Was it ego?  Or was it wishful thinking?

Frankly, it really doesn’t matter.

He missed one of the many tell-tale cues that the ax was about to fall. 

The lesson: if there is handwriting on the wall, you’ve got to be able to spot it quickly…and then take action to deal with it, before it deals with you.

But, here’s the dilemma…

In most cases, if you are about to get canned,
chances are you WON’T know about it beforehand.

You will not be warned.

You won’t know about it until happens…even if you’re in charge of all company layoffs yourself.

So, what are the clues that you’re about to be pink slipped.

Here are 14 obvious and not-so-obvious signs:

1.  You’ve got a new boss who has a mandate for change.

Any brand new leader coming in should automatically serve as a warning to you that staff changes may be afoot.  This is especially true if they’ve come in with a mandate to shake things up or make major changes in the HR function.

Like a new football coach that’s hired to take a losing team to the Super Bowl, they want to wake up the talent and trim the fat.

You may have been a star before but now the slate is clean.  That new boss is going to judge your performance against new criteria — that is, the new boss’s metrics, and not your old boss’s.

And if that new leader starts talking about a wonderful friend with whom he used to work and who held your position, that’s a surefire sign he has designs on your job.

What to do:  Treat getting a new boss like starting a new job. Many HR pros make the mistake of continuing to work as they did before the new boss arrived and thinking that it’s the boss who has to get acclimated to the culture, not them.

But that’s a prescription for getting a surprise heave-ho.  The new boss has a mandate, and you have to make sure you’re aligned with that mandate.  If you’re not, you’re toast.

2.  You’ve had a bad review.

If your last performance review didn’t go as well as you expected and now your boss is breathing down your throat, consider that a warning sign.

While he may not have formally put you on a “90-day performance improvement plan,” if business results decline and cutbacks occur, you’re a prime candidate for dismissal.

What to do:  Continue to do your best but also begin putting energies against updating your resume, start re-energizing your network and make a list of companies that could benefit from your experience, and work on arranging interviews with them.

3.  Your company’s financial results suck.

If your company is not making money or meeting plan, it’s ripe for some kind of change whether it is job cuts, reorganization or the pursuit of a new business strategy.  Either way, you have to realize your job may be in jeopardy.

What to do:  Candidly assess how HR is viewed inside your organization.  If it’s viewed as a commodity, the CEO, GM or the board may decide to outsource your department’s work or replace the department head with someone cheaper to cut costs. Either way, start looking for a new job.

4.  Your company has been sold, merged, or taken over.

If your company is sold or your division is sold, you have to realize that there will be redundant positions and your job could be affected no matter what level in the organization you’re currently at.

What to do:  Always have a power point deck ready that shows the value you are providing to the firm so that when your company is taken over or you get a new CHRO or CEO, you’re Johnny-on-the-spot ready to explain your value.

Don’t make the mistake of waiting for a meeting to be scheduled by the new leadership to make your case.  Take the bull by the horns and be ready to make a positive first impression.  Failing to have your self-promotional sales pitch polished, and you’re at the whim of others’ perceptions of you.

5.  Your job responsibilities have been cut.

If the scope of your job has been whacked as part of a major HR restructuring, there’s a reason. And it’s probably because people didn’t feel you were up to the task, regardless of what your boss has told you. And that could be a sign that you could be getting moved out soon.

If your boss tells you he’s reassigning some of your responsibilities to someone else to lighten your heavy load, be skeptical.  It could be just a diplomatic way for the boss to say he no longer believes you can do the job.

What to do:  Do the best you can in your reduced capacity and start exploring the job marketplace.

6.  You’re out of the loop.

As an HR pro, your insights, perspectives and points of view are what makes you valuable.

If you’re left out of key meetings, no longer asked to weigh in on HR policies, staffing decisions or workforce strategies, it signifies a number of things:
(a) that your boss, colleagues or clients don’t view you as strategic.
(b) your boss has lost confidence in you, or
(c) you’ve become an impediment to getting things done and they’d sooner move ahead without you.

These are all signs that you’re no longer in the loop and your insights are no longer valued.   And it may only be a matter of time before you’re shown the door.

What to do:  Start returning recruiters phone calls and rebuilding your network.

7.  You’re not getting buy-in.

Not being able to get approval for your HR strategy, key talent initiatives or budget can indicate that the leadership team no longer supports you.  It can also indicate that your proposals are not aligned with the business.

Either way, it shows you’re not in tune with your colleagues or your organization’s needs.  And you can’t be effective or successful without buy-in.

What to do:  Talk with the people who are not giving you the support you need.  You might say something like, “I’m sensing an issue around buy-in. On the last three HR projects, I got support from finance and marketing but not from you. Can you talk to me about that? Do you think we’re making investments in the right areas?”

In so doing, you show you know what’s going on and that you care about their opinion.  But be ready for direct, perhaps uncomfortable feedback.

8.  Your boss’ behavior towards you has dramatically changed.

if he or she is increasingly unavailable to you, cancels routine meetings and seems to be spending more time behind closed-doors.  All of these are clear indications that you and your boss are drifting apart. Unless the two of you get back in alignment, your job is at risk.

Similarly, if you find your lines of  communication with your boss are drying up—or worse, he assigns you to report to someone else—it means you’re no longer a priority in his mind. If you were, he’d devote a portion of his precious time to you.

What to do:   Stay persistent. Keep trying to connect with you boss by checking in regularly to make sure you’re on the same page.

9.   You screwed up big time.

Incompetence may be rewarded in the cartoon world of Dilbert, but when you screw up in the real world of HR, it could cost you your job.  While no one is perfect and mistakes are made, don’t dismiss any major, blatant error you’ve committed as minor and insignificant.

Also, if you consistently miss milestones on a significant HR project with high visibility, whether you’re a CHRO or a brand new HR manager, you’re on shaky ground and likely could soon be replaced by someone who can get the job done.

What to do:  Come up with a way to position your failure so that it doesn’t appear to be such a big liability when you interview for your next HR role.

10.  You’re on bad terms with revenue-producing clients.

If the VP of sales starts squawking to the CEO that HR guidelines and practices are preventing him from booking sales, you should be concerned.  The last thing you want to do is to be viewed as an HR pro that prevents your company from making money.

What to do:  Fix the problem. ASAP.

11. You’ve engaged in an unethical, illegal or immoral activity.

This one is obvious. If you’re taking kickbacks from an HR vendor, lying to your boss about your work, guilty of sexual harassment or fudging your expense book…eventually you’re going to get caught and get the boot. And rightly so.

What to do:  You’re a scumbag so stop immediately. Re-read your company’s policies on ethical behavior.  Think about what you’re doing and if you’d want to read about it the next day in the newspaper.  Then get ready to pack your stuff.  The clock is ticking.  It could only be a matter of time.

12. You’re being set up to fail.

Some managers who want to get rid of an incumbent employee will often set unreasonable expectations.

If your boss continually asks you to do something without the right resources or cuts your budget by 50% in a year, you have to question their faith in your role.

On the other hand, they may place these demands on you without understanding what’s humanly possible in your role.

In any event, it’s your job to educate them.

What to do:  Being set up to fail is a tough situation to turn around. The best you can do, especially if this is happening under a new boss, is to “take the high ground” and try to understand your new boss’s demands from her perspective.

They may not be all that unreasonable—just different from what your old boss wanted.

And while you’re searching for a solution, start working your network to find your next  job.

13. Your boss hires an executive coach for you.

This can be a good thing or a bad thing. Getting an executive coach can indicate that your boss is still invested in you.

But, it can also be a formality—a way for your current employer to cover their butt after later firing you for poor performance.

By hiring an executive coach, your boss can say, “We tried and you just didn’t work out.”

What to do: Don’t be cynical about this if you care about your current position. Have a brutally candid conversation with your boss about why he hired an executive coach for you and what he wants you to get out of it.  Make every effort to learn from what your boss and your coach tell you.

14. You are re-assigned to a corporate-wide “special project.”

Again, this could be a good or bad thing.

Some special project assignments will give you tremendous visibility and will act as a springboard for your career.  Other projects are used as an opportunity to free up your current job so that it can be filled with someone else with higher potential…and then once the project is done, eliminate the special project position — and you.

What to do:  You need to assess the real value that the special project will have on your career.  Have a candid discussion with your boss, your mentor and tap into the grapevine.  If the project is merely “busywork” and your boss is pressuring you to accept it, it’s too late to save face. The best you can do is keep a smile on your face, accept this new role while dusting off your resume.

To sum up, these are just a few of the tell-tale signs that your current role may be at risk. 

Print these out or memorize them so you don’t get blindsided as my former boss was.

Recognize, that no matter what your position is in HR, you’re not immune to any of these signals.

Be careful.


Click HERE To add your comments and insights on this article.


Are YOU at risk?  Then, should begin now for the worst case scenario by making sure you have an UP-TO-DATE RESUME and that your INTERVIEWING SKILLS  are polished up and shiny.  To help you, here are two indispensable resources you should check out:

HR RESUME SECRETS:  How to Create An Irresistible Human Resources Resume That Will Open Doors, Wow Hiring Managers & Get You Interviews! by CLICKING HERE.


HR INTERVIEW SECRETS: How to Ace Your Next Human Resources Interview, Dazzle Your Interviewers & LAND THE JOB YOU WANT!  For more details go HERE.

About the Author: Alan Collins is Founder of Success in HR, Inc. and the author of a variety of best selling HR books including:  HR RESUME SECRETS and  HR INTERVIEW SECRETS.  He was formerly Vice President – Human Resources at PepsiCo where he led HR initiatives for their Quaker Oats, Gatorade and Tropicana businesses.

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21 Responses to “14 Subtle Little Cues That You’re About To Lose Your HR Job…And What To Do About Them!”

  1. Kim Says:

    Excellent as usual Alan! I don’t believe there’s anything like this that gives a ‘head’s up’ when our job is on the line.
    By chance, any advice on how to handle a situation where non-HR employees are ‘gunning’ for you? Had a position as Employee Relations within an Operations team. The team hated HR and viewed the position as secretarial. It was so bad I thought Ashton Kutcher was going to punk me any minute! And yes, I quit.
    Thank you for sharing your experiences and knowledge. You’re helping a tremendous amount of people.

  2. syamsir syahbana Says:

    Alan thanks for your resume on the 14 warning that you are to get fired in hr its very clear signal for hr person,from my perspective if
    the hr person understood their role and function be a strategic partner he/she should be avoid from the above warning.thanks

  3. syamsir syahbana Says:

    Alan thanks for your resume on the 14 warning that you are to get fired in hr its very clear signal for hr person,from my perspective if
    the hr person understood their role and function be a strategic partner he/she should be avoid from the above warning.thanks

  4. Bobby Says:

    Alan, another great article from your desk providing tremendous insight on “behaviors/ signs” that one should watch out for when “firing” is on way. Being a manager from last 8 yrs I have not fired any one nor demonstrated any of the above signs. If I see performance issues, I talked to the team openly about it, put an improvement plan and guided them through the process. But recently I have observed that people find it easy to demonstrate “signs” than have open discussions. Though I personally will have issues with such leadership, I learned a great deal from your article. Thanks a lot

  5. Gilda Newman Says:

    Great article, I guest I could say that I have been on the side of the table of being the person hired to shake things up. You’re under the gun to perform and deliver immediate results in the name of being a strong strategic partner to the business. It is your job to ensure that your team is operating in alignment with the needs of the business.Today’s HR professionals are expected to have a strong grasp in the business strategies of the clients the service.It’s not just about the business of HR functions, it about having that seat at the table, the full package.

  6. Diana Dema Says:

    Thank you again, Alan! The article provides such a good insight about the HR person’s self awareness and the role model he/she provides even when the case is to depart from the current position. Agree with Bobby, about the key role of performance management process in any working environment in establishing a constant constructive and fair dialogue between supervisor and direct report. This dialogue enables self-awareness about current strengths and areas for development. When efforts made, in spite of development resources provided, result unsuccessful and this is made known through factual evidence, think that HR person, in whatever role or position will be aware that it is time to depart and think of a change. From experience have found that an open and fair process of constant communication and recognition, is appreciated, versus at the back scenes and/or bad surprises which affect not only the HR person but the culture of the whole organization. Thank you Alan, it is worth reading and provides very useful insight.

  7. Rose Mwaniki Says:

    Great advice,a must read it will help one get organised in their job.

  8. Tony Pothitos Says:

    Once again Allen, you have in a few minutes saved the jobs of many people who shouldn’t have been fired in the first place.

    Wonderful job. This subject was on a taboo list for years, I am glad someone simply came out with the truth.

  9. Jay Says:

    Thanks for the tips. I’m fairly young, but have been feeling these signs for the past few months (#5-8 and 12). I have been looking for another job and am waiting to hear back from several companies, but my friends a family members are saying I should stay where I am to “build my resume” and say that I’ve been with my organization for a long time. It’s hard to build upon your skills when all of your job duties – other than small administrative tasks have been stripped from you. I’ve asked for feedback, but I can’t get any. And my company doesn’t have annual reviews or evaluations. I have no idea what I did wrong, but I’m not going to stick around any longer than I have to to find out.

    Your article, has reassured me that the signs I see around me point to the fact that I can either sit around and wait to be fired, or I can leave on my own. Thanks so much!

  10. Alan Says:

    Jay, I’m glad you found this article helpful!

  11. Dan Says:

    Thank you Alan. We had a new senior leader take over to shake things up and she was loaded for bear. Being one of the more junior people on staff I was more of a cub and didn’t feel the threat directly but certainly saw the bears run, hide, and go down one by one. When she provided me feedback it went fairly well then she asked me what my perceptions were regarding events before and since her arrival. I was floored for a second and then conflicted as to how much to offer so I went with my gut and simply told the truth. I mentioned that she needed to make changes for sure, but not everyone was part of the problem although it seemed she treated everyone as if they were. I also noted that I had only arrived a month or two before her, as did a more mid-senior leader, yet she seemed to include us in the crowd of the broken. She recognized that and made mention of it but also two things of great importance came about from that: 1) she said she probably owed a couple of people an apology (the ones she eventually kept) and 2) in her 25+yrs she had not had such honest and candid feedback from such a junior person. This happened to me over 20 years ago and it still pays me dividends — I now deliberately seek the same input from those junior members…and get it, and it is refreshing.

    Jay – – sorry for your plight, but since leaving anyway, if not already gone, might you consider bringing up the need for feedback to your superiors? In HR, feedback mechanisms and appraisals are key to information flow. Just thinking out loud…

  12. Alan Says:

    Dan – thanks for sharing such an insightful story! Lotsa learning there about the importance of both giving and being open to receiving candid feedback. Terrific message. Thanks.

  13. Al Connor Says:

    Thank you, as always, Alan! Your wisdom is appreciated and well founded in experience!

  14. Deb Says:

    Great article. It is so important to keep all of your “ducks in a row”, eyes and ears open, and be ready when the moment strikes. One advantage HR probabaly has, is the opportunity to negotiate a good severance package. Most likely HR has first hand knowledge regarding severance packages that have been provided to other individuals exiting the organization.

  15. Rosalie Says:

    Interesting and timely article. The important insight to this story is that the warning signs aren’t secrets hidden away they’re frankly often quite open. People merely need to heed them instead of trying to explain them away or become cheerleaders. Often our desire to care for each other and not see another human being hurt causes us to offer positive explanations for actions or avoid considering the underlying behaviors driving the action. Rather than explain away, try asking powerful questions to help folks shift their perspective and hopefully give them an opportunity to embrace and see what is occurring before it is too late. Moving an individual out of a role or out of the Company typically doesn’t happen over night especially at senior levels. It is often planned and worked over a period of time with clear indicators if you’re willing to see them.

  16. Jude Michaels Says:

    Interesting article, Alan. I always look forward to what you have to say. I came across this article just as I was unceremoniously “reassigned” to a different position. Here are some of the things I noticed prior to receiving the news.

    A month before the change our office underwent some refurbishing. During that time we were moved to a different building so our work could continue; however, I was not given anything specific to work on as is usually the case. My supervisor approached to and asked to speak to me privately. Pulling me into a supply area she said she needed to have a “come to Jesus” talk with me soon because there were some problems. I was stunned to say the least. Two weeks went by and still no talk. As it was closing in on the end of the month I was beginning to think that perhaps I had been redeemed but no. She called me in a few days before the reassignment stating she didn’t have the time to help me improve (well of course not, it was late in the game). I pointed out that as a temp I realized she couldn’t spend a lot of time helping me as she would a board approved employee but had I been advised of the mistakes at the time they were made I could have made the proper changes. She pointed out 18 documents that I had approved in error. I explained that I looked at the past records, noticed a change in pay and presumed (wrongly) that the new increase was included in the salary. I had been advised of by a specialist to use a calculator (after she fixed the errors) to make sure the amount fell within the parameters of the increase. However, this change was apparently not enough.

    There were a few other things, but she didn’t have all her documents together (making wonder who wanted this change). I had one day to think to over and provide her an answer.

    I guess my point is that even if you don’t hit all the markers there may come a time when a boss decides you have to go and it seems there is little you can do about it. You may be thinking things are fine, you’ve been given assignments because of your ability to create documents or presentations, you’re considered the “expert” in an area of the office function and then BOOM!

  17. Alan Says:

    Jude, thanks for sharing your story. There is much to learn there for all of us. Wish you much, much success!

  18. Adora Says:

    Thanks Alan for sharing this. With the HR automation around,I think it is not uncommon that HR people would be shaken up. Let’s face it, HR process improvement is really very good, but will, most likely, require a downsize of the HR workforce. Sadly, only a few organizations would be transparent about this. So, I guess, apart from constantly upgrading our skills, it’s best for HR personnel like us to keep your 14 warning signs in check and never ignore the signs.

    Thanks again for this valuable insight! All the best!

  19. vikas saxena Says:

    Mr. Allan Collins has aptly, crisply, and succinctly presented an irrefutable and an authentic picture. The regard for ‘HR’by many Organizations, the world over, cutting across industries, is only sanctimonious, HR being viewed and treated as a back-office and a cost center. HR personnel should enhance their skills, become assertive, take initiatives, innovate practices, and even ‘elbow’ their way to come to the fore; they will, thus, redefine professionalism. Having been an ardent fan of Alan and perusing his masterpieces, I believe, what he has to suggest is something HR guys need to implement.

  20. nasser sedrati Says:

    Million Thanks for this excellent paper ALLAN . Strongly recommended for all HR folks. Excellent heads up.

  21. Karuhi Busaka Says:

    Quite insightful. Definitely observed at least two areas highlighted where the employee affected was eventually shown the door. Thanks for this.