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I knew the end was near when I saw the pizza.

It was Wednesday. We never get pizza on Wednesday. We get Tex-Mex barbecue, a motley collection of meats and sauces with some cold corn bread and surprisingly good creamed spinach.

You see, my previous employer, Novix Media, despite intense financial pressures that forced them to lay off more than 20 people, bought the entire staff lunch every day, right up until the end. It was a routine that I loathed and loved.

Monday and Tuesday were sandwich days, and I was guaranteed either a soggy grilled veggie sandwich or some nasty tuna concoction. Wednesday was the aforementioned BBQ fest. Thursday was the best -- Mexican. I'd stuff myself with burritos until the idea of dinner became nothing more than a late-night snack. And Fridays, well, Friday was pizza day.

Pizza is cheap. Far less expensive than those nasty focaccia sandwiches, the baby back ribs or even the cheese and pinto quesadillas. And on Wednesday, Kelly, our beautiful and friendly secretary, looked sad as she arranged the spread for the circling vultures.

"Why are we having pizza today?" I asked.

"I just don't know. Today's Wednesday. They told me I had to order pizza."

The next day, I was out of a job.

When working at a start-up, it's very important to pay attention to the details. The pizza fiasco gave me a head start on finding a new job. As I munched on a rapidly congealing mushroom slice, I resurrected my resume, called everyone I've ever met at a media party and tried to find one clip that didn't make me sound like a hack.

Look, not everyone on the Titanic saw the iceberg, but those who did knew to pummel

Leonardo DiCaprio

, knock over

Kate Winslet

and stand right near the lifeboats, wimmin and chillen be damned. In the spirit of saving your own butt, here are some telltale signs that your company's lifespan is going the way of

Bob Saget's

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comedy career.

1. The Secretaries Have Been Brawling in the Lobby.

Did Jim, the kindly office assistant, just kick Tina, the bulbous office manager, in the stomach and throw her through the aquarium?

When the support staff starts to freak out and fight each other more than usual, you can bet that something sinister is brewing upstairs. Why? Because these hard-working souls take all the crap when the higher-ups can't even bum a cigarette from investors. Watch the things that these people are being asked to do, because when money is tight, they're asked to do ridiculous stuff, like spend the weekend cutting the 11-by-17 paper in half so employees can make photocopies in the Canon, which has a near-dead toner cartridge. Or deal with the vendors, who haven't been paid in months, or take angry calls from investors who can't seem to get a handle on why their Web project is 4 1/2 months overdue and still unnamed.

Put simply, the office staff knows exactly what's up at your job. And if they're frustrated and eviscerating each other in the halls, then you're next.

2. Your Check Is Different.

This may seem like a no-brainer, but if your paycheck is in anyway different, then you're in trouble. It should not be written in crayon, signed with a pencil or made out to "VOID." If it's handwritten, with the taxes written out on a Post-It note, then you're about to be treated like a good-looking 15-year-old in prison.

Suppose you get some line about the payroll change (and you will, because the company needs to make everything seem normal before they pink-slip you). Ignore it. They are lying to you.

Is human resources saying that


is unreliable and they've dropped them? Nice try, but ADP is the gold standard of direct deposit and payroll. Yes, their system has difficulty adapting to change. It would work flawlessly if everyone worked the same amount of time every week, but when the higher-ups stop taking salary and other people are getting stiffed left and right, that's when ADP becomes unreliable. And ADP costs money. It's a service, and one the boss will stop using at the earliest inconvenience of the support staff, who are now crafting shivs from pens and packing tape after writing out 43 paychecks by hand.

Oh, and one last thing. If you're an editor and none of your writers has been paid, then you won't be for much longer either. Being a debtor is addictive. Once the symptoms start showing, the only real cure is a boatload of capital, which deadbeats have trouble acquiring, for some strange reason.

3. Open Your Eyes. Little Things Are Different.

Is the company out of stationery? Bad sign. How are they going to get funding if they can't even mail a letter? And if they've run out, then who allowed that to happen, huh? Ask yourself: "What kind of company runs out of stationery?" I'll bet


got more than enough 40-pound paper to throw at that little



Did the entire tech staff walk out last week after a gigantic blowup? That's not just petty office politics gone amok. That's the entire guts of the operation, the very crew that was supposed to build the dream. And tech help is impossible to find and super expensive. If you don't have geeks, you ain't got a job.

And how about those meetings? Watch the people who aren't lying to you, err, addressing the company. Are they looking at their feet, making the sign of the cross and saying Our Fathers? Do they excuse themselves for a moment to weep near the coffee maker? Chances are, these people feel really awful that they'll be firing you in the next few weeks, but can't bring themselves to say anything truthful about it. Because they can't say, "Uh guys, we're out of money and this endeavor, into which I've poured all my available cash and for which I've called in every little favor anyone ever owed me, is about to make


look like



There are many tells that your dot company will be folding in the next few months. Businesses are like strippers -- they function best with a stable routine. And deviation from this routine is bad. Don't get me wrong, change can be a good thing for a growing company. But once the essentials start getting tossed into the toilet, you're in trouble.

In my case, it was the pizza. A mushroom slice was the last straw. Our company routine was broken. Pizza is cheaper than Tex-Mex. The next day I watched upper management give a painfully awkward "thanks but go home" speech.

But I smiled about it. I knew the company was all done. I woke up, drank a cup of coffee and then wore all black, to mourn the loss of my job. Plus, I look really good in black and work with some very attractive women. And now that they'd no longer be co-workers, they're fair game.

That is, if they'll stop fixing their resumes and screaming obscenities at each other.

This article is reprinted courtesy of, a publication of

Bank Rate, Inc.