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After 2 big salary jumps, I landed hard

In the December 16, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job seeker gets two 25% salary boosts and lands hard:

Question

I left a management job at Company A 16 months ago after ten years. It was becoming uncomfortably similar to the company you refer to in Death by Lethal Reputation. A friend recruited me to Company B for a 25% pay raise. Company B turned out to be a good place to work, but after six months there another friend requested I talk with his director as a favor, and to cut to the chase, Company C offered another 25% raise on top of what I was making and I took it.

is it-about-moneySince then, at Company C I have had six different bosses, management has re-structured three times, and my co-workers have been very difficult to work with since they all seem focused on the politics of positioning for the next shake-up. (It’s scheduled for next month.) This caught me completely by surprise since this kind of thing really hadn’t been happening there before.

I am growing impatient with the chaos and losing confidence in my managers, but I am reluctant to have another change so soon on my resume. I’m very good at what I do, which is highly specialized technical work. I’m fortunate to be in such demand, and I admit the money was a big part of jumping to Company C, though it’s clear that I blew it.

How many changes are too many on a resume? How much patience do I owe this employer? How would I present myself to a prospective employer without appearing like I am hopping jobs for money?

Thanks and best regards.

Nick’s Reply

Time to pay the piper, eh? Don’t feel too bad. While you should have looked under the rug more carefully before you took this latest job, I know it’s hard to turn down such salary increases from companies that are hungry to hire specialized workers.

When you pursue that next job, interview the company in more detail. (See “Due Diligence: Don’t take a job without it” in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 8: Play Hardball With Employers.) The only way to get the real story before you take the job is to talk to managers that are peripheral to your own department, and to other employees who know how the business really works.

When a company begins to indicate that it’s serious about you, that’s the time to ask to meet more members of the organization.

How to Say It
“It’s important to me to know how Sales (or Operations, or Engineering) functions, because I’ll be affecting their success and they’ll be affecting mine. I’d like to meet with the manager of Sales, and with some of the other technical people in the department I’d be working in. Can you arrange that?”

This is the kind of insight that will help you make a more informed decision, and help you avoid surprises.

kangaBut let’s look at your current situation. What is your responsibility to this company? You’ve been there about ten months. You might stick around long enough to see how the new re-org works out. Then I’d have no qualms about leaving if things don’t get any better. But even if you give that six months, you’re still talking about a short tenure right after a six-month stint at Company B.

No matter how you cut it, you come across as a job-hopper who’s gone for the bucks. I’m not criticizing you for that, but I will suggest that now’s the time to figure out what you really want in your career. Define it clearly — industry, business, company, technology, function, compensation, the work itself, the people. Then pursue it. Ignore the wrong jobs. Go after the companies where you want to work.

Here’s some advice that emphasizes just how deep you must dig to avoid another mistake — from Fearless Job Hunting, Book 5: Get The Right Employer’s Full Attention, p. 12:

Check a company’s references
Talk with people who depend on the company for a living: attorneys, bankers, investors, landlords, and others. This will give you a community-wide perspective and also help keep you out of harm’s way. Explain that you are considering an investment in the company. (Your career is indeed an investment!) Ask for their insight and advice. Is this a good company? Why?

When companies pursue you too aggressively, they can hurt you. You can start to look like damaged goods because you’ve jumped around too much. I wouldn’t say you’re there yet — not with two short jobs on your resume.

My guess is you might have to take a pay cut to get the kind job (and environment) you want. If it comes to that, consider it the cost of getting back on track. In a good company, you’ll have a chance to make it up pretty quickly. (See “Taking A Salary Cut to Change Careers” in How Can I Change Careers?)

The best way to deal with the resume issue is to avoid using one. (See Skip The Resume: Triangulate to get in the door.) The kinds of contacts who helped you win your last two jobs should comprise your strategy. When a buddy introduces you, he or she can also explain your situation, and that you’ve learned a lesson. And don’t avoid that topic in an interview: Be blunt about it.

How to Say It
“I made a serious mistake. Not just going for the money, but not looking carefully at a company before enlisting. Before I take another job, I want to make sure I’m right for the company, and that the company’s right for me. So please feel free to be blunt with me, and I will be with you, too. I want to make sure we can live and work together to get the job done.”

As you decide which companies you want to work for, make it your first goal to develop contacts there. If you lack them, you can create them by polling your friends.

Even if you decide to stick around till after the re-org, start your search now. Work at this patiently, and choose carefully. Put your two lemons in their place, swallow the sour taste, and get ready to move on.

I wish you the best.

Have you ever regretted taking too much money? How many job leaps are too many?

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16 Comments
  1. Nick

    You missed a key point in the letter, his friend helped recruit him and that is part of the background check. If a friend worked for a company and tried to help get me on there it is a implicit recommendation of the company. Of course that is only a first step but to me the jumping was for more than JUST $$$

  2. @Martin: I agree, but the friend’s recommendation turned out to be insufficient, didn’t it? I think personal referrals are the best way to a job, but that doesn’t clear the way without due diligence. The reader should have looked more deeply, and made it clear that the money was a big motivator (if not the only one). But his question was about how to make another move. What would you advise?

  3. Ah but the flip side is being unemployed for many months (over 6 months+ after unemployment benefits run out) and accepting a position in order to pay the bills regardless of the corporate culture, financial stability of the company, etc. In this case, this guy had a friend already working at a company and took the job based on the friend’s recommendation and the larger $$$$ salary. Now he has to either stay a little while longer or quickly find another job.

    Nowadays, it is pretty much “expected” that you jump around from job to job to get more $$ and to get a better title and more responsibility. If he can make it to 1 year, then he can get another job somewhere else and most companies won’t question his 1 year tenure. I know someone that had 8 jobs in 8 years and is only 29 years old and is now a VP at a large publicly held organization.

  4. Nick, for once I disagree with your advice. He had 10 years with the first company. He’s not a job hopper, he’s just with a troubled company (and he likely should not have left company B.)

    My advice to him would be to search quietly and avoid any disparagement of his current employer. Saying ‘I made a mistake’ is a strong negative, will be remembered and not positively for him. A general detached reference to repeated changes in management and company direction and saying that it affected what he was brought in to accomplish, and then a positive story on how he’s been working with that, is enough.

    He should be thinking Plan A, B, C etc.
    1) He can stay with this company and make the best out of the chaos–and possibly turn it to his advantage. Perhaps his co-workers are not so wrong in positioning themselves!
    2) In his field, it’s likely employers already know that the company is in turmoil. The reasons for his departure would be obvious.
    3) Work his contacts for opportunities and then do the diligence–though I think too much asking around to suppliers does eventually get around to the employer.

    If his skill set is that much in demand, he’ll be OK.

  5. @Nick: Unfortunately, looking waaaaay under the rug only results in better lies by the employer sometimes. I wish you were right but that’s not been my experience in recent years.

  6. I understood it that the frequent management shake up hadn’t really happened before, which is why he was blind-sided. Of course, the other possibility is that they DID happen in the past, and his friend neglected to mention this when recruiting him.

    He has to decide if the money makes past chaos and coming chaos worthy sticking around a little longer. It can be very difficult to work when that amount of and kind of chaos is ever-present. At my last job at a large state university, we had chaos due to changes in management. You often find changes at the dept. chair level, but program directors and deans tend to stick around a bit longer. In my dept. in the eight years I worked there, I worked under five (!!) deans (including three interim deans), nine dept. chairs (and not because someone died), and five directors. Faculty and staff were not informed of the new muckety-mucks’ visions, goals, and plans for the school, much less for the individual programs within the school. And incidently, because of our lack of an independent dean for several years, our school’s accreditors placed us on probation, telling us that if we didn’t get our act together (hire an independent dean, fill the faculty vacancies left by early retirements, get a divorce from the School of Nursing–our business offices had merged, and Nursing was using our funds to pay Nursing bills, pay Nursing faculty, fix the structural/administrative problems) we would lose our accreditation. When I started that job, the dean had been there for years, dept. chairs changed every 3-5 years, and new directors came in only when the previous director retired, left, or went on sabbatical. No amount of due diligence on my part would have revealed the chaos that began within my first 6 months on the job.

    And sometimes even when there is that kind of chaos and restructuring, as Marilyn noted, sometimes all that means is that the employees and management get very good at lying and sweeping all traces far under the rug.

  7. Nowadays, it is pretty much “expected” that you jump around from job to job to get more $$ and to get a better title and more responsibility….

    Counterpoint.

    I can assure you that this is detrimental to your career in 99% of cases. For every 29 year old VP you can name, I can give you 20 resumes I’ve thrown out.

  8. @VP Sales: maybe at one time jumping from job to job to get more $$$, a better title, more responsibility, to learn something new, to stretch in your career was frowned upon. The thing is today employers don’t reward “lifers” or even people who stay for long time. They don’t want you once you start getting up there in age (and salary) because it is cheaper to hire a kid, pay him less than half your salary. Many companies don’t reward you if you want to do more, so that is why people don’t stay, especially if there is no chance of promotion or of learning new things.

  9. @VP Sales: Things have changed in the corporate world with respect to experience, education and responsibility. I am in my mid-40’s and during my job search for an executive VP position, was passed over for younger less experienced and less educated candidates who would accept lower pay, benefits, etc. I looked up some of the jobs I interviewed at many months ago and saw they filled them with these younger people (around 30 years of age). I looked on LinkedIn and saw their profiles.

    @ Marybeth, you make some good points about how companies hold back from telling the truth to candidates. There were many red flags while I was interviewing and could not get answers to basic questions I had about culture, expectations, salary, etc. I got a job recently after being unemployed over 6 months and got it through a friend’s recommendation to the owner. This friend did not tell me this privately owned company has some financial difficulties and is up for sale. I only just found out about this and am disappointed in him for not disclosing this information. I find most companies withhold pertinent information from candidates. They wanted me to accept the position so they did not disclose this information although I did ask about their financial solvency and growth in the interview process. I was lied to.

  10. So the bottom line is that the SOP of companies is as follows:
    1) deceive candidates
    2) treat employees poorly
    3) throw experience and savvy in the trash
    4) hire young and cheap because everyone is disposable

    Donna, I went through exactly what you are going through in the past 15 years. It’s just starting in your 40s now. A lot of us here are 50-60–and fresh at those ages. Imagine, our best years wasted!

    Nick, let’s face it, we’ve entered the Bizarro World version of business. Companies don’t care about the waste of human capital in trashing experience and high-performing, loyal people. In fact, they seem to value no one and nothing. No wonder they are in bad straits and large businesses are just a branch of governments–crony corporate ‘capitalism”.

    It’s no wonder why an authoritarian, military-controlled version of capitalism (China’s) is eating the Western world’s lunch. (European companies are run just as poorly if not worse.)

    Nick, perhaps you ought to be looking at all you’ve written to help us cope with a world turned upside down. We’re taking a beating out here!

  11. The key to the 29 year old’s blazing success is…that he’s 29! Hop hop hop only works til you are in your 30’s, and then they shop for a younger hopper.

    However: the supply of 30 year olds with 15 years’ experience (!) is getting pretty skimpy, nobody has trained anyone in 5 years, and the economy is starting to move. The number of Chinese TV’s and computers in every home is at saturation level and some of the overseas jobs are being outsourced here now. The stock market is up, so people teetering on the edge of retirement are finally retiring, leaving huge gaps, because a 60 something with a lifetime of job skills runs circles around 29 year old job hoppers, and it will require at least two people to do their old jobs.

    Take heart! We have reached the bottom of the barrel and soon the job market will be looking up. Job search engines and automated HR is failing, and employers will be forced to train people.

    Grow a spine, ask for what is fair and meanwhile, seek out temp work where turnover has yielded junky results and offer them quality instead. I dare you to teach employers that they need you! It’s working for me, after five long miserable years. In the end, it’s all about getting the job done, people. Show that you can do that and get out and sell yourself!

  12. @Dee: Point taken. But it’s the person asking the question who worries about being perceived as a job hopper, and needs methods to deal with that. I agree with your suggestions about not disparaging and searching quietly. And I love your point #2!

    @marybeth: “The thing is today employers don’t reward “lifers” or even people who stay for long time.” Some do. They really do.

    @Dee: “Nick, let’s face it, we’ve entered the Bizarro World version of business.” YEP!! I believe technology and the Internet have accelerated the so-called Peter Principle. People rise to the level of their incompetence. Then stay there. Faster. The result is that the level is now crowded because it fills up so fast.

    @Survivor: You get the award for best insight: “the supply of 30 year olds with 15 years’ experience (!) is getting pretty skimpy, nobody has trained anyone in 5 years, and the economy is starting to move.”

    That is a profound observation, rooted in the numbers. Employers will be forced to hire older workers, and I even think retired workers will be “bought” out of retirement. It’s going to happen.

    I don’t pretend to have answers, just workarounds. And I spend much of my time trying to identify and talk about what doesn’t work. My thought is, smart people can go far if you show them where some of the big potholes are. Help them avoid having their A-frame ripped out, and they’ll get where they’re going based on their own ability and means.

  13. Nick, thanks for above. However I see a contradiction, and that the demographics are NOT in the GenX/Boomers favor.

    1)If the top level of hiring execs is filling up with incompetents who are just talented enough to CYA and paper over the fails, employers will not realize that their business is augering in till way too late (reference: the fate of Washington Mutual.) They will just mortgage the farm, sell the divisions etc. to keep going. (reference: Philips, Pan Am, Cendant)

    Slow fails are hell, which is why startups (I work a lot with those in healthcare tech) are urged to get through their fails fast. Despite that, most will fail slow. We are seeing that now with layoffs cancelling hiring in the stats.

    Some businesses not so far gone may see that they need smart people who may come equipped with grey hair, glasses and a little bit of extra weight, who actually get along with each other and are objective enough to fix things fast. I may be a cynic, but I don’t see many companies’ management having that vision. It’s easier to bury the fail by selling to a willing buyer, merging or just staggering by with a bailout. (I see it in healthcare–especially hospitals–all the time!!)

    2) Demographically, there are more millennials than Boomers and they are getting older, so there’s plenty of supply of 30-something year olds with 10-15 years of experience. The GenXers either have a shot as the elders, but maybe not. Boomers are generally screwed, because we need the work now, not in 10 years.

    We also don’t fit diversity requirements which are keyed to the young. It’s acceptable to discriminate against anyone 40+, even though allegedly there are laws against that. HR departments have long since figured out that game with laundry lists of ‘skills’ that no one could have.

    3) Finally, Perception is Reality. No matter that we older types have stayed up to speed and are active consulting, for instance. We’re just perceived as ‘out of it’ and need to ‘make way for tomorrow’.

    I think the last time any retired workers were ‘bought out of retirement’ was in 2000 with Y2K. I was working for a global company in the travel industry and fairly closely with the IT area. My company, and many others, were scrambling for retired programmers with specialized knowledge of obsolete programs like IBM Assembler, FORTRAN and COBOL because a lot of the mainframe computers, still in 2000 the heart of corporate systems, had been built on those old programs. I’m thinking that’s the last time that will ever happen, because we are literally killing off experienced programmers with cheap H1B or outsourced workers with faked-up credentials.

    Somebody tell me I am wrong, please!

  14. @Donna: It is always disappointing when a friend isn’t honest. Is it possible that your friend was as much of a mushroom as you were re the company being up for sale? Sure, he knows the owner, but is it possible that the owner didn’t tell him and didn’t make this information public until it was too late?

    In my last job at a large state university, the first dean under whom I worked took early retirement during the last recession in 2003. We knew that he was retiring, and the school began the onerous process of a dean search (it takes about a year IF you’re successful). We went through posting the deanship publically in multiple journals, major newspapers, electronic versions of the same, on our own websites (school and university). We collected all of the CVs, transcripts, letters of recommendation that poured in, then began the task of culling them to decide with whom we would do phone interviews (first round). There were four finalists selected, who came in person for two interviews (school level and university level). After the last finalist was interviewed for the second time, we waited for the committees to make their decisions and for the current, chancellor, provost, and senior faculty to champion their choice. The last part didn’t happen (cue birds chirping). We heard nothing and I mean absolutely nothing at all. I asked, other staff asked, junior and senior faculty asked, even the soon to be retiring dean asked, and there was a blackout on information. In August we were told that the then dean of the school of Nursing was going to be our interim/acting dean. We weren’t going to get our own dean. The decision was made very high up and no one was informed. The four finalists were notified in August 2003 that the dean search had been ended and no one was hired. Sometimes the ones with all of the power can keep very quiet even when asked directly. It isn’t just the private sector. Before the president’s decision was made known, the four finalists were calling us, asking when a decision would be made. Usually a new administrator (such as a dean) begins on 1 July, and learning the decision meant he would have had time to find housing, decide what to do with his current home, make plans for moving as well as for starting the job. They were calling the current dean, the dept. chairs (all on one of the hiring committees), the associate provost (on the 2nd hiring committee), even the dept. secretaries and the dean’s secretary. They called the other faculty they’d met at their interviews. It was sad and embarrassing because none of us knew anything, that is how quiet the real decision maker(s) kept it.

    Sometimes they like to keep things quiet so they don’t cause a panic, don’t cause more disruption and chaos, and to try to keep the scuttlebutt and speculation to a minimum. It backfired because the dearth of information meant everyone only talked about it more. I thought it was shameful the way the finalists were treated.

  15. @Nick: Apologies for my cynicism. I’m sure that there are some employers who do reward lifers, experience, etc. I’m cynical because I’ve kissed a lot of frogs and haven’t found my prince yet! The other reason is because there are so many bad apples/frogs our there, as Survivor’s and Dee’s posts indicate as well.

    Thanks for your continued efforts to help all of us find ways around the frogs.

  16. When I was much younger (say late 30’s?) I interviewed for a contract position at a company I had successfully contracted with previously.

    The interview was conducted by a couple of frat boys, who spent the whole interview chatting with each other about how hot the girls were at the party they’d gone to and how drunk they had gotten. Since this company had a big intern relationship with Old Undershirt University, they could easily have been interns instead of employees.

    Of course I didn’t get the position, and afterwards the recruiter called to ask what had gone on, as she had heard I wasn’t “social” and “didn’t fit in”.

    I recited in as much detail as I could remember the conversation between the two “interviewers”, and strangely enough never heard from that recruiter again.

    To quote The Grateful Dead, “What a long, strange trip it’s been.”

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