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Should I let my millennial kid make a huge career mistake?

In the January 11, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, we talk about where parents fit in the career equation.

Question

My twenty-something daughter has worked here in the U.S. for three years in her first job out of college as a content manager for a website that focuses on business and culture on another continent.

She has the chance to transfer there to further establish the brand. This is her dream assignment, but it comes with a huge price. The CEO has proposed that she take a $12,000 pay cut, citing the lower cost of living in the new location. Her father is furious and I’m torn as I want her to pursue her dream, but not if it means being taken advantage of. Mr. Headhunter, please offer some advice here. Thank you!

Nick’s Reply

jumpContrary to the title of this Q&A, you’re not really afraid your millennial daughter is making a career mistake. You’re just afraid that you’re afraid she is. So I give you credit for starting a candid discussion about this, and for giving your daughter a chance.

As a parent, I understand your trepidation. Here’s what I suggest you consider.

This is your daughter’s decision, not yours. If you press her not to do it, all you’re telling her is that you don’t support her choice. She’s not going to hear much else, no matter how much sense you make.

People her age are wired to take risks, and thank God for that, because it’s in our youth that we can best afford to take risks. We have time to recover if a choice turns out wrong. We don’t have a house, a family, and big financial obligations. (By the way: This is not a challenge specific to millennials. I don’t think millennials are really any different from any other new generation.)

But please consider this: Without taking risks in youth, we never get the chance to achieve our dreams — or to learn anything that matters.

The CEO probably has a point. I’ve recruited and placed people at lower salaries for just the same reasons: lower cost of living and big opportunity. It’s always up to the job candidate. Some are in a position to take the risk, others are not.

A lot rides on the credibility and integrity of the CEO and the company. Is the CEO just trying to take advantage of her, or is the salary trade-off legit? Only your daughter can judge this. If I were her, I’d ask for one more meeting with the CEO to discuss this.

How to Say It:
“I’ll be taking on a big new challenge in this new location. I need to talk with you one more time to make sure I understand the risks, rewards, and challenges of this job. If I take it on, I want to perform at my best and produce a huge success for our company. What are the milestones? What are the rewards if I achieve them? What do you see as the risks for me?”

In Fearless Job Hunting, Book 7: Win The Salary Games, I discuss how to make a business case to a CEO about how much you deserve to be paid: “How can I avoid a salary cut?”, pp. 7-10. There’s more than one way to get some leverage:

“Express what you want, and suggest that salary isn’t the only component of an acceptable compensation package.”

The milestones must be set in writing and they must be objectively measurable — without interpretation. If she achieves X, then the reward is Y. Because this is a big new gig, there should be a timeline of several milestones — deliverables she’s responsible for — and what she will get in return if she makes them.

Without this, I’d never take a job to establish a brand anywhere. This is the crux of any business plan. My biggest concern — whether the job is in South America, Australia or Biloxi — is the business plan. What is it? If there is no clear plan, then I’d never take the job. Of course, your daughter should be part of developing the plan. If there isn’t one, she should volunteer to help produce it before she takes the job.

Check They promised a raise but won’t deliver to learn how to structure milestones in a good job offer.

I’d want to see a third-party report about cost of living in the new location. What’s the CEO basing the salary cut on? It may be legit — or it may be an indefensible estimate. Practically speaking, your daughter should undertake on her own to figure out what it will really cost her to live in the new location. The Internet makes this kind of research pretty easy. Why not help her prepare a budget for living there? Check real estate, rents and cost of groceries. Maybe it’s not as bad as you think. Then you’re helping, not hindering.

Do not make your daughter’s choice for her, or make her feel you think she’s wrong. My kids and yours must make their own choices — or they learn nothing. If she make the wrong choice, but she’s smart and capable, it will not destroy her life. It will probably make her stronger — and lead her to a better opportunity the next time. She’ll gain wisdom, and you will gain more of her respect.

Even if you conclude from hard data that this is going to cost her money, that’s not justification for telling her not to do it. What you consider a price for a bad decision might be something else altogether for her — the price of growing up. I’m afraid that too many young people today are not willing to pay that price — and they never grow up. I think our nervous-nelly society is too quick to deprive our kids of the chance to learn the price of success.

Then, of course, there’s the distinct possibility that this risk will be the start of a great new part of her life — and she will enjoy the rewards of taking a big risk on her own. Imagine what it would do for her self-confidence and acumen — to take on such a huge challenge.

As a father, I’d be more concerned with her personal safety. No matter where a son or daughter of mine might go next, the first thing I’d want to look into is, how safe is the place, and what can my kid do to be as safe as possible? I think that except in the worst areas, it’s always possible to take measures to improve personal safety.

Ask her what you can do to help her succeed. My guess is your daughter is pretty smart. Let her know you believe that and that you trust her judgment, and that you respect her aspirations. Then give her a hug and let her go on her way. If you raised her right (Yes, give yourself some credit.), she will figure it all out.

Then book a flight to go visit her in about six months, so she can show you how she’s pulling it all off on her own.

Now I’m going to tell you what prompted me to answer you as I have. When my first book was published, I wrote an Acknowledgments section for it. At the very end, I said this about my own two kids, who were one and three at the time:

“As for Luke and Emma, well, when you’re old enough to read this, I hope you’ll also just be learning that it’s okay to take risks to do what’s important to you (and I hope your father will be smart enough to know when to get out of the way and let you).”

It’s been hard to take my own advice, and I frankly can’t believe I had the presence of mind so many years ago to write that. Those words have kept me in line, and they’ve freed my kids to make me proud of them.

I wish you, your daughter and your husband the best.

When your kids are ready to leap tall buildings, do you put away the measuring stick? Do you let them do the calculations and decide whether to leap? What did you teach your kids? What’s the best way to be a helpful parent?

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23 Comments
  1. Nick,
    Good advice on checking the actual cost of living. Some people from my office went to India, took a 50% pay cut, and are very happy with their relative salaries. So the CEO may be right.
    My daughter spent a year abroad in Germany then went back on a fellowship, got a Masters, a job, and a husband. She grew tremendously doing this on her own. She has foreign experience rare in the US these days. And when she and her husband came back they had no problem finding jobs at competitive salaries in the US. While low salaries may hold one back inside the US, I doubt many employers can easily map foreign salaries to US ones.
    My advice is to check taxes and benefits for the overseas posting also, and if reasonable, do it. The daughter is the right age to have an adventure. And it is scary, but with Skype the parents will be a lot more connected than in years past.

  2. Sage advice, Nick. The perceived financial risk pales in comparison to personal safety. The kid has to do that research herself, though. Even if the father does his own, he needs to keep it to himself, unless there is some serious overriding issue she hasn’t uncovered. Gentle probing questions are probably the parents’ tool.

    One consideration you hadn’t mentioned, though: Will she be at HQ, or an outpost? It’s awfully easy to land outside the organizational planning, and be ignored or taken for granted, when located far from the flagpole.

    Finally, although the cost of living as an ex-pat may be lower, the cost of regular trips to HQ and home is an adder. The young woman should discuss the need for regular HQ and family visits with the CEO, and explore their financial impact on earnings. The CEO should be willing to make it work equitably.

    Both my kids benefited immensely from their EU travels. They were huge growth experiences.

  3. Is it possible for the daughter to talk to colleagues already working in the new location to see how they fared, what they liked and disliked?

  4. I say jump in with both feet and support your daughter’s “dream assignment.” My daughter worked in France after graduating from college, then returned home to the US for a year, and now is a Peace Corps volunteer in Eastern Europe. While overseas, she has learned 3 new languages has travelled extensively, and is building experience and skills that will benefit her in the future. She has enjoyed the Peace Corps so much that she plans to extend her term. As a volunteer, she only receives living expenses, which are indeed less expensive. We’ve have only seen her in person once in the past 15 months (for my son’s wedding), but we keep in touch via Skype and Facetime. I agree with the previous post regarding negotiating resources for trips home. Also, figure in enough spending money to do some travelling. Discussing time off for travel might be worthwhile as well. My daughter is happy and is doing something she loves. An added benefit is that her peers view my wife and I as “cool parents” for supporting her adventures. The CEO must think very highly of your daughter for giving her such a cool assignment. Congratulations for raising such an independent and adventurous daughter!

  5. Great post –love this site.
    These experiences can be tremendously rewarding– life changing actually.
    And the standard is for relocating associates is to get paid according the the salary scheme based in the new location (imagine the dilemma of having the US citizen getting paid more for the same work than the local —just because of where they are from?)

    Still, there are other ways to get around this and make sure this young woman is set up for success.

    My thoughts are:
    -consider the relocation “package”. Meaning, will the company pay to help ship some of her personal items or provide a little misc cash to help her purchase basics that she would have to buy to set up a new home (coffee maker, hair dryer, converters, kitchen stuff).

    -will they be providing health insurance and other benefits standard for the new location? Transportation benefit? Language course?

    – will the company consider cover the costs for at least one trip home over the holidays. Perhaps even a second trip during the summer.

    -will there be tax assistance? Make sure the company is planning to make social security payments etc.

    – consider the terms of the project. Make sure there is a mechanism for her to return back the US when she is ready and stay employed.

    These are all things that can be negotiated and designed to keep her whole.
    I think that it is worth asking about all of them while communicating how much she would like to take this opportunity.

  6. The post only discusses salaries being lower, and only touches on the “cost of living” or other employment benefits in a foreign locale. While unlikely to be an EU or Scandinavian locale, the working norms for many Ex-US countries include standard benefits unheard of in the US – up to 8 weeks paid “holiday,” paid maternity leave of a year, paid PATERNITY leave of up to a year, and labor laws that essentially make it impossible to get fired/laid off.

    Not to mention the benefits of national health care etc. available to residents, and finally the general excitement of living abroad and experiencing life.

  7. The opportunity to work overseas will be a great learning experience. However, does she bring $12,000 less value to the business if she transfers? Or does she get $12,000 more in compensation in some other way? Her value to the company shouldn’t diminish if she transfers to another location.

  8. Excellent advice. Including the suggestion to visit when the daughter is settled in.

    We’ve visited our daughter during her stays in South Africa, Madagascar and South-East Asia. She appreciated our demonstrated commitment. We learned far more about those areas than we could have otherwise. The family guideline is, “You may run…but you cannot hide!”

    We saw her capability to succeed while dealing with setbacks in addition to second and third world issues. She built enduring relationships that have been the foundation of a growing network.

    Our perspective is much wider now. I still remember drinks at a rickety bar in Vientiane, gazing across the Mekong while our daughter and her friends shared their insights and experience from work in Viet Nam, Laos, Myanmar…

    About Peace Corps volunteers. When you encounter them, treat them to a good meal, then let their family know you saw them and they’re OK.

    May your support and confidence be a foundation for your child’s success, not a cage.

  9. Kudos to you Nick. Very well answered in many respects. One – You gave strong advise to keep the decision making with the person who needs to live with the decision and gave guidance to parents to assist only if the daughter wants help and then it should be only to guide her to the resources. Second – You did a very thorough job of outlining what would be the most helpful to make the decision and how to present it to the CEO.
    Good comment by JL Jarvis too. Negotiate home visits and travel expenses. I just visited in Mexico with a friend. Her daughter has a job there. It took 6 months for her to get a work permit through US and Mexico red tape. In the meantime she Could NOT get paid.

  10. Lower pay for a lower cost-of-living assignment is not too uncommon.

    Another way this happens is getting salary adjusted for the prevailing rates in the foreign country. For programmers, this is troubling because salaries are lower even in expensive European countries.

    For the daughter, I’ll say if she doesn’t take this, she’ll probably be mad at herself and her parents for the rest of her life.

  11. Solid advice here! Land the helicopter, dad. It isn’t your decision.

    When I was a young woman, I traveled around the world (often alone), to every continent except Antarctica. This included poor countries like Nepal during their recent civil war (King Guyandra / Maoist rebel insurgency period), and politically unstable countries in the Middle East. There is no substitute for this experience, and I strongly agree with Bob: she will resent you and experience regret for the rest of her life if she doesn’t do this. You should know that most countries actually have a much lower violent crime rate than the USA, and fewer guns.

    Frankly, the bigger issue is getting sick (in poorer countries.) In Nepal, we had to visit pharmacies ahead of time and stock up on prescription drugs (sold to foreigners OTC.) We had a pamphlet about the most common illnesses from a group of 4 Canadian doctors in Kathmandu, and we had to self-diagnose in remote areas with zero medical clinics or doctors. You know what? We all got sick, but we all survived, and would do that trip again.

    There are many ways to research cost of living and safety issues online. The offer may very well be fair. She can negotiate if it isn’t, but she must lead with actual data.

    If she really doesn’t like it, she can always quit. But, there is huge upside here, and benefits that go beyond money. Let her handle this.

  12. Sounds like a great opportunity for an unusual (not cookie-cutter) experience in her field. Wish her luck and give your support! Nothing is guaranteed . . . ever, ever, ever!

  13. I don’t believe in mantras … but if I did, here’s one all of us as parents should recite at least once a day: My child is not me, and I am not my child.

  14. @Scott: Good points about checking taxes and benefits overseas. @Lahra adds getting tax prep assistance – another cost to be considered. On the subject of coming back to the U.S., I’ve seen mixed results. Some can do it, others seem to have a very hard time.

    @JL Jarvis: I didn’t think about travel costs to visit home. Nice add! The HQ vs outpost issue is probably magnified when you’re overseas.

    @Jim: Your suggestion to talk to colleagues “in country” is useful anywhere, and very important. I wish more domestic job hunters would do this before they take a job!

    @Marc: Your questions about relative value are important, but there’s another point of view on compensation that makes it relative to the milieu. See http://www.asktheheadhunter.com/crocs18compensation.htm. I’d love to know what you think about the ideas in that short column. Is comp a reward, or is it “comp?” :-)

    @Nick F. and @EEDR: Thanks for the first-person advice! Love your suggestion about how to treat Peace Corps folks in the wild! Health care is another topic I failed to touch on. Thanks for raising it, @EEDR.

    @Nancy: You raise a critical issue that should not be taken for granted: Has the employer actually worked out all the work visa requirements?

  15. @Chris Hogg: Love your mantra. Here’s one I thought up as I was writing the column: I can be there for my son or daughter, but I can’t BE my son or daughter. So let them be themselves. I admit I have to catch myself…

  16. Couple related points:
    *How much of her salary is $12,000? If it’s a 10% pay reduction, maybe OK; if 25%, probably not. If she already has a frugal lifestyle, this kind of cut might be more than her actual reduction in living costs, and she could end up with less savings than she otherwise would have.
    *There are significant costs to relocating, especially to a foreign country, beyond the actual transportation and paperwork, etc.: she will be removed from her existing personal network and need to establish a new one; she will find it more difficult to connect in person with friends and family; and she will be possibly completely unable to consider other job opportunities in her new city, so professionally she’ll be locked in.

    Plus, it’s only an unusual person who can even contemplate taking on this kind of challenge, or to whom such responsibility could be entrusted.

    So, I would wonder whether in fact her costs will be less, and I think that, if anything, her value to the company would be more.

  17. Comparing compensation across continents can be very challenging. I had a friend (graduating from a top business school) accept a job that was a 50% pay cut – but pay was in after tax dollars (company paid all income taxes, including US), included free (luxury) housing, stupendous benefits, multiple round trips home, etc. He is still there, decades later, very happy and rich. I lived overseas at 1/4 of my US salary for a while, and was still comfortable (as was my wife and children).

    My daughters have spent a lot of time overseas – Russia, Peru, Ethiopia, Brazil, and traveled to a dozen more – and loved it. Dad, let your daughter make her choices, and support her!

  18. “My kids and yours must make their own choices — or they learn nothing.”

    Huge.

    …and if you think cost of living adjustments amount to be ‘taken advantage of’ then you probably shouldn’t be giving her career advice to start with. They are the norm in most companies once they reach the dreaded “finance rules” environment.

    A 25% cut in many countries compared to NYC or SFO could be a lifestyle increase.

    And while I’m handing out the tough love, isn’t she missing a golden opportunity to offer the ATH mantra of – “When I return with my new experience and skills, and show you how I will make you more money, I want the 25% back plus another 25% on top. How can we make that happen, boss??

    Two other operational issues – health care costs and emergency evac – if you are in an unstable part of the world, you need to have defined criteria as to when YOU can pull the trigger and get out of Dodge on the company dime. An overnight short notice one way ticket can be 10,000 USD easily. I had a flight out of Ukraine that fit this need recently.

  19. Hi, American abroad here, living in Europe for 20 years. I too took a job at 25 and had fun, a great experience, and since I got my MBA, I have a nice niche in my field and always get jobs. I also like the six weeks of vacation.

    Of course she should go! But please, be informed about the options and their possible consequences down the line. The US govt, especially with recent legislation, makes it hard for its citizens to have a normal life and work abroad. Look up HIRE and FAST acts passed under Obama.

    The points I would make to augment those above: if you get a local contract you will have all the responsibilities and most of the rights of a local worker. Be sure the work and residence permit is done by a professional, and/or someone very dedicated to doing it right. This is not something left for dilettantes. Usually without it you can’t get a flat, a bank account, etc.
    If you are on a local contract you will not pay into US SS, so watch the totalization agreements with the USA. Often, if you pay into a foreign SS system for less than five years, you can only get back your contributions, not the employer portion. You can get your SSA “points” aggregated with the US system, best to get a certificate of contribution from the local govt. You will have also paid into a health care system that is hopefully good while there, but you will get no Medicare points.

    If you have a US contract, then consider the effect of the dollar and your exchange back. Consider tax equalisation, if the taxes are higher in the target country good companies will equalise the burden. They will also pay your SSA contributions so there is no gap.

    No matter where you earn your money, you will be liable to declare and file US taxes to the IRS every year on April 15h (you get an automatic 2-month extension if you are bona fide foreign resident). You will also have to file the so-called FBAR to the FINcen, reporting all your foreign, i.e. non-US bank, savings, and investment accounts if they total $10k. Even your local current account. If you get foreign mutual funds, these are considered PFIC’s and you will need to file a special report on your taxes for every fund; the calculated time to fill out one 8621 is about 50 hours.

    I have belaboured the point enough: it is tough living abroad as a US citizen due to US administrative burden. But for your career and personal life, very exciting and enriching.

  20. @Nick

    I read the column “That’s why it’s called compensation.” I agree that compensation is the total package and factor that into offers I make when hiring. Recently, I consulted with a business that needed a software developer. After reaching out to my network, I found the perfect person, however the company couldn’t offer him the salary he could get elsewhere. We were however able to put together a benefit package to make it worth his while. The business and I were up front about the limitations from the start.

    This opportunity itself does have value. However, does it truly have $12,000 worth of value? What else are they offering? As for the CEO’s cost of living argument, there are costs to moving that likely aren’t factored in such as flights home to visit family and friends as well as costs of getting out and about to explore her new home. There is also an argument to be made that her moving actually increases her value to the business by being closer to the action.

    There is no question that there are benefits to working in another part of the world. At the same time, the woman needs to make sure she isn’t being taken advantage of, which many employees, young and old, allow to happen all to often.

  21. @Amy: Thanks for your been-there-done-that perspectives and insights!

    @Marc: You’re right. The bottom line is, don’t be taken advantage of.

  22. Great post.

    Would love to hear what decision she made and how it’s going after a couple of months. As anyone who has traveled knows, things can be very different in other countries and I hope she is prepared for the changes. It would would also be interesting to know if she has visited that location already or not.

  23. I agree with Nick, this is the daughter’s decision. As long as she carefully researches the area where the company is located(meaning good safe living conditions, crime stats, her personal interests: theatre, museums, sports, etc), the company: its history, quality of executive management and board of directions (check Glassdoor, Hoovers, etc),and that the cut in pay will allow this young woman to pay back her credit cards, groceries & entertainment, add to savings, and round trip tickets home for visits, then go for it.
    Her father stepping up and attempting to both dissuade her and make this decision is the problem with today’s millennials with either Gen X or boomer parents.
    Daughter: Make either your successes or mistakes on your terms not what dad wants.

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