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How to launch a seemingly impossible career change

In the April 19, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks how to get in the door for a seemingly impossible job change.

Question

leavingI want to make a big career change into medical device sales, but it’s going to be tricky. My experience is in teaching, primarily English as a second language. I don’t expect to get a sales job to start, so I want to start out in sales support. I’ve done tons of research on the company I’ve chosen, its technology and products, and I’ve even talked to some of the company’s customers — doctors and medical centers. I know that their salespeople’s time is worth a little over $1,000 an hour, so good sales support is key to profitability.

Two contacts — an old friend and her friend — work in the company where I want a job, and I’m using LinkedIn to find more contacts. I have read both your How Can I Make a Career Change? (I thoroughly enjoyed my library vacation) and Fearless Job Hunting books, and I am following your advice. But my execution might be a bit rocky. How can I parlay these contacts into more connections that might help me get in front of the right manager to talk about a seemingly impossible job change?

Nick’s Reply

You’re right — that’s a huge, daunting leap. Medical sales is a tough field to get into. Your odds aren’t good, but I don’t believe in odds or in luck. I believe in hard work. If you really want to do this, do all the hard work and don’t let anything deter you until you either get the job or exhaust every avenue.

But you didn’t ask my permission. You asked how to get in the door.

It’s going to require more than one or two contacts, so you need to leverage your two friends to meet more people in the company. I’m both a fan and an antagonist when it comes to LinkedIn. It’s the best online phonebook ever developed. On the other hand, it’s become just another job board after squandering its future as a true networking tool.

Leverage LinkedIn

Here’s how to use LinkedIn to help you with this. Ask your friends for one or two names of people who work in or near the department at the company where you want to work. Then search both LinkedIn and Google to find them, and then more people who are connected to the company’s product areas where you want to work. (I suggest you re-read “A Good Network Is a Circle of Friends,” pp. 27-32 in How Can I Change Careers?)

Search Google for the company name plus the product names and related technologies. Let me caution you here: Google Search and Google News are different. You’ll turn up different results. I prefer News because the results will surface names of specific people and stories about them — and that’s what you want. The more relevant names you can dig up this way, the better. Then look up each person on LinkedIn — and ask your friends if they know them.

When you contact someone you found this way, you don’t have to rely on that tenuous LinkedIn “connection” to get their attention. (I hate it when someone reaches out to me and says, “I found you on LinkedIn!” So what? They might as well have found me in the phone book!) You should refer to the news article you read about them. Talk shop, and mention the two people you know at the company:

How to Say It:
“I was just talking to Mary Smith, who works in the Blah-Blah department at your company, and I also just read this article in the Wall Street Journal about your role in your company’s…”

Talk shop!

You’ve clearly done your homework — Good for you! — so you can actually ask them a couple of intelligent questions about their work. This tells them you’re not some LinkedIn opportunist who ran a keyword search to “find” them. You actually know something about what they do. This puts you on a very different footing from someone who’s calling around for job leads via LinkedIn.

Having started a work-related — if very simple — discussion, you can move on to your objective:

How to Say It:
“I wonder if I could ask you for some advice. My background is… and I’m considering a job in sales support. I don’t just want to send in a resume, because I’d like to learn more about the support function in sales of XYZ devices. I know that a sales person’s time at your company is worth about $1,000 an hour, so sales support is an important lever for profitability. Is there someone you can recommend that I talk with in sales or sales support so I can learn more about the role?”

Isn’t that more powerful than saying, “Hey, do you know of any job leads at your company?” You will leave your competitors in the dust. Here’s another way to break the ice with such a contact:

How to Say It:
“I noticed in the article I read that you work with the Hannenframmis device line. Another company, X, makes a related device they call a Thingamajig. What do you think of their product?”

A question like that tells the person you’ve studied the company, its products and its competition. What LinkedIn query goes into such detail? Your request is out of the ordinary. You’re not asking for a job lead — you’re talking shop. When you ask someone for their opinion or advice about something relating to their work, I find they usually want to share their thoughts.

Once again, having established a bit of credibility, it’s easy to switch to:

“Hey, I wonder if I could ask you for some advice…” and use the How to Say It suggestion above.

Critical Mass: Nobody said it was easy

If they don’t recommend anyone, just say, “Thanks — it was good to meet you. Thanks for your time,” and move on. But my guess is they will offer you some help. One new contact and referral thus leads to another. You learn something new every step of the way, and you will build a critical mass of contacts and insight. Some of them will know one another — and that builds your credibility further as you navigate the company to find the right manager in sales.

One of your new friends will refer you to a manager who will recognize a highly motivated person who wants to work in sales support. Without applying for a job, you’ll be an insider. When you get near that manager, re-read Fearless Job Hunting, Book 3: Get in The Door (way ahead of your competition), “Share Experiences: The path to success,” pp. 12-14, and “Pest, or manager’s dream?” pp. 18-19.

I’ll caution you: This is not easy or quick, nor should it be. While your competition is sending keywords to HR managers, you’ll be talking to insiders — that requires dedication and focus. Managers tend to hire people they know, or people referred by trusted contacts. That’s what this approach gradually turns you into — an insider — if you invest the time to do the homework, to talk with people patiently, and to learn all you can about the company you want to work for so you can demonstrate why you’re the profitable hire.

How do you get in the door when the job you want is a big change from what you’ve been doing? Ever make a big career change? What would you suggest to this earnest reader?

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Will employers explode if you squeeze them for interview feedback?

In the March 8, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks how to make failed interviews pay off.

Question

I had a good interview, or so I thought. The manager complimented me on our discussion, and I could tell she was impressed, but I guess I just wasn’t the right fit. I know everyone goes through this. But when you add up all the interviews across a long career, you wonder why. I try to learn something from every such failure, but the time spent just doesn’t seem to be compensated by what managers share after a meeting. Do you have any advice about how to benefit even from interviews that don’t result in a job offer?

squeezedNick’s Reply

Not every job interview results in an offer of employment, but every interview should provide you with information that helps you land an offer next time. An interview is an investment of time and effort. You should always get a return on that investment — either in the form of an offer, or in the form of useful feedback.

Many employers won’t tell why they rejected you. Indeed, their legal eagles (or hatchlings in the HR department) may have warned managers that they’d get sued for telling you too much. But, if you press, you may get something you can use. Just remember: You don’t want grounds for a lawsuit, you want useful information. An employer owes you that in exchange for your participation in their hiring process.

Here’s how to get truly useful information if you’ve been rejected.

First, make sure you’re getting feedback directly from the manager and members of her team. The most valid information usually comes from the hiring authority and from others who understand the work in question, not from a clerk in HR. (A good HR person might offer you something useful, but it’s usually the manager who can really help you.) So call the boss after your meeting.

Second, don’t ask why they turned you down. (That’s what prompts the legal heebie-jeebies.) Instead, thank the manager for considering you, then shift the discussion to career development.

How to Say It

“I learned a lot from our discussion. Can I ask you for some advice? Someday I want to work in the kind of position I interviewed for. I want to become one of the best people in this field. Can you suggest what I ought to be reading, what kinds of further education or training I might get, and where I should focus myself to develop the right skills? What would you do if you were me, to develop myself professionally?”

Keep your request informal and friendly, and a good manager will advise you. Note that you are not asking why you were rejected. (See Play Hardball With Slowpoke Employers.)

Finally, don’t take “no” for an answer. If you’ve asked diplomatically but a manager ignores your calls or won’t provide honest feedback after a rejection, recognize that you’re dealing with an irresponsible member of your professional community. She has a one-sided view of business. She expects people to be open and honest in interviews, but refuses to be candid herself.

My next suggestion will probably have you scratching your head, but think about it.

E-mail or call the CEO of the company, or the top executive in the department that interviewed you. (Don’t be intimidated — he or she is just another employee of the company.) Politely explain that you interviewed in good faith, and that you expect the same in return.

How to Say It

“I value my reputation as a responsible, forthright [marketer, software engineer, whatever you are]. I hope your company values its reputation as a responsible member of our professional community. I invested many hours in interviews with your team, and I would simply like some honest feedback about my meetings with your company. But no one will call me back. I look forward to hearing from you.”

A good CEO will get the message. A bad one will ignore you. It’s worth finding out how a company you’re interested in is managed, and whether they behave with integrity.

Shocking suggestion, isn’t it — that a top executive would make sure her management team does the right thing. The world has been conditioned to accept bad behavior, so we don’t ask for good behavior. That diminishes the entire business world. My guess is, awkward as such a call or e-mail might seem to you, the CEO will remember you. If the CEO is respectful, it’ll pay off. If the CEO is dismissive, you’re the one who will remember. And you’ll let others know.

After investing hours talking with a company, you should see a return on your investment. But it’s up to you to collect it. Nobody said doing collections is easy, but consider how much you can learn throughout your career by chasing down the value of every interview you do.

The bonus is, after a few of these calls, you’ll have all kinds of good questions to ask employers at the end of your interviews, so you can collect the ROI without having to call anyone later.

A rejection can be delivered in one of two ways: with good faith and respect, or with thoughtless disdain. When you invest in an interview, make sure you get the most out of it. Ask. Learn. (See Loopy feedback failure.)

Do you make sure every interview pays off? We all know employers are lousy about providing useful feedback. I frankly don’t know how they get away without it. How can they be squeezed, without making them explode?

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4 You’re-Kidding-Me Questions & Snappy Answers


msft-technetToday (March 1) we’re joined by some special guests! A big welcome to IT professionals from Microsoft’s TechNet Virtual Conference 2016, where I’m doing a presentation titled “Top Tips From A Headhunter” to help IT folks deal with career crises.

For those new to Ask The Headhunter, I invite you to check out Ask The Headhunter In A Nutshell: The short course. For more in-depth methods to handle your own career challenges, please also see 600 Editions: The Best of Ask The Headhunter! Related to what I discussed in the video you just watched on TechNet: Please! Stop Networking! Advance your career by learning to “talk shop” with people!

The ATH portion of the conference is March 1, 11:30am PT with Q&A to follow. If you’re reaching this in time, please join us: enter the event here.

Microsoft Week! Save 25% on any Ask The Headhunter PDF books this week only! Use discount code=MSFT when checking out! This offer is limited-time only! Save now!


In the March 1, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, readers seek wisdom on all manner of things, including how to make big bucks! File under Gimme a break… but we try to cover it all! Is this week’s Q&A tongue-in-cheek? You decide…

Question

I love speaking in public, giving presentations, leading group discussions, and teaching classes. If I were given the challenge of speaking in front of 500 people with 60 minutes notice, I would rub my hands together with glee. Please help me understand how to turn my talents into $100,000 a year.

Nick’s Snappy Reply

snappy-answers

Ask The Headhunter: Where your dreams come true! Ask yourself, What company or organization could make a lot of money and profit by having you do those things you love? That’s who to go to about a job. You need to come up with a mini-business plan for each company you target.

  • What problem or challenge do they face?
  • How can you tackle it to produce profit?
  • What’s the best way to explain it to the company?
  • Who’s the best person to explain it to?
  • How can you track down people that “best person” knows or works with — people who can introduce you?

You’re not going to get hired to do what you love. You’ll get hired to do what you love if you can show how that will pay off to an employer. That’s your real challenge. You must figure it out and communicate it, because no company is going to figure it out for you. For more about this, see The Basics, then rub your hands with glee!

Question 2

I worked in San Francisco and Silicon Valley for 25 years recruiting. I have references from great companies. No one seems to be interested in my valuable experience. In fact, I was told no one would hire me in Silicon Valley. I need someone to check my experience out. I would very much appreciate a referral that could help me track these rumors down.

Nick’s Snappy Reply

Ah, let me get out my little black book… You’d need to hire a private detective. I don’t know any. Just because someone told you that you’d never get hired in Silicon Valley doesn’t mean anyone else feels that way. If you’re concerned about your references, you might ask a hiring manager at any company (someone you’re friendly with) to contact them and ask them what they think of you. You might identify the problem that way, assuming you have one. In the future, Take Care Of Your References.

As for the value of your experience, please see my reply to Question 1.

Question 3

I came across your article, Wanted: HR exec with the guts not to ask for your social security number, after a local recruiter asked me for information I’m not comfortable sharing.

RECRUITER: “I need the last four of your SSN and middle initial to submit you to Company X.”

ME: “Is this absolutely needed at this stage? What is it being used for? Understandably, I’m hesitant to give out that information.”

RECRUITER: “It’s the only way you can be submitted to our client for a job. It’s part of their ATS (Applicant Tracking System) to ensure that candidates are not being double submitted.”

I guess I’m really hoping that you might offer a bit of advice — whether I’m right in thinking this is a red flag, and how I might further respond to her request and comments.

Nick’s Snappy Reply

How to Say It: Up your xiggy with a blowtorch!

Recruiters love applicants who speak the local jargon, so that should go over well. But employers have no legitimate reason to demand your SSN just so you can apply for a job. The recruiter gives away the problem when she admits the employer’s ATS needs your SSN to avoid duplicate submissions of your credentials. They use it as a hash — a unique database key to identify you. That’s how the employer avoids fee battles between recruiters who both claim they submitted you.

Lazy ATS system designers misuse a federal ID number for their own purposes. In the process, the recruiter, the employer and the ATS vendor are intimidating job seekers and putting them at risk of not getting a job over the ATS vendor’s silly database trick. Hence the need for a blowtorch.

Should you play along? That’s up to you. (A related employer trick is demanding your salary history. See Salary History: Can you afford to say NO?) It’s also up to you to hand over any 4 digits you choose, for the time being, to beat the system, and explain later to the employer if the 4 digits don’t match your actual SSN — which will matter only if you’re hired. “Someone obviously made a mistake.”

I don’t like lying. But I also don’t tolerate stupid bureaucratic tricks by employers and ATS vendors — at the expense of job seekers.

What you do is up to you, of course. What I’m suggesting could cause you problems. But what the recruiter and ATS vendor are demanding could cause you problems, too. I’m just telling you what I’d do. Always follow the instructions that come with a blowtorch.

Question 4

Should I disclose in a job interview that I applied to grad school a few weeks ago, and that if I get in I won’t be taking the job? The job interview is in about two weeks.

Nick’s Snappy Reply

First thing I’d do is buy a lottery ticket and put it in your pocket. Would you tell an employer you have that ticket in your pocket, and that if you win, you won’t need the job?

I see no reason to disclose your graduate school application, unless and until you’re faced with a choice about going to grad school. Make sense?

How would you deal with these four situations? Geez, I am on a roll! Post your comments before I slow down!

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Protect yourself from exploding job offers

I don’t know where they’re all coming from: bogus job offers extended by employers, then withdrawn after the job applicant has relied on the offer and quit their old job. In the January 19, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader is smart enough to ask how to avoid being left without a job at all.

Question

I’m on contract at a job through a staffing firm. I have found a better position somewhere else. The new company offered the job and I accepted. I’m trying to do this right and to protect myself, so I have two questions:

First, to whom should I direct my resignation letter? To my recruiter at the staffing firm, or to the manager of the department where I’m actually working (at my recruiter’s client)?

bombSecond, I’m scared of telling whoever I’m supposed to tell, and later receiving a letter from my future employer saying that they decided to close the position for internal reasons or something like that. I don’t want to be left without any job at all.

Help ASAP please.

Nick’s Reply

How you quit your job matters as much as what new job you take. Let’s take your questions one at a time.

How to quit

If you’re working on contract through a staffing firm, your employer is the staffing firm. You need to tell them. Of course, the right thing to do is to also tell your manager — but I think it’s best to notify your actual employer first. They should have a chance to limit their exposure by offering a replacement worker to your manager, and your manager should hear it from them.

Here’s a tip from Parting Company: How to leave your job about what to say in a resignation letter, from the section, “Resign Yourself To Resigning Right,” p. 46:

The letter should be just one sentence because — sorry to be the cynic, but careers and lives might hinge on this — it can come back and bite you legally if it says anything more.

“I, John Jones, hereby resign my position with Acme Corporation.”

I won’t get into all the things that might go wrong if you say more, but I detail the risks in the book.

Submitting your resignation is the easy part. The recruiter at your staffing firm isn’t going to be happy that you’re quitting. What will you do when the recruiter, your boss, or your co-workers press you for details? Here’s another tip from the book (p. 47):

Keep your future to yourself. It’s nice to share your new address with your buddies. But if someone thinks your new employer is a competitor, suddenly that comfortable two-week notice can turn into an immediate departure. Or worse.

How to Say It
“I don’t think it’s appropriate to disclose my new employer until I’m actually working there.”

That’s right: Disclosing where you’re going is very risky. Don’t do it.

How to avoid job offers that blow up in your face

As for being scared that the future employer may rescind — or never finalize — the offer, that can always happen. It’s a risk you take when you accept any job, because — especially in a jurisdiction where employment is “at will” — an employer can fire you at any time for any reason or no reason. But you can minimize the risk when you accept a job:

1. Make sure you have the new offer in writing. An oral offer is not good enough to risk your old job.

2. Beware of staffing firms. Is the offer from another staffing firm or an actual company where you’d be working? If it’s a staffing firm, I think your risk is bigger because recruiters will sometimes drop you if they turn up a better applicant for the client — right in the middle of the hiring process, and even after commitments are made. Likewise, the client can suddenly change its mind, and you wind up on the street. Because hiring through a staffing firm is at arm’s length, employers seem to think they have no obligation to consider the consequences for the new hire.

3. Meet the new HR manager before quitting your old job, but after they’ve promised an offer. This is a technique of personal politics. They’re not likely to meet with you if they’re not certain they’re hiring you. Insist on a face-to-face meeting with HR before you resign your old job. It’s a simple fact of social psychology: People are less likely to hurt you once they’ve met you face to face.

4. Meet your new boss. Before you quit your old job, insist on a meeting with your new boss to discuss your job responsibilities, on-boarding process, what tools you’ll be using, and so on. This forces the manager to put some skin in the game and makes it emotionally harder for them to back out — but even this is no guarantee.

5. Here’s my secret weapon. This is something I want an employer to do after it has given my candidate a job offer, but before the candidate accepts the job (or quits the old job, of course). Ask to meet some of the team members you’ll be working with. The sooner the better. This will reveal how serious they are about really filling this job and having you there. If the company balks at this, I’d never quit my old job until I’ve got some other hard evidence that the new job is for real. (For more about this, see How can I find the truth about a company?)

Limiting your risk when quitting one job and accepting another is more about personal politics than anything else. An employer (or staffing firm) can rescind an offer any time. You’d need a lawyer to fight back. I think the better strategy is to get close to the new boss and team — and to take measures to force the staffing firm to show you that the offer and the job are real. Then there’s less chance that this will go south.

Be tough

Many employers — especially staffing firms — will balk at what I’m suggesting. They want to hire as effortlessly as possible. Their attitude is, “We’ve got other applicants like you waiting — we’re not going to waste our time making you feel all warm and fuzzy about taking this job.”

Well, that’s tough. Would you accept an offer of marriage from someone who won’t spend enough time with you to really make you feel loved? Don’t be in such a hurry to tie the knot before you can judge whether your suitor is for real. If an employer isn’t willing to invest time to assure you that a job offer is real, then it’s probably not worth risking your old job.

In the end, you must use your best judgment and decide whether to make the leap. If your gut tells you something is wrong, listen to your gut.

While my objective here is to help you land a great new job, my first concern is that you should not get hurt in the process. You must learn how to recognize a risky job offer before it blows up in your face.

Lately I’m getting a surprising number of questions from readers about job offers that explode — after the candidate relies on them to make career and financial decisions. I think employers, HR departments, and staffing firms have crossed a critical line that’s telling us they’re either stupid and inept, or that they’re callous and lack integrity. When the employer “takes back” a job offer for any reason, the applicant usually cannot “take back” a resignation. In one case, a reader cancelled her lease, moved her family, and wound up homeless because a personnel jockey instructed her husband to quit his job and move to a new city — then the jockey reneged on the promise of the new job.

I’m collecting stories about exploding job offers because I’m worried this is a dangerous new trend. I think we should chronicle and discuss it, to help you avoid having job offers blow up in your face.

Got a story about exploding job offers — or do you know someone who does? Please post it. Has an employer ever instructed you to quit your old job before giving you a written offer, or has an offer ever been rescinded? What did you do? How would you advise the reader in this week’s Q&A?

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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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Ask this question before you agree to an interview

In the December 15, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader complains that employers hide the money.

Question

On an almost weekly basis, headhunters ping me about technical jobs they want to fill, but they won’t tell me what a job will pay. Then we get down to the brass tacks, and rarely do any of these corporations want to pay what I know I’m worth for what I bring to the table.

lips-sealedMy skill set wasn’t developed by being average, and I will not accept anything average. I make my employer lots of money. I impact the bottom line and that will cost you.

It’s interesting to watch companies lose money because they employed campers instead of climbers. I’m willing to do the job for those employers, but when I tell them they need to pay me $25k more than they’re paying the campers, they squeal. Meanwhile, millions are being lost right in front of their eyes. Yet they expect me to interview without disclosing what a job will pay. Their lips are sealed until after the interviewing is done. What’s up with that?

Nick’s Reply

It’s pretty astonishing how many consumers and employers are tire-kickers. They won’t spend what’s necessary on the product, service, or hire that they want. But they will keep looking, usually until they find a less costly solution — and by that time, they convince themselves it’s sufficient.

Employers view new hires as an expense, not an investment. An expense costs you. (See Stand Out: How to be the profitable hire.) A good investment generates a good return. It seems few employers look for returns — they’re just trying to fill jobs with bodies (that don’t cost much). Then they wonder why their business is mediocre if not failing.

I think the prudent approach is to have a simple protocol for limiting the time you spend with headhunters. In my opinion, it has to involve an up-front discussion about salary range. (See Only naive wusses are afraid to bring up money.) Many people think it’s too forward or inappropriate to ask what the salary is — and employers love that.

It’s the old foot-in-the-door sales approach. The more time and effort employers can get you to spend talking to them, the more chance you’ll compromise on the money later on, to justify all the time you spent.

I say bunk to that. We all know money is the first bridge, so cross it immediately. Don’t let it seem complicated. When an employer or headhunter solicits you for a job, here’s how to proceed. Always ask this question before you agree to do an interview:

How to Say It
“So, what’s the pay like?”

Yes, that’s all it takes: an off-handed, casual, natural, obvious question. (That tip is part of “The Pool-Man Strategy: How to ask for more money,” in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 7: Win The Salary Games, pp. 13-15.)


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Would you take a nice-looking bottle of wine to the checkout counter at a liquor store if it doesn’t have a price tag on it? Of course not. So, why would you agree to spend hours talking about a job whose salary range you don’t know? You might have to put that job back on the shelf, after you’ve wasted precious time and energy.

When an employer declines to disclose the salary range for a job, it’s time to end the discussion. Don’t be afraid to ask the salary before you agree to interview. (Of course, you should keep your own salary under wraps!)

You have no idea what the job pays? Then why are you interviewing for it? What’s the big secret?? How do you handle situations where an employer refuses to tell you what the salary is for a job?

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Only naive wusses are afraid to bring up money

In the October 27, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader is living in la-la land.

Question

I recently had three great interviews with an organization that I would be proud to work for. Afterwards they asked me for samples of my work and references, but they never brought up salary. I asked them if they had a salary range in mind for the role, and I learned it was $20k lower than what I am currently earning. ? I politely said that I had a higher number in mind, based on my background and experience. I said I hoped there might be some flexibility if I ended up being their finalist. I left them samples of my work and left the interview with no further discussion of remuneration.

la-laWhen I got home there was an e-mail asking me for references, so I took the opportunity to mention my salary expectations prior to moving forward. The CEO responded that they could not match my request, but explained she would go to the board to see if she could increase the pay since the position played an important role in their growth strategy.

A couple of weeks later, the CEO got back to me and said she could not get any more money from the board and thanked me for my interest.

Since then they have re-posted twice for the job under a more junior title. I suspect that other applicants for the original posting of Chief Strategy Officer were also expecting a higher salary. They have now changed the posting to Senior Development Officer.

I realize now that I should have waited for a job offer, and then negotiated. But, live and learn, right? I am still very interested in the position but would need them to come up at least $10k.

Do you think I can still approach them or has that ship sailed? Being experienced in recruiting, I would never have taken a candidate that far without knowing where I stood on salary. Do I stand a chance?

Nick’s Reply

No, I don’t think you stand a chance at all. What surprises me is your wishful thinking and rationalizing, since you said you’re experienced in recruiting. The CEO told you it’s over. What I see is you putting your hands over your ears: “La-la-la I can’t hear you!”

But this is incredibly common. Employers will make it clear how much they’re willing to pay, and it just goes in a job applicant’s one ear and out the other. It’s one of the most puzzling phenomena — otherwise smart, savvy job seekers just refuse to believe what they’re told about salary.

Or, is it that some job seekers really, really want to believe an employer will pay more, even when it said it won’t? Then — when no more money is forthcoming — the applicant either (1) gets angry and blames the employer for wasting their time, or (2) blames themselves for not wishing hard enough.

Stop wishing

Consider: The CEO knows what you want. She went to her board, which refused more money. The CEO told you. Yet you still harbor a belief that the CEO will come up with another ten grand.

la-la-2But your rationalizing doesn’t end there.

You’ve seen that the title was downgraded from Chief Strategy Officer to Senior Development Officer — and you even seem to understand why. Applicants like you were expecting higher salaries that the company can’t pay. So the company adjusted the title to reflect the lower salary.

Nonetheless, you’re telling me you should have gone through the rest of the hiring process, gotten an offer, and then negotiated — after the CEO already told you there’s no room to negotiate!

And it still doesn’t end there. You seem to think that because you’re “still very interested in the position,” they’re going to come up with another ten grand! Stop pretending! It doesn’t matter how interested you are!

Having said all that, I can understand why you’re bothered. The CEO never should have taken you through three rounds of interviews without knowing where you stood on salary. You’re right about that. She never asked you about salary, and never told you about the salary range — making her just as guilty as you of wasting everyone’s time!

Are we all on the same planet??

I don’t think so.

  • Wishful thinking about salary is a stupid, dangerous waste of time.
  • Hiding a job’s salary range is a stupid, dangerous waste of time.
  • Hiding your desired salary range is a stupid, dangerous waste of time. (See How to decide how much you want.)

The conventional wisdom — which is proclaimed by “negotiation experts” — is that whoever mentions money first loses! And it’s pure nonsense!

Who wins?

Who wins is the person or employer who knows what they want, expresses it candidly, and establishes common ground before investing time in a hiring process. Only a naive wuss starts talking about doing business without first talking money.

I say naive because most people have no idea how to negotiate, so they pretend instead. Do you pretend? Are you afraid? Try this:

How to Say It

“Look, I have no idea whether we can come to agreement on money, but I’d like us to establish a framework about the money before we start talking turkey — so that we won’t both feel like a couple of turkeys after we invest hours talking, only to realize we’re not even in the same ballpark about money. So, what kind of money are we talking about?” (See “How can I avoid a salary cut?” in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 7: Win The Salary Games (long before you negotiate an offer), pp. 7-10.)

I say wuss because most people are afraid or embarrassed to talk about money until the other person does — hence the silly excuse, “It’s best not to be the first to bring up money!” Whew.

People who know what they’re worth, and what they want, are the ones who are best prepared — both to do the job, and to justify how much they want. They’re the people who are ready to demonstrate their value and to engage in a candid dialogue about it. (See The New Interview and The New Interview Instruction Book.)

When you’re going to do a deal — any deal — negotiating about money starts immediately. Whoever controls this discussion sets the anchor on the outcome. That’s who wins.

The anchor effect

There’s a phenomenon in the science of pricing called the anchor effect. The idea is simple: Whoever brings up money first influences which direction the negotiation will take. If you start talking high numbers, the final negotiation will probably end on a higher number. If someone starts by putting smaller numbers on the table, the final number will likely be lower. That is, the first number that hits the table is said to anchor the negotiation — pulling the rest of the discussion toward that point, higher or lower. (For more on this, see William Poundstone’s excellent and very readable book, Priceless: The myth of fair value and how to take advantage of it.)

Of course, if your number and their number are way off, either try to make your case, or shake hands respectfully and move on. Don’t pretend!

Grow up

Everyone needs to get over their hesitation to talk about salary before interviews proceed. Employers need to disclose — even advertise — a job’s salary range. Job seekers need to disclose how much money they’re looking for. At the very least, both parties should establish an honest ballpark for salary — or stop screwing around with interviews, rationalizations, sneaky tactics, and hemming and hawing.

I know what you’re thinking: “If I say what I want, what if the other guy is actually willing to pay me twice that? I’ll lose out!”

Unless you just fell off a hay wagon, you can’t possibly believe that what the employer was planning to spend is double what you want. Grow up. You’re not going to hit the lottery in a salary negotiation. More likely, playing coy is going to lead you right into a brick wall — when honest mutual disclosure is more likely to result in a healthy discussion.

Where did you go wrong?

When you agreed to the first interview, you failed to ask what the salary was for the job — so you could decide whether it was a match.

Worse, you avoided this because you thought you might be able to play the CEO along, and “convince” her to spend more than her board permitted. This is the old foot-in-the-door tactic of the inept salesman: “If I can get the sucker to invite me in, I’ll just brute-force my way to a deal!”

That’s naive. It’s also — pardon me, because I sense you’re actually smart and capable — stupid. I’ll bet you think it’s professional to not bring up money, and unprofessional to expect the employer to bring it up.

You’re wrong on both counts. What’s unprofessional is two people leading one another on. There’s nothing professional about being afraid or embarrassed to talk money. The CEO is just as guilty. She should have asked you how much you wanted — a range — at the same time she expressed the salary range for the job.

Please: Consider these basic guidelines when applying for jobs:

  • Know what salary range you want, and be ready to express it. (Don’t confuse this with disclosing your salary history. See Keep Your Salary Under Wraps.)
  • Don’t agree to an interview if the employer won’t disclose the salary range for a job.
  • Be prepared to justify the money you ask for, in terms of how you’ll produce more value for the employer than the next candidate will.
  • Pay more attention to what the employer is saying, than to what you’re wishing.

The key to negotiating

Do you know what is the biggest mistake you made, even after you invested time in three interviews without knowing the salary? You let the CEO ask the board for more money without arming her with the justification.

The CEO was willing to go to bat for you — but you sent her to negotiate without a bat!

If you’d given the CEO evidence of why you’re worth $20,000 more than she was planning to spend, she might have gotten more money from the board. Your mistake is that you asked for more money just because you want it. The key is to show what the board gets in return for $20,000. The key to successful negotiating is being able to deliver more value than the other guy expects.

The CEO has struck out. She told you to go home. Sorry — get over it. There is no job for more money. Please don’t make a fool of yourself.

I don’t care what negotiating experts say. Don’t be naive, or afraid, or a wuss about bringing up money first. Winners are prepared to justify what they want, and to show how it will pay off for the other guy. (See “What’s your business plan for doing this job?”, Fearless Job Hunting, Book 6: Be The Profitable Hire, pp. 30-32.) If there’s no match on the money, they move on early and quickly.

Do you talk money? Or are you terrified to bring it up? Do you wait until you’ve invested hours of time before you find out what the salary is? What’s the best way to ensure everyone is on the same page regarding salary?

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Please! Stop Networking!

In the September 15, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader just doesn’t get all the fuss that’s called networking.

Question

I’ve been trying to find a mentor who understands networking better than I do. I just don’t get it. We are not expert in everything, and this is one area where I want to get some help. Can you give me some clarity about networking?

Nick’s Reply

networking

So much has been written and said about networking that networking has become a business, an industry, a racket of enormous proportions. Please! Stop doing what’s sold as “networking,” because it’s phony!

I want to barf every time I hear some silly lecture or read a pandering dissertation about how to network. Networking is not complicated. But networking has become over-defined.

Legit networking is simple: Talk shop with people who do work you want to do.

I’ll give you a few examples of what I mean.

You can meet people to talk shop online, in person, anywhere. If you read something about them in advance, just drop a quick note.

How to Say It
“Hey, I read this article about you and I see you’re working on… I’d love to know what you think about X? How’d you do what was described in the article? What are you reading lately that has influenced your work?”

If you’re talking with the person face to face, it’s even simpler.

How to Say It
“Tell me more about what you do… What kinds of challenges or problems did you encounter while working on that?”

The magic is in asking them to talk about themselves and their work. People love that, as long as you’re not being solicitous. And you won’t be if you just talk shop.

It takes time to make meaningful connections through these exchanges. Be patient. Don’t expect much, don’t expect it quickly, and good things will evolve in time. The best part: No matter what benefits you get or don’t get career-wise, you make new friends!

When you get to the point where you want to talk about your career challenges, here’s the magic sauce: Never ask for job leads. Never.

Instead, ask for advice and insight.

How to Say It
“May I ask your advice? If I wanted to shift over to doing XYZ [as your new job], what kind of advice would you give me? I’d love your insight about what it takes to be successful doing what you do.”

See the difference? Never say anything that feels icky or phony. There’s no begging, no asking for jobs or introductions. Results will come naturally — people will eventually suggest someone else that you should talk to. And that’s what to keep track of — people you’re referred to, who they are, where they work, what they do.

Beware, or I’ll never talk to you again
Then there’s the most important thing. If someone recommends a person that you should talk with, or offers an introduction or referral — always make the contact and do it quickly. Never let a personal referral die on the vine.

If I give you a referral, and I find out you didn’t follow up within 3-4 days, I’ll never do anything for you again. Usually, I’ll tip off the third party to expect a call or e-mail. When the person I’m trying to help doesn’t make that contact, I’ve wasted an introduction and I look bad. I can’t emphasize this enough — it’s the single biggest networking mistake people make. If you want good mentors in your life, do not squander the investment they make in you. (See Mentoring & Getting Mentored.)

Networking should be as easy as talking shop with people who do the work you want to do.

Next week, I’ll share my three ingredients for good, healthy networking. But, right now I’d like to know, What’s your way to get close to others professionally?

I’d love to assemble a list of to-dos, not-to-dos, and basic rules for making friends in the work world. Please post your advice and cautions!

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The Job-Offer Sucker Punch

In the September 1, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader trusts a recruiter and winds up regretting it.

Question

I was hired as an executive assistant at a very large, global company. The recruiter (who worked for the company) assured me that the benefits were very good, “comparable to any big company,” and insisted that they were on par suckerwith any other organization I’ve worked with.

It turns out they aren’t. I pay half of my health insurance (approximately $750/month), my vacation is mandated in December because of annual office closure, no overtime is offered, I work one scheduled weekend per month unpaid, and my significant other was not covered under benefits (though a same-sex partner would have been) until we are married.

The recruiter quit her job shortly after I was hired. I haven’t brought up these issues with the company, although I’ve been here almost a year. The culture is very much that one should not complain because you should be happy you have a job.

I took a 25% pay cut for this gig. Do I have any legal recourse? I fear that the legal costs would outweigh any benefits. In the meantime, I’m looking for a new job elsewhere but have found that my “new” salary requirements have me in a different bracket.

Nick’s Reply

You got sucker-punched because you didn’t see it coming. I doubt you have any legal recourse, but I’m not a lawyer and this isn’t legal advice. You could start by talking with your state’s department of labor and employment — they may be able to advise you, and they may have other complaints on record about this employer.

It seems the recruiter baited you. See Why do companies hide the benefits? Too often, job applicants trust what is stated orally in an interview without insisting that the commitment be reproduced in writing in the job offer. It amazes me that an applicant will read an offer letter carefully — but never ask for the written benefits. The benefits are part of the offer. I urge you and all of our readers: Get the entire offer in writing and read all components of the offer carefully before you accept!

You must state your position to an employer clearly.

How to Say It

“I’m impressed with your company, and I’m eager to come to work with you. However, I cannot accept this offer without knowing all the terms of employment, including the benefits. I could no more sign an employment agreement without knowing all the terms than your company could sign a business contract without knowing what it was committing to. I’m sure you understand. Could you please provide me with your employee manual, benefits package, and any other documents that would bind me after I start the job? Once I have these, I will promptly respond. I look forward to accepting your offer, and to making a significant contribution to your business. I hope I can count on your help so we can all get to work.”

What a recruiter tells you is akin to what a salesman tells you — it’s intended to close the deal. Good luck collecting on the oral promises later.

I agree that your most important next action is to start a very active job search. The solution to getting stuck applying for jobs with lower salaries is to not disclose your salary — apply for jobs that can pay what you’re worth, and politely but firmly decline to disclose your salary history. Employers have no right to it. You must also be ready to demonstrate why you’re worth more than your current job pays. Two of my PDF books cover these topics: Keep Your Salary Under Wraps and How Can I Change Careers?

Start with your state’s labor office. Get their advice on the details of your situation. But I think that, unfortunately, when you accepted this job you accepted terms you did not understand clearly — because the employer misrepresented them. Please check this article for tips about how to avoid a lower salary at your next job: How do I prove I deserve a higher job offer?

I wish you the best. This kind of slimy behavior by employers is indefensible.

Have you ever accepted a bait-and-switch job offer? What did you do? How would you advise the reader in this week’s Q&A?

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The ONLY way to ask for a higher job offer

In the August 4, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader wants more money.

Question

How should I request a better offer than the one that was made? By phone? By e-mail? By regular mail? Do you ask the HR person, since that is who handles the offer letter in the first place? How does the give-and-take take place?

Nick’s Reply

Almost everyone makes one huge mistake when asking for a higher job offer. They fail to justify the extra pay.

Want more? Prove you’re worth it!

want-moreWhy would anyone give you more money just because you asked for it? Yet job seekers try that lame approach all the time.

If you want more money, you must explain why you’re worth more.

(By the way: Don’t waste your time quoting salary surveys. No survey includes the exact job you’re applying for, or your exact constellation of skills and attributes. You will always lose the survey game because any smart employer will respond with yet another survey that “proves” its offer is handsome! See Beat The Salary Surveys: Get a higher job offer.)

When negotiating for a better offer, the goal should be to engage in a discussion rather than to put a stake in the ground, unless you are absolutely sure your asking figure is firm. This allows the company to explore the money issue with you, rather than be forced to respond with a yes or no.

Ask the manager, not HR!

It’s critical to have the discussion with the hiring manager, not with HR. HR might control the hiring process, but it’s the manager’s budget that your compensation will come from. So have this discussion with the manager, in person or by phone. (I would not use e-mail. It’s too impersonal.) Try this:

Make a commitment

“First, I want to thank you for the offer. I want to come work with you.”

That’s a powerful opening statement because it resolves one big question for the manager: Does this candidate want the job? Once you’ve made this commitment, managers know it’s worth their time to work out the terms. Too often, job candidates try to negotiate money without consenting to the job itself. Bear in mind that saying you want the job doesn’t obligate you in any way. If the money can’t be negotiated to your satisfaction, you can ultimately turn the job down.

Now comes the most important part:

“I realize you have carefully considered how much you think this job is worth. As we discussed in our interview, I believe I can do this job [more profitably, more efficiently, more quickly, more effectively] by doing [such and such]. For these reasons, I believe my contribution on this job would be worth between $X-$Y in compensation. Of course, if I can’t show you why I’m worth more, you shouldn’t offer me the job. Are you open to discussing this?”

Deliver more value

The key element here is value: You must show how the added value you will deliver is worth more money. Employers love it when you reveal you have thought carefully about the work and how you would do it profitably. It shows you are motivated to make the deal a “win” for the employer.

But I will warn you: If you cannot explain exactly what you will do to perform the job more profitably, efficiently, quickly — better, in some way, than the employer expected — then you have no business asking for more money. This is not a negotiating game. It’s about exchanging fair value for fair value, and you must be prepared to explain it.

HR cannot have this kind of discussion with you, because HR will never understand the ins and outs of how you will add more value to a certain job. Talk to the hiring manager, and let the manager go explain it to HR.

(Don’t know how much to ask for? See How to decide how much you want. Once you figure this out, lay the groundwork for your salary negotiations early in your interview. See The most important question in an interview.)

Once you’ve said your piece, it’s up to the manager to respond and engage in a discussion. The manager may decline to discuss a higher salary. So, you must know in advance whether you will back off and take the offered package, or politely walk away from the offer.

Be the better candidate

The only way to approach salary negotiations is to grant the manager a concession: Clearly state that you want to work for him or her. Separate your interest in the job from the compensation, and the manager is more likely to negotiate terms with you.

“I’m ready to come to work, if we can work out the terms — the compensation.”

(For more about how to negotiate based on your value, see Fearless Job Hunting, Book 6, The Interview: Be The Profitable Hire and Book 9: Be The Master of Job Offers.)

There’s no guarantee about how this will work out. But, the better prepared you are to discuss how you will do the job better than anyone else, the better your chances of working out a mutually beneficial deal with the manager. The only way to ask for more money is to show the employer the money!

How do you ask for more money? If you’ve been turned down for more, why do you think you were rejected? Can you prove you’re worth what you ask for?

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