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Don’t blame women for the gender pay gap!

In the April 12, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, the truth about equal pay rears its head.

When women get paid less for doing the same jobs men do, the real reason is obvious to any forthright business person, though it seems to elude the media, the experts, and even some women themselves: Employers pay women less because they can get away with it.

gender-pay-gapThe same pundits tell women that they should change their behavior if they want to be paid fairly for doing the same work as men. But the experts, researchers, advocates and apologists are all wrong. There is no prescription for underpaid women to get paid more, because it isn’t women’s behavior that’s the problem.

There is only one thing a woman should have to do to get paid as much as a man: her job.

When doing the job doesn’t pay, women of all ages should be aware that younger women today have the solution. According to a recent report from the International Consortium for Executive Development Research (ICEDR), some women have figured it out. Millennial women don’t need to change their negotiating, child-rearing, educational or any other behavior to impress errant employers. They know to quit and move on. This is going to change life at work as we know it.

The myths about women causing their own pay problem

Let’s look at what women are supposedly doing to abuse themselves financially.

We can refer to umpteen surveys and studies about gender pay disparity — and to some that suggest there is no disparity. But a recent Time magazine analysis summarizes the data from the U.S. Census and other sources: “Women earn less than men at every age range: 15% less at ages 22 to 25 and a staggering 38% less at ages 51 to 64.

This has become favorite fodder for the media — and for armchair economists and gender researchers and pundits looking to bang out a blog column. But I think most of the explanations about pay disparity, and the prescriptions for how to get equal pay for equal work, are bunk.

Depending on what you read, women get paid less because they:

  • Have kids.
  • Interrupt their careers for their families. (See: A stupid interview question to ask a woman.)
  • Don’t have the right education (e.g., STEM), so they can’t get good jobs.
  • Are nurturing, so they don’t negotiate hard enough for equal pay.
  • Don’t like to argue.
  • Lack confidence.
  • Let their men get away without doing household chores — so those men (if they’re managers) don’t know they should pay women fairly.

These explanations about lower pay are speculation and myth, but the message is always the same: If women would just change some or all of those behaviors, they can shrink the pay gap.

I say bunk. Women don’t cause the pay gap. Employers do. So employers should change their behavior.

The fact

I’ve been a headhunter for a long time. I’ve seen more job offers and observed more salary negotiations than you’ll see in a lifetime. I’ve observed more employers decide what salaries or wages to pay than I can count. And I am convinced the media and the experts are full of baloney about the pay gap between men and women. They are so caught up in producing eye-popping news that they’re doing women a disservice — and confusing speculation with facts.

Here are the facts:

  • Employers pay women less to do the same work as they pay men.

Well, there’s just one fact, and that’s it.

Women don’t make themselves job offers, do their own payroll, or sign their own paychecks. The gender pay disparity is all — all — on employers, because we start with a simple assumption: A job is worth $X to do it right, no matter who does it. It’s all about getting the work done. And the employer decides whom to hire and how much to pay.

Here’s the hard part for economists and experts to understand: Employers decide to pay women less, simply because they can get away with it. The law of parsimony instantly leads us to the obvious motive: Paying less saves companies money. Everything else is speculative claptrap.

A review of the bunk

Let’s look at some of the gratuitous “analysis” about why women are paid less than men. Look closely: It all delivers one absurd message: Women are the problem, so women should change their behavior.

Glassdoor, the oft-reviled “employer review” website, reports that overt discrimination may be part of the cause of gender pay discrepancies (Demystifying the Gender Pay Gap: Evidence from Glassdoor Salary Data). But, claims Glassdoor’s economist, Dr. Andrew Chamberlain, “occupation and industry sorting of men and women into systematically different jobs is the main cause.”

“Sorting?” Armchair apologist Chamberlain is saying women apply for jobs that pay less and men apply for jobs that pay more. While this may sometimes be true, what he fails to note is that when a man and a woman do the same job in the same industry, one is paid less because the employer pays her less. The absurd prescription for women: This will change if only women will change their behavior!

Then there’s the HuffPo, in which Wharton researcher Bobbi Thomason says that to fix the gender pay gap, “We need to have men getting involved at home with childcare and other domestic responsibilities.”

Gimme a break. Women, when you get men to wash dishes, you’ll change how boss men pay female employees. The prescription: It’s all up to you. Change your behavior at home.

The Exponent, reporting on Purdue University’s Equal Pay Day event on April 12, says that the wage gap is “largely based on the fact that, generally, women don’t negotiate their salary once they get into their career field.” Those women. Dopes. They’re doing the wrong thing — that’s why they get paid less! Change your behavior!

Kris Tupas, treasurer of the American Association of University Women chapter at Purdue, explains that employers pay women less “because our culture teaches women to be polite and accept what they’re given.” Again the prescription is for women: Change your behavior!

Linda Babcock, a professor at Carnegie-Mellon, wrote a book that explains women’s fundamental problem: Women Don’t Ask. Says Babcock’s book blurb:

“It turns out that whether they want higher salaries or more help at home, women often find it hard to ask. Sometimes they don’t know that change is possible — they don’t know that they can ask. Sometimes they fear that asking may damage a relationship. And sometimes they don’t ask because they’ve learned that society can react badly to women asserting their own needs and desires.”

Women get paid less because they don’t know they can ask! Gimme another break! And what’s Babcock’s prescription? Women — you have to ask to be paid fairly! Change your behavior!

Fox News’s Star Hughes-Gorup tells women how they can fix the pay gap: “Get educated.” If you want to make as much as the guy in the next cubicle who’s doing the same job, hey, get more schooling after the fact to impress your employer.

Next, says Hughes-Gorup, “Embrace asking for help.” Yep — if you learn how to ask properly, you can “start the conversation” about money. In time, you’ll be worth more. She sums it up: “I believe true progress will be made when we acknowledge that the real issue deterring women from talking about money is not confidence, but self-imposed limitations in our thinking.”

The prescription: Women: If you stop limiting your thinking, you’ll get paid more. So, get with it! Change your behavior and your thinking!

Disclosure: I can’t believe anyone buys any of this crap, much less that anyone else publishes it uncritically.

Millennial women have the solution

Why do all those articles prescribe that women must change their behavior to get paid more, when it’s employers who are making the decision to pay them less? Should women appease employers, or respond to unfair pay some other way?

Surveys over the years show that the top reasons people quit their jobs include (1) dissatisfaction with the boss, and (2) work-life balance. (E.g., Inc. magazine’s 5 Reasons Employees Leave Their Jobs.) Money is not the main reason.

But something has changed — especially for Millennial women. Lauren Noël, co-author of a report from the International Consortium for Executive Development Research (ICEDR), says, “Our research shows that the top reasons why [Millennial] women leave are not due to family issues. The top reasons are due to pay and career advancement.”

The report itself quotes women under thirty saying that the number one reason they quit is, “I have found a job that pays more elsewhere.”

What’s interesting is that the HR executives Noël surveyed don’t get it — HR thinks “that the top reason why women leave is family reasons.” Is it any wonder employers attribute lower pay to the “choices” women supposedly make?

The Millennial answer to lower pay

Millennial women are the generation that has figured out they’re not the problem. Unlike their older peers, they’ve figured out that when they’re not getting paid what they want, the answer is to quit and go work for an employer who will pay them more.

As a headhunter, I know first-hand that quitting is the surest way to take control when you’re underpaid and your employer will not countenance paying you fairly. I also realize that not all women — or men, for that matter — can afford to quit a job that is paying them unfairly. But that doesn’t change the answer that will most enduringly change how employers behave.

Kudos to women who take the initiative, and who don’t blame themselves or alter their own behavior when an employer’s behavior is the problem. I wonder how many employers have taken notice? Do they realize the generation of female workers that’s coming up the ranks isn’t going to tolerate financial abuse — they’re just going to walk?

payDo we need a law?

I’m not a fan of creating laws to dictate what people should be paid. But I’m not averse to regulations about transparency and disclosure. With some simple disclosure regulations, I think more women can start getting paid as much as men do for the same jobs.

Companies want our resumes; let’s have theirs, too — a standard “salary resume” provided to all job applicants, comparing pay for women and men at a company. Employers would be free to pay men twice what they pay women, if they want. And upon checking the salary disclosure, job seekers would be free to walk away and join a competitor who pays fairly for work done by anyone.

Let’s get over it: Women who do the same work as men aren’t the problem. Employers who pay unfairly are, and let’s face what’s obvious: They do it because they can get away with it. (For a story about an employer with integrity, see Smart Hiring: How a savvy manager finds great hires.)

If we’re going to analyze behavior, let’s analyze employers’ underhanded behaviors — not women’s personalities, cognitive styles, or biological characteristics. I’ll say it again — There is only one thing a woman should have to do to get paid as much as a man: her job.

we-pay-menEmployers who don’t pay fairly will stop getting away with it when they’re required to tattoo their salary statistics on their foreheads — so job applicants can run to their competitors. Or, more likely — since new laws aren’t likely — employers will change their errant behavior when a new generation of women just up and quits. That would be quite a news story.

Maybe then the media and the experts will stop blaming women for the gender pay gap — and start challenging employers to raise their standards.

(Considering quitting? See Parting Company: How to leave your job.)

What’s the solution? Do we need a walk-out? Do we need regulations? Do we need a corporate stock and pillory? Does anybody think there’s no gender pay gap?

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The mark of a promotable employee

In the April 5, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a manager wants to know how to assess an employee for a promotion.

Question

promotionI manage a small team, but I’m pretty new to management. Now that it’s time to promote someone, I’m not happy with the criteria my HR department has given me to justify the promotion. It’s frankly nonsense. I don’t want to promote someone just because they’ve been on the job for two years. I want to use the opportunity to really assess whether they are ready for more responsibility and some new authority, and to help the employee realize what this means for them, for my department and for our company. Do you have any suggestions for how I should handle this so it will mean something?

Nick’s Reply

Well, you’re not managing by rote, I’ll give you that! I’m glad. A promotion should be the result of dialogue between you and the employee, and it should be handled something like a job interview. Of course, you know a lot more about an existing employee than you do someone applying for a job. But I agree that you should not waste the opportunity to help your employee step up to the challenge that a promotion really is. This should be a bit of a test where the employee demonstrates what they can do.

In part, you have to follow your gut, by considering how this person has performed over the past two years. In part, you should base the promotion on your estimate of how they will perform going forward, on the specific tasks and objectives they will soon face. This is actually all about what you already know. The rest is up to the employee: You should absolutely test them in some reasonable way.

Here’s how I’d approach it — but, please, leaven my suggestions with your own good judgment.

2 challenges to a promotion

It’s no easy task for a manager to decide who is worth promoting. It’s always risky to assign additional responsibilities or authority to an employee: Will she lighten the manager’s load or just add to it?

I think there’s a simple initial test for promotability, though you should consider other factors and criteria that make sense to you. My goal with this method is to stimulate a dialogue between you and the employee that will help you decide — and that will also help the employee grasp the importance of new responsibilities and authority.

This is based on the idea that the farther up the ladder a person goes, the more impact (positive or negative) they can have on the bottom line. Before you promote someone, find out how well she understands this idea. This test has two parts.

First, ask the employee to explain (a) how her current job contributes to the company’s profits, and (b) how she thinks the job she may be promoted to impacts profits.

Second, ask (c) what three things she has done in her current job to optimize profits and (d) what three things she would do in the “next job up the ladder” to optimize profits.

(If you’re a job applicant, this approach can work with a prospective boss, too. End your talk with How to Say It: How’d I do?)

The key to these 2 challenges

Remember that as someone’s boss, your goal is to get the best work out of them that you can. That makes you a mentor and a guide. If the employee fails, you fail. So, you must do everything you can (within reason) to help the employee succeed at getting promoted, just as you normally do as her boss to help her get her work done effectively every day.

That means the two challenges listed above must be an open-book test, and you must give the employee adequate time to respond. You must be ready and able to answer any questions she has as she prepares her responses. For example, she will probably need to discuss the definition of profit in the context of her job and your department. (Remember, a big part of your job as a manager is to develop your people, to advise them, and to teach them.)

Encourage the employee to prepare a brief, written report for (a), (b), and (c), and a brief, written plan for (d). Written might mean she prepares a presentation and outline on your whiteboard, or it might mean a short PowerPoint presentation or a narrative. Please: Don’t make it too formal! Casual and conversational is best.

Point out that you are available to help in any way (short of producing the reports, of course). You’re her manager, after all, and managers and employees collaborate all the time in a healthy work environment. You want her to succeed. This will trigger a thoughtful dialogue that will reveal what you need to know about the employee’s acumen and potential. No matter how the employee responds to this, you as the manager will learn a lot. I think you’ll see the mark of a promotable employee pretty readily.

As you might guess, not all employees will be able to deal with this effectively. Promotable employees will get it!

(If you’re the employee, and the promotion you’re getting doesn’t include a raise, learn How to Say It: Mo’ money is the problem!)

If you’re a manager, how do you handle promotions? When you’ve pursued promotions yourself, how did you make your case? What approach other than the one above would you recommend to the manager in this week’s Q&A?

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Who comes first, my boss or my company?

In the March 29, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader goes up against her boss and wonders how to stay out of trouble.

Question

My boss just told us that it’s mandatory for us to join a closed LinkedIn group, on which she will give us work assignments — for instance, shared reviews of resumes or other documents or topics that she feels will enhance our knowledge by group sharing.

company_secretsI have no problem doing this via work e-mail, but to be forced to join a social media group — where what we post can be mined, according to one of my clients — is tantamount to agreeing to LinkedIn’s terms and conditions, none of which I have been able to see.

Maybe I’m being cynical, but I think that my 30-something boss wants to make a splash for her own career via becoming the leader of a LinkedIn group. I don’t know if she has thought this through.

I am also concerned for my own professional status. Frankly, I don’t know what behaviors the 20-somethings in the group are up to, and I’m not sure I want to be linked publicly to them. My co-workers are spread across the country, and I’ve never met some of them. Those that I’ve met (only virtually) I barely know. 

I just un-joined the group. Who comes first? My boss or my company?

Nick’s Reply

LinkedIn is not an online work collaboration platform, though I know this social networking site has experimented with the idea. There are many good collaboration systems that your boss could use (Microsoft Office 365, Google For Work, Slack) but this isn’t one of them.

I don’t think you’re being too cynical. Your guess about your boss’s motivations for getting you all into a LinkedIn group could be correct – she may be trying to build her network. More important, I think you’re right to worry about your company.

Information you and your co-workers post on a LinkedIn group would likely be mined and sold by LinkedIn. Your boss may not realize that this could have serious privacy implications, including violation of your company’s confidentiality and intellectual property policies.

Check your boss

I don’t know how big your company is, but I’d consider paying an in-person visit to HR. Without mentioning your boss or this project, I’d ask:

“If I wanted to set up an online collaboration area where my co-workers and I and our clients could post and exchange company documents that we can all work on, would company policy permit that? I’ve come to you because I’d never do anything like this without first checking the policy.”

My guess is HR will tell you, No way!

Then you have to find a diplomatic way to tell your boss. Or to tell HR what your boss is up to.

One way to do this might be to explain to your boss that you spoke to HR because you wanted to know the policy about how you should register on LinkedIn for this project since you’d be posting company work. That’s a legit concern that has nothing to do with you thwarting your boss.

Then you’d probably have to explain to your boss: “It turns out HR is worried about something far bigger: confidentiality of company data.” Then your boss can save face, drop the whole idea, and possibly avoid getting fired, too.

Suggest some alternatives

Quickly research some of the mainstream collaboration platforms available to your company, including free ones. Take a look at Microsoft Office 365, Google For Work and Slack. When you talk to your HR department, ask whether any of these are approved for company use. Then mention these to your boss. If her real goal is collaboration, you may save the day.

My guess is that your boss is merely very naïve. Putting your concerns about your own privacy aside, I think your bigger worry should be potential violation of your employer’s policies about proprietary and company confidential information being disseminated on the Internet. That liability would be on you. And that’s not to say your personal information wouldn’t be compromised, too. LinkedIn has been in some serious legal controversies concerning misuse of customer information. (See LinkedIn Users Sucker-Punched by Wrong References and LinkedIn: Busted for U.S. wage law violations, sued for “injury” to users.)

LinkedIn is not a collaboration system, where company and user data is protected, so I don’t know how your boss got this idea. LinkedIn is a public sewer of personal information and misinformation, in addition to being a potentially useful database about people. (Yes, I think it’s both. LinkedIn needs to clean up its act.)

You can see my cynicism. And I understand yours. I think you can help your boss by suggesting that LinkedIn be used the way it’s intended — or in whatever way makes most sense to your company — and by getting your HR department’s blessing before posting company information online.

Have you ever had to buck your boss to protect yourself or your company? How did you do it? Was HR helpful? Where should an employee draw the line when instructed to do something questionable?

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No resume, no job posting, no application, no interview: Microsoft Video Edition

In the March 15, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, we do something completely different. We take a video approach to “the mountain” that stands between you and your next job.

Surviving the new economics of work

Microsoft recently asked me to talk for 20 minutes to thousands of IT (information technology) professionals whose jobs are at risk due to rapid changes in technology and in the economy. What can they do to save their careers? What kind of work should they do next?

Sound familiar?

I tuned my comments for Microsoft’s 3-day TechNet Virtual Conference (March 1-3, 2016) — but what I told the audience applies to any line of work, and it’s from the core Ask The Headhunter ideas we discuss here every week. This video includes about 20 minutes of me talking about the new economics of work, and 15 more of Q&A we did via Skype afterwards. A big thank-you to Microsoft and Channel9 for sharing this video with the Ask The Headhunter community.

Questions & Answers

This video raises in-your-face questions.

But I also show you how to answer them Yes! (I’ve added links to take you to more resources. Most of these are free, but there’s a link or two to my books.)

I talk about the #1 problem job seekers face: They let a mountain of obstacles interfere with their efforts to get a job.

  • They try to beat the online job boards.
  • They struggle to tunnel through Applicant Tracking Systems (ATSes).
  • They play the keyword game with automated job application systems.
  • They keep failing to reach the top of a mountain of competition.

In the video, I talk about why there is no mountain — no resume to write, no job postings to select or decipher, no job applications to file, no interviews to play to. I’m not kidding. I don’t think any of those “tools” help employers hire or job hunters get hired. I think our economy is bogged down by the detritus of phony, automated recruiting — it doesn’t work!

There’s just fearless job hunting.

  • You become part of the circle of friends that naturally leads people to jobs — and that leads to hires.
  • You show up with a clear definition of the problem or challenge that needs to be tackled.
  • You deliver a viable business plan for the job.
  • You show how you’ll do the work. And you create a new, profitable outcome the company never contemplated.
  • You make yourself the job candidate who stands out from all the rest.

Does it matter what kind of work you do?

Virtually every kind of work today is under siege of one kind or another — but for the same reasons. Every industry, every company is increasingly focused on the bottom line. The shift that everyone faces is not just technological. It’s economic — and it’s about accountability. That’s what I talk about in the video. Economic pressures supersede all others — and technology jobs feel the pressure most because that’s where efficiencies that solve economic problems are supposed to come from. But no matter what kind of work you do, the shift must be in your own perspective.

Success is not about chasing hot jobs, because there’s really no such thing. (What’s hot changes by the time you catch it!) It’s about whether you are hot. What makes you hot? You have to make yourself and your work accountable. If you wait for the bean counters to do that, you’ll probably lose your job if you have one.

If you work in IT, the video will get you started on how to advance your career in the face of stunning shifts in technology — changes that probably put your current job at risk.

And if you don’t work in technology, you’ll quickly see how my suggestions will help your career in today’s turbulent economy. As I said, the 20 minutes of this video summarize many of the core ideas we talk about on Ask The Headhunter all the time. Of course, I couldn’t squeeze every Ask The Headhunter method, tip and lesson into a 20 minute video. For more about how to be a fearless job hunter who stands out from the competition by delivering profit, check out the Introduction to Fearless Job Hunting, which also details which of my books address which challenges.

I hope you enjoy the video, and that it inspires you to forget about mountains and obstacles while you plan how to deliver profitable work to a worthy employer — work that’s profitable to you, too.

Many thanks to my good buddies at Microsoft for the opportunity to get in front of the company’s enormous audience — and for their generous hospitality while I was in Seattle and on the Microsoft campuses in Redmond and Bellevue. Mostly, I’m grateful for the freedom to work unscripted — every word in the video is mine. No one told me what to say or what to talk about. (If you’re among the many Ask The Headhunter subscribers who work in IT, don’t miss the other great videos about the future of IT in the TechNet 2016 archive.)

Okay — let’s hear what you liked and didn’t like about what I said in the video. Then hit me with the in-your-face questions — what do you want to know more about? What would you like to see in future Ask The Headhunter videos — because I’m planning to make more. Let’s pound these topics!

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The ATH Field Guide: Overcome resume gaps to land a job

In the February 23, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader is ready to chuck it all to save his sanity. Should he?

Question

I’ve been a project manager running million dollar software projects for 15 years. However, I’m sick of the stress, never-ending deadlines, and frantic pace of technology. I’m 41 and I can’t keep this up for another 10 years.

field-guide

I’m trained to recognize classic burn-out syndrome but dealing with it in myself isn’t easy. I find myself wanting to go pound nails for a builder or mow lawns or just to do something mindless. I think I could step out of corporate life for a while and come back later, but I will have lost my contacts. What’s the answer? “Would you like some fries with that, Sir?”

Nick’s Reply

No, no fries… but welcome to burn-out. It happens to many talented people. It’s nature telling you to flip the burger because one side is done. It’s time for the other side.

The conventional obstacles

Before I offer you suggestions about how to overcome the resume gaps you’re about to create, so you can land a new job later, let’s consider the obstacles you’re going to face. I’m sure you’ve read or heard the conventional wisdom about what you’re suggesting. Let’s play it:

  • It’s harder to get a job if you don’t have a job.
  • Employers discriminate against the unemployed.
  • If you stop working, your skills will go stale.
  • When you leave the work world, your network dries up.
  • Gaps in your resume are the kiss of death.
  • And so on…

To one degree or another, all those statements are true, of course. But it’s also true that we’re all gonna die… so what’s the point of living? (Consider the killer quote from Ring Lardner.)

What’s the point of being burned out and miserable?

The conventional wisdom doesn’t matter when you’ve got good reasons to do what you’re talking about: You’re free to get out of the kitchen and go kick the can for a while. Give yourself a break, or you will indeed burn up.

Jobs can be replaced, but you get only one body, one mind. There’s no reason to lose your contacts — it’s not hard to maintain the best ones when you take time off. Your skills need not dry up. You can learn new skills.

Afraid to get off the burner?

I was about 40 when I chucked it all to write a book, start a website, and follow my gut. Yes, it was a risk. But getting off the burner is necessary when you feel burnt. With the relief will come new experiences and new choices you forgot you had.

burn out

If you’re good at what you do now, I can almost assure you that you’ll be good at whatever you decide to do after some time off. And if you stay in touch with your best contacts, you’ll always have the support system you need to succeed again. More important, if you don’t get lazy, during the time you take off you’ll make loads of new contacts that can help you get back to work when the time comes.

Here’s the thing: Conventional wisdom is for the conventional person. It’s for whoever wants to nail themselves to a job the rest of their lives. And there’s nothing wrong with that (even if I apply a derogatory metaphor to it). If you’re going to be unconventional — and take time off — then you can’t let the rules apply to you. You must forge your own rules and methods for getting back to work later.

And that’s what Ask The Headhunter is all about. My test of the value of any method for landing a job is this: Does it make enough fundamental business sense that it can work under any circumstances — including taking a break?

Screw convention

I don’t like tricky job-search methods intended to mollify HR managers and personnel jockeys who scan credentials for excuses to reject someone without meeting them. For example, clever resumes that hide your gaps in employment, “functional resumes” that hide your age, and “consulting gigs” that cover up your unemployment.

There’s only one way to get a job under any circumstances without relying on luck, or faking it:

Get someone that knows the person in charge to introduce you and vouch for you, then don’t waste the employer’s time. Show why hiring you will pay off, so the manager won’t be able to do anything but hire you.

Who cares if you’re not employed?

Because what’s far, far worse is staying in the job that’s burning you out, and then showing up at job interviews shell-shocked and demoralized. Then no one’s going to hire you.

My vote — assuming you’ve got your finances in order — is to go away and come back later. Screw convention.

Here’s the secret: If you’re good at your work, then trust your ability to earn a living and to do useful work again. When you’re done kicking the can, you’ll be able to dust yourself off and figure out again what to do next, after flipping burgers and offering fries with that…

Life is short. Do what comes next now, and I think you’ll be better able to do what comes after that.

The Field Guide

Need help getting back to work after you’ve been away for a while — whatever the reason? Maybe you’ve just got gaps in your resume that raise red flags.

Here’s an Ask The Headhunter Field Guide that I’ve compiled from some of the best ATH resources. It’s more than you probably need, but I hope some of these tips will help you get introduced to the right employer and show why hiring you will pay off — even if you’ve been out of the market a long time. All are free online except where indicated:

Career coaches and pundits tend to avoid the “in-your-face” questions job seekers really need answers to. To explore the daunting obstacles that can stop you dead in your tracks — and to choose the help you need — check out the topic titles in the 9 PDF books that make up Fearless Job Hunting: The Complete Collection ($49.95).

Would you dare to chuck it all to survive burn-out on the job? Is this a risk worth taking? If you’ve done it, how did you get back to work — or did you choose another path?

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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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The Training Gap: How employers lose their competitive edge

In the November 24, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader questions the lunacy of the training gap.

Question

I am responding to your question asking whether or not we, your readers, agree with employers that there is a “skills gap.” I am not sure I can really answer your question, though I will tell you that I have my doubts that there is a skills gap.

I think what there may be is a training gap.

What I can tell you is this. Back in 1986 I was hired by an insurance company as a computer programmer after having completed four years of college (linguistics major), followed by a six-month program in data processing. While I did have training going into the job, the company provided me and my co-workers with a lot of on-the-job training. They had an education department, and we all went through hours, and hours, and hours of paid on-the-job training in computer programming.

My understanding about the reason the company did this was because they wanted to train us to do things the way loser2they wanted them done.

My question to you is, do you find that kind of thing to be true anymore? Are companies willing to invest in training their employees after they have been hired? Or are companies no longer willing to do that?

Nick’s Reply

You’re hitting on one of the key issues behind the so-called “talent and skills shortage.” Who is actually responsible for brewing talent and skills? Job seekers? Schools? Employers themselves?

It seems clear in today’s economy that most employers believe they should be able to acquire skills ready-made. Despite the fact that the nature of a job depends a lot on a particular company’s business — jobs are not one-size-fits-all-companies, after all — businesses expect that the exact constellation of skills they need is going to walk in the door just because they advertised for it.

The training gap is real

Consider the embarrassing contradiction: Any company will tell you that it is the most competitive one in its industry, that its products are uniquely the best, that what they deliver isn’t available anywhere else.

So, why is it they expect the unique talent they want to hire already exists, as if it comes in a can to be purchased on a job board — or that it already exists at a competing company? They might as well admit that their products are the same as everyone else’s.

If you admit you can get your new hires wholly-made from another employer — your competitor — then you might as well tell your customers to buy what they need there, too. If a company wants the skills and talents it needs to be unique and competitive, it had better take responsibility for creating them.

I don’t believe there’s any talent or skills gap. At least in the United States, talent abounds. There’s arguably more talent on the street, looking for work, than ever in history. But to make a worker an element of its unique, competitive edge, the company must make that worker in its own image. It must cast the worker as unique as its products or services. It takes the same kind of investment to brew talent as to brew a competitive product.

We know for a fact that employers have indeed cut back enormously on training. It’s been confirmed by Wharton researcher Peter Cappelli. He’s shown that, adjusting for time, technology, and other factors, American workers are no less skilled or educated than they’ve ever been. However, employers have all but stopped training employees. Employers own the problem – they created it. (See Employment in America: WTF is going on? and Why Companies Aren’t Getting the Employees They Need.)

Cappelli writes in the Wall Street Journal:

“Unfortunately, American companies don’t seem to do training anymore. Data are hard to come by, but we know that apprenticeship programs have largely disappeared, along with management-training programs. And the amount of training that the average new hire gets in the first year or so could be measured in hours and counted on the fingers of one hand.”

Bye-bye, competitive edge!

Your 1986 story confirms Cappelli’s finding that, not very long ago, employers considered training important. Today, it’s pathetic. It’s embarrassing. It’s shameful. HR departments think they can buy off-the-self workers who don’t need or deserve training or skills development, while their marketing departments claim the company’s products are unique, state-of-the-art and without equal. This training gap is the pinnacle of corporate hypocrisy.

Then there’s the industry that aids and abets it. LinkedIn and other job boards successfully market the fraudulent notion that “we have the perfect candidate in our database – just keep looking!” (See Reductionist Recruiting: A short history of why you can’t get hired — Or, Why LinkedIn gets paid even when jobs don’t get filled.) Employers buy that bunk sandwich in bulk, and stuff it into their recruiting strategies and hiring policies. They behave as if they can hire “just in time” the “perfect candidate” who has been doing the same job for five years already — at a lower salary.

What job seeker wants either of those two “qualities” in a new job?

loserWhen companies fail to educate, train and develop their new hires and existing employees, I think they say goodbye to any competitive edge. Their customers get cookie-cutter products and services. What this state of affairs tells us is that there’s a talent shortage in corporate leadership. (See Talent Shortage, Or Poor Management?)

As long as employers treat people — that “human resource,” that “human asset” — as a fungible commodity or interchangeable parts to be bought and sold as-is, their products and services will be no better than interchangeable parts sold at the lowest possible price.

Take a look at another article by Peter Cappelli, where he slaps management hard upside the head with this apt analogy:

“Imagine a car manufacturer that decided to buy a key engine component for its cars rather than make them. The requirements for that component change every year, and if you can’t get one that fits, the car won’t run. What would we say about that manufacturer if it just assumed the market would deliver the new component with the specifications it needed when it needed it and at the price it needed? It would certainly flunk risk management. Yet that’s what these…companies are doing.”

I think Cappelli answers your question, and I don’t think there’s any debate: Most companies no longer invest in shaping and developing their employees. Their talent-challenged finance executives preach that cost reduction is a better path to profitability than investment. This exacts an enormous price on our economy because it’s relegating those companies to the scrap heap of “me-too enterprises,” and it’s failing our workforce as a whole.

I also think you highlight the solution: “…the reason the company [provided extensive education and development]… was because they wanted to train us to do things the way they wanted them done.” That’s what gave your employer an edge. No investment in training means no edge.

Drive by and keep your edge

My advice: Keep on truckin’ right past employers that provide no education, training or development to new hires and employees. These are companies that don’t invest in their future success — or yours.

Go find their able competitors. There are some good ones out there. They’re not easy to find, just like talent isn’t easy to develop. (That’s why you should pursue the best companies — not jobs.) The mark of a truly competitive product is the unique skills and talents a company developed to produce it.

The next time you interview a company, ask to see their employee training and development plan. If they don’t have a good one, tell them your career plan is to avoid working in a stagnant environment. Flip them a quarter and tell them to call their next candidate, because they probably still have a pay phone in the lunch room.

thanksgivingDoes your employer provide training and development to give you (and itself) a competitive advantage? When you’re job hunting, do you ask about employee education? If you’re an employer, what kind of training to you do?

All the best to you and yours for a Happy Thanksgiving!

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Get the manager’s resume before you interview for the job

In the November 17, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader wants a resume from the employer.

Question

Don’t you think jobs should have “resumes?” Assuming an interview has been scheduled, should an applicant ask for a formal, printed description of the job to retain and review before a job offer is made, or only after an offer is presented?

submit-resumeHere’s what I’ve never understood. Employers insist on having my resume before an interview. But all the applicant has is a scant job posting, or sometimes only a general verbal description of the job. It seems having a formal, written job description would help the applicant, just like a resume helps an employer. The applicant could look closely at whether there’s a good match.

Should the prospective employer be expected to provide this type of document to the applicant? If it’s not provided, should I just roll the dice?

Nick’s Reply

You’re raising an excellent question. (But I’ve got a bigger question. Read on.) If HR needs to know all about you before an interview, doesn’t it owe you all the information about the job? (See Now THIS is a job description!)

Recently a reader told me that after an employer decided to hire him, it learned he had an advanced degree that he did not report on the resume. (He’d heard it might actually hurt his chances, so he left the degree off the resume. So it was an omission, not a falsehood.) The employer rescinded the offer because the applicant “lied”!

What happens when an employer fails to disclose all the information about a job until after an offer is made? If it’s never happened to you, I’m sure you know someone who accepted a job, only to learn it wasn’t what they interviewed for.

Many employers don’t seem very concerned that the job you interview for is not the job in the ad. This is even more important when a recruiter solicits you for a job — they usually tell you very little, except that the job is “perfect” for you. Who has ever gone on a job interview suggested by a recruiter and found that the job was “exactly” as the recruiter described it? (Gimme a break! I’m still laughing! Check out Roasting the job description.)

Where’s the job’s resume?

I think it’s prudent to ask for the formal, written job description prior to the interview, “for your records,” especially when you’re dealing with a recruiter. They want your resume, right? What’s the difference?

I’ll bet many HR people would decline to provide it because it’s “proprietary” or “not set in stone.” But, again — they want your resume, which is just as proprietary, and they want it to include everything.

How are you supposed to consider the job without the formal, written job description? What risks are you taking when you don’t have the complete story? In many cases, the big risk is that the hiring manager hasn’t a complete idea of what the job really is — and you’ll be judged on whatever performance criteria the manager invents after the fact.

Now, I’m not saying every job should be exhaustively defined. In fact, I like jobs that will evolve — but the manager and employer should make that clear from the start. Pretending doesn’t cut it, a manager who doesn’t really know what she needs doesn’t cut it, and obscuring the holes in a job definition isn’t fair. (See Don’t suck canal water if you’re confused.)

Where’s the manager’s resume?

But now let’s get really serious and question authority. Let’s make the leap to the bigger question this all begs: Why don’t employers give you the hiring manager’s resume — and resumes of people you’ll be working with? After all, you’re going to be throwing in with them. Don’t you have an obligation to your career to know who they are before you sign up?

Imagine. Because your success and your career will hinge enormously on who those people really are. Don’t you want to see their credentials?

There are several questions you must ask an employer — particularly after it’s made you a job offer. That’s when negotiating power shifts to you, because now they’ve established that they want you. What comes next is working out the terms, and one of the terms is information about your new co-workers. Politely ask to see their creds. (For more about this critical point in the interview process, see Deal-breaker questions to ask employers. Don’t be one of those job candidates who miss their chance to protect their future.)

I’d love to know how employers respond to this, because they make the hiring process so irrational and one-sided that it’s actually absurd. (For more about my take on how employers recruit, see Respecting The Candidate.) A job is a partnership, so let’s see more due diligence from job applicants, and more transparency from employers before a hire is made.

Don’t you think fewer interviews would wind up being a waste of time if you had the spec sheet for the job in hand first? Does it make sense to get the team’s resumes, too, before you meet with them to interview?

Do employers and recruiters give you clear, detailed job descriptions — as detailed as the resume they want from you? Do you ask for them? Are the jobs you interview for exactly as they were represented to begin with? What happens when they’re not? Finally: What do you really know about the manager and members of the team you’re joining?

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How to engineer your personal network

We’ve been talking about networking. (See Please! Stop Networking! and Network, but don’t be a jerk!) I know the idea of talking to strangers puts many of you off. Some of my readers on PBS NewsHour (see the comments section on that linked page) have even suggested networking is unethical, a form of nepotism, and insulting. In this week’s edition, reader Kevin Rose explains how he engineers his personal network. There are a lot of words in this column, but just three short “how-to” tips.

In the September 29, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, an engineer tells how he changes job hunting into friend-making.

Question

I am in the midst of reading Fearless Job Hunting and re-inventing my job search strategy. It has happened a number of times where I would go to a job interview — in a couple of cases out of town — and I heard nothing afterwards. I engineermight write once to check in, but then move on. Now, I can understand no response to a random resume, but lack of courtesy after one or even four interviews is inexcusable. One of my friends says they are afraid of liability, and I say that is pure bunk. Others tell me, “What can you do? That’s just the way it is.”

I am an engineer, so I change things. I don’t just sit idly by and accept things the way they are.

Now I can see that in following your advice that this will be less likely to happen. A company would not dare go radio silent if I interviewed via a personal contact. I will say that being introduced to a potential employer via personal contact has always led to the most satisfying and long-lasting jobs I have had. I will definitely follow your advice.

Nick’s Reply

Disrespect is now built into the HR culture because you and other job hunters are fungible. You’re a commodity. You are “free” because all people are “accessible” to employers. And, because there’s always someone out there better than you, who cares about being polite to you?

But the joke’s on HR, because with four to seven times more job seekers out there than open jobs, HR is still crying there’s a talent shortage. America is awash in unemployed or under-employed talent — people who can ride a fast learning curve. But HR technology can’t suss that out. It’s too buried in job-board databases. Job boards deliver no more than about 10% of hires in aggregate. But it’s easier for employers to spend billions each year on Monster.com, LinkedIn and other job boards, than to go meet people in the professional community that they’d really like to hire. Hell, they could stand outside their door with a sign that entices you to get off your bike and stop in for an interview.

Kevin’s follow-up

talkingI just wanted to let you know that I attended a Rotary Club this evening for the first time. I loved it! Not only were people open about themselves including what they do for a living, but I got a chance to do some networking following your suggestions!

The woman sitting next to me is a paralegal at a company that does forensic engineering — I walk past them on my lunchtime walks just about every day. I said to her, “I would like to hear more about what you do sometime.” That’s all I said and she said, “You will have to come by sometime when we are taking a car apart.”

They analyze cars that crash, and testify in liability cases against manufacturers.

Now I don’t think that company would ever have a job for me, but knowing them will give me some perspective in my own engineering work. Also, I get to know the business community in my town. I wanted to thank you for this inspiration, and it is a lot more fun than Facebook of Linkedin. I also got a free meal, too!

So again, thank you for the nudge. Like I said, my best jobs have come through networking — one time from a friend at church, and my current job is one I found through an old girlfriend (with my wife’s approval). I am hoping to become acquainted with people such that the next time I need to find a job, I will know some people who might point me to an opening, or who may be instrumental in helping me start a business.

This doesn’t stop with Rotary. I recently rejoined my professional organization, ieee.org. But aside from clubs and organizations, I realize there are many, many ways of meeting people and making connections.

Thanks again!

Kevin Rose
Santa Barbara, CA

Nick’s Reply

I promised you three how-to tips about how to engineer your own network. Don’t blink: Go where professionals gather. Ask them about their work. Make friends. Anybody can do this.

How can you use Kevin Rose’s experiences to make networking work for you? Is it really so easy? (Many thanks to Kevin for sharing!)

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Naive young grad blows it

In the August 25, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a new grad ignores the line between life and job.

Question

I’ve gotten myself into a bit of a situation and need your advice. I’m taking my boss to a distant, major resort because my parents have a place there and I foolishly offered it up to our small department as a “retreat” — not thinking my boss would actually approve this.

oopsWell, my boss said yes. He’s in his twenties and was thrilled. Now we have plans to go in a few weeks. The dilemma is that I’ve been poached during the past week by two great companies and both want me to come in for an in-person interview lasting several hours. Both jobs would pay about 50% more than I’m making now.

Although I don’t have an offer yet, I want to be prepared in the case one of these companies does extend one. Initially, I was going to use the offer as leverage at my current company. Then it dawned on me that if my boss doesn’t match the offer, or counter it with something close, I will face a very difficult choice: take the new job and put my two weeks in during the retreat, or accept that my current company is not going to pay me what I deserve.

I’m 22 and graduated from college very recently. What should I do?

Nick’s Reply

Sheesh! You are in a bind. New grads almost always blow it when they start work. It’s how we all learn the ropes, so don’t take my reaction as ridicule. I’ve been there, done that. Your problem is that you’re compounding your problems over your naivete.

Forgive me if I lecture. There are a few important lessons here for new grads.


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You’re not in college any more.

Don’t make the mistake of mixing work with your personal life. You can’t negotiate for a job at your parents’ house while your boss is eating your mom’s pancakes and drinking your dad’s beer. Would you take a date to your parent’s vacation house so you could tell her you’re breaking up?

We blow it when we forget there’s a line between fun and work. Of course, in college there’s no such line. Remind yourself regularly that you’re not in college any more. If I were you, I’d probably beg off this trip.

Two job opportunities are not a choice.

I know you’re excited about those two jobs. I don’t even care that you’ve been at your current job for only a short time while you’re entertaining them. Calculate the costs of any choice you make, and do what’s best for you. But keep one thing in mind: You have no choices to make until you have a bona fide offer in hand. (See I’m still waiting for the job offer!)

Don’t jump the gun and risk your job over a fantasy. Take it from a headhunter: Most “great opportunities” go south. Don’t presume anything until it’s real. Risking a real job for an uncertain opportunity is not prudent.

Don’t use an offer to get a raise.

Either take the new job, or keep your mouth shut and keep your old job and salary. The only decision to make is, which deal is best for you? (See The ethics of juggling job offers.) If the new job and offer are to your liking, then go. When you use a job offer to extort a raise, you will likely wind up on the street with no job at all:

To a company, a counter-offer is sometimes a purely pragmatic tactic that enables it to sever a relationship on its own terms and in its own good time. That is, companies use counter-offers defensively. A company would rather have a replacement employee lined up, and a counter-offer buys time. The extra salary offered may be charged against the employee’s next raise, and the work load may increase. The employee is a marked man (or woman).

From Parting Company: How to leave your job, p. 52, “What’s the truth about counter-offers?”

If you dangle a new job offer in front of your boss to get a raise — especially while he’s at your vacation house — you’ll probably blow it.

Your boss is not your friend.

I’ve had bosses that I liked; bosses who cared about me and had my back. But any good boss acts in the interest of the employer when the chips are down. If you want to pretend otherwise, I wish you luck because you’re going to need it. It isn’t your boss’s duty to be your friend. His first duty is to make you a good employee.

For this reason, never tip off your boss that you have alternative job plans. If you disclose your plans, and neither of the two jobs you’re contemplating pans out, you’ll be a marked man. Odds are high that sometime soon you’ll be ushered out the door — if your boss doesn’t fire you instantly right under your own father’s roof.

Choices are often painful.

That’s why it’s important to act quickly, accept the consequences, and move on. You have put yourself in a nasty spot. Assuming an offer (or both) come through, do you tell your boss now that the trip is off — because you don’t want to face him with your resignation after entertaining him? (I don’t think there’s anything wrong with citing “personal reasons” for calling it off.) Or do you want to tell him you’re quitting during — or right after — the retreat?

Both scenarios stink. One stinks less. I wish I could wave a magic wand, but I can’t. You have to choose. It’s going to hurt, no matter which way you go.

Take some time and identify all the issues. Figure out how they’re all interrelated before you act. This is not about accepting a new job or about embarrassing yourself. This is about growing up quickly. I wish you the best.

Can this new grad grow up quickly and get out of this fix? What would you advise?

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