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Monthly archive for July 2012

How to negotiate salary through a headhunter

In the July 24, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter wants to know how to get the best compensation deal through a headhunter:

What can I expect from a recruiter when I’m negotiating salary and compensation? After all, doesn’t he work for the hiring company?

My Advice

This question is so common that I include an entire section about it in the PDF book, How to How to Work with Headhunters … and how to make headhunters work for you. This advice is from Section 4: Talking Money.

To understand a headhunter’s motivations for negotiating your compensation, you must understand the headhunter’s job.

How to help the headhunter help you

Before there’s any chance to negotiate, the headhunter’s real challenge is to get a company and candidate to agree they want to work together. This has nothing to do with money. It’s all about the people, the company, and the job. That’s why it’s crucial for you to decide whether you actually want the job (as long as the terms can be worked out).

Saying you want the job doesn’t mean you’ve accepted the offer, but it sets the headhunter loose to get you a deal you’ll accept. It helps you win the headhunter’s cooperation, because half the battle is won. There’s nothing for the headhunter to negotiate unless you let him know you want the job.

Once your motivation to take the job is settled, the headhunter can get to work on the financial terms. Even though the headhunter works for the employer, he earns no fee unless he can work out terms that are satisfactory to you.

Be ready to express what you want

This is where many job candidates blow it. They don’t want to express what they want. They believe that if they don’t state what they want, they might magically get more. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Take note: If you have an offer, the employer has already put a number on the table. It’s decision time for you. If you can’t decide what you want, you can’t make the headhunter work for you. You must arm him with specific instructions. At this stage the headhunter will advise you what’s reasonable to negotiate with the employer — but he will do the negotiating on your behalf with his client.

So, be frank, but don’t be ridiculous. Tell the headhunter what offer you would accept. If the headhunter thinks your terms are nuts, he’ll tell you, but don’t hold it against him. He won’t go back to his client with an unreasonable request. But he’s not likely to drop-kick you out of the deal, either. He may try to convince you to take the offer as it stands. Or, if he thinks there’s some wiggle room in the offer, he will try to negotiate with you and with his client for a compromise.

Know where you fit in the negotiations

The headhunter’s position as the middleman makes it easier for you to work out the terms without jeopardizing the offer altogether. He wants to get the deal done as much as you do.

The client pays the headhunter, but the headhunter needs your cooperation, so he’ll work with you to set reasonable terms for your acceptance. The client gets the hire. You get a job you want on favorable terms. The headhunter gets his fee. All three parties must work together.

Of course, this all assumes you’re dealing with a good headhunter, but that’s another question, covered in another section of the book, Section 1: Understanding Headhunters. You’ll also learn more in the book about exactly why this approach to negotiating with a headhunter helps him negotiate a better deal for you. (Needless to say, the headhunter could be a she.)

What’s your experience been with headhunters? Did you get the deal you wanted? How did the headhunter handle the negotiations between you and the employer? How did you protect your interests?

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Hiring Manager: HR is the problem, you are the solution

In the July 17, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a manager complains that Human Resources (HR) departments are behind the talent shortage:

I don’t have a question, but I want to share stories about two candidates that I interviewed. (I am a manager.)

I am continually astounded at the kinds of idiotic discrimination I see companies engage in when they’re hiring. This simply confirms my suspicions that bad HR managers are a major impediment to good candidates getting good jobs.

I’ve been to job fairs where companies tape up signs saying “U.S. Citizenship Required” and “Must Speak English.” This puts me in mind of the “Irish need not apply” and “No Blacks” of earlier years. There are very few jobs that genuinely require citizenship (as opposed to employment authorization) and I’ve found precious few on this side of the Atlantic who come close to speaking proper English!

At my company, HR often turns away good candidates for reasons just as ludicrous as those signs. This is what happened to two people I interviewed. HR ignored both of them as “unhireable.”

One candidate had a Chinese accent so thick that I had difficulty understanding anything she said. During the interview I resorted to asking her to write or draw in order to assist communication. I saw strong technical skills through the language problems that this new immigrant had and I made the offer.

Another candidate was so nervous that he completely messed up most of the questions in the first half of the interview. I persevered, put him at ease and satisfied myself that he was technically able. I hired him, too.

Both these people have been stunning performers in my company. The Chinese candidate has improved her language skills to the point where communication is no longer a challenge. The formerly nervous candidate has gained confidence. The only downside is that either candidate could now go elsewhere and breeze through interviews with the sort of lame-brains who (I believe) routinely pass up good candidates because it takes a bit of extra effort to get to know them.

The moral of this story is, if you are a candidate, try to talk to managers, not HR. If you are the solution, prove it. If you are a manager, try to get at the candidates before HR filters out all the good ones. If you are a recruiter, drop the dumb prejudices! There is no talent shortage, just a shortage of good hiring practices and patience!

My Advice

I could kiss you. Thanks for the reality check. Employers are losing great candidates due to crappy judgments about who is worth interviewing and hiring.

I haven’t seen the sort of signs you refer to, but then again, I haven’t been to a job fair in a long time. However, I have seen good job candidates passed over by corporate representatives who had no skin in the game. That is, they weren’t hiring managers. It’s amazing, isn’t it, that a good hiring manager will dig a bit deeper to get to know a candidate than an HR manager might — because the manager needs to fill a job.

Do HR workers, in general, discriminate? Are they lazy? Your stories raise these provocative questions, and you deliver a sharp message: Companies do themselves a disservice when they keep the hiring manager at arm’s length from the hiring process.

Today HR uses software to filter candidates before any human judgment is brought to bear. The result is that excellent prospects are denied before the hiring manager even knows they exist. Why does HR do this?

HR’s answer is just as dumb as it sounds: HR has so many applicants that it has no choice but to use software to filter them!

And my rejoinder reveals just how stupidly HR behaves: HR created the problem itself! Where do you think all those tons of applicants suddenly came from? HR posts jobs and solicits any and all applicants — then complains it’s got too many?

For $50 I’ll give any HR department the solution: Stop posting jobs and soliciting millions of resumes. More is not better — so stop with the stupid excuses already. End the problem of “more applicants than we can handle.” If too many are applying, you’re not doing your job. The point is to use methods that attract the right candidates — not tons of candidates!

And here’s the rest of the solution: HR should handle the administrative process of getting new hires on board, but HR should get out of the business of recruiting, selection, interviewing, and hiring. That’s for managers – those who have skin in the game.

You didn’t ask a question, but there’s lots to learn from what you had to say. I hope employers (and job hunters) see the lessons in it.

Both managers and job hunters need to get down to brass tacks: Talk about how to do the job profitably. In How Can I Change Careers? (or jobs) is a simple method for preparing for interviews so you can prove to a manager that you’re worth hiring. It’s not difficult for managers to set up an interview to ensure the candidate will have a chance to show what they can do — so the manager can make a sound hiring decision as quickly as possible.

If you’re a manager, have you ever missed out on good hires due to HR’s “filtering” process? How do you find your new hires? If you’re a job hunter, how do you get past the HR meat grinder so you can actually talk to the hiring manager?

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Say NO to job leads

In the July 10, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter complains that job leads don’t pan out any better than job postings:

To build up my networking, I’ve started going to two different job clubs. One is related to my line of work, information technology (IT), and the other is more general, with people from lots of professions attending. Both groups start with a job lead portion of the meeting and some good information is given out. But I wonder what you have to say about this, since you advocate networking so much. None of these leads have panned out any better than job postings I respond to. I submit my resume and I try to call, too, but nothing develops. Job leads from real people should be more productive than answering job postings, you would think. Is networking a fallacy or am I doing something wrong?

My Advice

Networking is not a fallacy, but the term is so over-used that I think it’s confusing you. Getting job leads at job clubs is not networking. What you’re doing wrong is wasting face time, and I’ll try to explain why. But first, I think you’re right that “job leads” are no better than job postings.

Most job leads are like job postings

Have I gone totally nuts? Am I telling you to say NO to a job lead?

Not all job leads are the same. While getting a lead at a meeting might seem more personal, it’s very different from a personal referral from some who knows, respects, and trusts you — and who has true insider connections. The leads you’re talking about could originate anywhere. They are more like job listings than leads.

Now I’ll try to explain why you should say no to most job leads. Matt Bud is a friend of mine who runs The FENG — The Financial Executives Networking Group. In a recent newsletter to over 40,000 members, Matt discussed one of The FENG’s services: in-person meetings where financial folks network and share job leads. Matt makes the same point I do — and I think very few people get this, so please think about it carefully:

“Sharing old job leads, which is what happens at face to face meetings, doesn’t really benefit anyone. It just takes up time that could be better spent networking.”

I do pro bono presentations for a local job club. Here’s what I say to them:

“So, here you are — a bunch of unemployed people, coming to meetings where you expect other unemployed people to give you job leads…”

Most job leads are old news

As Matt points out in his newsletter, any job lead is old news by the time it gets to you. It’s almost no better than a job posting on But, you might say, this is information fresh from the lips of real people who often get job leads from personal contacts.

Here’s Matt’s take on the value of such leads:

“Were they filled yet? Probably not, but the candidate slates aren’t likely to be expanded if the job is over a few weeks old. They sound good, but you are receiving totally useless information.”

Invest in opportunities, don’t chase what comes along

The age of job leads isn’t the only issue to consider before you quickly tap out a resume submission on your smartphone. That lead — even if it’s sound — is for a job that came along, not one you developed yourself. This is an important point.

While you’re likely to chase what comes along, by quickly e-mailing an application on a lead, you’re probably far more motivated to invest in a more effective approach if the job (or employer) is one you carefully researched and decided was a top-quality target for you.

For example, you might triangulate around the job to get inside information that confirms the fit and bolsters your presentation. You’re also more likely to cultivate a strong personal referral who actually recommends you to the boss. Both actions help you vet the opportunity and boost your chances of success dramatically.

But you’ll shake your head and ask, What’s the point, since any lead, no matter where it comes from, could turn into a good opportunity? My point is that opportunities that “come along” often turn into mistakes, precisely because you didn’t choose them yourself. I think most people go job hunting because they took the wrong job to begin with, most often because “it came along.”

Network with a plan

Job leads that come along are not what’s best for the job hunter. True opportunities that are really good for you are carefully selected and developed, not picked up at a meeting. Showing up and listening to a broadcast of leads is not networking, even if it’s done in person.

Most of the time, networking is a lifestyle. It’s about meeting new people and blue-sky exploring. In this context — active job hunting — networking is a tool in the service of a clear objective. “A job” is not a clear objective. A particular employer or job is. The approaches are radically different.

Carefully select a target employer or job, and network to gather information that lets you develop a plan you can present to the employer. Be ready to demonstrate why you are the profitable hire. Network to convince insiders to recommend you. The most effective form of networking involves finding people who introduce us to employers, and who teach us how we can help the employer — so we can stand out as the person the employer wants to hire.

A job lead picked up at a meeting gives you no such edge because you didn’t work for it.

Say NO to job leads — Say YES to networking

I agree with Matt Bud. Getting together with other job hunters to hear about job leads is a waste of time. Learn to say no to job leads, and instead use the time more profitably. Use face time to network — but have a very specific, clear objective.

My PDF book, How Can I Chang Careers?, includes a pivotal chapter titled “A Good Network is a Circle of Friends.” One section, “Seek advice, not help,” emphasizes the importance of having a specific objective you need advice about — whether you’re changing careers, or just jobs:

“No one wants the ‘Can you help me find a job?’ monkey on their back because the monkey requires feeding and lots of attention. That’s why most people you ask for help will quickly refer you to the personnel office. On the other hand, if you approach me for advice rather than help, that’s something I can provide…”

The person you’re networking with will be happy to share advice and engage in discussion that reveals whether you’re worthy of friendship. And friendship is what leads to personal referrals, which is where jobs really come from.

Am I splitting hairs, or is a job lead about as useless as a job posting? How do you network to get truly useful referrals? Do you give out job leads? What’s the best way to get in the door for the job you really want?

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My employer withheld my pay

In the July 3, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a 20% bonus disappears:

When I was hired, my offer letter included the promise of an annual 20% bonus. Recently I was transferred internally, but there was no notice of a change in my compensation deal. Bonus time came around but neither my old or new department budgeted for my bonus. I’ve been making monthly appeals to my boss, who keeps getting the runaround from Accounting. It turns out that no one else at my level gets bonuses. To make matters worse, the company was acquired and all our jobs are up in the air.

Is there any way I can get the bonus I’m due? The amount is substantial. This sounded too good to be true when I got the offer letter, but there it is in black and white: 20%.

My Advice

I don’t ordinarily tackle questions that require legal advice, but there’s also a matter of principle here. It seems the company is breaking a simple agreement and it’s worth discussing how to deal with that. However, my advice is not legal; for that you’ll need an attorney.

Since your offer letter promised an annual 20% bonus in writing, and since you got no other written notice to the contrary, then I think the company has an obligation to pony up the money. While a company may have the right to reassign you to a different job or department, I don’t believe it’s got the right to withhold compensation.

If your boss is “getting the runaround from Accounting,” that’s not your problem. Accounting doesn’t decide whether you’ll be paid; your employer does. This passing of the buck suggests that who’s getting the runaround is you.

Given the circumstances, I’d pursue this quickly and create a document trail. If you get laid off before you put the issue on the table, it’s going to be harder to resolve it.

Take this to the highest level HR manager you can. Put a copy of your offer letter on the desk and politely ask what the problem is. (Keep the original under lock and key.) The difficulty is that you’ve waited a long time since the bonus was due, but that doesn’t excuse your employer. I’d also ask HR for a written statement about the company’s position on the matter — build that document trail.

Listen to what the HR manager has to say. If there’s no resolution within a week, send a certified letter (with proof of receipt) to HR outlining the situation, and copy the letter to your attorney. Do not say anything accusatory in the letter: Be purely factual and request your bonus.

It’s unfortunate that you need help to get paid what you were promised. But my expectation is that this is going to require the help of an attorney. When your boss blames Accounting for not paying you, you can blame your attorney for any awkwardness, too.

By the way: Don’t let the idea of turning to lawyer make you uncomfortable. A good lawyer will work with you to control legal costs, and to develop a strategy for collection that avoids spending more than the recovery would be worth. Start with a consultation to help you decide what your best options are, and to estimate the costs.

Ever get paid less than you were promised? Was it in writing? What did you do to recover the money?

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