Question

I’m about to get a job offer from a company I want to work for. They asked how much I want. The talent shortage must be producing bigger salaries in job offers, so I’m inclined to ask for the top of the range I’ve researched. But I’m also nervous about going too high and turning them off. Is there a safe middle ground?

Nick’s Reply

bigger salariesLike you, I like the middle ground. Most of the time. But this isn’t most of the time. In fact, I believe we’re living in a time when there’s good reason to take bigger risks to get bigger rewards.

Why? Because on the whole, companies are pulling down unusually higher profits hand over fist. They can afford to pay you more. There’s data to prove it.

Days of bigger salaries

This is the time to ask for more, even to demand it and gently signal that you will walk away from that hard-to-fill job if they don’t meet your salary requirement.

Savvy investors tell us that the big gains are made when we encounter unusual circumstances in which our chances of a big win are somewhat higher than normal. That can make it worth the attendant risk. Of course, only you can decide how much risk you will tolerate.

I would ask for more money. I’d ask for the top of the range or more. Now let’s discuss why job applicants should demand bigger salaries today.

Employers need to hire

I don’t need to link you to 10 articles about employers crying they can’t fill jobs because of “the talent shortage.” And I don’t need to give you an Economics 101 lesson in supply and demand. (Ah, what the heck! When supply of labor is down, wages go up.)

If so many employers are desperate to hire, they must be paying top dollar to get workers like you on board, right? Wharton labor researcher Peter Cappelli suggests that, on the whole, they’re not.

What do you mean, real wages are down?

In an October 2021 report Cappelli writes that “Wages are not rising dramatically, at least on average. A shortfall between a big demand jump and a modest increase in supply should not necessarily cause a shortage in a market economy. It should cause prices — in this case, wages — to rise.”

But despite their posturing about recruiting aggressively to fill those vacant jobs, Cappelli notes employers are not offering competitive market pay. In fact, he says, no matter what anecdotal stories the media broadcast, the data tell us “Real wages have fallen by the largest amount in decades.”

And that’s why you should ask for higher pay. In fact, if you don’t demand a higher job offer, you may be getting lower real pay than you even realize.

Inflation is hurting workers

Cappelli continues: “The idea that wages are rising dramatically just isn’t true…  workers are living in a world where their money isn’t going as far as it used to due to rising costs of goods and services.”

We call that inflation. “Real wages” are wages adjusted to account for rising consumer costs.

And, today, it’s even worse than Cappelli suggested last fall. In its April 12, 2022 Real Earnings Report, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us:

“Real average hourly earnings decreased 2.7 percent, seasonally adjusted, from March 2021 to March 2022. The change in real average hourly earnings combined with a decrease of 0.9 percent in the average workweek resulted in a 3.6-percent decrease in real average weekly earnings over this period.”

But inflation is enriching companies

Maybe employers just can’t afford to pay higher salaries, eh? Maybe you should bite your tongue and tell that employer you’d be happy in the middle of the salary range. Play it safe.

But you’d be wrong, and you’d be dumber than greedy corporations, says Lindsay Owens, the executive director of the Groundwork Collaborative. In I Listened In on Big Business. It’s Profiting From Inflation, and You’re Paying for It, Owens reviews hundreds of corporate earnings calls she’s listened to — “calls, where, by law, companies have to tell the truth.”

“The Federal Reserve chair, Jerome Powell, said that sometimes businesses are raising prices just ‘because they can.’ He’s right. Companies have pricing power when consumers don’t have choice.”

The examples she cites are chilling because CEOs brag about unheard-of profits triggered by economic factors that hurt consumers and, therefore, workers and job seekers.

  • “What we learned on these earnings calls was quickly reflected in data. Despite the rising costs of labor, energy and materials, profit margins reached 70-year highs in 2021. And according to an analysis from the Economic Policy Institute, fatter profit margins, not the rising costs of labor and materials, drove more than half of price increases in the nonfinancial corporate sector since the start of the Covid pandemic.”

Owens reports one profit brag after another during the earnings calls:

  • “As Hostess’s C.E.O. told shareholders last quarter, ‘When all prices go up, it helps.’”
  • “Executives on their earnings calls crowed to investors about their blockbuster quarterly profits. One credited his company’s ‘successful pricing strategies.’”
  • “Another patted his team on the back for a ‘marvelous job in driving price.’”
  • “The head of research for the bank Barclay’s said ‘The longer inflation lasts and the more widespread it is, the more air cover it gives companies to raise prices.’ More than half of retailers admitted as much when surveyed.”

Corporations can afford handsome job offers

Companies are intentionally jacking up prices to consumers to boost their profits — using inflation for “air cover” — while they pay lower real wages. Is there anything illegal about that? Probably not. Nor is there anything wrong with you jacking up the salary you want if a company is flush. And in this economic climate, it may be prudent to pursue only employers that are flush.

This is why, in today’s economy and job market, you should always be ready to ask for more money. I’m forever telling you to make sure your job delivers profit to your employer. Now I’m telling you to make sure employers that are bursting with colossal profits deliver a concomitant share to you in the form of higher salary. Lindsay Owens might say this is the best time in 70 years to go for the gold.

(See More Money: What to ask for in a talent shortage.)

Find one smart, good employer

Are all employers so greedy that they make below-market job offers so they can hoard profits? For that matter, are all employers laughing all the way to the bank? Of course not. But successful, smart employers see an opportunity to hire the best workers by sharing their good fortune via higher salary offers. Why work among pigs?

Even if, as the data suggest, most employers are killing real wages, a wise job seeker takes refuge — and finds hope and patience — in the knowledge that they need only one good employer to make them one outstanding job offer.

But you have to ask for — even demand — bigger salaries.

Peter Cappelli offers compelling tough love to employers, and advises “looking beyond just signing bonuses and modest wage increases, instead considering what’s possible in compensation in order to attract and retain the workforce you need and want.”

Could following my advice to demand bigger salaries lead a greedy employer to boot you to the curb because they’d like to hire you for less? Could the message in this column cost you a job offer entirely? Yep. So use your judgment and do the best you can.

Me? I’d ask for more because the data tell me profit-rich companies can afford it. If they’re not willing to share their rising profits with their workforce, I’ll go find an employer that will. It’s that kind of economy. The data tell us it’s that kind of job market.

Are bigger salaries a thing? Can you actually ask for the top end of a salary range and get it? What’s your experience? Got any examples of corporate greed and low-ball job offers? How have you gotten more money from an employer?

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48 Comments
  1. Any company worth their salt would not be “cheering on” their contribution to inflation. They know the costs for everything are going up, some in ways that really hurt their core business. Yes businesses can be greedy, but I’m disappointed that you fail to notice how much freaking money the fed pumped into the system the last two years. Also some businesses with high energy costs, like the trucking that delivers everything we buy to stores are being HAMMERED by costs.

    That said I agree that you have to look out for number one. Business costs are up and that includes what they’ll have to pay for new labor coming in. It’s a market, the rates are up, ask for the top of the scale, because inflation isn’t going away quickly. If you were worth X a few months ago you’re worth at least 2% more now. If you are moving on because of getting no raises, go for 15%, 20%, or hell 35%. Costs have been flying the past year. If the price for goods companies are selling has gone up, the cost for you doing the work sure as heck should too.

    • @J: And if companies behaved rationally, individuals might, too, but we know that’s not going to happen. I read the Fed’s news just like you do, and I also recognize that some industries and companies have gotten hammered.

      My concern is with the psychology of job seekers, which HR, the job board/ATS companies, the media and politicians have meddled with to the point of leaving people numb just when they need to have their wits about them — when it’s time to negotiate a job offer. Of course one size doesn’t fit all in this economy, but in general, job seekers need to recognize that NOW is the time to ask for, or demand/expect, more money (a) because lots of companies are exploiting circumstances to boost profits dramatically and (b) because it’s simply untrue that those companies are spending more of their profits to make more aggressive/generous offers. Now is the time for job seekers to think about how to capitalize on current events. Companies do this routinely. Individuals are usually hesitant. Now is the time to take more risk — but do it thoughtfully.

      What cracks me up is the corporate/HR lobby warning job seekers not to try to take advantage, not to be unreasonable. That is, YOU suck up the pain while WE enjoy the pleasure.

      • Oh yeah, job seekers need to demand the going rate and the going rate needs to go up. Workers need to be on their toes, not just a hiring time, but at raise time too.

        Although I am very wary of the new “its all corporate greed” excuse for inflation. I find it ironic that the most greedy people in the history of the world are blaming all the inflation on the big bad companies. The government of the US is the most well funded entity to EVER EXIST, and the politicians that run it are complaining about corporate greed. At least the corporations just raise prices. The printing more money when they don’t take enough in taxes that our government engages in is an horrific evil, way worse that all that corporate “greed”. They’re 30 TRILLION in and they won’t stop. Their disseminating blame is really disgusting.

        But that government has made the situation we’re in.

        If your in the labor market demand fair price on YOUR value every time you can. The price of everything is going up and your work is part of that everything.

        • @J: I hear ya. But the point here is unfettered corporate greed. Lindsay Owens’ report is just stunning. CEOs bragging about exploiting inflation as cover for higher prices and profits. I’m a capitalist, but capitalism is rooted deeply in faith that what I invest will earn me returns. There’s a point on the returns curve where behavior turns to greed, and we’re there. Too many employers are not investing in their workforce. They’re filling the pockets of execs and owners.

          As I noted, throughout Ask The Headhunter you’ll see me telling workers to make sure they do profitable work that drops $$ to the company’s bottom line. At some point, we’re suckers if we keep delivering on that — but our employers pocket all the profits rather than plough lots of it back to those producing the profit.

          Don’t stop adding profit to your employer’s bottom line. But don’t get suckered into lower real wages while your employer gets richer. This cuts both ways. There are good employers out there. Our other job is to find them and leave the greedy ones behind.

      • I am working with a neighbor to help him find employment. He had 27 interviews Dec-Feb 2022 and they were looking to exploit employees – lower than advertised salary offers, demanding an arm’s length of qualifications, a lot of the old tuff. But I checked the job postings and they have ben open for 8 months! Their profit are up. Then claim Utah is a low standard of living state. I told my friend to reply: “Do you charge less for your products in low income states, too?”

        The key is to be able to demonstrate what cash-in you have produced for other of your employers. “At Company A, my efforts and skills brought in $1,450,000 last year. The year before $963,000. At Company B my efforts brought in $850,000 and the\ year before that $750,000. As we discussed, we both anticipate that I will bring in over $1,500,000 my first yeat here. Based on that realistic figure, what do you think I am worth to this company or to any other company?” The part “or to any other company is key – lets him know that you hve realistic opportunities, not just his company.

        Also, you need to meticulously explore your promotion schedule, company paid training, benefits, 401(k), in detail with explicit timetables. HR is ruthless, vicious. They will only respect you when you stand up to their … bull. Get it all in writing!!!!!

        I was nearby when an associate started to apply for a Business Professor position at a Virginia university. HR claimed not to know the salary range, so I had him inquire of the Provost. A week later the reply” “$60,000 to $80,000.” I had my friend reply that McDonalds pays a starting salary of $22 per hour, or $45,780 a year. For coking French fries!!! I assigned him to research fast food as well as professor salaries and be able to use them BEFORE applying for this position. (The school is a small rurally located 1,000 student western Virginia “university” with allusions of grandeur.)

        • @Wes: You’re absolutely right. Doing the research and having the facts is crucial. And you describe the game and the right “return” when they smash that “lower cost of living” ball your way.

          “Their profit are up. Then claim Utah is a low standard of living state. I told my friend to reply: “Do you charge less for your products in low income states, too?”

          That is EXACTLY the question I lob back at my client companies and any company that suggests geography determines pay. It’s unfettered nonsense!

      • I think that the only defense to protect ourselves from all employers is to be constantly looking for the next job, one where you are promoted into doing new things, one where you have immediate and obvious impact on the Companys ‘income /profit, etc. That makes it easier to command higher salaries, higher bonuses, better benefits, etc. I also strongly recommend “demanding” a clear, specific career promotion path, with specifics, as to timing, responsibilities / authority / training, etc, and especially specifics on salaries at each such promotion for at least the next fifteen year. And signed by CEO, HR, anybody else that you think is influential. That demonstrates both that you are serious and a long termer. Also, that you are a serious person when it comes to the total compensation package, now and in the future. If a firm refuses, you just learned that you don’t ever want to go there because they are a nest of vipers. (I am trying to be mild mannered, but it won’t work on this topic. Been screwed too often.)

  2. You can inflate your ask when it comes to salary but you want to ensure you are perfect for the role – you fit with the organization, you have the leadership and transformational mindset that most want, you are exceptional otherwise, you will get passed by.
    I am a leader at the Global Talent Advisory firm, ZRG Partners and there is a demand for top talent but you cannot assume you can make an outrageous request unless you are the very best.
    There are some who have been treating this with an entitled attitude and it will not end well. Most companies are not desperate and the market is softening. Be professional and realistic and think long term.

    • Thanks, Jill, for the cautionary note, but most folks around here don’t have an entitled attitude, and they are exceptional or they wouldn’t be here. If that sounds self-congratulatory, it’s not bragging because it’s true. I don’t know what your firm does, so pardon me if I base this comment only on the text of your post: You seem to be blaming job seekers for capitalizing on current events rather than encouraging employers to do the obvious thing in this economy — start making job offers that reflect the market. Then aggregate real wages would be up, not down. Any time someone strings together the words “Talent” + “Advisory” + “Global” the tiny hairs on the back of my neck do a dance.

      • We have talked in the past. We should talk again and I would be happy to explain. You can blame companies and many are at fault BUT there are many individuals who have become quite short sighted. We have both been through these cycles before; you always have to be a professional and look at the long term when making your ask.

        You might want to take a look at our firm and the hairs may settle. We are the real deal.

        • @Jill: I try hard to note that not all employers, headhunters, HR folks are guilty. There are good eggs everywhere. My purpose in this column is to arouse job seekers into considering the financial situation when they’re talking with a particular company, and to look hard at whether they’re dealing with truthful companies.

        • Weed out those short sighted non-professional slackers in the early rounds. Or tune your ATS to do it for you.

        • OK, what is your firm? Depending, I might be interested since you like the firm so much.

    • Susan,

      So many companies “don’t know what they’ve got til it’s gone”. I had to push pretty hard to get a decent bump in pay upon taking a recent role change.

      Companies need to realize that if they don’t pay their current employees fairly now, they’ll just have to pay more later for the replacements.

      • I have seen this as well. Often people will leave because they know that is the only way to take advantage of the market up lift. It is really too bad.

      • I agree. Several firms I have worked for refused to give highly productive employees raises, the employees quit, and the firm then hired two, in a few instances three, individuals and paid each 50% more than they were paying those who quit. Employers are EXCESSIVELY GREEDY when it comes to paying anyone except relatives a decent, market salary. I learned not to rust ANY.

        A suggestion I have made to many employees when I was a headhunter: 1. Always be looking. 2. Always be pushing for a raise, and this is the important part, as soon as you get the first paycheck stub, immediately jump to the next company. If you need to, make a graph of your salary from beginning and into the future, to simulate your salary levels. Compare the “hang in there” with little or no raises to job hopping immediately as you get the big raise at the current companies. You use the new, higher salary as your new base plus 15% or more to jump ship and to help justify the new job much higher salary. Look at where you might be in ten or fifteen years this way vs. “hanging in there” with little or no raises over the same time span. Now is the best time to implement this salary prosperity strategy. NOW is the best time ever to practice this. AND NOTE: how quickly money was miraculously available when hiring got tough for employers! ! ! ! ! ! ! Reality is that the money was always there but employers are way too greedy and dishonest! ! ! ! ! The money was always there! The money was aways there!

    • Nice advice, but the long term is ABSOLUTE BULL. Everywhere I have been over 60 years employment that was always a way to put off paying EVER. The new employees have learned if you don’t get it now, you never will. That is a cold hard fact of life. You have seen that, too. You know that is the truth. Platitudes such as that are absolutely harmful to all employees.

      Often employers have claimed “attitude” when the employee is not a fool. AS above, “He won’t work for McDonald’s starting wages, just because he has an MBA and five years’ experience.” BULL! I have been in meetings where I have heard exactly that being said, and worse.

      • @Wes: Then there’s the tired line from HR: “We can’t take you seriously if all you’re looking for is money. We’re seeking people that really want to do a good job for our company!”

        As if the two are mutually exclusive, when in fact money and performance are tightly intertwined.

        • > when in fact money and performance are tightly intertwined.

          Hi Nick, not sure if you remember me; we’ve corresponded a few times. I’m currently in Ukraine doing a mix of humanitarian and combat operations, and boy howdy, the stuff you’re saying in your articles here is so applicable here it’s almost eerie. I have a board meeting now but I’ll shoot you an email in a bit.

        • Nick, I agree that they SHOULD be tightly intertwined, but sadly, they are not. At National Computer Analysts (?) long ago, 1987??, I was doing work on their contract with AT&T. They were miserably behind, none of our 8 senior VPs had a clue. I did a huge wall-sized wall-chart based off of the Info-Com specs, 12 volumes, that made plain what was going on in our system All of our senior VPs and 5 AT%T gurus spent lots of time looking at the chart in my office, weeks on end. We got contract add-ons of a few million dollars, and BTW, avoided having our contract cancelled. My reward: You guessed it: NOTHING. They though I did not know what was going on. SO, they refused to pay me, I refused to work. Took the wall-chart, 5 ozalid sheets wide and wall height in a tall office with me when I left. I don’t know what happened afterwards. People are viciously greedy; only the senior VPs got the financial rewards, for somebody else’s achievements.

        • I made a career out of telling them back, that, “I can’t take you hem seriously if all you can think of is how to screw those who are actually bringing in the millions of dollars.” They were always extremely shocked to be stood up to and told what they were. Like they were fooling anybody?

          I asked someone on this thread who said he always found the good vompanies to share that information. I have not seen it. Maybe you might ask him.

    • Jill: I don’t believe that anyone or everyone just be “exceptional!” We just need to be paid based on what we produce and have produced for prior employers. To prove that I am “perfect” or to so “ensure you are perfect for the role – (etc.)”, I feel is nonsense. What does it mean to be perfect for the company? That is by definition a non-definable task!

      We deplorable applicants are decidedly NOT “assume(ing) you can make an outrageous request unless you are the very best.” HR believes that ANY applicant asking for reasonable salaries is making an “outrageous request”! Been on both sides of that and what is said on the company side would make any person angry. “outrageous request” indeed! HR wants the warm fuzzies by getting all applicants to abide by their salary evaluations. Most HR don’t have a clue. The dumbest students in my MBA classes were the few HR majors we had in the classes. Seriously, they were thoroughly out to lunch; other students had their doubts as to how they got accepted.

      It is up to the companies to “Be professional and realistic and think long term.”

    • I am more than sick of this employer attitude that every applicant seeking a realistic compensation package is arrogant, or entitled, or “not professional” , etc. to be “asking” a relistic salary, etc. This has been the BULL employer talk for generations – “Are you exceptional, perfect,” an arms list of requirements? VERY intresting how the money just magically appeared when the labor shortage materialized. THE MONEY WAS THERE ALL ALONG, EMPLOYERS ARE JUST TOO ***** GREEDY AND END UP BLAMING IT ALL ON THE EMPLOYEE! THE MONEY WAS THERE ALL ALONG,THE MONEY WAS THERE ALL ALONG,THE MONEY WAS THERE ALL ALONG,THE MONEY WAS THERE ALL ALONG,THE MONEY WAS THERE ALL ALONG,THE MONEY WAS THERE ALL ALONG. HR has been evily talking aplicants and employees out of their just salaries, etc. PURE EVIL. The money was there all the time. LOOK WHAT EVIL HR HAS BEEN DING FOR HUNDREDS (?) OF YEARS.

  3. Every significant raise I’ve ever received I’ve given myself by switching jobs.

    Until recently. Currently with a company that handed out huge bonuses during 2020 due to outstanding performance despite the move to remote work. Year after that got a huge raise in salary, part COL adjustment part performance. This year I’m up for promotion.

    I feel so incredibly grateful to have finally found a company that appreciates it’s employees.

    • @Susan: A young friend of mine recently experienced some of the worst the employer recruiting process has to offer. Arrogance, rudeness, small-mindedness, lack of respect. A string of depressing interview experiences convinced him he might be worth 40-50% less than his careful research suggested. Then he met a company like yours.

      My only advice to him after he accepted a top-of-the-range offer from them: Think carefully about, and remember, the distinctions between all the unsavory companies that mistreated you and the one that’s hiring you. The ratio of good:lousy companies and people will always be very small. Always. So the next time you search for a job, don’t you dare get lost in the denominator of that ratio because it’s so BIG. Remember that you need only 1 in the numerator. Keep that in mind and the sea of lousy employers you encounter will never matter. So never let them get you down — always walk away from them toward the very few (maybe just one) good ones.

      Thanks for shining a light on your company and its wisdom!

    • How did you find that company? What advice can you five to the job hunters?

    • Susan – how did you find that company? What industry? What position? Tell all of us how you did it, that is a tremendous accomplishment! Congratualations!

      • Let me take a shot at answering your question. One could write a book on it, and I tend to be long winded/cursored so I’ll try to make it brief.

        1. Your question is key. It says you’re on the right track from the start. How you go about finding a “good” company starts here. Stop looking for jobs. Look for companies. One in which you think you have something to offer & in so doing, will further your career and in turn offer you a good quality of life as you define it.

        2. This is a challenging endeavor, complex, work intensive & far removed from blasting resumes into job boards, web sites etc that the majority of job hunters do when focusing on jobs.

        3 You start with yourself. Wrestling yourself to the ground is perhaps the hardest part of it. Define what constitutes a “good company” to you. Different strokes for different folks, based on your priorities, financial situation, what you love to do etc, Your idea of a good company may be quite different from someone elses. Profile your ideal target. This will provide you focus, and focus will increase the probability of a successful result.

        4. Then define your idea of a good boss. If you’re going to burn energy, might as well target the ideal. You can decide later if anything less is tolerable. But know what one is. The ideal would be to work for a great company working with a great boss. Just factor in pragmatism. Believe it or not you can find that working for a great boss, even in a crappy company can work fine. But I wouldn’t recommend working for a crappy boss in a great company. For example I’ve had some great working experiences in companies going down the slippery slope & out of existance .I sometimes think it was me. I join, they die.
        5. Once you have a sense of what you’re looking for, you can start your hunt. Which begins with a LOT of research time. Depending on your Quality of Life priorities. For example, let’s say you love where you live & aren’t interested in moving under any circomstance. You now have a useful boundary on your search. Let’s say you’d prefer not to spend your life commuting. You then refine your search target. Say within 20 miles max from home. Draw a circle with a 20 radius from home. Then ask yourself. What companies are in that circle? Now see how they stack up to your company profile. I used a bricks and mortar example. It may be different, hybrid part office, part home. Or you may want a totally remote situation. Or perhaps industy is your priority anywhere Or Or Or depending on some sandbox you’ve defined.
        6. Now that you have a target you dive deeper. In depth research about those companies. Generally make it your business to know their history, how they are performing (financially, industry & customer respect, industry influence, their technical chops, rankings pertinent to their corporate world) their org chart Spend some time digging into their leadership. CEO, the executive team. This is context. Then dig into your specialities, your areas of interest. Let’s say you’re a high level IT guy, specializing or targeting Artificial Intelligence. Any sign of life in these companies that you can find?. Absence of any or leadership in same may signal further effort. Depends on you & what you find out. This will become easier as you go, is you’ll develop your own template, your own process that you’ll easily repeat as you move forward. Sort of your standard. Having such, will position you to make comparisons.& set priorities. You’ll need to find & develop research resources. As to resources for example, get you know your way around your local library and librarians. They can offer you a lot of assistance as they know way more than we mere mortals on where to quickly find info and some may provide the research as a service
        7. Let’s say for sake of discussion you’ve ruled out some companies & some got your attention. Now you can better focus & dig deeper on the ones that caught your eye. You now turn to your network. Equipped with your own base of info you look company specific not found in the general sources you’ve used. Insider info. Up to now you’ve done due diligence on the big picture stuff on these companies. Now you start chasing after insights on what it would be like to work for them …you’re trying to find the goodness (or not), to put a BS filter in place. You check your personal network.. Make it easy, develop a simple set of questions to ask. Help your network help you. Do people you know ever work there? Know someone who worked there? Know someone who knows someone who worked there? If so , will they connect you? Intro you? Reassure you’re network that you’re not looking for job leads. You want to know if that COMPANY has the potential for your next adventure.
        8. This is important. Notice I’ve said nothing about jobs. Nor will you when you work your network at this point (unless in the process they bring it up with a specific lead). If your network shifts to jobs, jumping ahead of you e.g diverting it to an inference that you’re looking for job leads, disabuse them of that & reinforce the point so they don’t go down the wrong path if you can convince them to look for info leads. In other words, you have to drive the bus, own your agenda. It will derail your hunt if you knowingly let someone else define your agenda.
        9. Lets say your network is coming up with some people who can & will connect you to someone(s) with info on a target company. Be prepared to extract the info. What do you want to know? Some suggestions would be: recruiting practices, (e.g. using outside recruiters or not or both, speed of making a hiring decision, respectful process? , new hire onboarding or not, cultural which goes across a lot of space, but key to an interest to come aboard would their comp processes, pay per market? Will they negotiate or play hard ball? Organization structure for some idea of where your profession fits & to what degree it’s used., what’s a person’s take on a good or bad place to work & why. Obviously someone who works there presently & is willing to talk with you is a good connection, but don’t discount former employment, customers, suppliers, previous applicants. Keep in mind at this juncture all insights are valuable. Don’t get wrapped around the axle of your specific professional interests. You’re assessing the company as a whole, the sandbox you’ll be playing in. Confidentiality. Talking with current employees is touchy & elusive. They will have an underlying concern that somehow they’ll get nailed for shooting off their mouths. Off site lunches or zooms with someone they trust rolled in can be helpful.
        10. Also keep in mind that when you are chasing these companies you are in concert networking and network building. You may get a question for a question, from someone also hunting. Help them as you asked to be helped. You’ll be network building because your network will fall short. Due to its size, inclinations to help, or other limitations. So you’ll be digging into & building new sources. Your profession likely has associations, your past company has social media groups and so on. Get involved or reinvolved with them And your target companies likely have groups as well. Here’s one most people don’t use. Find connections to people being outplaced. Outplacement companies have huge databases of resumes, that the outplaced can access. So do recruiters. Do not assume recruiters won’t help you. You as a stranger perhaps not, but a previous placement, someone in their network can ask for you. Keep the words “Thank You” close at hand. And again, have a great memory for those who helped & if some day they need likewise, be ready & willing.
        11. You now have the general information & good internal insights on a # of companies. Have done the best you can do to understand them inside & out. Now using the same networking tools noted previously, you’ll apply them to zero in on a hiring manager who closely aligns to your professional interests & has passed your litmus test of a good manager. You’ll work at getting a referral to that manager, and contact information for same. Adding one more tool to your toolbox. Attempt direct contact. Prepare for it. Learn to be your own recruiter, as that’s what recruiting is all about. Another thing to do is retool your mindset to do so is to accept the concept you are now in sales. You’ve reach the point where you will leave info gathering mostly behind and are now going to take that info & use it to sell your value to that manager AND the company. What to sell? Make it simple , your value.& it’s worth…for that company & that manager. Sell that. Let them define a job. So in sum, all the preceding is to position you to do this. To meet & talk with a hiring manager..& sell sell sell. And through this whole process, keep & use this point. “You are not looking for a job..you are looking for a COMPANY” And if you do this right, & are asked why you want to work for them…you can answer that question better than they’ve probably heard before. You know why & can present your case well.
        12. Jobs: Jobs are legal tender for job hunters, recruiters and hiring managers. They articulate (supposedly) the labor value involved. But building your working life on a job foundation is akin to building your house on a sea of mud. They shift, they move, they disappear, they get farmed out. Building your career life on an enterprise is not foolproof either, they change and also can disappear. But it usually takes much longer. However good companies endure.& endure because they change for the better This is why targeting companies is a better target. The obvious is always there…success = a good job with a good company as long as the good part holds true. Of course you’re looking for a job, the network knows you are, the hiring end knows you are, and you know it, & we know you know. What we’re talking about is what’s really important to you & how you go about it. For instance, my last JOB was an inside recruiter for a small company. I did not see my purpose as fillng jobs. My role was to act for the own to find good people for the company. In the form of jobs.
        13. For the sake of discussion I talked about how you find good companies (and job hunt) in a serial way #1, 2 etc. I noted that this who process is complex, & labor intensive. It’s a full time job. And I’ve described it as if you were conducting your search in a nice smooth sequence. The real world is you’re multi tasking, involved with several compnies in various stages of this.
        14. And finally all through this, just as it is in the sales world. There is the liklihood of simply dumb luck. At any point someone can pop a strong job lead, meaning they know of a job, in another company or one of your target companies and they know the hiring manager or someone who has their ear. It happens. Even so, my recommendation is to make good use of “I’m not looking for a job, I’m looking for a company”. It will serve you well. Especially if you get presented with the “you’re over qualified” BS. When you look for a company, over qualified is irrelevant. It’s bolted to a job mindset. And it doesn’t translate well into “You’re too interested in the company.”

        Go for it!

    • Susan, please share the company name. I might be seriously interested since you like it so much! There are FEW Companys like that!

  4. I agree with J’s commentary. Nobody wants to be pimped and simped, nor work for chump change, especially when many employers are morally and ethically bankrupt, and that includes government entities, as J and even the editor have pointed out.
    I’ve been discreetly and proactively job searching for a new job the last few months, all while continuing to give a good faith effort and integrity at my current job. My current and toxic employer of almost 10 years changed how they do business (blatant greed being a major factor, again, as J and the editor have pointed out) and has been literally hemorrhaging customers left and right for the past year. Not good. Despite being called in, given a merit raise, and told I’m in good standing, I don’t buy it for a minute. Gut-level, these guys are going down the tubes.
    The remainder of this week I have 2 phone interviews, and one sit down face-face interview scheduled. I have more like this next week.
    How did I get these interviews? Well, for one thing I definitely didn’t waste my time with Indeed, headhunters and recruiters, stupid job clubs, or the proverbial and ineffective networking. I took some 1/2 day PTO time in the afternoons, targeted small to mid-size niche companies closer to home (the biggie GMs, Fords, and Boeings aren’t hiring workers, nor would I want to work for them), walked in the front door old school, handed them a hardcopy of my resume, and gave them my quick sales pitch (including that I’m currently employed, I took PTO time off to job search, and I’m searching for a new job). Recently, the president of one of the companies actually took me into the conference room and conducted an impromptu interview. As he indicated, the doing it old school was a welcome change from Indeed.
    As J has pointed out, there’s still the pimping and simping with the low-ball chump wages. And for the HR lady on here, I for one am not “entitled” (I’ve earned my seat at the table, thank you), nor do I expect doctors wages. But this go go around it’s “pay to play”, and the dollars better be in the competitive range, or it’s adios employers.

  5. “Find one smart, good employer”

    Oh, how I wish I could! That topic merits a discussion in and of itself!

    • Yes, me too! There are too many bad actors, and despite all of the indignant howling about “lazy” workers, too many employers are playing the same stupid games. That tells me that they don’t want to hire.

    • Somebody above said that they worked for one. I asked him to share his secret, but so far no response.

    • @Timothy and Marybeth: Noted!

  6. A friend of mine worked at Flowserve in Utah, south of Provo, for Flowserve around 2000 – 2001 or so. He found out that his job, for which he was being paid $66,000 had a salary range of $50,000 to $110,000. HR lied to him and told him that they were raising the range of his position so that they could hire him. LESSON: HR IS NOT YOUR FRIEND ! ! ! ! ! They also refused to “make him eligible” for n individual bonus, based on performance. He produced a report that led to acquisition of significant portions of the leading competitor in their field. Stock increased, if memory serves, from $22 per share to $35. He never was recognized, never received a Thank You, and not a penny. His group was ordered to take all of their vacation accrued before December 31; then in January, his group was fired! They got outplacement counseling.

    • @ Wes Richardson-
      “Lesson HR is not your friend” No kidding!
      Years back I worked for my current employer’s competitor. They had a team of 3 of the most insufferable old crones for their HR department. The workers referred to them as “the coven”, “the unholy Trinity”, and other perk practices I can’t post on here.
      I received an email reply to a resume I submitted from an HR ditz a couple days ago. The message basically said “I want to set up a 15-20 minute phone interview”. “So when will this work”? No “cordially, Susan Johnson, HR Manager”. What, was I applying for, a job in a truck stop in the Ozarks? Come on, didn’t even identify herself!
      It’s considered proper business decorum, proper business etiquette, and proper business professionalism to say something on the line of
      “Bob”, or “Mr. Smith”, “we received your resume and would like to set up a 15-20 minute phone interview. What dates and times work for you”?
      “Cordially, Susan Johnson, HR Manager”.
      While some tell me “go ahead and take the interview”, no, I’m passing on that one.
      Some on here lick the boots of HR, but not me. I told her simply “No”, then deleted her into limbo.
      Some say “you wouldn’t have to work with her”, but truth be told, HR and receptionists are the face of your company. They reflect your company’s core values and management. I’ve seen this before all too often.

  7. Lots of good ideas, observations & advice. Yes, look out for #1 and position yourself for top $.. The phrase “top of the range” comes up & I’d like to comment on that. Not the $ aspect, but “ranges” Meaning when you negotiate give some thought to what happens AFTER you land job in a company you like. And keep in mind, the $ aside, your starting comp has a lasting effect on your growth path. If you start low, it’s heavy lifting for a manager to correct it after the fact.

    Anyone who’s changed jobs knows it’s disruptive, so try to land in a good place where you can stick around to your advantage.

    Let me say something that sounds counter-productive to this week’s theme. No don’t ask to come in at top of the range. Hold that thought.

    Established companies are creatures of habit, & the older they are the more true this is. This is why they bitch about “remote work” and “talent shortages” They really do get stuck in insane ruts. Doing the same things over & over with no positive results, scratching their corporate butts trying to make it work..

    All the reasons given for why this is a good time to ask for top $, are also good reasons for demanding transparency on the underlying compensation structures and administration that dictate (& in most cases..literally dictate) how your comp will be handled when you become an employee. Knowing this, is as important as negotiating your starting deal.

    I say demand because in some companies I’ve worked for, that info was kept so close to the chest it was guarded like the crown jewels. And it’s amazing how few employees understood how the game is played or even made an effort to find out.

    Here’s what I mean. This is an over simplification. There’s 2 comp structures.
    a. Non existent. Or loosey goosey and if it exists are guidelines at best. I experienced them in small companies. There were job titles, recognition of levels of experience/values, pay ranges And benefit packages. But admin was not rigid.. Usually there’s an absence of scheduled performance evaluations. bottom line meaning your starting comp, job classifications & related really were negotiable. And so were pay raises, promos. For example, You can start, show your stuff & in a month walk in to the boss and ask for a raise and/or promo. If you can make a case, you can get it…NOW. I’ve seen it.
    Genally start ups fall into this category too.

    b. Let’s call it RIGID big corp HR developed & managed You’d fall into a labor category. For sake of discussion, lets say Software Engineer. That would be broken down into SE I, II, III, IV. Each has a salary range, usually broken into quarters (quartiles) Comp structure is such that the max of a level overlaps the min of the next level. reflecting points of growth where you’r ready for a promo if qualified. (Upper Quartile of SEI Overlaps the Low of SEII)
    All logical. Now as a manager as I’ve been. this is what I have to work with. With one more usual consideration. Administrating this. Performance raises were usually yearly. In two forms. 1 year from your last one, meaning differing times across the team. Or once a year for everyone. As I noted rigid. unlike a small flexible company, it was wishful thinking to ask the boss for a raise. You can ask, but it would take an act of god to for a manager to do that out of plan or schedule. Wait for the annual. Promo yes, different scenario. Those could be immediate. And all this was planned & budgeted a year ahead.
    Every year, how much of a kicker I could give to someone in my team varied each year per corporate review/plans. And within that plan, how much I could deliver was based on how far from the range’s max you were & how you performed (needs improvement, expected, above expectation, outstanding). This would be counter intuitive. Closer to the max, the lesser the %. Keep in mind, the expectation. If you’re in that upper quandrant, working at the top of your game, you are expected to leap tall buildings in your field and add a lot of value.

    The above’s context. The point to understand. If you reach the max for your position (I, II etc) , and don’t get a promo you are what’s known as redlined. Redlined means 0% raise.

    So my long winded point is No you don’t want to enter a company at max for your role. You want to enter the company at the min for the next level up & make your case there. And you want to know what the structure is, so in addition to your starting deal you have some insight on what you can expect down the road.
    Thus as a manager I’d never hire someone at the max, & would like to avoid starting people in an upper quartile of any level. Because I don’t want look at someone & tell them I can’t give them a raise or a pittance when they rightfull deserve more.
    This is why you want transparancy. You may be talking to a manager/HR team who will meet your requirement and not mention that you may screwing yourself next year. Next year is next year.
    I’d much rather lay this out to you & let you decide to take or not take a risk. The risk being that you may be boxed in. And if you’d want to take a shot at,then we’d be teaming up, 1st to see if we can make a case to bring you in a higher level where there may be some weak spots you’d need to rapidly fix, or to position you for a promo. And that plan would start when you start.
    The writer sounds like they’re in the top of their game. Which helps with one more scenario that comes up. Using my example, suppose there’s no SE V? It doesn’t exist. In which case, if I’m the hiring manager & want to do both the right thing and avoid a problem next year, I’ll need to create, & sell the role of SE V and hire you in at an entry level giving you a clear way ahead.
    One more thing. HR works for their company. They don’t work for you. They could, and sometimes do offer good advice or council to hiring prospects. But I’ve found that there’s a good rule of thumb to keep in mind.If you don’t ask, HR won’t spontaneously offer you advice on how to work the system to your benefit. But…there’s no such thing as the evil HR. For example, as a Manager I’m in essense I’m an HR client. And if I want to do something creative with the comp structure, e.g. create that new role, & related ranges etc. the 1st place I’m going to get this done with good support for the idea is my HR rep. You need to understand I’ve met worked with a lot good HR pros who help make this happen.
    HR gets the crap kicked out of them. But many many times it’s the HR person who’s driving a underwheliming Hiring Manager to do due diligence to bring a good hire aboard. The hiring manager gets the credit, but if you’d have depended on the HM to get off their ass you’d be peeing into the wind.
    HR executes (to what definition of the word works for you). They work for the CEO/Board. They are executing Corporate, NOT HR Policy. So how you are being treated has a straight line to the Executive Team & Board and the buck stops there, even if they are ignorant of said treatment. The VP of HR is usually on that team, and as such may be the policy/process driver, but the CEO and Board can’t delegate accountability. So don’t assume that the HR contacts you’ve had like the rules of engagement, they may be working for a cretin and one the CEO doesn’t calibrate.

    • Don, that rings true to me. Where I am now, my previous boss (who left for Facebook/Meta last August) had told me I was “under-hired” but was unable to get me a promotion. Then this past December I was basically told that I was red-lined by my new boss. My boss had been a key employee, and when he left there were a bunch of panic promotions made by reflex. Unfortunately, I was away on vacation at the time, and out of sight out of mind.

      This is a small company that thinks they are a big player, so they have a combination of appearance of process and arbitrary decisions of members of the family.

      My previous job was one of those situations where it’s okay to be at a bad company if you have a good boss. He knew my value and at one point told me he was pricing me out of the market. I stayed there until he retired, but only lasted a couple years after that.

      • Tim when your previous boss told you that you were “under-hired” but was unable to get me a promotion”, he knew you were red lined. And if paying attention to his managerial knitting knew that was in the cards well before it was administratively cast in concrete. And of course any semblence of HR knew & likely pointed it out. It’s not a surprise kind of thing & it’s a comp red flag.

        The system red lines you. Bosses literally don’t. When someone says a boss red lines you, it translates to the boss accepting it, and has no intention of trying to move you up & out of it.

        Ideally back when that previous boss was on board, you’d personally have known where you sat in the structure & when you hit that 4th quartile (or whatever way HR sliced & diced it) you & the boss would have a discussion. Ideally initiated by the boss. If not, initiated by you.
        For some serious discussion & lay out a game plan for the following work year when you’d red line…to get you promoted and blow past the red line.

        This is where the rubber would hit the road. You will get a reading on the boss’s real evaluation of your value of you. If valued, you’ll work out a game plan leading to an attempt (there’s never a guarantee) to move
        you up. If not valued, you get firm or whiney push back…not possible etc etc. reasons being anything from real (e.g in that company you’ve actually reached your high point) to simple managerial laziness or stupidity)

        I cite promo as the best way to go. There are others. e.g. living with it on your part, your boss trying for an exception to policy (heavy lifting), or waiting to see if next year the company will kick up the ranges enough to give you some breathing room.

        If you go the route of planning ahead, the key thing is the same advice given at the hiring stage…”get it in writing”. That planning discussion if done, in reality is a nice chat. Between you & your boss. Builds up the spirits. But it’s like that saying about trees in forests. The “system/company” doesn’t hear it .

        I’m not talking about having the company write you a letter. Your corporate legal people would get the vapors. I mean use the existing system to your advantage. It’s not a letter. I repeat it’s a “career development plan”. And in most corporations I’ve worked at..HR has included as part of their process, the much maligned, poorly executed, formal performance appraisals. These range from simple (& useless) check off lists to fairly well designed forms and signoffs to at least make a manager & employee go through the motions of actually talking about how you did in the appraisal period, and what you & boss plan for the next one. In this case, For the next period you slip in your “career development plans”. Which if met, means justification for a promotion.

        In the companies I worked for, HR also had to put their money where their mouth was, they signed off on PAs. If done well, in this case, HR won’t be an obstacle but a help. HR people don’t choose that for a career to hold people back. One core thing they love is career development which collectively means “development of human resources”. So in the development of your plan, your savvy boss will enlist the assistance in gaining its acceptance of an equally savvy HR rep who will gain job satisfaction from doing so.

        This sounds warm & fuzzy and idealist. But it’s not. As I said, you & boss having a nice chat between the 2 of you is one thing. Having a written and duly approved development plan is another. The former is talk, the latter commits the boss & the company/HR. Should your boss leave or get run over by a beer truck..the commitment doesn’t depart with that boss and the new one buys the farm. Same scenario where you find yourself with a new boss via reorgs.

        As a manager, administering within some comp plans can be difficult as it is. Waiting until someone is red lined and then trying to do something about it is insane. Teaming up with someone to head it off takes some time & attention but is SO much easier that trying to fight the system. There are risks as with anything. One result is you may see along with me, that promotion is not too likely given what we have to work with. And we’ll have to face a fact that you may have to let the market promote you. Or not.

        • Don, yes and no – like any good story, the plot line has twists.

          The previous manager I mentioned wasn’t my hiring manager. I started reporting to him about 9-10 months in. The person I initially reported to may have had some issues in assessing skill levels. I don’t call him my hiring manager because it turns out many new employees here accept offers with no idea who will be their initial manager – it might not even be someone they interviewed with.

          Yes, that’s a red flag. And there were others – I got a case of “hire’s remorse” between accepting the offer and starting. But there were reasons I still took the job.

          I’ve stuck with it for four years now – mainly because getting a new job would require dealing with the rampant age discrimination in tech. And in those four years, I have yet to really comprehend system here so I can work it.

          There are nominally structured levels like in your RIGID example, but the differences in skills/duties/abilities between the levels are not really defined – or applied when they are defined. (E.g., the panic promotions I’d mentioned – and in that case at least a couple people used their new titles to leverage jobs at other companies.) It may boil down to executive favoritism among the few people who are considered part of the family.

          I’ve just finished a successful project and my skip-level manager called me first to say thank you and then to ask that I take lead on another project that – while not part of our move-to-cloud strategy – affects several large customers responsible for significant revenue today.

          I have a week to decide. I’m going to make it a condition to ask what the salary ranges are for the next levels and to be put in the one my current salary would be at the bottom of. (The levels here aren’t sub-divided very deeply – there’s I, II, III, Senior (where I am), Staff, Senior Staff and Principal). I’m guessing I will be told that we don’t have hard salary ranges, but then I can retort with asking how I can be at the top of my range.

          Nick – this column has great synchronicity for me. Thanks!

    • Don Harkness. Some of what you say, I agree with. But to take the lower salary would be pure idiocy: you will never recover from that, never! The company will consider that your base salary FOREVER. The raise you forecast, the next year? will only get you 3% closer to what you were worth the previous year. (This concept of proving yourself is PURE BULL from HR.) Better advice is to stick with the top of the top range, plus 20%. So that puts you in the next category, SE 4? Good. Then you ask for the top of the top of the SE 4 salary range. And if they have to create a SE 5 or SE 6 or SE20 position description, so be it. Thei failure to plan should not be allowed to diminish your salary today or tomorrow or 20 years from now.

      NOTE: readers should get a piece of graph paper and graph this out, then measure the ADDITIONAL cash in you will receive over the rest of your career!

      Now, at the top of the top of the company’s range, (since you have been looking all along, you change jobs! Since your salary is now at a legitimate high point. This is the time to jump ship, NOT BEFORE your next raise. Chart this out on your graph. Then repeat; repeat; repeat.

      An aside: to even consider loyalty to a vicious, greedy, dishonest employer if foolish. And ALL employers are such.

      On your graph, chart out where you will be using your current approach – accept whatever the company decides to offer, or demand the top of the top, even a “new position” title and salary, jump ship ASAP as you get these, you get the higher sign on bonuses, etc. and do it again every 2? years and see where you come out on your salary hart!!!!!

  8. @Don Harkness: Some powerful insights from a corporate warrior. Thanks, Don! Two of my favorites:

    “HR executes (to what definition of the word works for you). They work for the CEO/Board. They are executing Corporate, NOT HR Policy. So how you are being treated has a straight line to the Executive Team & Board and the buck stops there, even if they are ignorant of said treatment. “

    In other words, It’s the Board, Stupid! When you see problems in management, and in HR in particular, it’s probably rooted way up at the top in the boardroom, where “we don’t get involved in icky stuff like HR…” And that’s the problem.

    “No you don’t want to enter a company at max for your role. You want to enter the company at the min for the next level up & make your case there.”

    This may be some of the best, most strategic advice for any job seeker. Don is telling you to think ahead. WAY ahead!

  9. Whatever, HR is doing you evil. Like the Russian sergeant currently on trial for war crimes in the Ukraine, pleading that he was ordered to shoot two civilians in the back. He is liable for life imprisonment. HR is being paid, and paid well, a lot of them get more than the producers in their employer’s company receive. Most people don’t know that!!! My wife’s employer, when she retired, HR told her that she had zero retirement. Four years later, after an unrelated lawsuit that cost the university millions, they decided that she did, after all have a retirement. Strange coincidence, not.

    NEVER TRJUST TO ANY EXTENT HR – THEY ARE YOUR MORTAL ENEMY AND WILL TELL ANY LIE THAT THEY CAN CONJUR UP TO DECEIVE AND CHEAT YOU ! ! !

  10. Wes, you misunderstood, or I didn’t make it clear. The salary I suggested would not be lower. It would be the same or higher. At the next level up in the pecking order. The low end of the higher level would overlap the high end of the level below. Being at the low quartile of the higher level means there’d be plenty of daylight to grow that salary over the next few years.
    And your point about starting salary is one I meant to make. Starting salary is Very important ..relative to where you land in a salary range. Because you’re going to live with it. Start high in a range & you’ll top out fast. Hence start low in a higher level position and give yourself some growth space.

    • Thank you. I do agree with you. HOWEVER, on day one of this new job, begin looking, using your new title, salary whatever. (I am not saying reveal your new salary.) And use jb offers to leverage higher position, title, benefits, salary, everything.DO NOW worry about being labeled a job hopper – you DO NOT intend to stay at any company that will not keep your salary current to where it should be. BTW, annual reviews are a scheme to keep ALL payroll costs low as possible. YOU are concerned with YOU, not the whole world. Tell them that. I tell them that in a friendly manner; “I am not concerned about the review the company scheduled six months from now; I am concerned with my salary right now!” It works, they understand, and it is a semi-veiled threat to quit but very indirect, but with the emphasis on NOW. HR, amazingly, has respond very positively to this approach. I should have patented it.

  11. Two questions I have here:

    1. Why is anyone surprised at record profits? Given the current environment we are in should this come as a shock to anyone? People keep talking about ‘capitalism’ all over the internet; well, this is what you get under ‘capitalism’, duh.

    2. Why are you assuming that these are real profits? It could be just an accounting game for all we know.

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