How your old boss can cost you a new job

In the April 15, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader worries about how much “notice time” is enough when quitting a job:

I’m a licensed professional working in a small firm. During lean years a few years ago, my boss arranged for me to do some other work so that he wouldn’t have to lay me off. I even did some dog and house sitting for him. So we are close. Nonetheless, now it’s time for me to move on. I will not consider a counter-offer or any back-and-forth negotiations.

I’ve heard my boss say that if anyone leaves the firm, he’d like a month or two notice. I’ve read your thoughts on this, and I agree a long notice is a bad idea — potentially a trap for being abused during the transition period, and who would wait one or two month’s for a new employee to start work? Frankly, I’m hoping to give two weeks’ notice and to take a third week for vacation between jobs.

When I leave, I’ll do all I can to leave my desk in good shape for my replacement, but the firms I’m interviewing with will want me to start quickly. Is there a good way to go about this?

Nick’s Reply

Your boss’s wishes are one thing. Reality is another. As you’ve clearly realized, your own career safety is paramount, no matter how friendly you feel toward your current employer. Your old boss can cost you your new job.

quittingHere’s the message you need to deliver to your boss when — and only when — you have a bona fide, written job offer in hand and you’ve accepted it and have a firm start date:

How to Say It
I’m afraid i It’s time for me to move on. I’ve accepted a job at a firm where I can continue growing my career in directions that are important to me. I’d like to give you two weeks’ notice. Of course, I will devote that time to helping organize my work to facilitate the transition to someone new – anything you need.”
[Note: I’ve modified this suggestion thanks to a comment from GEM below.]

Stop there. Your boss may not ask for more time. Or, it’s unlikely but I’ve seen it happen, he may ask you to leave immediately. (There’s no guessing at how an employer will react, so plan for the worst.)

If he presses you to stay for more time, try this:

How to Say It
“I wish I could do more, but in today’s economy no company I’ve talked with permits the kind of transition time I’d like to give you. My job offer is contingent on a quick start date.”

Don’t complain and don’t explain in any more detail. Do the right thing within the constraints you have. And let your old employer deal with the rest. Don’t let him turn your business with your new employer into his business. Don’t fool around with requesting an extension on the start date for your new job. The answer might be a withdrawn offer. (Be sure you’re Starting a job on the right foot.)

Again, be prepared to be shown the door immediately if your boss gets upset. (Now I’ll shock you a bit: If you have personal belongings in your desk, get them out before you announce your plans.)

There’s a standard for doing the right thing, and that’s two weeks’ notice. I know it sounds cold, but you don’t owe anyone any more, even if they cut you a break during hard times. If you want to try to return that favor, do it in a way that won’t cause problems at your new job. Offer to recommend a candidate for the job, if you can. Offer to help write the job description and to help interview applicants during your notice period. Offer to work late during those two weeks, if necessary. (The guy did you a solid; do one for him to the extent you can.)

Part friends if you can. And when you get that new job offer, remember that there is no sure thing. I wish you the best.

What do you owe your employer when it’s time to move on? I’m sure you have more ideas and even some personal policies. Should this reader try to extend the start date at a new job?

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Make the employer WANT to raise your job offer

In the March 4, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks how to negotiate a higher job offer. But this is more than our normal Q&A column.

I recently had a rapid-fire e-mail exchange with a reader who was trying to get a low offer raised. This is not an easy thing to accomplish, and employers often decline. More important, the applicant usually doesn’t know how to justify a higher figure. I think it’s worth printing the entire exchange, rather than just a Q&A. I hope you find the details of this give and take interesting and helpful.

Question
raise-the-anteNick: People must drive you crazy but I do not know who else to reach out to in this situation. I got a job offer today for an attorney position. I was really excited, and then I heard the offer. It was so low. They were looking for an attorney with five years experience, whereas I have 28. Even for five years, I thought the offer was low. I knew I would have to take less money, but not this much less. So how much do I counter with? 10% more, 20% more? I am terrible at these things. Thanks so much for your advice!

Nick’s Reply

Congrats on the offer. Now you must decide, first of all, whether you want this job so much that you would, in the end, accept the offer as it stands. Would you?

I’ll say more once you reply. But that’s the main question you must answer — yes or no to the existing number — because odds are they will not raise it. But they might. I’ll respond with advice once you answer my question.

Reader’s Response
Yes, I would take the low offer as it stands. My bank account is dwindling and I have little choice. It’s better to have a job when looking for another, than none at all. I just don’t know how to make the suggestion for more money. Thank you!

Nick’s Reply

It’s entirely up to you to decide how much you want, but being willing to accept the existing offer gives you a special kind of leverage. I’m not suggesting a person can negotiate a better deal only if they’re willing to settle for what’s offered. But let me explain how you can exploit this situation to your advantage. There is something you can say to make the employer want to raise the offer.

You see, there are two things that are often more important to an employer than money: Your level of motivation and your commitment. Put those on the table, and you have leverage.

(Note to readers: Sometimes, it’s best to turn down that job offer if it’s very low — but this reader has made a decision to accept it. I don’t make judgments when people need to put food on the table. My objective is to help raise the offer to any extent we can.)


This advice is reprinted from Fearless Job Hunting, Book 9: Be The Master of Job Offers, pp. 8-9:

There’s a very powerful way to negotiate for more money that will not compromise your rapport with the employer — if you’ve already decided you’re willing to live with the original offer. Here’s How to Say It:

“Thanks for your offer. I’m ready to accept it, but I’d like to discuss the salary first. [For reasons A, B and C…], I believe I’m worth $2,000 more than you’re offering. But I don’t want you to misunderstand: This is not a large difference, and I have already decided I want this job. To show you my good faith, I’ll accept your offer as it is. But I’d like to respectfully ask you to consider raising it by $2,000, for the reasons I’ve cited. I’m glad to discuss how you see this, and whether you agree. But either way, I want to work here, and I’m ready to start work in two weeks.”

That’s a very powerful negotiating position to take, because you’ve made a commitment and a concession. Now you’re asking the employer for the same.

I don’t know any negotiation technique that takes this approach, probably because most negotiators don’t start with the plan of accepting the original offer. The upside of this approach is that it can still lead to a higher offer, but without jeopardizing the position you’ve already attained… By making a commitment to the company first, you establish a level of credibility that may strengthen your negotiating position. You must judge the trade-off in your particular situation.

This Q&A is excerpted from Fearless Job Hunting, Book 9: Be The Master of Job Offers, which includes these sections:

  • The company rescinded the offer!
  • Non-Compete: Did I really agree to that?
  • Am I unwise to accept their first offer?
  • Can I use salary surveys to goose up the offer?
  • The bird-in-the-hand rule of job offers
  • Juggling job offers
  • Give us the pay stub
  • Vacation Time: What’s good for the goose
  • How do I decide between two offers?
  • How to decline an offer
  • Does a counter-offer include pay-back?
  • Am I stuck with this non-compete agreement?
  • How do I ensure the job offer matches the job?
  • How to avoid a “bait and switch” job offer

Reader’s Response
I read Be The Master of Job Offers, then I called the guy and asked for more money. I phrased it as, “I hope you have some flexibility…” and asked for 7.5% more. He did not think that was unreasonable, and said he agreed with that but had to check with management and will get back to me quickly! I think it will work out. It is still not close to what I was making, but I am happier with this number. Things have changed drastically for millions of people in the last few years and it is what you do in the present that matters. My goal is to not look back but forward. Thank you so much, Nick, for all your help and your empowering book.

Nick’s Reply

You’re welcome. You made my day. Something told me you’d at least try something from the book — and those are the people I do this for. Whatever happens, you took a stand and you made a sound effort. My compliments. I hope it all works out for the best for you.

Reader’s Response
Hey, Nick, just an update! As you know, I asked for more money and they came back today with just a bit less than 7.5% and I took the job. So, not anything close to what I used to make, but I got more because I asked, so I feel good! Once again, I cannot thank you enough for all your wisdom, the book, and your support.

Note from Nick

more-moneyNot every negotiation for more money succeeds. But knowing how to leverage any advantage you have — even if it’s the stark fact that you need that job — can make the difference between no increase and something more. It’s usually difficult to think straight when an offer is on the table and the pressure is on. But as this reader has shown, an effective request can pay off!

By making the commitment she was ready to make anyway — to accept the job — the reader made it much easier for the employer to raise the offer simply because she asked. Commitment and motivation are two things that are often more important to an employer than money. (These are two of the cornerstones of How Can I Change Careers?) You can always use them to strengthen your negotiating position.

Have you ever convinced an employer to raise a job offer? How’d you do it? What other methods would you have suggested to this reader? If you’re an employer, please tell us what influences the final offers you make. Join us on the blog!

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4 Fearless Job Hunting Tips

In the November 26, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, there’s no Q&A. Instead…

autumn-leaf1I normally take a break during Thanksgiving week and skip publishing an edition of the newsletter so that I can cook, bake, and fill the larder with goodies for Thursday. But I’m cooking up something different for you with this edition. Rather than normal Q&A, I’d like to share four tips from the latest Ask The Headhunter publications. If you find something useful in them, I’ll be glad.

The idea behind the new Fearless Job Hunting books is that finding a job is not about prescribed steps. It’s not about following rules. In fact, job hunting is such an over-defined process that there are thousands of books and articles about how to do it — and the methods are all the same.

What all those authors conveniently ignore is that the steps don’t work. If they did, every resume would get you an interview, which would in turn produce a job offer and a job.

But we all know that doesn’t happen. The key to successful job hunting is knowing how to deal with the handful of daunting obstacles that stop other job hunters dead in their tracks. Here are some excerpts from Fearless Job Hunting — and if you decide you’d like to study these methods in more detail, I invite you to take 20% off your purchase price by using discount code=GOBBLE. (This offer is limited until the end of the holiday weekend.)

4 Fearless Job Hunting Tips

You just lost your job and your nerves are frayed. Please — take a moment to put your fears aside. Think about the implications of the choices you make. Consider the obstacles you encounter in your job search.

FJH-11. Don’t settle

From Fearless Job Hunting Book 1: Jump-Start Your Job Search, p. 4, The myth of the last-minute job search:

When you’re worried about paying the rent, it seems that almost any job will do. Taking the first offer that comes along could be your biggest mistake. It’s also one of the most common reasons people go job hunting again soon — they settle for a wrong job, rather than select the right one.

Start Early: Research the industry you want to work in. Learn what problems and challenges it faces. Then, identify the best company in that industry. (Why settle for less? Why join a company just because it wants you? Join the one you want.)

Study the company, establish contacts, learn the business, and build expertise. Rather than being just a hunter for any job, learn to be the solution to one company’s problems. That’s what gets you hired, because such dedication and focus makes you stand out.

2. Scope the community

From Fearless Job Hunting Book 3: Get In The Door (way ahead of your competition), p. 6, It’s the people, Stupid:

FJH-3You could skip the resume submission step completely, but if it makes you feel good, send it in. Then forget about it.

More important is that you start to understand the place where you want to work. This means you must start participating in the community and with people who work in the industry you want to be a part of.

Every community has a structure and rules of navigation. Figure this out by circulating. Go to a party. Go to a professional conference or training program. Attend cultural and social events that require milling around with other people (think museums, concerts, churches). It’s natural to ask people you meet for advice and insight about the best companies in your industry. But don’t limit yourself to people in your own line of work.

The glue that holds industries together includes lawyers, accountants, bankers, real estate brokers, printers, caterers and janitors. Use these contacts to identify members of the community you want to join, and start hanging out with them.

3. Avoid a salary cut

From Fearless Job Hunting Book 7: Win The Salary Games (long before you negotiate an offer), p. 9: How can I avoid a salary cut?

FJH-7Negotiating doesn’t have to be done across an adversarial table — and it should not be done over the phone. You can sit down and hash through a deal like partners. Sometimes, candor means getting almost personal. Check the How to Say It box for a suggestion:

How to Say It
“If I take this job, we’re entering into a sort of marriage. Our finances will be intertwined. So, let’s work out a budget — my salary and your profitability — that we’re both going to be happy with for years down the road. If I can’t show you how I will boost the company’s profitability with my work, then you should not hire me. But I also need to know that I can meet my own budget and my living expenses, so that I can focus entirely on my job.”

It might seem overly candid, but there’s not enough candor in the world of business. A salary negotiation should be an honest discussion about what you and the employer can both afford.

4. Know what you’re getting into

From Fearless Job Hunting Book 8: Play Hardball With Employers, p. 23: Due Diligence: Don’t take a job without it:

FJH-8I think the failure to research and understand one another is one of the key reasons why companies lay off employees and why workers quit jobs. They have no idea what they’re getting into until it’s too late. Proper due diligence is extensive and detailed. How far you go with it is up to you.

Research is a funny thing. When it’s part of our job, and we get paid to do it, we do it thoroughly because we don’t want our judgments to appear unsupported by facts and data. When we need to do research for our own protection, we often skip it or we get sloppy. We “trust our instincts” and make career decisions by the seat of our pants.

When a company uses a headhunter to fill a position, it expects [a high level] of due diligence to be performed on candidates the headhunter delivers. If this seems to be a bit much, consider that the fee the company pays a headhunter for all this due diligence can run upwards of $30,000 for a $100,000 position. Can you afford to do less when you’re judging your next employer?

Remember that next to our friends and families, our employers represent the most important relationships we have. Remember that other people who have important relationships with your prospective employer practice due diligence: bankers, realtors, customers, vendors, venture capitalists and stock analysts. Can you afford to ignore it?

* * *

Thanks to all of you for your contributions to this community throughout the year. Have you ever settled for the wrong job, or failed to scope out a work community before accepting a job? Did you get stuck with a salary cut, or with a surprise when you took a job without doing all the necessary investigations? Let’s talk about it! And have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

If you purchase a book,
take 20% off by using discount code=GOBBLE
(This offer is limited until the end of the holiday weekend.)

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Top 10 Stupid Interview Questions: #6 – #10

In the November 18, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks about the rest of the stupid inteview questions… In the November 5 edition we discussed the first five of The Top 10 Stupid Interview Questions. (There are of course lots more than 10, but who’s counting?) Let’s recap the reader’s question, then tackle #6 – #10.

I am preparing for an interview with one of the big consulting firms, and I thought I would send you some sample interview questions that I retrieved from the Internet. (The article provided answers, too, but I thought they were ridiculous.) How would you advise answering these questions? Any help is appreciated. Here goes:

  1. Tell me about yourself.
  2. Why do you want to work here?
  3. stupid-questions-moreWhy did you leave your last job? (Or, Why do you want to leave your current company?)
  4. What are your best skills?
  5. What is your major weakness?
  6. Do you prefer to work by yourself or with others?
  7. What are your career goals? (Or, What are your future plans?)
  8. What are your hobbies? (Or, Do you play any sports?)
  9. What salary are you expecting?
  10. What have I forgotten to ask?

Nick’s Reply

6. Do you prefer to work by yourself or with others?

Gimme a break. If you hire me, I’m working with you, right?

Clearly, the purpose of the question is to assess whether you are a solitary type who prefers to avoid interacting with other people. Like you’re going to fess up if you’ve got asocial tendencies… In any case, if you take a guess and tell the interviewer what you think he wants to hear, you might be wrong. Worse, you risk getting a job that’s wrong for you.

I think the best answer to this question is an offer.

How to Say It: “I’d like to offer to come in for half a day to show you how I’d do this job. Perhaps that would involve shadowing another team member, or working alone, or participating in a group work meeting. I’m happy to invest the time, so you can see how I work, and so I can experience first-hand how you and your team work together.”

What’s not to like about such a direct assessment, where everyone can relax, forget about silly questions, and actually do some work? (Caution: Don’t let this turn into you doing lots of free work!) You’ll learn lots more about this approach in Fearless Job Hunting Book 6 – The Interview: Be The Profitable Hire.

7. What are your career goals? (Or, What are your future plans?)

“My long-term goal is to chuck it all, become a sailor, and sail around the world with my schnauzer. Do you like dogs and boats? If not, I suppose you won’t hire me.”

You could also try this:

How to Say It: “My goal for the foreseeable future is to help you increase your revenues and/or reduce your costs, and to improve your profit line by doing a better job than anyone else you could hire. I’m not perfect, but I’m determined. Let me explain how I’d do these things in this job…”

8. What are your hobbies? (Or, Do you play any sports?)

This is the proverbial loaded question — and most “experts” advise avoiding it because any answer may turn off the interviewer depending on what her interests are. (I’ve seen people rejected because they play golf and the manager recently blew a game.)

If the employer pays close attention to your answer and seems to be extrapolating from your hobbies — using some look-up table that explains what it really means when you say you like to read in your spare time — to decide whether you’d be a good hire, then this question is the least of your problems.

Your hobbies are no one’s business. But don’t lose the interview over this one. My advice: Tell the truth and damn the torpedoes. If the employer can’t deal with your interests and won’t hire you because of what you do in your spare time, to heck with her because she’s going to micro-manage you.

Everyone thinks they’re a psychologist. Thank you, Dr. Phil.

9. What salary are you expecting?

If an employer asks you this question instead of, “What’s your current salary?” you’re probably dealing with a smart employer. Smart employers don’t care what you’re making now, because they can figure out for themselves what you’re worth to their business — and that’s what they’re going to offer you, no matter what you made last year.

Show your respect and your own intelligence like this:

How to Say It: “Every good job is dynamic — it evolves and changes quickly. Let’s discuss what I’d be doing day one, week one, month one and by the end of one year — the actual work, the tasks, the deliverables. Then we can discuss how, and perhaps how much, I can add to your bottom line. That’s how I expect to come up with a salary range that I think represents my value, in terms of what I could bring to your bottom line.” (For more about how to handle salary topics in interviews, see Fearless Job Hunting Book 7: Win The Salary Games (long before you negotiate an offer).)

10. What have I forgotten to ask?

How to Say It: “You didn’t ask me the single most important question in an interview: How am I going to do this job profitably for your company? If I can’t demonstrate my ability to do that, you shouldn’t hire me.”

End of interview.

Now I’ll repeat what I said in the first installment of “The Top 10 Stupid Interview Questions”:

If you memorize these answers and use them, you’re a dope. (No offense.) Every person, every employer, ever interview, every situation is different. Use the answers I provided as a spark to get you thinking in the right direction. Preparing your own actual answers will require an immense amount of work on your part, for every single job you interview for. The details will be different in every case.

One more note: Never take anyone’s advice about your job search, including mine. At best, leaven your own approach with something you’ve learned here — but make it your own, make sure you’re comfortable with anything you say or do, and never, ever, ever complain that you blew it because you did what Nick told you to do… :-)

Remember that giving the “right” answers is not the point. That could lead to a job offer for a job that’s totally wrong for you. You don’t want to just succeed in the interview; you want to succeed in getting the right job. And some interviews reveal lousy jobs that you should walk away from.

The key to the ATH approach is figuring out the connection between the work you do and the profit you can add to a business. Without that, your answers to interview questions don’t matter.

I hope you find my suggestions useful.

How do you answer the top 10 interview questions (stupid or otherwise)? What makes your interviews work — and when and how have you failed?

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Ask questions. Be likeable. Get hired.

In the October 22, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader tries to keep everybody happy in the job interview:

I was wondering what to say when asked, “Do you have any questions?” when you’re seeing many different people from the same company during a day’s interviews. Most of the questions I have could be addressed by any of the interviewers.

I’ve tried coming up with as many questions as possible and asking one per person, or just asking the same questions over and over and pretending to be fascinated when I hear the same explanation the sixth time. But I’m not sure which one is right. I either seem like I don’t have many questions, or I’ll seem insincere if the interviewers compare notes.

Nick’s Reply

any-questionsYour questions about the work might all be the same, but if you frame the questions to allow each interviewer to discuss his or her perspective about the work, you will learn a lot, and your questions will not seem gratuitous.

If you want to send an interviewer (or all eight of them) into rapturous mental contractions, you need ask only one question:

“I’m curious. What brought you here, to this job?”

People love to talk about themselves. When you encourage them to do that, they will feel closer to you and they will be more likely to judge you as a “better candidate” because you let them talk about themselves.

Does that sound a bit glib? It’s not, if you really want the answer.

“I’m curious. What have been the greatest challenges you’ve faced in your own job?”

People love to talk about their successes. Help them do that, and you will learn a great deal. The more they talk, the more they will perceive you as being interested in their work. And that raises their estimation of you.

These suggestions stem from one of the fun facts from the world of psychology: When someone shows an interest in us, we tend to like them.

I’m not trying to teach you tricks; just a simple interpersonal skill. The key, I believe, is to ask intelligent questions that keep the interview focused on the work. Lots of intelligent questions about the work start out as questions about the interviewer. Take advantage of that.

What do you ask employers during job interviews? While ability to do the work should be an employer’s #1 concern, likeability ranks high as a reason employers make a hire.

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Should you disclose your salary history to a headhunter?

In the July 30, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader frets about disclosing her salary information to a headhunter (and to an employer):

I am a great fan of your newsletter and just read your guides, Keep Your Salary Under Wraps, How to Work with Headhunters, and How Can I Change Careers?, so I suppose I already know your answer to my question.

I recently had an initial interview with a recruiter to discuss my interests and to find out about the recruiting company. After discussing everything, there was this dreaded, but rather expected, question regarding my current salary. I advised that it is private and confidential, just like the hiring manager’s salary. I know that recruiters and employers will still ask for my salary history, but that does not make it right. I want to make sure I am considered for the role. Is there a better way or another way I can protect myself?

Nick’s Reply

shhhWe have discussed the importance of protecting your salary history on Ask The Headhunter before, but it’s worth talking about it again from time to time. Clearly, you already have the answer to your question. Just because recruiters and employers keep insisting and pretending you must hand over your salary information doesn’t mean you must keep coming up with new ways to answer them. The same polite but firm response, even if repeated again and again, is the best you can do without compromising yourself.

In How to Work With Headhunters there’s a section where I discuss how to handle the salary history question when a headhunter asks it. This is quite different from when an employer asks the question. It can be beneficial to share your salary history with the headhunter if you trust him or her completely. In a moment, I’ll share an excerpt from the book and tell you How to say it and how to protect yourself.

First I’ll give you a warning: Keeping your salary confidential can lead some employers (and recruiters) to stop the interview process. So you must decide how to deal with this risk. I strongly believe the right approach is to withhold salary history, even if it costs you a job opportunity, simply because sharing your old salary will almost always result in a lower job offer. But you must decide if that’s a level of risk you are willing to accept. Never take anyone’s advice as gospel — even mine — if you are not comfortable with it.

When an employer asks for salary history

After you decline to reveal your salary to an employer, it’s up to you to shift the discussion to support your position. It’s not going to buy you anything to say No without helping the employer assess your value.

How to Say It
“I’d like to help you assess what I am worth to you with respect to this job. If you’d like to lay out a live problem you’d want me to tackle if you hired me, I’ll show you how I’d go about it. If I can’t show you how I’d do this job profitably, then you should not hire me. But I think you’ll be pleased. Can you lay out a live problem or challenge that’s part of the job?”

This might be as simple as working through a live problem in the interview, or it might mean spending half a day shadowing the manager or someone on the team. I find that when managers see such motivation and willingness to work together during the selection process, they drop the silly demand for salary history in favor of an actual demonstration of your value.

Again, you must decide for yourself how to handle each situation, because standing firm may cost you some opportunities. That’s a problem not just for you, but also for the employer, because your past salary has nothing to do with the job at hand — it’s your ability to do the work that’s the question. Too many HR people avoid the work of thorough assessment by using some other employer’s judgment of a candidate’s value — the old salary.

(For in-depth discussion of salary tactics, see Fearless Job Hunting, Book 7: Win The Salary Games (long before you negotiate an offer.)

When a headhunter asks for salary history

While a headhunter’s first duty is to the client who is paying the fee, a headhunter’s livelihood depends on being able to place lots of candidates and on getting good referrals from those candidates for future assignments. A good headhunter would never compromise a candidate’s satisfaction just to close a deal. It’s far better to have lots of very happy placements who refer lots more great candidates than to selfishly talk a candidate into a lower salary. A good headhunter’s reputation and future earnings depend on doing right by both the client company and the candidate. It’s a delicate balancing act, but every good headhunter can do it.

So, assuming you’re working with a good headhunter, here’s what to say when she requests your salary history. This is an excerpt from How to Work With Headhunters, which provides more elaborate advice if you need it (including about how to judge headhunters):

How to Say It
“My policy is not to divulge my salary for the simple reason that it could adversely  affect a job offer. I am willing to walk away from any opportunity if that’s a deal  breaker. No offense intended. I may be willing to divulge my salary to you under two  conditions. First, you would have to agree not to divulge it to your client. That’s up to  you. Second, — and I say this respectfully — you would have to show me how it would benefit my career to tell you what I earn now.”

A good headhunter will have good answers for you and respect your position, even if she disagrees with you. If the headhunter hems and haws and chants excuses and rationalizations, then she cannot work with you candidly and cooperatively, and my advice is to move on to another headhunter or another opportunity.

Do you disclose your salary to headhunters? What’s the effect? Have you missed out on opportunities by withholding your salary? How do you manage headhunters?

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Am I unwise to accept their first offer?

In the June 18, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter worries about asking for more money:

My dream position with my dream company has just come through! The offer is good — a bit lower than I would have liked, but very good. My question is this: Do I even bother haggling over a couple thousand dollars?

I read somewhere that you should always go through at least one round of salary negotiations and that the employer actually expects it. I think I have a very good chance of getting what I ask for (especially because it’s such a small amount), but I don’t want to risk coming off as ungracious or rude.

Truly, if they don’t budge an inch, I’m still taking the job. Is it worth negotiating, or should I just accept?

Nick’s Reply

you_are_hiredI believe in enjoying happiness and not worrying whether other people think you’ve been given enough of it. Who cares what others say about “one round of salary negotiations?” If you’re happy with the offer, accept it and thank the company.

Some companies make their offer, and that’s it — they won’t budge. This company might be willing to negotiate, but you must consider what happens if they don’t. If they balk at the extra two grand, then you’re going to look weak coming back and saying, “Well, okay, then I’ll take what you offered anyway.” It says something about your request: You couldn’t justify it. And what does that say about your credibility? Remember: You’re going to work with these people. How you handle negotiations can affect how they will view you — and treat you — once you’re on board.

If the extra money really means a lot to you, then go for it. Here’s an example of how I might approach it:

How to Say It

“I believe I’m worth $2,000 more than you’re offering. But please don’t misunderstand. This is not a large difference, and I have already decided I want this job. To show you my good faith, I’ll accept your offer as is. But I’d like to respectfully ask you to consider raising it by $2,000. There are three reasons why I believe I’m worth it… But either way, I’m ready to start work in two weeks.”

It’s your judgment call. If you try this, you’d better be ready to prove your added value. By making a commitment to the company first, you establish a level of credibility that goes beyond any negotiating position.

(Some people have a hard time thinking and talking about what salary they’re looking for. This may help: How to decide how much you want. You can’t negotiate or interview effectively unless you have an objective.)

Remember that the ultimate goal of negotiating a job is not to get every last dollar you can. It’s to set the groundwork for the best possible work relationship — which is not limited to money — for the long term. That’s why it might be better to accept an offer that you’re clearly pretty happy with, and plan for how you could get that extra couple thousand as part of your first raise when you have your first review.

Congratulations on winning a good offer for a job you really want. I hope all goes well!


An expanded version of this Q&A appears in

Fearless Job Hunting | Book 9: Be The Master of Job Offers

Be ready to deal with:
 Rescinded offers, non-competes, salary surveys, counter-offers, vacation time,
Bait-and-switch, oral vs. written offers, requests for old pay stubs


Post your comments!

Do you rely on a resume to get you in the door? Does it work? What do you think makes a hiring manager invite you for an interview?

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How should I quit this job?

In the May 21, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job applicant invests more than eight hours in interviews and asks why the employer acts like her time is free:

I currently work for a tiny family-run office and have just gotten a job offer elsewhere. It’s an offer I cannot refuse. I am feeling guilty because they have trained me and I am needed. How much notice should I give and what should be said (what information can be shared)?

I’ve been at this office less than one year, which may or may not make a difference. I would like to remain friendly, but I don’t want to get into a whole big dialogue about where I’m going, why, and so on.

And what about being paid for vacation time earned? Is is reasonable to ask about this?

Nick’s Reply

Congratulations. Some jobs end quickly, while others last years. But changing jobs is no different from a company doing a layoff — it’s business. Don’t make it personal. I admire your desire to keep it on good terms. But the first order of business is to protect yourself while you pull away from your old employer.

leaving-your-jobWe recently discussed a related question, Is it ethical to go on this job interview? Now let’s talk about how to quit when you feel kind of uncomfortable about it.

I’d ask HR about the vacation pay, but first I’d check with your state’s department of labor. Find out what your state requires of the employer.

I think offering two weeks’ notice is the right thing to do. Some companies want only one, some just want to make sure you train someone to do your job — or just that they know where your work flow is so nothing gets dropped. Some employers will walk you out the door immediately and ship your belongings to you later. So be careful. It might be best to gather what’s yours first, before you resign.

I’d never tell the employer where you are going next, but I’d tell them I’d be glad to share that once you are settled at your new job.

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

Some people quit a job without another to go to.

How to Say It: “I’m still considering where I’m going to take my next job. I’d be happy to call and tell you after I decide.”

That makes it easier. You don’t owe anyone the information. All you owe them is a smooth, friendly, responsible transition so your work flow is not disturbed at the old company. I find that when a departing employee gives that assurance from the start, the parting can be on very businesslike terms.

I wish you the best. Please keep in mind that my advice is based on the scant information you provided. You must use your judgment and decide which of my advice to use in your situation for the best outcome. (Finally, remember to hedge your bet just a little bit because There is no sure thing.)

What’s your best and worst departure story? And what are your tips to this reader?

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Beat The Salary Surveys: Get a higher job offer

In the February 19, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job applicant resists lower job offers “justified” with salary surveys:

I don’t like telling employers my salary history when they ask, and I know you advise to keep the information private. But I’m happy to tell an employer what salary range I expect. That way we’re all on the same page, or why bother having interviews? The problem is that employers sometimes gasp when you tell them you want more than an average salary. When they trot out a salary survey and tell me what I’m asking is too far on the high end, how do I say, “You should offer me more money?”

Nick’s Reply

Here’s the advice I offer in my PDF book Keep Your Salary Under Wraps:


If an employer cites a salary survey, ask to see the curve. Point to the leading edge of the curve, where the most unusual individuals are earning the highest salaries.

salary-curveHow to Say It
“I believe I’m on the leading edge of the curve. If I can’t prove that to you during our interviews, then you shouldn’t hire me. But please understand that I’m not looking for a job on the middle of the graph, this part of the curve.” [Point to the fat middle of the graph, where average workers earn average salaries.]

Your challenge is to demonstrate that your performance would indeed be at the leading edge of the curve.


I realize this borders on sounding cocky, but remember that if you don’t make your case in this meeting, you probably won’t get another chance. Be polite and respectful, but be firm. Your future compensation is on the line. Obviously, you must be prepared to justify what you can do that makes you worth a higher salary. There is no way around this. Employers don’t increase job offers just because people ask for more money. You have to give them good reasons based on what you will bring to the job. (You also must decide what is the minimum you will accept. This article will help you flesh that out: How to decide how much you want.)

This is where I call employers and human resources departments to task. While the job offers they make are often only mediocre at best, they claim they reward “thinking out of the box,” and that they are in the forefront of their industry. This is where they need to prove it. I suggest you politely (and perhaps quizzically) address the person you’re negotiating with.

How to Say It
“I’ve studied your company carefully, and I’m impressed at your philosophy. Your company prides itself on thinking and acting out of the box. That’s why I’d like to work here. Of course, out of the box is another way of saying on the edge of the curve. I’d like to show you how I can bring edge of the curve performance to the job — but of course that means edge of the curve compensation. If you will outline what you consider to be exceptional performance, I’ll try to show you how I will deliver.”

There is nothing easy about this. You must do your homework in advance. (For more details on this assertive approach, please see The Basics.) It’s important to open a serious discussion on salary. Companies, and HR departments especially, love to talk about how people are their most important asset. We all know that assets are cultivated so they’ll grow. We want to maximize their value. So we hire the best people, pay them the most, and cultivate them well so they’ll pay off, right?

Well, that’s not what happens when an employer insists on knowing your past salary so it can base a job offer on it. It’s hypocritical — and risky business. It’s how companies lose great candidates who won’t stand for average job offers.

But you can make an employer’s pretensions work for you, if you can be firm but diplomatic, emphatic but gentle, challenging but cooperative. My suggestion above is one way to do it.

Putting Ask The Headhunter to work usually requires saying something to someone to make it pay off. My suggestions about How to Say It are not the only way. There are many good ways to tell an employer that you want more money when you’re negotiating a better deal.

What do you do when you want more money? How would you say it — and what’s worked for you?

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Bait & Switch: Games staffing firms play

In the October 23, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter asks about bait-and-switch contracts used by “staffing” firms.

A recruiter at an IT staffing firm did something that I think is very unethical. I signed a contract with the firm to perform IT duties at a company where I successfully interviewed just days before. It specified the hourly pay and overtime.

I verbally negotiated the rate prior to signing the contract. Unfortunately, I did not ask for a copy of the contract. Yesterday, the recruiter asked me to sign more forms. There was a new contract, and a significant reduction in pay! The overtime was deleted and the pay was stated weekly instead of hourly.

When I pointed this out, the recruiter e-mailed that, “We lost the original contract.” I called the next morning, and the recruiter insisted I sign the new forms and said she would take care of my concerns. When I balked and declined to sign, she said they would redo the forms but it might be a day or two. Meanwhile, I’m supposed to start work tomorrow!

I find this utterly distasteful and unethical. I’m going to wait and see if the recruiter comes up with the correct terms before I contact the staffing account manager or the company I’m supposed to work for.

My question is, why are they stalling with the new contract? Why couldn’t it be immediately corrected? Maybe they are waiting to find something in my background check so they can report to the company that I am “unsuitable” for hire. Then, they can go out and find someone cheaper. What do you suggest?

Nick’s Reply

What you’re describing is, unfortunately, not uncommon in the IT “staffing” or “consulting” biz. (It’s not just the IT field that uses staffing firms.) These companies recruit and hire people, then “rent” them to their client companies at a profit. Things like this happen because overly-eager recruiters get excited when they find a candidate like you. They want to sign you up and assign you to a client, so they promise you a contract that’s to your liking. Later, the sales rep handling the account you’d be assigned to can’t get the rate the recruiter promised you — so the deal changes. It’s a classic bait-and-switch game.

It is crucial that you read everything before you sign, and make sure everything you negotiated is in the written contract.

No matter what you negotiated and they agreed to orally, what matters is what’s in the written contract. Make sure you get the counterpart of the contract — the copy they signed — and tell them you will not report to work until you receive it. Often, a firm will demand that you sign the contract, then they will “forget” to give you the copy they signed.

(For an insider’s look at staffing firms, see the Consulting Jobs Primer.)

The games some of these companies play are unethical — but they do it anyway. Your protection is to insist it’s in writing, and to politely but firmly decline to show up for work until the written contract is to your satisfaction.

But be careful. If you sign something without reading it carefully, and then you decide you want different terms, too late — you’re already committed. Be very, very careful. Good contracts make good working relationships.

One tactic they may use is to ignore your requests right up until the last minute, maybe the day you’re supposed to show up for work. This puts you on edge and makes you very nervous. You want the job, but you don’t want the terms. They figure you will cave to get the work, so they will push the envelope hard and far. Unless you have a history of good experiences with them, don’t believe anything until it’s in writing in your hands.

You may really need the job, but you must decide in advance whether you will accept lesser terms or such behavior. Then stay calm, don’t complain, don’t get angry. Just state your terms. Your overriding strategy must be to make yourself highly desirable or indispensable to the consulting firm. Make them need you. Then make your reasonable demands calmly and firmly. Then let them decide, and let them reveal whether they are honest and have integrity.

You’re doing the right thing. This can be risky, but you must decide your tolerance for such risk: If they want to play the last-minute game, you can play, too. Just know what you’re doing in advance, and let this play itself out. If they don’t give you the contract you agreed to, then stop working with them. They’re not honest.

Be careful if you go to the actual employer to discuss this. Do not say nasty things about the firm. Be businesslike. It can be as simple as this:

How to Say It

“I enjoyed meeting with you, and I’d like to work on your team. However, I’m not happy with the way the consulting firm has handled the facts of the project. Is there another consulting firm you use that you respect? Can you recommend someone there that I can talk to?”

Not all companies will answer you — they get nervous. They may even have a contract with the staffing firm that prohibits them from discussing this with you. But you must decide whether integrity is important enough to kill a deal. In the end, you may need to meet a new staffing firm, and a good way to do that is to talk with a company where you’d like to work, and inquire which staffing firm they use. There are some very good staffing firms out there: Get a personal introduction to them, and learn to igore the rest. Get a personal introduction.

As more companies try to avoid the fixed overhead of staff, they’re going to look to hire “on contract.” Do you see this trend in your own business? Have your experiences with staffing firms been good or bad? What would you do in a situation like this? What methods do you use to avoid problems and to get a good deal from staffing firms?

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