Should I accept a job offer with a salary cut?

Should I accept a job offer with a salary cut?

In the February 25, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader asks whether it’s possible to recover after accepting a job offer with a salary cut.

Question

salary cutI’ve been unemployed for six weeks. Was earning around $120K. Have been offered a position at $85K and, quite frankly, I need the money. Even more important, I recognize that my self-esteem is too bound up in my career: I need to work for more than just the money. Am seriously considering accepting this lower offer, because I believe these folks cannot afford to pay more. Will my chances of negotiating another position at a higher salary be irrevocably damaged if I accept a salary cut? Advice, please, and thanks in advance.

Nick’s Reply

You’re facing an important decision, and you need to be sure you are balancing the key issues. How long can you afford to go without a job? If you accept this offer, how much time will you be able to devote to continuing your search for one that pays better? Will being under-employed versus unemployed affect your self-esteem?

(And consider this: Is it possible to get more money out of a company that “cannot afford to pay more?” We’ll get to that at the end.)

What’s your objective?

I could easily tell you not to give in yet, and that it would be smarter to continue your search until you find a job where the pay is more in line with what you’re accustomed to. Six weeks is not a long time to find the right job. But being able to pay the bills is just as big a consideration. You could borrow to meet expenses until you find something better — but how would that affect your motivation and effectiveness in interviews?

These are very personal questions that only you can answer, and I think they are more relevant at this point than the main question you’ve asked: Will a salary cut damage your ability to win a higher salary later? While it might seem penny-wise and pound foolish to focus on the short-term problem (paying the bills), there’s something to be said for surviving today so you can stay in the game.

It’s important to think about what your objective really is.

Why a salary cut?

In today’s business climate, radical corporate restructurings and the outsourcing of jobs to “consulting firms” seem to be killing wages and salaries. While economists consider it a minor footnote and blow it off, stagnant wage growth tells us something is very wrong. Seemingly low unemployment suggests pay should be going up — but it’s not. This is for another discussion, but it seems the U.S. Department of Labor may be misrepresenting the impacts of masses of uncounted people who are returning to the labor market. I could make the argument that there is no talent or labor shortage; that in fact, we’re in an unprecedented talent glut. That’s why employers think they can hire you even with a salary cut.

There are a lot of good people on the street. Some employers are capitalizing on this by hiring great workers cheap. But this is no more of an ethical problem than you accepting a low-paying job while continuing your job search — and then quitting for a job with more pay.

(Is it ever worth taking a salary cut, other than because you need the money? I see one possible benefit, if you look at it as a re-tooling investment. A lower-paying job might be the price you pay for an opportunity to gain a foothold in a new field or business, and to learn new skills.)

Are good salaries dead?

While some employers are buying talent at a discount, others are smarter. They don’t assume that because you took a pay cut at your last job, you’re now worth less. They see an opportunity to land a great new employee who might not have been available to them otherwise at any price. (See Dr. Dawn Graham’s insightful article: The Salary Negotiation Mistake That’s Costing You.)

I know one very rare HR manager whose policy is to offer candidates what they’re really worth. If they are truly under-paid, she helps get their compensation back on track, and earns the new hire’s loyalty. Good salaries are not dead. (See Why employers should make higher job offers.)

So, no, I don’t think your chances for more money will be irrevocably damaged — not unless you become complacent. You must continue your job search if you take this lower-paying job. If you stay in the $85K job too long, you could indeed hurt yourself long-term.

Encourage better job offers

As you continue to search while newly employed, you must learn how to negotiate from a position of strength — even if the employer says it “cannot afford to pay more.”

  • Never disclose what your current salary is. It’s none of their business. An employer will always use your current salary to negotiate against you. See We need to know your salary because —.
  • Ask the employer what the salary range is before you agree to interview. Don’t fall into the trap of interviewing for jobs that won’t pay enough. You’re likely to rationalize accepting another low salary simply because you invested so much time in it.
  • Assess the value you could add to any new job you’re considering. Can you do it faster, more efficiently, more profitably than the employer expects? Couch your salary expectations in terms of what you will bring to the employer’s bottom line. Be ready to explain it.
  • Choose higher-paying jobs and, for each one, prepare a mini business plan that demonstrates clearly why you’re worth the money.

What counts most in any job negotiation is what positive impact you’re offering to an employer’s bottom line. That’s what wins you more money. Focus on conveying that critical message to an employer, and you’ll always be able to negotiate for more money — with a current employer, or with a new one.

Have you accepted a job with a salary cut? Why? Were you able to regain your higher salary level? How? What should this reader do? Do you believe salary cuts are more likely in today’s job market?

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How can I survive a reorganization at my company?

How can I survive a reorganization at my company?

In the February 11, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader worries about navigating a reorganization.

Question

reorganization

My company will be undergoing changes after a reorganization and I will be settling in a new part of the company. I currently manage a team of five. The nature of my job should stay the same, but my boss, co-workers and direct reports will be all new people. I’ve been at this company for about a year and was just getting into a rhythm with my current boss and department. Now it feels like I have to start over and prove myself again in a new department — almost like a new job.

I’ve never been involved in a reorganization. I know from friends that sometimes a reorganization doesn’t turn out well, but I’m keeping a positive outlook. Do you have any advice or insight about these kinds of situations? Thanks!

Nick’s Reply

When a company undergoes reorganization, whether due to a merger or due to any internal or external impetus, it can indeed be like starting a new job in a new company. There’s loads of opportunity and, of course, risks.

Every “reorg” is different, and the process and outcome really depend on the quality of management and on the company culture. You must decide whether what I’m going to suggest is prudent or risky and whether it fits your style. Then do what you think is best.

Take the initiative

I find that the best approach to corporate reshuffling, or reorganization, is to take the initiative to make your arrival easy for your boss and your team. You’re just as new to them as they are to you. Don’t wait for them to come to you. By taking the initiative, you will demonstrate your commitment to making it all work.

I’m not suggesting that you “take control” or try to position yourself as “the solution to the department’s problems.” Rather, show your new team and boss that you’re ready to get to work by making it easy for them to bring you into the fold. It actually helps to consider your insight that this is “almost like a new job,” and that’s why you might find this article helpful: Afraid to ask for feedback in job interviews?

Talk shop

I’d ask your new boss for a meeting to further introduce yourself and to “talk shop.”

How to Say It
“I’d like to get an idea of the problems and challenges the department faces, and to discuss how I can best contribute to your success.”

The point is to get your boss (or your peers or new reports) to talk about themselves and their work first, so that you can then direct your own comments and questions appropriately.

It’s like being on a first date. Encourage your date to talk. Learning about the other person is the foundation of any new, successful relationship — and it’s how to determine what you say and do next. Psychological research also suggests that when we ask others about themselves, they perceive us as more likable!

Here are some additional examples of talking shop.

How to Say It

  • “Thanks for welcoming me to the team. Can you help me understand the team’s objectives, and what the day-to-day work is like?”
  • “May I ask what led you to this job, and what you see as the key challenges and objectives?”
  • “What do you think helps make this department more successful, and what might hold it back?
  • “I’m not sure how much of this is already fleshed out, but it would help me to know what you’d like me to accomplish, or work on, during my first month, three months, six and 12. I like to think in terms of deliverables — because my job is to do what you need. The more concrete, the better, though I also realize the work can be fluid. And I’d be happy to roughly outline how I’d go about it. Then we can discuss and fine tune a plan that you’re happy with.”

Remember: Don’t appear presumptuous. It often helps to “ask permission” before you offer your ideas. Until you understand your new boss’s style, be deferential. Make it clear that, while you are self-motivated, you want to fit in, do your share, and focus on the department’s objectives.

Learn where you fit in the reorganization

If your boss asks you to talk about yourself, offer three things you accomplished last year that made a material difference to the business. Then ask what the boss would like to see from you in the coming year. This helps establish your credibility, and also focuses the discussion on the benefits you will deliver to the organization — not on your aspirations, which it’s fine to discuss later on. Your new team’s needs should come first. That will earn you the right to talk about what you’d like out of this deal — later on.

This is just one way to break the ice and start forming a sound relationship. It’s good to talk shop and get specific. It shows that you are hands-on and ready to contribute.

You can take similar steps with your co-workers and reports: Ask for a casual meeting where you can learn about what each member is working on and how it all combines to achieve the department’s and the company’s objectives. The more you can get your boss, your peers and your new reports to talk about their work, the more you’ll see how to best fit in.

I can’t promise that doing any of this will ensure you survive this experience, but I hope my suggestions help you see what some of the fundamental issues are in trying to succeed in any job anywhere.

For a more in-depth look at how reorganizations often work, check out this resource from the Wharton School.

Worst case

As you’ve noted, a reorg can be like a new job. It might not work out!

I’m a cautious optimist, so I always like to consider a worst-case scenario when there’s a reorg, acquisition, or merger, because some of these “transitions” don’t always succeed. That means it’s smart to hedge your bet until you can form a sound judgment about the next few years of your career. This may surprise you, but it’s what I recommend to anyone when they start a new job.

Start (or continue) a quiet, low-level job search, just in case. You can end it if things go well at work, or accelerate if necessary. Keep a positive attitude about your new job, but hedge your bet and always have something cooking — don’t wait til the last minute. It will make you a more powerful decision-maker in the meantime for having something in your back pocket. Hopefully, you won’t need it!

In the meantime, find your new place. Take the initiative to get to know your new boss, your peers and your new reports — by helping them talk shop with you. I wish you the best.

Have you been through a reorg? What challenges did you face? Did you survive? How? What advice would you offer this reader?

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She got mugged in a stress interview

She got mugged in a stress interview

In the February 4, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter we consider the meaning of a stress interview.

Question

stress interviewMy daughter just went through what’s called a “stress interview.” She said she held it together, but came home and burst into tears. She didn’t know this was a thing. She’s had three such interviews in a row that left her feeling worthless in some unknown way. WHY is this a thing? It’s just mean. Why would anyone want to work with such awful people?

Nick’s Reply

Please tell your daughter there’s nothing wrong with her. What she went through is the corporate equivalent of getting mugged. The victim feels that they somehow did something wrong to put themselves in that position.

Many employers’ hiring methods are rooted in HR consultants’ reports that advise using “best practices” – like stress interviews – in the name of “HR science.” But there is no science in intimidation, and abusing job applicants is not a good practice!

Is a stress interview a hiring method?

Let’s make an important distinction from the start. There is a difference between asking a job candidate to consent to participate in a work simulation that models the pressures of a job, and subjecting the candidate to an unexpected personal attack as part of an interview. Even in the former case, an employer is obligated to disclose the stressful nature of the job and give the applicant the option to decline any interview at all. For our purposes, the rest of this column refers to the latter scenario.

Job applicants like your daughter strive to be cooperative during the highly bureaucratic hiring process. I’m sure she trusts that, even if job interviews are fraught with anxiety, employers will conduct themselves with integrity. There is no business without trust, though we sometimes get hurt for trusting. Tell her to be careful around people who lack integrity, but not to stop trusting.

Many online resources purport to teach how to handle the pressure of a stress interview and how to prepare for it. But I don’t think a stress interview is ever justified. If it’s a “method” of testing applicants, then someone doesn’t know how to assess job applicants. I’m in agreement with this BBC article on the subject: The ‘stress interview’: a technique that goes too far? If an employer wants to give you a “front-row seat to the ugliest side of the company,” that’s your signal to run to the fire exit.

Stand and deliver

My advice to anyone who finds themselves in a stress interview is to calmly and politely stand up and deliver a message like this one:

“I’d never subject a fellow employee or a customer to such treatment for any reason, and I don’t tolerate it myself. Good luck finding someone who does.”

And walk out.

What kind of people do you want to work with?

Of course, that means no job. But there was no job there to begin with; just abuse and nasty people who have no clue that business is about trust, integrity, and respect. If the explanation is that the company wants to prepare you for working with abusive customers, for example, you should reconsider the job entirely. Would you consent to being tortured, so we could see how durable you are? Ask yourself, what kind of job do I want and what kind of people do I want to work with? (See Never work with jerks.)

Please tell your daughter to hold her head high and move on – to companies that have a standard of behavior as high as her own. To accept anything less is to debase and devalue herself.

In answer to your question, no one should want to work with awful people. Walk away from them. They are never worth the torture they inflict. Just because “it’s part of the interview process” doesn’t make it legitimate or acceptable.

I wish your daughter the best and I compliment you for not remaining silent about how she was treated. Good for you for letting out your ire. Sharing experiences like this is how we help others avoid them.

Now it’s time for your daughter to go find smart people worth working with.

How far should an interview go? What’s the wildest “test” you’ve encountered, and was it justified? Is there any way to conduct a legitimate stress interview? Is there a better way than I suggested to deal with one?

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6 hoops to make recruiters jump through

6 hoops to make recruiters jump through

In the January 28, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter 20 recruiters contact a reader — from just one company.

Question

recruiters20 HR recruiters from one [big-name defense contractor] contacted me via LinkedIn during 2019. One of them contacted me twice in two weeks, with the exact same message: Send me your most recent resume. She clearly didn’t know she had contacted me already. Others used the same message. I never heard from 19 of them again.

With recruiter #20, I blew back and told him [the company’s] recruiters are burning their reputation with me. He called, said he was impressed with my experience, that he’d get back after circulating my resume, and never did. I sent a brief “Hello?” on the LinkedIn message thread he started. I got no response.

Is this HR “ghosting” new? I recognized years back that most employers aren’t sending even automated responses to online applicants, but I never expected they’d drop the ball when they initiate the contact! I’d appreciate any theories you have on why this is occurring.

Nick’s Reply

Ghosting by HR is nothing new. Now, do you want to save 95% of your time that phony recruiters waste?

Recruiting or advertising?

20 different people contacting you from that defense contractor are not recruiting you. They are advertising. They know nothing about the jobs they’re advertising and nothing about the people they are soliciting. Sending out job spam through LinkedIn is not recruiting.

A real recruiter knows all about you before they contact you. They already know that you’re a pretty good fit for the job. They court and pursue you — you’ll be able to tell instantly. A phony recruiter turns the knobs on the LinkedIn machine and sends a bunch of job descriptions to thousands of people and tells you all to apply for them. Welcome to automated, phony recruiting.

HR: High tech, no metrics

As long as Human Resources can maintain an image of being high-tech, the board of directors at companies like this one gratefully relinquishes the icky task of recruiting to HR.

HR shovels billions of dollars into “HR technology” — automated job sites and keyword-based Applicant Tracking Systems (ATSes). These are nothing more than keyword crunchers and spam generators that unskilled keyboard punchers can operate. It doesn’t matter that the HR tech doesn’t really work, or that HR is failing miserably at hiring, because there are virtually no meaningful metrics in HR departments. (Check this Harvard Business Review report: Employers are hiring all wrong.)

Likewise, because there are no meaningful metrics, a “recruiter” at this company doesn’t know that 19 others already contacted you.

You ask why this is occurring. Why doesn’t the C-suite or the board of directors take notice?

Recruiters pass the buck

Every top executive reads the same news every day: There’s a “talent shortage” and a “skills shortage!” It’s become impossible to find good people! Never mind that employers have access to every resume, every person on the planet.

This “news” exculpates HR — so HR can plausibly deny accountability. When HR fails to fill jobs, someone and something else are to blame: schools, the labor market, unskilled workers, the economy.

Why, it’s right there in the business media!

This leaves HR free to buy and deploy even more HR technology, to outsource recruiting to boiler-rooms of telemarketers and spammers, to pass the buck, and to wash its hands of frustrated people like you. The board of directors doesn’t bat an eyelash.

What can you do?

What good does my explanation (or my rant) do you? Understanding that most “recruiters” don’t recruit is the first step toward fixing this broken employment system.

You have already wasted hours of time fielding, responding to, and fretting over phony “recruiting” contacts. I get it — you’re concerned that one of them might be a real opportunity (even though you’re 0 for 20). There’s a way to handle automated recruiting advertising and seemingly legit solicitations. Respond with an automated reply of your own.

Ask the recruiter what specific job they think “you would be a great fit” for, the salary, and the name and contact information of the hiring manager. If you’re really being recruited — rather than advertised to — the recruiter will call you (or request your phone number) immediately for fear of losing “a great fit.” Phony recruiters won’t bother.

6 hoops for recruiters

But there’s another way to test any recruiter before you go to the trouble to respond. Ask yourself these six questions about the solicitation and, if you like, ask the “recruiter,” too:

  1. Is this solicitation really addressed to me personally, or is it boilerplate that was mass-mailed to a list?
  2. Am I being recruited for a specific position, or is this an advertisement inviting me to read a bunch of job postings?
  3. Is there any evidence that the “recruiter” knows enough about me to know whether I’m really “a great fit” for this job?
  4. Did the “recruiter” mention the name of someone that recommended me, or am I just one of 14,000 matching profiles turned up by an algorithm?
  5. Does the “recruiter” reveal that they understand what this job is about?
  6. If I’m really the “great fit” they say I am, why isn’t this a request for an in-person job interview?

A good job candidate is worth a lot to a real recruiter, who will take your questions seriously. If you don’t get good answers to those six questions, you’re not being recruited. 95% or more of solicitations are not from real recruiters. They’re from job spammers paid to force feed you job postings. Beware what you swallow.

Make recruiters jump through hoops

The bottom line is, those 20 “recruiters” that contacted you are actually bots deployed by inept personnel jockeys who work for executives and boards of directors that believe what they read online and hear on the radio – that Indeed and ZipRecruiter and LinkedIn have figured it all out.

“HR says we don’t have to waste money on skilled recruiters because LinkedIn does all the hard work! Let’s buy more HR technology!”

You know better. You just need to trust your judgment. If the employer contacts you then drops the ball, don’t pick it up — certainly not 20 times! Don’t get hurt by a broken system. Do something smarter. Learn how to vet those solicitations. 95% of them are not pursuing you. They’re advertising jobs to you. Make recruiters jump through hoops before you give them your valuable time.

Invest your time talking only to real recruiters, real employers and real hiring managers that are ready to talk to you about real jobs. If only HR were to invest those billions in hiring real recruiters.

Which of the six hoops do you rely on to test recruiters? What other hoops do you make recruiters jump through — before you’ll jump through any hoops for them?

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Will publishing on LinkedIn make me look like an expert?

Will publishing on LinkedIn make me look like an expert?

In the January 21, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader wants to be an expert.

Question

expertIn your previous postings, you suggest that LinkedIn is a poor medium for applying to companies. (See LinkedIn Payola: Selling out employers and job hunters.) At the same time, building one’s reputation as an expert in their profession is a big competitive advantage while finding a professional home.

Is LinkedIn an appropriate and productive medium to build one’s professional “brand” by publishing articles and making intelligent comments? Or do you recommend other media for this purpose?

By the way, after reading your articles, I will never search for work like one of the “herd” again. The headhunter tactics that you talk about are very similar to what a consultative seller does: Ask a bunch of questions to key stakeholders, observe, design a solution, and present why it is the right solution for them. Thank you.

Nick’s Reply

What I teach about job hunting is very similar to how good consultants sell their services – it’s all about the client, not me. If I don’t have a dead-on relevant solution for the employer, I have no business in the job interview.

A job seeker, like a consultant looking for a new client, needs to walk into the employer’s office with a proposal that focuses on the problems and challenges that particular manager is facing. Job interviews fail when applicants talk primarily about themselves and about their history. What gets you hired is proof that you understand the employer — and that you have a plan to help the business. (See Stand Out: How to be the profitable hire.) My compliments on how you interview and thank you for your kind words.

Now let’s get on to your question.

Does LinkedIn make you an expert?

I think the value of publishing on LinkedIn is at best questionable. It doesn’t make you an expert to publish on a website that doesn’t seem to edit or vet user-created content. You might agree with me that there’s plenty of tripe on LinkedIn, then argue that “there’s good stuff if you look for it.” We could say the same about any dumpster, but that doesn’t make it Trader Joe’s.

LinkedIn stopped pretending long ago that it cultivates high quality relationships or selective “professional networks.” (See LinkedIn: Just another job board.) I believe the same is true of user-created content on LinkedIn.

Expert publication or fish wrap?

I’ve read some good articles on LinkedIn, but most are fluff and PR. The entire purpose of LinkedIn’s publishing platform seems to be building its page count and page views by driving comments – not to create an expert arena. It’s what we used to call a fish wrap — a free “newspaper” loaded with paid advertising that includes a few articles to appear legitimate.

There’s nothing wrong with a fish wrap if you’re, say, looking for a used car or if you want to advertise your furniture store. But in that regard, LinkedIn is lower than a fish wrap because, for people like you and me, it’s free advertising.

You post your resume on LinkedIn as a profile, and I use LinkedIn as a way to promote Ask The Headhunter, because it’s free. Every week I post a short announcement about my newest weekly column on LinkedIn, just as I do on Twitter and Facebook — purely to let people know about it. It drives traffic to asktheheadhunter.com. Why don’t I just post the entire weekly Ask The Headhunter column on LinkedIn? Because LinkedIn doesn’t pay me for it. That’s why LinkedIn isn’t a real publisher. I don’t want my expert content on a site that doesn’t value expert content enough to pay for it.

Experts are in expert communities

When you post your profile on LinkedIn, you’re doing the same thing — taking advantage of the exposure. But if you want to engage in really useful dialogue with people in your professional community, you must go where they hang out. That’s where you need to be seen.

If I’m looking for a good job candidate for a client company, I’m not going to search LinkedIn articles. There are better places to do that, where real experts hang out — expert communities.

I think it’s critical to establish a strong reputation for expertise where the professional community that you want to work with congregates; where your peers (and the peers you want to join) talk shop.

I like vertical publications more than general platforms. It’s harder to get an article published in such professional hubs. Even if they don’t  pay you for your content, they have a strong vetting process – and that’s good. It keeps the standard high, and it earns you a meaningful reputation if you’re the writer.

Expert content

You don’t have to write articles to build a reputation in your professional community. You might volunteer to speak at a professional or industry event, or participate in a panel discussion. Even if you only help organize such an event, you’ll rub elbows with real experts who can help you on your next steps toward a strong reputation of your own.

You can also demonstrate expertise by regularly posting thoughtful comments on the right professional forums. That’s how you become a go-to expert that others rely on. I know recruiters who lurk on highly specialized technical and scientific discussion communities online. That’s where they find opinion makers discussing the ins and outs of their work — then they recruit them or get referrals from them.

No one develops an expert reputation overnight. It takes time and very dedicated effort. Real expertise is earned while one is vetted by other experts in their field — and LinkedIn is hardly an expert community! So, no, I don’t think that writing articles on LinkedIn will make you look like an expert. It will make more money for LinkedIn.

Expert status requires a long-term investment

What people find hard to accept is that you can’t just submit or post something now and then and expect results. You must participate long-term and be an active member of a professional community. There is no easy way to a great reputation. It grows from posting good stuff and from being a “regular.” (For some tips about building a solid reputation, see Branding yourself suggests you’re clueless.)

I think LinkedIn has become just another Internet fish wrap. At best, it’s a souped-up telephone directory — everyone is in it. If it’s an expert reputation you want, find niche sites where others in your field gather. Publish there. That’s my advice.

What’s your expert community site or publication?

I didn’t suggest any specific expert websites (or print publications) that are good places to publish because there are so many. Almost every area of work has such professional community hubs. This is where up and coming experts breed!

So here’s my request to Ask The Headhunter readers:

What’s your field of work, and what’s the best niche publication or online community for it? Where do you hang out for expert discussion? Please share your list of expert content outlets!

How do you promote your expertise? Do you find LinkedIn to be a credible “expert forum?” What online venues do you use to demonstrate your acumen?

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Help this college kid get a job

Help this college kid get a job

In the January 14, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a college student worries that not doing enough homework might hurt chances of getting a job.

Question

collegeI have a year to go until I graduate from college. I’m not the best student, but I do pretty well. I’m here to learn, but there is a lot more to college and I take advantage of it. But now I’m a little worried. My grades could be better. I could spend a little less time at the pub, and more on academics. However, homework seems like a redundancy to me. I learn in lectures, in section classes and in assigned readings. Don’t misunderstand, I crank out the papers and I get ready for tests. But doing homework? It has nothing to do with preparing you for the real world. Even people who work long hours leave the office behind at the end of the day.

I know my school has a good career center, and companies recruit there all the time. The purpose of the center is to attract good companies and jobs. My “job” is to interview well and get hired. I don’t think I’m that different from most students. I just want a good job when I get out of here. But something is nagging at me, and I’m worried as graduation gets nearer. I’m afraid I’ll get lost in the system or the system won’t work for me. I’m afraid I won’t get a good job. There, I said it. So what should I do?

Nick’s Reply

People with jobs do homework all the time — at work, if not at home. Homework means studying extra material and practicing new skills, often on your own time. You may be able to avoid this, but not if you want your grades to be better. While I don’t advocate regularly taking work home from a job, or working 60-hour weeks, I also know that the more I invest in my skills and knowledge, the better I’ll perform at my job and the more successful I will be in my career.

College, jobs & homework

I agree that college is not just about academics — you should enjoy everything it has to offer. But those boring friends of yours who are cracking the books while you’re at the pub are probably several steps ahead of you. They aren’t waiting for someone to lecture to them, or to assign readings — they take the initiative to study more on their own. (I didn’t miss that you do read, and you write papers. That’s homework, but it seems you may be realizing you’re not doing enough of it.)

Life and work require lots of homework. The same is true about getting a good job. The purpose of your school’s career center may be “to attract good companies and jobs,” just like your professor’s job is to teach you through lectures. But you’re not going to be a successful student by consuming just what your professor delivers. Nor will you find a good job by waiting for your career center to deliver it. “The system” isn’t going to “work for you.”

Please hand-write this on a piece of paper 10 times:

“Finding and winning a good job is my own challenge. No one will do it for me. I will do the extra homework myself without excuses or I will fail.”

Sign it. Tack it to the wall in front of your desk. Every time you rely on the job listings at your career center, read what you wrote. Then do the homework of looking for a job yourself.

Job-hunting homework?

There’s lots of study and preparation that goes into getting a good job. Every step of job hunting and being successful at work requires doing homework.

  1. Finding a good job requires homework. (Pursue companies, not jobs)
  2. Getting a good manager’s attention requires homework. (Some tips.)
  3. Learning what a manager’s or company’s problems are requires homework.
  4. Preparing something useful to say to the manager requires homework.
  5. Figuring out whether a job is for you requires homework.
  6. Deciding whether to accept a job offer requires homework. (Protect yourself from exploding job offers.)
  7. Showing up Day #1 ready to impress your new employer requires homework.
  8. Doing the job well requires homework.
  9. Getting better at it requires homework.
  10. Keeping your job requires homework.
  11. Being successful requires becoming a master at your work. That requires constant homework.

In fact, your ability to do homework well — to study, learn, and practice — is what a company is paying for when it hires you after graduation. In the list above, I’ve provided a few tips to help you, but I’m going to leave it to other Ask The Headhunter readers to suggest examples of what kinds of homework will help you achieve each objective. Please check the comments below.

Don’t get lost in the system

Please read this article to learn how good managers hire people: Manager goes around HR to recruit and hire. It suggests that the “system” you’ve been told will get you a job isn’t sufficient. The manager in that article isn’t waiting for resumes to appear in e-mail. He’s doing his own homework to meet people who’ve done the necessary extra work to get his attention.

If you wait for a career center or a company recruiter to do the homework for you, you’re right — you’ll get lost in the system. So spend this year honing your homework skills. Start applying them to the job search that you ought to start today, a year before you graduate. Yes, it will take that long if you do it right. This doesn’t mean you can’t go to pubs.

How much fun you make it is up to you. I wish you the best!

Okay, folks! Help me help this college kid get a job. Please review the 11 objectives above that I think require considerable homework. (Feel free to add more.) Then, for each objective, please list one good example of “homework” our young friend needs to do to achieve it. We could be creating a new college course! Thanks for your help!

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Caregiver faces resume gap & reference risk

Caregiver faces resume gap & reference risk

In the January 7, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader takes time to be Mom’s caregiver and worries about a resume gap and references.

Question

caregiverI left my job of 16 years with two weeks’ notice and a cordial thank you to my boss. My boss was bitter that I decided to move on and it was very apparent my last day. I worry that if an employer calls and asks to speak with him he would not give me a good recommendation even after 16 years of service. I had assumed that most companies are just allowed to verify employment. What if they contact my former boss directly?

The next problem is why I left that job: My mother had a stroke and I became her full-time caregiver. This was much harder than any job I’ve ever had. I am adding a simple bullet point on my resume listing this time as “Primary caregiver for ill immediate family member.” Is this how I should account for this time gap?

Nick’s Reply

The very best job applicant can be sunk when employers rely on information that the applicant has no opportunity to explain. If your old boss gives a negative reference and you have no chance to refute it, you’re done. If an employer is troubled by a gap on your resume because you were a caregiver and you’re not there to explain it, you lose. You’ll never know what happened in either case.

The problem here isn’t your old boss or your resume — or that you took time off to be Mom’s caregiver. The problem is that you’re allowing someone (an unexpected reference) or something (your resume) to represent you. Why not be represented to your advantage by someone the employer trusts?

Caregiver resume gap

Explaining work gaps is always iffy – so much depends on the attitude of the employer reading that resume. This is why I advocate not using a resume to introduce yourself to a company. A resume cannot defend you.

A resume that raises questions you are not present to answer can easily hurt you. A gap on your resume might trigger a quick, thoughtless rejection. Situations like yours make it risky to rely on a resume as the way to introduce yourself to someone you don’t know who does not know you.

Reference risk

You need to head off concerns by helping the hiring manager learn about you from a source more reliable than a resume. You need someone to paint you as a desirable job candidate before any questions are raised.

Try to wrangle a personal introduction to the hiring manager through a mutual contact — someone who does know you and who can speak up for you to answer an employer’s concerns about the caregiver gap, and who can parry a negative reference that’s not under your control. Check these ideas from other readers about how to network your way to a great introduction.

Send an advance party

You may have to work hard to find and cultivate that mutual contact – but it’s really the only way to get a hiring manager’s serious attention and to counteract worries about your gap. Send an advance party. In other words, you need someone to tell the hiring manager you’re worth hiring before they find a (silly) reason to reject you. (See How to get to the hiring manager.)

If you must use a resume, I agree that you should probably include a short note about the caregiving. But managers and HR get so many resumes that they look first for a reason to reject an applicant. Don’t give them that reason. A preemptive personal referral or introduction from someone the employer trusts can make all the difference.

The truth about references

It’s improper for an employer to contact your old boss without your permission for a reference. I think most companies honor this. An HR department that’s called for a reference should provide nothing more than verification of past employment. But managers and HR have their own back channels – their own trusted network that will talk to them off the record. So you can never tell what they will learn about you.

For all these reasons, a trusted personal recommendation is the best way to offset any concerns an employer might have about a resume gap or about one poor reference. Don’t wait for problems to arise. Cultivate personal contacts to get you in the door and to preempt objections a resume might trigger. For more about this, please see Get Hired: No resume, no interview, no joke. I admire you for stepping in to help your mom. I wish you both the best.

Have you ever been hurt by a work gap on your resume? Or by a bitter old boss? How did you explain it? How would you advise this reader?

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Job Hunting With The Headhunter: Go around the system!

Job Hunting With The Headhunter: Go around the system!

In the December 17, 2019 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, The Headhunter calls a year-end time-out and recaps the fundamental rules of job hunting that will help you outsmart America’s broken Employment System.

job huntingSpecial Edition!

Judging from the many questions I receive each week from subscribers, I worry that job seekers are falling into the most obvious traps while trying to navigate America’s antiquated Employment System. Let me show you how to go around!

In place of the normal weekly Q&A, at the end of each year I publish a summary of Ask The Headhunter methods to help you land the job you want. Last year’s Ask The Headhunter Secrets in A Nutshell were based on key concepts in my PDF books.

This year, I’d like to review seven Ask The Headhunter rules that address some of the most fundamental misconceptions that lead job seekers astray. Relying on job postings, resumes, cover letters and traditional interviews is the worst way to approach your job search!

Don’t miss the limited-time HOLIDAY SPECIAL! Scroll to end of this column!

Job hunting with The Headhunter

The best way to win the right job is to use the approach we discuss here every week. Let’s step back to rediscover the basics about how to handle your job-hunting challenges. These tips should help you overcome the many obstacles the Employment System throws at you.

1. Avoid traditional, unproductive methods of job hunting.

Don’t leave control of your job search to external forces like job postings, personnel jockeys, employment agencies, resume screeners and software algorithms. Don’t rely on the passive approach of chasing jobs that come along, then filling out impersonal online job applications. Don’t rely on sending resumes (or your LinkedIn profile) to people who don’t know you. Don’t wait for boiler-plate rejections or silly instructions from inept recruiters who ask you for your information all over again.

Take control of your job search.

2. Select 4-5 companies you really want to work for.

You cannot reasonably and ably chase 50 jobs or companies, no matter what Indeed and ZipRecruiter tell you. Carefully select three, four or five companies — not because they’ve posted jobs, but because they’re the shining-light organizations you really want to work for! Research these carefully selected companies online using relevant news outlets, business journals and industry-specific publications.

Better yet, identify and contact your target company’s employees, customers and vendors. Go hang out where they hang out — get insight and advice from insiders!

The goal is to learn what specific problems and challenges an employer faces. These will reveal a company’s motivation to hire you. Understand these problems and challenges before approaching any company.

How Can I Change Careers? “Put a Free Sample in Your Resume,” pp. 23-26 (It’s not just for career changers!)

3. Define what you have to offer that’s relevant.

Be able to describe your specific skills and abilities but only as they relate to a company’s specific problems and challenges. A hiring manager doesn’t need to know everything about you. In fact, sharing too much makes evaluating you more confusing, and it makes the manager’s job harder. The goal is to make the manager’s job of assessing your value easier — by communicating exactly how you will be a truly useful hire.

If you don’t understand an employer’s exact needs, your presentation will not be relevant or useful to the manager and you will not be hired.

4. Prove your value.

Managers are terrible at figuring out what to do with a job applicant. It’s up to you to help a manager focus on the objective of a job interview: How will your abilities profit the manager and the company? This is perhaps the easiest idea for job seekers to grasp, but the most difficult to apply.

You should be ready to frame your candidacy like this: “If you hire me, I will do A, B and C, which should add $X to your bottom line.” Sound daunting? The best job candidates can do it, and you must learn how. Be ready to explain and defend your proposal and your rough calculations.

5. Identify the specific manager who will benefit from hiring you.

Get an introduction to the hiring manager through a mutual contact that you developed through your research. Those people you spoke with about the company’s problems and challenges? Some of them will be your perfect introduction to the right manager! Don’t waste your time with personnel jockeys in the HR department. That’s what your competition is doing.

The goal is to “tell it” directly to the manager who will hire you — not anyone else.

6. Go to the interview ready to do the job.

Be ready to clearly and convincingly show the manager how you will help solve his or her specific problems. Make your interview a hands-on, working meeting with the hiring manager.

7. Control your interview and win an offer.

If the manager interviewing you seems to be asking canned questions, bring the discussion around to how you would do the actual work. Ask what the specific job tasks and objectives are. Then take control of the interview by offering to demonstrate to the manager that you:

  1. Understand the work that needs to be done
  2. Can do the work
  3. Can do the work the way the employer wants it done, and
  4. Can do it profitably.

In other words, show up with a mini business plan about how you will do the job — to win the job!

That’s how to be the job candidate who stands out and gets hired. Avoid the silly conventions of the Employment System that daily conspires to keep apart managers and the people they need to hire. The links above will help you on your way around the system. As you develop questions, ask them here — I’ll offer my advice and so will the rest of our community!

Okay, I listed seven rules for job hunting. What did I miss? What smart rules do you recommend that you follow on your job search? How do we beat the broken Employment System?

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For additional help, don’t miss this limited-time offer on the Ask The Headhunter PDF books!


HOLIDAY SPECIAL: 40% OFF Everything!

Every Ask The Headhunter PDF Book

40% OFF for the holidays!

(What books are we talking about? Click here to see all Nick’s PDF books!)

TAKE 40% OFF any book or bundle! ORDER NOW!

Use DISCOUNT CODE=MERRY40

This is a limited-time offer! Order now!


This is the last Ask The Headhunter column for 2019. I’m taking a couple of weeks off for the holidays! See you next on January 7, 2020! Here’s wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year — and all my best wishes for whatever holidays you observe this time of year!

If you’re new to Ask The Headhunter, or just want a refresher on the main ideas we discuss here every week, please check The Basics — and take advantage of the search box at top right, as well as the Q&A Archive under Sections in the menu bar!

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What do these interview questions mean?

What do these interview questions mean?

In the December 10, 2019 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader wants to know why employers ask  irrelevant, roundabout interview questions.

Don’t miss the limited-time HOLIDAY SPECIAL! Scroll to end of Q&A!

Question

When an interviewer asks roundabout questions like, “What is your greatest weakness?” and “What is your greatest strength?”, what do they hope to learn about you as a prospective hire?

Nick’s Reply

interview questions

Those questions hint at why job seekers agonize for weeks or months “waiting to hear back” from employers that never should have interviewed them to begin with. Such questions are irrelevant to assessing a candidate for a job, so they don’t help the employer make a hiring decision.

Gratuitous interview questions

“What is your greatest weakness?” and “What is your greatest strength?” are two of the Top 10 Stupid Interview Questions. They tell you more about the interviewer than your answers would tell about you. Such gratuitous queries reveal that the interviewer knows too little about the job to intelligently assess whether you can do it.

Managers and some career experts suggest that those two open-ended questions tell the employer a lot about you. I don’t agree. Such questions distract both the employer and the applicant from the critical-path question in any job interview.

Can you do the work?

“Can you do the work?” is the very first thing any savvy interviewer needs to know about you. If you cannot show that you can do the work, the meeting should end right there. Your weaknesses and strengths are irrelevant. So is what animal you’d be if you could be any animal, and how many golf balls you estimate would fit in the Empire State Building. None of that “open-ended” palaver matters if you can’t do the work.

So the message is, beware this interviewer.

What should you do when you’re asked such lame questions? Take control of the interview. Do it politely but firmly.

How to Say It

“I’d like to show you how I’d do this job, if you will permit me. If I can’t do that, then you shouldn’t hire me. So that I’m not wasting your time, will you please outline three key deliverables you’d like to see from a new hire? That is, if you hired me, what would you want me to do, fix, change, create, improve after three months on the job, then after six and 12 months? I’ll do my best to show and explain how I would do the work, so that you may accurately assess me.”

If you’re not ready to make that offer, then you’re not prepared to discuss the job and you have no business in the interview. Pull it off, and any good manager will fall at your feet. (See Good Interview Questions: You need just one.)

Don’t waste your time

If the manager cannot define the deliverables he or she wants, or doesn’t “get” what you’re offering, then you’re wasting your time. It’s better to be spared early, rather than to invest hours of time and energy, not to mention the agony you’ll be spared “waiting to hear back.”

When managers ask canned, indirect interview questions rather than directly assess your ability to do the job, they are going to waste their time and yours. If that’s what you encounter, raise the standard and offer to show the manager how you’d do the job.

Can you judge an employer by the interview questions they ask? What’s the best question you’ve been asked? I’m sure you’ll share the worst! Have you ever taken control of a job interview that was going nowhere fast?


HOLIDAY SPECIAL: 40% OFF Everything!

Every Ask The Headhunter PDF Book

40% OFF for the holidays!

(What books are we talking about? Click here to see all Nick’s PDF books!)

TAKE 40% OFF any book or bundle! ORDER NOW!

Use DISCOUNT CODE=MERRY40

This is a limited-time offer! Order now!


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3 reasons to say NO to a job offer

3 reasons to say NO to a job offer

In the December 3, 2019 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader gets a job offer that may deserve a NO.

Question

job offerAfter months of looking for a job, I finally got an offer using your methods. (Thanks! The interviewer said I was the best candidate she’s talked to in a long time.) But there’s a small matter that concerns me, and it’s not the money. The salary is good. But neither the interviewer nor the HR person would tell me who my boss will be. HR just said I’d be assigned to the manager who needed my skills the most. Then she said they need my answer by end of day tomorrow. Is this a trap? Should I take the job?

Nick’s Reply

It may not be a trap, but it’s a risk in many ways — and not knowing who your boss will be is certainly not a small matter. Your story raises a bigger question. When should you say NO to a job offer?

There are many signals that might turn you away. I won’t tell anyone who needs to pay the rent or put food on the table to turn down a job offer. Take it if you really must, but consider the risks.

Here are three reasons to say NO to a job offer.

1. You don’t meet the manager you’ll be reporting to

You have no idea what you’re getting into if you don’t meet the manager. If the HR department (or a committee) does the hiring, you won’t be able to assess whether you and your new boss are compatible.

In Fearless Job Hunting, Book 5: Get The Right Employer’s Attention, I show how to conduct due diligence before and during the interview, and before accepting a job offer. These are just a few tips to help keep you out of trouble.

In the interview, don’t miss these points:

  • What must the company do to meet its goals? Is your job important in meeting these objectives? How?
  • Check out the tools that will be at your disposal. If they’re not part of the deal today, don’t expect you’ll get what you need later.
  • Who, in other departments, will affect your ability to do your job successfully? Meet them. Look for facilitators and debilitators—people that will help and hinder your performance.

From “Is this a Mickey Mouse operation?”, pp. 13-15

This cuts both ways. If the boss doesn’t meet you, it may turn out you’re not as qualified for the position as HR suggested. Your new job might be short-lived.

If the company won’t arrange a one-on-one meeting with the boss, it could mean the boss will shortly be gone. Where does that leave you? Ask to meet your future boss. Reconsider the position if the employer declines the meeting.

2. The job offer is low but you’re promised a raise “soon”

This is how companies seduce reluctant job applicants: with a promise of a raise “soon.” Will the company put the date of the future raise in writing along with the amount? Will it guarantee in writing a performance review in so many months? You have every reason to doubt the good intentions of the employer if it will do neither.

Compensation is what the written job offer says it is. Do not count promises as part of the job offer. Get it in writing.

(There’s another promise to watch out for: stock options. See What are stock options worth in a job offer?)

3. The details of the job are not made clear

It’s an old story: A person takes the job based on the description in the job posting, only to find that’s not the job. The actual work is something else. If all you get are vague answers when you ask about details, you may be accepting a broken job. The company may want you only for a short-term project or — even worse — “to fill head count.”

Ask the employer to list the main tasks you will be doing, and ask for a written definition of what exactly is expected of you after three, six and 12 months on the job. Or consider walking away.

Is the job offer really right for you?

These are just three of many reasons to say NO to a job offer. (See 13 lies employers tell about job offers.)

It’s important to pause when you receive an offer. Don’t get lost in the thrill of success. Take time to consider all the terms of the offer, the company that made it, the manager you’d be working for, the work you’d be doing, and — of course — the compensation. Like the proverbial car shopper, you must be ready to walk away from a deal that’s not really right for you.

Have you ever turned down a job offer? Why? What other reasons can you think of for saying NO? Have you ever accepted a job only to realize that the signs were clear that you should have said NO?

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