Can I use Twitter to reach a hiring manager?

Can I use Twitter to reach a hiring manager?

Question

I wanted to get your perspective on trying to use Twitter to get attention from a hiring manager. I’m interested in a role that is a great fit and have tried networking but thus far I haven’t been able to get introduced to him by anyone at his company.

I put together a slide deck discussing ideas for growth opportunities tor the company (It’s a strategy role). I am thinking of sharing the slides and introducing myself on Twitter. I’ve never done something this bold before but am really interested in the role. What are your thoughts? Should I share the slides and indicate my interest in the role, then wait (hopefully) for him to ask me to send him my resume? Or should I share both the slides and my resume?

Nick’s Reply

twitter hiring managerThere has been a spate of articles online about how to use Twitter to get a job. It just seems so reductionist — cramming what you want to say into a tweet.

Worse, you’re exposing your entire pitch to the world. How does that get you an edge? It might get you more competition. Just because a hiring manager you want to work for is on Twitter doesn’t mean that’s the best way to address them. (You can “direct message” a manager only if they follow you, or if they accept DMs from anyone, which is unlikely.)

You could try it, but putting my little critique aside, the real problem is that Twitter is just another indirect communication layer you have virtually no control over. Why not go direct?

I’d find the manager’s e-mail and send him the deck you prepared. Better yet, track down someone the manager works with and trusts — and get introduced. This is a different kind of “communication layer” because there’s nothing like a personal referral, even if it’s someone you only just met. You said you’ve unsuccessfully tried networking your way in.  It’s not hard to engineer such meetings. Try a method I call “triangulate to get in the door.”

I admire your creativity. Just because I’m not a fan of addressing a hiring manager publicly on Twitter doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try it, but I’d do something more personal than hang yourself out on a social media platform.

The reader responds

Nick,

Thank you so much for your response, and your insightful advice. I actually did as you suggested and drafted a “pain letter,” showing what I understand about what the manager needs help with. I sent it along with the slides and my resume directly to the hiring manager. (I spent a couple of weeks on the deck to make sure it was relevant!)

He responded and I’m “in the door!” So this stuff actually works! Thanks!

Nick’s Reply

Yah, this stuff actually works. Managers are often startled by people who skip the job applications and instead jump right into “doing the job.” Glad you tried it! Even before a job interview, you’ve started demonstrating what you know about the job and how you’re going to do it. That gives you a substantial edge.

Please let me know how this turns out!

Have you ever used Twitter to get a job interview? What did you say in your tweet? How about other social media? Does this work any better the other way around — have you been recruited via Twitter?

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4 reasons to reject or accept a job offer

4 reasons to reject or accept a job offer

Question

The last two times I accepted a job I soon regretted it. In both cases I was happy with the money, I liked the manager, and the job seemed a fit. But that’s clearly not enough. You must have some rules of thumb about the decision to reject or accept a job offer. What are they?

Nick’s Reply

accept a jobIt would help to know what happened at those two jobs that led to regret. If the reasons were the same, then you may have the problem right there. But even if that’s the case, I’m more concerned about your criteria for accepting a job. They’re not sufficient.

Insufficient reasons to accept a job

The compensation matters, of course. Anyone that suggests money is not a prime consideration is lying, is a fool, or is trying to distract you from a low offer. And just because you like someone doesn’t mean you will like working for them (or having them work for you, if you’re the manager).

Then we have your third criterion: “job fit.” This is perhaps the biggest misconception job seekers have. You might check off every box on the job description, but that doesn’t mean you’re a fit.

How can that be? Well, virtually everyone I’ve ever polled laughs when I ask them whether, six months into a new job, the work they’re doing is what they were told when they were hired. The work almost always changes and evolves, sometimes so extremely that the new hire is doing something entirely different from what they expected. (Of course, this could be a good thing or a bad thing!)

So, what can you hang your hat on when deciding whether a job is right for you?

Necessary reasons to accept a job

As you have undoubtedly experienced, most employers take their time filling a job. Most job seekers, on the other hand, are rushed. They don’t consider enough criteria when making a decision to accept a job.

I’ll grant you the three criteria you’ve mentioned are meaningful. But all three are characteristics of a job opportunity that you will instantly feel in your gut. It takes no real effort to consider them.

  • I feel okay about the salary,
  • The manager and I hit it off,
  • The work described is right for me,

That may all be necessary to justify accepting a job, but it’s not sufficient. I think there’s more, but it requires some effort and patience.

4 criteria to accept a job offer

There are four other criteria you should apply to every job opportunity you encounter: the company’s (1) people, (2) products and technology, (3) finances, and (4) prospects. I believe if any one of these criteria is not met, you should walk away from the deal.

1. The people

The boss is just one part of the team, or the company, you’re joining. It’s likely that several other employees and managers will have a greater impact on your success (and satisfaction) at the job.

If the job is in Engineering, for example, it matters who is running Manufacturing and who is running Sales. If these latter managers are not competent, what the Engineering team designs may not be fully realized as viable products, and Sales may not be able to sell them. So you need to assess people at the company beyond just your boss before you decide to yoke your career to theirs.

Before making your decision to join up, ask to meet two or three managers whose departments are relevant to your own success. Also ask to meet two or three members of the team you’d be working on.

Accept the job only if the people in the company are competent, if not exceptional. It’s up to you to figure this out.

2. The products (and perhaps the technology)

Sure, you could do the job, but will you be working on products (or services) that are among the best in the business? Are the products competitive in the company’s market? Or is the company’s product line middling, if not low quality? Do customers rave positively about these products, or do they complain?

Does the company’s technology stack up well, or is it outdated? Will you be using tools at your job that enable you to work efficiently and to do your very best work? Or will you need to use bubblegum and baling wire to keep the machine working?

If the product line is not a shining light in the industry, and the company’s technology is obsolete, the company’s prospects probably aren’t good. Your prospects won’t be good, either.

Examine how the company’s products, services and technology compare to the competition’s. Unless you’re taking the job just for a paycheck, think twice before mounting a lame horse.

3. The company’s finances

I’d never take a job without meeting a finance manager or two at a company, or at least talking with someone that understands the company’s financial condition. This might seem irrelevant if you’re a machinist, or a programmer, or a production-line worker. But if the company has financial troubles, it may not be able to meet payroll. It may need to lay off workers before long. It may be unable to improve its technology, or afford to hire great sales people, and to compete effectively in its market.

If you’re considering a management job at a smaller company, ask for a brief meeting with the CFO. Ask about cash flow, debt and sources of funding for future growth. Even if you don’t know what these things are, the reaction you get will be telling.

At the very least, do an online search about the company’s sales and profits (if it’s publicly held). A simple search for any news articles could provide valuable insights.

4. The company’s pipeline and prospects

Invest the time to learn what new products, technologies, and business deals the company has in the pipeline. Does it have an edge over its competitors? Is it attracting new customers?

This is actually an amalgamation of the previous three criteria because we’re interested in the company’s plans for the future: What kinds of employees and managers is the company trying to attract, what new products and customers are in its pipeline, and how will it ensure its financial viability? What does the near- and long-term future look like?

If you want your future at a company to be good, you need to know how good the company’s prospects are.

Is this overkill?

In today’s fast-moving economy, when workers are more likely to jump jobs more often and employers are more likely to hire and lay off quickly, these suggestions might seem like overkill. Why do all that homework, ask for extra meetings and spend time thinking about all these factors — when you don’t plan to stick around a company very long anyway?

My answer is simple: You might get some big bumps in pay by changing jobs frequently among questionable companies. But there’s a lot to be said for working with high quality people that are producing exciting, desirable products that generate healthy profits — because that’s the path to a satisfying future for you and your employer.

A good salary, a boss you like, and work that matches your skills may be necessary for a job to work out well for you, but they’re not sufficient. Without meeting the four criteria I’ve described, I think you’re likely to be seeking another job again soon.

Accept the right job offer

What I’m really saying is, you should put a lot more into judging the place where you’re considering investing most of your waking hours. I find that the #1 reason people go job hunting is because they took the wrong job to begin with. Too often, they jump at what comes along — especially money! — rather than carefully choose the jobs and companies they pursue. The people, the products, the financial condition and the future prospects of a company will have a lot to do with your personal success.

I have no quarrel with you if you just need a job as quickly as possible so you can put food on the table and pay the rent. Take any job you must. But if you want a job with a future where you will be happy, successful and well-paid, it’s worth taking the trouble to figure all this out before you accept a job offer — so that you don’t have to go job hunting again any time soon.

What criteria do you consider important when deciding to reject or accept a job offer? Which of the four we discussed is most important to you? What criteria would you add?

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Don’t squander a good personal referral when looking for a job

Don’t squander a good personal referral when looking for a job

Question

My husband and I were both downsized. Each of us has a good personal referral to a “hot” networking contact to whom we plan to send e-mails along with our resumes, but what do we say? My old company retained a big outplacement firm to help me, and they provided some sample letters. In these, the job seeker named the mutual acquaintance who provided the referral’s name, gave background and accomplishments as bullet points, and then either asked for the names of organizations which might be hiring or, in the case where the employer was known to be hiring, for a meeting to discuss qualifications.

Is this an adequate format for an introductory note, or do we need to do more research on the target company’s problems and how we can add value? I have been intrigued by your approach to job hunting. However, I don’t know how to apply this approach to a networking contact. Please give us some suggestions for writing our networking letters.

Nick’s Reply

personal referralI’m not going to discuss what makes a company want to hire you. That’s something we address frequently in this column. You already have the idea: solve the company’s problems and challenges. But you can’t really do that with the person who might introduce you to your next employer. What I want to focus on is how not to squander a personal referral. If you follow the generic advice you’ve been given, you risk wasting that valuable contact. It’s like you’re burning money.

There is no cookie-cutter personal referral

Big outplacement firms have a business model. Their objective is not to help you land a good job. The goal is to sell multi-million dollar counseling contracts to big employers that are downsizing.

If your employer really wanted to help you, they’d arrange personal introductions to managers who need you. Outplacement firms don’t do that because it won’t win them a new gig. To win big contracts, these outplacement firms have to define a cookie-cutter process for handling thousands of newly unemployed people. (For example, Ford Motor Company is laying off 3,000 workers and will provide “significant help for the workers to find new jobs.”) And that’s what you’ve discovered in that sample cover letter. As you already realize, one size does not fit all.

Make a personal referral even more personal

The last thing you need is a canned approach to job hunting. You need to make it personal. And that takes time, careful thought and diligence. Every situation is unique, and these packaged methods you’ve been given aren’t likely to work well.

What will work? A customized approach that shows you are laser-focused on one job and one employer. Make a personal referral even more personal. Let me give you an example.

Establish your value

I wanted to meet the publisher of a big-name magazine. I needed a personal referral. So, first I sent a casual e-mail to one of his writers, with a carefully distilled, pithy comment about an article she wrote. I closed with an intelligent question that required her opinion about the subject. This resulted in several e-mails going back and forth between us in which I established my credibility.

I then asked her a smart question about something the publisher himself had written, and tied it to my own work. I did not reveal all the research I had done. It was implicit in the quality of my comments and question. I clearly knew what I was talking about, and I offered some thoughts that were valuable. That’s the real purpose of research: it enables you to add value, not to show off.

A few more exchanges, and she was confident that her boss would enjoy hearing from me (and she might score a few points with him). So she gave me his e-mail address and suggested I tell him about my ideas. (Please note: I never asked for the publisher’s address.)

Create a dialogue

I sent the publisher an e-mail. Subject=From Nick Corcodilos via [writer’s name]. He wrote back within an hour. We have corresponded a few times. I’ve given him information he can use in his work with no expectation of any return. I did not hint at what he might do for me. But he won’t be surprised if I pitch him an idea soon — or if I ask him for advice, for his business, or for other professional introductions. (That goes ditto for the writer!) The channel is open.

The sample networking letters you’ve been given are one-shot requests for help. By that I mean once you send the letter, the rest is up to the recipient, yet the only benefit is to you. Your polite request for job leads does not imply a dialogue. It’s one transaction.

But my e-mail to the publisher triggered a work-related dialogue that, right off the bat, offered potentially useful information to the recipient (and sort of put him in my debt). That publisher expects to talk shop with me again.

There is no canned note I could have sent him to accomplish that.

Make it a two-way street

It need not take long to cultivate this kind of contact. But such a valuable exchange cannot be stimulated with resumes or cover letters, which are asynchronous requests for a job. What I did is have a two-way, peer-to-peer exchange with the writer, and then with her boss. In both cases we talked about their work. People love to talk about their work. That’s where some of the very best offers to work together come from.

Stop thinking in terms of networking letters. Conventional networking is a selfish, one-sided practice that seeks a favor, a one-sided payout. The profit in the approach that I’ve described is in the two-way quality of communication, and in the pleasure of making a new friend. Everything else stems naturally from that, if anything happens at all.

Don’t squander a good personal referral

The truth is, a real job contact, a real personal referral, can arise from anywhere. You can go ahead and mail out those canned letters; one of them might pan out. But do you really want to squander a good contact because you didn’t cultivate it carefully, personally, and intelligently? Don’t burn money.

Before they turn to job postings and databases, managers hire people they know, like, and respect — even if they met only recently. Resumes and cover letters have absolutely nothing to do with engendering that kind of relationship. What I’ve described is how people make friends — and how you can cultivate a personal referral — in a professional context. Please try it.

If you have a “hot” networking contact, don’t waste it with a letter. Go talk shop, share your value, make a friend. Friends introduce friends to jobs.

How do you cultivate and use a personal referral to open doors and get you an audience with a hiring manager? Do you make it personal, or does that seem too awkward? Are there “magic words” you use? How does my approach differ from other “lead generation” methods you know of?

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Liberal arts degree: Asset or albatross?

Liberal arts degree: Asset or albatross?

Question

In your experience, is a broad liberal arts background an asset or an albatross? (I know, I know, I’m grossly glossing over differences in markets, technologies, regional employment issues, etc.) For the purposes of this discussion, let’s assume that our guinea pig has a liberal arts degree from a solid institution. Is the pig gonna succeed in business?

Nick’s Reply

liberal artsAbout 3 out of 4 employers say they want job candidates with strong writing skills. Far too many people in America, especially in the worlds of business and technology, can’t write to save their lives. And that’s because they spent most of their time in school studying one subject so they could become very smart specialists. But a liberal arts education almost always teaches people how to think critically, communicate effectively and how to write well.

And guess what? There’s no such thing any more as a single career. You need to be able to grasp all sorts of knowledge and thinking styles to tackle the rapidly changing kinds of work that need to be done. That’s why the traditional job is dying. And that’s why a liberal arts degree can be a very valuable asset today.

Liberal arts and business jobs

It’s not my intent to start a “jobs war” between liberal arts folks and other professionals like scientists, engineers, lawyers or anyone else. My intent is to help people with liberal arts backgrounds see they have options.

I think liberal arts types are among the most valuable workers in business. They tend to have well-honed critical skills and a flexible perspective that can accommodate just about any business discipline. They need time to master a new domain, and that can require a serious investment! But people with technical, finance or specialist degrees face a complementary challenge if they lack the breadth of knowledge one typically acquires in the liberal arts.

Liberal arts grads often often allow their degree to turn into an albatross. If they can stop torpedoing themselves, their broad skills can make them successful almost anywhere. Lots of liberal arts-ers (L.A.’s) seem to disdain the business world. I’ve never been able to figure that out. It’s a hurdle to overcome. Everything is a business, even non-profit organizations that nuke whales, save oil and grow eco-friendly pomegranates. L.A.’s need to realize — even while they’re in college — that having a job will likely mean working in business.

The disdain often manifests itself as defensiveness. You know the attitude: “I don’t really want to be in business. It’s beneath me. Business is for making money, not for satisfying my need to do something important. I come from the ivory tower of academe. And you guys in business scare the pants off me because… how do you do all that stuff you do?”

That attitude hurts a lot of talented people who need a foot in the door.

Liberal arts: Ability to change

But if L.A.’s suffer from naïve career preconceptions, they can be great learners — heck, I’m living proof. I spent my time in college taking courses in everything from Astronomy to Comparative Literature, Biology to Creative Writing, Art History to Economics, and from Psychology to Approaches to The Renaissance (Man, that was one killer double-credit course). I’m not so smart about anything in particular, but my L.A. background has made me fearless. It’s made me a fool for learning new stuff.

I didn’t study programming or coding, but I spent a couple of years designing and writing business software. I have no project management education, but I spent another year salvaging an inventory management project that went off the rails because programmers and sales people (at a major corporation) couldn’t understand one another.

Learning quickly on the job again and again gave me the confidence to believe I can learn to do anything well, because as an L.A. type in college, I jumped from subject to subject. That became a skill in itself. And I believe that skill makes any liberal arts-er a potentially fine business person. I got religion when I realized business is just the work someone does. It’s all business.

Liberal arts can be your asset

I believe that almost any L.A.-er who’s serious about it can land a good job — or change careers — by applying the ability to write and communicate effectively. That’s the sign of a trained and disciplined mind. That’s one of the first things I look for when I evaluate a business person. Having said that, I also expect a clear demonstration that the job candidate has applied their liberal arts training to learn about my business and the job I’m trying to fill!

There are lots of specialists out there that an L.A.-er could run circles around — just because L.A.-ers can speak and write well. The challenge to the L.A.-er is to study the business you want to work in, gain enough of a grasp to hold your own, and to show how you will apply your skills to it. In some fields, of course, you may need some serious additional education to compete with the specialists, but I think you will find the skills you already possess will often make you a uniquely qualified candidate for some surprising jobs.

So yes, our guinea pig can succeed. If you have a liberal arts degree and want to work in business, technology, finance or any other field, you’ve got to do more homework. Lucky you, that’s what you’re good at. Then choose your target and go tackle the world.

Is a liberal arts education useful in your line of work? Why or why not? If you work in a specialized field, have you encountered (or hired) people with liberal arts degrees? Are liberal arts credentials an asset or an albatross?

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I really want this job!

I really want this job!

Question

How long should I wait before checking in on a late-stage interview process that’s gone silent? I’m interviewing for a top software engineering management role after being asked to apply by the CTO. I really want this job.

The role would report to the CTO, with whom I interviewed twice, and then once with the engineering team. That last interview was three weeks ago, and I haven’t heard anything since. They didn’t tell me what kind of timeline to expect. I really want this job, and I’m going crazy waiting to know what happens next. Will checking in to soothe my anxiety damage the relationship? Do I have to wait some more weeks in limbo? Thank you so much for your help.

Nick’s Reply

I really want this jobThis may be hard to hear, but the worst thing you can do is “really want this job.” The truth is, most interview processes go south. The only way to plan around that is to focus your next opportunity.

If you sit and wait for that CTO to make a decision while you’re on pins and needles, it’s going to hurt you. Get out – go date some other companies pronto!

Then, if this goes south, you’ll feel a lot better for having “live” options.

Keep this in mind: You have NO control over that employer and you will never have any idea what transpired if they don’t hire you. The only thing you control is what I refer to as “On to the next!”

If you really want this job, ask now

Having said all that, I’d send a very casual, very informal note to the CTO. There is no need to wait longer.

How to Say It

“How are we doing on that position? I’m still interested. Are you?”

Don’t get all formal and wordy. (Avoid saying you really want this job!) If he says yes, then ask for a timetable.

How to Say It

“I’m talking with other companies. You’re my first choice. I want to work with you. But I certainly understand if you haven’t made a decision. I hope you understand I have a timetable of my own, and I don’t want you to think I’ve lost interest. Can you tell me when you expect to make a decision?”

By the way, never use the exact words I suggest. Bend “how to say it,” shape it so it fits your style and makes you comfortable, and always use your own best judgment.

It is possible they’ve got other fish to fry. Sometimes it can take a long time. But after this much time a CTO owes you some information.

On to the next!

If he says there will be no offer, there’s little you can do. If he says he’s got no info for you, then you to focus on “On to the next!” and let this guy simmer on low. If he comes back, great. If not, make sure you have alternatives.

Three weeks is a long time. Has his silence “damaged the relationship?” Ask him what’s up as offhandedly as you can, with a friendly come-hither tone. Expect a useful answer, then get on with it.

I hope you get the job. Like I said, this could just be a matter of the company being occupied with other tasks. But by letting a candidate stew, they risk not being able to fill a key job. Letting them know you may be gone by the time they get their act together will relieve your stress and also maybe help you find the job where they really do want you.

Waiting on one lottery ticket to pay off never paid anyone’s mortgage. Get back in the game now!

This may help: I’m still waiting for the job offer. If you feel you need one-on-one help, check Talk to Nick.

How long do you wait to ask for a hiring decision? Have you ever put your job search on pause while waiting on a job you “really want,” only to realize you’re left empty-handed? How would you advise this reader?

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How to make a tough job or career choice

How to make a tough job or career choice

Question

I really can’t decide between two good job offers that require a career choice. Each would take me deep into a career dramatically different from the other. I’ve done lists of pros and cons and still cannot figure this out! Got any suggestions?

(NOTE: This is an old question that I’ve never published because I didn’t have an answer for it — until now. Strap in, because some might think I’m going a bit “out there” on this! – Nick)

Nick’s Reply

career choiceSometimes you’ve got to make a choice between two job offers, or you’ve got to decide “Do I stay, or do I go?” Much of the time you can pretty easily judge the evidence supporting one choice or the other. But sometimes you can’t — because “I” gets in the way.

Does “I” cause confusion when making a career choice?

I is who talks to you when you stop living and start “paying attention.” Really, there is never a need to “pay attention.” We do that automatically. It’s how our senses and our brains work. As long as your eyes are open, when that swerving car comes toward you unexpectedly, your brain makes your body jump out of the way — you don’t need to “pay attention.”

Likewise, when you have job choices that seem confusing, it’s often illuminating to merely stop thinking about it. Stop I.

A lesson from the Buddha

A Buddhist friend suggests we don’t need I. In fact, I gets in the way of knowing all we need to know. And that includes knowing which choice in virtually any situation is the best choice for us.

Stopping I is hard. It’s why the Buddha spent years in contemplation — to stop his I. Well, not to stop it. Rather, to experience the knowledge that there is no I. Everything —  everything — is connected, is one, is Unity, so I is just an artifact of a brain that doesn’t know how to be still. There is no need for I when a person can sit quietly and see, hear, feel, smell and even taste what is before them.

This, the Buddha tells us, is knowing.

No, I’m not going religious on you. I’m not proselytizing or suggesting you give up your power of choice to a 2,500-year-old holy man. Many religions offer ways to know ourselves better. The point is to have a method to be still and know yourself; a way to turn off that distracting internal voice that can make your head spin with indecision.

One way to make a tough job or career choice

I’m telling you this because I’d like to help you make choices that seem daunting. We don’t encounter these all the time. Usually, we know exactly what to do. But when we don’t, I steps in and over-analyzes, over-rationalizes, argues too much and drives us into confusion.

So, how do we get rid of I so that we can just know what we really want?

A special edition of the Stanford alumni magazine is devoted to stories about chance and randomness. There’s interesting stuff throughout: some fun, provocative stories, as well as some college-magazine tripe.

But the best story in that edition is on the very last page. Perhaps an editor got loose from their I and saw the naked wisdom about what’s chance, what’s random, and how the chaotic universe will lead us to knowledge about ourselves without any need to think.

Make the choice you know is right

In Mary Poindexter McLaughlin’s “Keep the Change,” a seemingly random flip of a coin leads the author away from conscious thought — away from the I that talks to us — so she can see that she already knows the answer to her problem.

McLaughlin wasn’t choosing between two offers — but you might be. She had to choose between two careers. One career (as a university administrator) came with a job offer; the other (acting in theater) included no firm offer and required a big move.

With the flip of a coin, McLaughlin made a life-changing choice, but not because the outcome of the flip made the choice for her. The real outcome was that she easily and effortlessly made her own choice when the coin flip removed her I and revealed her knowledge of herself.

Flip off the switch and see the light

You cannot know what I’m talking about without reading McLaughlin’s very short article. Please check it out. If I didn’t think it worth your while, I wouldn’t recommend it. Maybe it’s a bit out there, but it set off bright lights for me. It made me realize sometimes I think too much and pay so much attention that I entirely miss what I already know.

Sometime, when you have a seemingly impossible choice to make, like a tough job or career choice, try what McLaughlin did —- flip a coin that flips the switch off on your I. I bet you’ll see better for just long enough to realize you don’t need to think to make a choice.

You just know.

I’m not suggesting you ignore your critical faculties. But, take a pause when you’re unsure — take a moment to know yourself.

(See also Don’t subcontract your job choices.)

Have I gone off my rocker? What is this Buddhism stuff? When faced with a tough decision, do you ever feel like you (“I”) are in your own way? How would you make a decision like this, if both options seem equally attractive? Do you find any wisdom in McLaughlin’s story?

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Open Mic: What’s your job search problem?

Open Mic: What’s your job search problem?

job search problemSpecial Edition

I started Ask The Headhunter many years ago as an “open mic” and invited anyone with a job search problem (as well as managers, HR, and recruiters with hiring problems) to post their questions. At that time, I was answering 20-30 questions per day on a massive, free-flowing discussion board. (Yah, my fingers hurt and the letters wore off my keyboard.)

Since then, I’ve answered over 50,000 questions — I really have heard it all! Nowadays I pick the best questions readers submit via e-mail, and I publish one per week along with my advice here on Ask The Headhunter and in my free weekly newsletter.

Periodically I like to open things up and let the questions fly. So, in this special edition, the mic is open to everyone —  job seekers and employers and recruiters. We’re going to tackle a lot of questions. (Yes, we.

Open Mic: You’re on!

The open mic idea stems from webinars and live conferences I do for professionals where I make a brief presentation, then we open it up. Anyone may ask any question about a job search problem or about hiring and recruiting (or about work), and I do my best to provide useful advice on the spot.

I love doing these events because I don’t have to prepare! In fact, I can’t prepare. I have no idea what anyone will ask. I also enjoy doing it because it tests me — how much value can I deliver, to someone with a job search problem, in the space of a few minutes? (Yes, sometimes it gets messy and I sometimes get egg on my face…)

We haven’t done an open mic in quite a while. But, hey — this is called Ask The Headhunter for a reason, right?? With the economy, the job market and our daily lives almost totally upended, I know a lot of people are facing unusual situations – so let’s try to help!


SUMMER SPECIAL!

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What’s your job search problem?

I will do my best to answer any and all questions you post in the comments section below this column on the website.

  • Lost your job and don’t know how to start hunting for a new one?
  • You’ve got an offer but now the company is “on hold.” What do you do?
  • Wondering how to deal with a headhunter who just called you?
  • They want your salary history, but you don’t want to share it?
  • Your company posted a job and you got 5,000 applicants. What now?

What’s your problem? Please post it and we’ll tackle it. (To get an idea of how I view job search and hiring overall, please check The Basics.)

Two suggestions

  1. Please try to summarize your situation — about 100 words or so. Too much detail can be confusing. Try to boil it down as best you can. Help us understand the real issues so we can focus and offer useful responses.
  2. Please remember to ask in the form of a question. This helps crystallize the problem so we can address it effectively.

Please pile on!

I expect (and invite!) everyone to chime in and offer advice. The more suggestions and discussion, the better. Your advice is often better and more insightful than mine, so please share it!

What’s your question? What job search problem or challenge are you facing? Employers are welcome to post questions about their recruiting, hiring and HR problems, too.

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Should I use a job offer to get a raise?

Should I use a job offer to get a raise?

Question

Can I use a job offer to get a raise out of my employer? After 22 years of military service, I’ve been working the last 14 months for a company (A) as a government contractor. The pay’s okay. Last month, out of the blue, I received an unofficial job offer from another company (B), to do basically the same work. The job description is similar to what I’m doing now, but the benefits are much better and the pay is about 25% more.

I’m not going to do anything until B actually makes me an offer in writing, but assuming that they do (in the next month), my question is: Should I sit down with my supervisor and tell him I’ve had another offer, and see if he can match the pay that B is offering? If he matched their pay I’d be inclined to stay. But would that sour our relationship (which is pretty good now)?

This is completely foreign to what military supervisors (at all levels) have to deal with.

Nick’s Reply

use a job offer to get a raiseMy compliments for not taking any action until you receive a bona fide, written offer from company B. Don’t risk your current job. And don’t let this blow up in your face!

What’s really motivating you?

You must first decide, Why are you interested in taking this new job? If it’s the money only, that’s fine. But, don’t confuse money with the quality of the job and company. These are two separate issues, and you must do yourself justice on both.

If it’s more money that you want, you should first try to get it from your current employer. Ask your boss for a raise, but don’t hang the new offer in front of his face. Such a threat — and it is a threat, no matter how you couch it — could blow up on you.

What’s in a raise?

Your boss might usher you right out the door, or, if he concedes on the salary, he may view you differently. That salary increase might be paid for out of your next review. That is, you may see less of a raise later. Or, you may be viewed as “less than loyal” and if cuts are made, you may be among the first to be let go. Only you can judge this.

A threat is no reason for your boss to give you a raise. You must earn the raise based on your abilities and on the value you deliver to the company. If your boss won’t give you what you want based on that, then why would you stay for any amount of money? So, make your case and ask for the raise without bringing up the other offer. It’s a great test of your relationship with your current employer.

Don’t use a job offer to get a raise

Now let’s talk about the second issue. If you want to leave because the new job and employer are better, then why would you stay where you are for more money? Just go.

Settle the money question in your mind first. Then decide which is the better workplace. This article will help: Should I stay at my current company?

Your sense is right: Threatening to leave and dangling an offer in front of your boss is not good. As we’ve discussed, it can backfire on you. Decide what you want to do and do it. Either negotiate a new salary based on your value, or leave for a better employer and job. Either way, make sure you are choosing to work with good people who recognize your value.

If and when you decide to move on, please refer to “Resign Yourself to Resigning Right,” in the PDF book Parting Company: How to leave your job.

I wish you the best!

Did you ever use a job offer to get a raise? How did it work out? What’s your take on this method of getting ahead? Have any wisdom or cautions to offer other readers?

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4 answers about signing bonuses

4 answers about signing bonuses

Question

When it rains, it pours! Two of my friends got new jobs and both were offered signing bonuses. Is this common now? I have a few questions about signing bonuses.

  1. What is a signing bonus?
  2. Is there a “gotcha” I need to know about?
  3. When is a signing bonus typically paid out?
  4. Is a signing bonus taxable? If yes, at what rate?

Thanks for your answers.

Nick’s Reply

signing bonusYes, I’m seeing more signing, or “starting,” bonuses nowadays. Let’s answer your questions in the order you asked them.

1. A signing bonus is a one-shot deal

In a competitive job market, companies do all they can to attract the right kinds of people. If a company really wants to hire you but fears a competitor might snatch you up first (or that you’ll stay with your current job), they’ll pony up a bonus to get you to sign on. Or, they may offer a one-time bonus to compensate for something you’ll be forced to leave behind at your old job — like an imminent raise or sales commission.

That’s what a signing bonus is: a one-time inducement (though it may be in multiple payments) to get you to take the job.

2. Some signing bonus gotchas

Any bonus is a good thing, as long as you understand the terms. Here are some gotchas that may surprise some people.

Be aware that the bonus probably won’t affect your salary, or a review and raise, or the basis for any life insurance coverage, or your 401(k) program. That is, if you accept a salary of $100,000 and a signing bonus of $20,000, and you’re given a 5% raise next year, your new salary will be $105,000 — not 5% X $120,000.

Any benefits you get that are based on salary will not be affected by that bonus, because it’s usually not considered salary.

Companies love that, because it’s a short-term, one-time expense to them. Don’t let anyone convince you that a $100K salary plus a signing bonus of $10K is the same as a $110,00K salary without a bonus. Long term, there can be big differences because there’s nothing long-term about a one-time bonus.

Here’s a particularly sneaky gotcha. An employer hired a hotshot sales person and made the signing bonus contingent on the new hire turning over their book of business to a more senior sales person in the company. It was a nasty surprise because the new hire didn’t read the agreement carefully.

3. A signing bonus may not be paid all at once

Signing bonuses can be paid out any way the company wants (and you agree). It’s likely to be paid out over time. That’s because your new employer wants you to stick around. After all, you could accept the job, pocket the entire bonus, and quit six months later.

They’re probably going to spread the payments out, or make you sign an agreement saying the bonus is recoverable if you leave the job in less than, say, a year.

In some cases, they won’t make any payment on the bonus until you’ve been on board for an agreed-upon period of time. Read the fine print, and negotiate.

4. Tax consequences

I don’t give tax or legal advice, so you should check with a CPA and perhaps a lawyer about your specific situation.

Generally, a signing bonus is typically taxable as income. It’s considered part of your total earnings, and whatever your income tax rate is, that’s what you’ll pay on the bonus. The only way around this expense is if the company factors it up to cover the tax on the payment — but you still pay the tax. (Factoring up makes an interesting negotiating gambit.)

At executive levels complex deals can be struck using financial tools and techniques we mortals are not likely to have access to.

Settle it before accepting an offer

You should get all your questions about a signing bonus — and all aspects of your compensation — answered before you accept a job offer. If what you’re told is not reflected in the written offer or agreement, insist that it be added.

The terms of signing bonuses vary from situation to situation. If an employer offers a signing bonus, settle all the details in advance.

Negotiate.

Finally, remember that a signing bonus is just as negotiable as any other part of an offer. In fact, if no signing bonus is suggested as part of your job offer, you can ask for it.

If the employer absolutely won’t budge on salary, and you won’t accept what’s offered, suggest that a one-time signing bonus could close the deal without breaking their salary rules and scales. Of course, keep in mind that this won’t have the effect of a higher basis for raises and other benefits — but it’s still more money for you.

Have you been enticed to take a job because they offered a signing (or “starting”) bonus? How was this bonus structured? Were you able to negotiate it? When is it smart to accept such a bonus, and when might it not be so smart?

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Do this before accepting a job offer!

Do this before accepting a job offer!

Question

It’s always a relief when I get a job offer, but that’s also when I think I’m most vulnerable to accepting a job that maybe I should not. Face it, after 7, 8 or 9 interviews (common today), you just want to get it over with and start the job! You have said people often quit their jobs or get fired because “they took the wrong job to begin with.” I understand, but how do we avoid a mistake like that? Is there a strategy or a reminder I should write on my hand?

Nick’s Reply

before accepting a job offerYou can do something pretty obvious to avoid going to work for a questionable company or accepting the wrong job: meet everyone that will affect your success. It’s not really a strategy. It’s more of a tactic that will help you confirm a really good opportunity and keep you from getting a walk-on role in a nightmare. You shouldn’t write on your hand, but if you insist, write these two words: upstream and downstream.

Look around the company

In a classic New York Times article, “How to Become a C.E.O.? The Quickest Path Is a Winding One” Guy Berger, a LinkedIn economist, says that to make it into a CEO job,  “…you need to understand how the different parts of a company work and how they interact with each other and understand how other people do their job, even if it’s something you don’t know well enough to do yourself.”

That may seem obvious, but job candidates rarely take time to look around a company once they’re holding a brand new job offer. They’re understandably in a hurry to accept. While Irwin discusses a career strategy for becoming a CEO, I’m more concerned with the tactics necessary to be successful in any job — and that requires slowing down.

Before accepting a job offer

While I think job success is possible only when you pick the right company and job, what happens if you devote tons of time and effort to get a job offer, only to realize it’s wrong?

I teach all my job candidates to pause the hiring process when they receive an offer, and to re-start it on a new vector — one they’d never be able to insist on until they actually have an offer. For the sake of illustration, let’s say you’ve been offered a marketing job. Always, before accepting a job offer, take control politely but firmly and say this to the hiring manager:

“Before accepting your offer to start this job, I’d like to come back and meet three people who are upstream and downstream from the job you’ve offered: managers who run Sales, Product Development, and Manufacturing.”

(The actual departments will depend on the job you are considering.)

What’s upstream and downstream?

If you don’t get those meetings, you are likely to accept a wrong job, or to walk blindly into uncharted waters. Some companies will just refuse your request. Others will scratch their heads and ask why you want the meetings.

Here’s how to explain it:

“Those managers are upstream and downstream from the work I’ll be doing, and they will affect how successfully I can do my marketing job. Manufacturing is upstream from Marketing: They make what I must promote. Sales is downstream from me: They must rely on how I position our brand. Product Development is upstream — it creates features I have to communicate to the world. The upstream and downstream partnerships with Marketing affect how successful all of us can be. To make the commitment I’d like to make to you, I need to know who I’ll be working with, how they work, and what they expect from me. So I’d like to meet them now.”

An employer is more likely to consent to these meetings after it has made the commitment of a job offer to you.

Interview the employer

I know a sales manager who didn’t accept the job until he spent time in the warehouse — a downstream department whose work would determine customer satisfaction. He wanted to learn how orders were picked, packaged and delivered. He’d had bad experiences at another company where, no matter how much his sales reps sold, customers didn’t re-order because shipments arrived late and damaged. He also wanted to meet the accounting manager — another downstream job — who was responsible for receivables, because sales commissions aren’t paid until customers payments arrive.

So he interviewed the employer after he had their offer in hand.

Managers in other departments may have interviewed you during the hiring process, but did you interview them? Did you drill down into their business, meet their teams and perhaps spend half a day in working meetings with them?

No? Would you buy a company without doing exactly that — assessing its talent and management in a hands-on way? Then why would you accept a job without this kind of due diligence?

Your job success depends on others

Other people upstream and downstream from you will affect your job success dramatically — just as you will affect theirs. Meeting them and understanding what they do, and how, will help you decide whether to accept a job, and to avoid stepping into disaster and having to change jobs again soon.

This tactic also helps when you’re interviewing job candidates yourself — send them up- and downstream to other managers before you hire them. Is everyone convinced they can paddle in the right direction?

See also: How can I optimize my first day on the job?

Do you do anything special before accepting a job offer, to make sure it’s really right for you? Have you rushed into a job without due diligence only to find trouble waiting? What happened? What are some effective ways to help ensure you’ll enjoy success on a new job?

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