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More Money: What to ask for in a talent shortage

In the November 14, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, an employer makes a lousy job offer and a job seeker misses the point: Ask for more money.

Question

more moneyAfter three interviews that included a lengthy presentation on how I would do the job, I was made an offer for a director-level position in a major city. I expected the salary to be upwards of $70,000. My current salary is $63,000. I also get good health benefits that cost me nothing out of pocket.

I was stunned when the offer came at $45,000, and I’d have to pay for health insurance. I literally cried. I am 33, 11 years out of college, and my resume rocks. Do they think I’m stupid? Are employers really so clueless? In this booming metro area, new grads get $45,000 for entry-level jobs. What they offered seems like a joke!

Should I even try to negotiate for an additional $20,000 to $30,000?

Part of me wants to tell them to screw off. The problem is that this director-level job sounds really great. But I would lose my apartment because average rents in the area are $1,800 a month. I couldn’t afford it, and I wouldn’t have enough for gas or  food. Maybe they think I live with my parents?

Where do they get off offering entry-level pay for a director role to someone with 11 years experience? Any advice? My family, my friends and I are in shock. Help!

Nick’s Reply

Employers complain there’s a talent and skills shortage, and that good workers are hard to find. But wages are not going up enough to reflect such claims.

Greedy employers and the talent shortage

I think it’s clear employers are doing three things:

For more about cheapskate employers, see Wanted: Top talent to work for dog food.
  1. They’re bargain hunting.
  2. They’re keeping more of their profits while productivity is increasing.
  3. They’re avoiding sharing profits in the form of higher pay for hard-to-find employees.

What does this tell us? If you’re a talented, hard-to-find worker talking to a company that’s facing a talent shortage, you should ask for more money because you can.

In July 2017, the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) reported that “CEOs of America’s 350 largest firms made an average of… 271 times more than a typical worker in 2016.” (In 1965, the compensation difference was 20X.)

If you don’t think there’s any error in the offer you received, then consider that it may be how the company operates. It’s greedy. So ask for a higher job offer.

Don’t contribute to the problem

Now I’ll reprimand you. I imagine you did not ask the salary range on the job before you invested your time inteviewing. That’s a huge mistake. Make sure you and the employer are on the same page from the start. When job applicants fail to test a salary range before interviewing, their wishful thinking contributes to wasting time. On the other hand, if you tried to assess the salary range and the employer declined to tell you what it is, see The employer is hiding the salary.

I give you a lot of credit for using the interviews to demonstrate how you’d do the job. (See The Basics.) That’s how to interview, and I’m guessing that’s why they chose you! But the salary offer is another issue.

Don’t rationalize

I’m concerned that you are already rationalizing taking a job for half what you think it’s worth because “this director-level job sounds really great.”

Really? Many employers try to substitute impressive job titles for fair salaries. They count on candidates talking themselves into an undesirable deal.

The problem now is that you may be confusing monetary compensation with the lure of a fancy job title. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume this really is a director-level role. Please be careful not to sell yourself short during a talent shortage. A title is not compensation for doing a job.

Accept the job and ask for more money

Learn from those highly paid CEOs. The EPI report notes that: “CEO compensation has grown far faster than that of other very high earners in the top 0.1 percent…” Why? EPI concludes it’s because of

“the power of CEOs to extract concessions.”

Pay attention! CEOs make big demands because companies perceive that there’s a shortage of great CEOs. You can play this game, too, if you have the nerve.

If you are ready to walk away from that job offer, then you have power because you have nothing to lose. So do not say “No” to the employer. Drive them nuts instead. (They deserve to have their cage rattled for playing salary games with you.) Treat them like desirable CEO candidates treat them. Accept the job, but extract concessions on the pay.

That’s right: If you still really want the job, why not try to get it on your terms? I’d accept the job, but I’d change the terms. You’re allowed to change anything you want in their offer before you accept it completely. Then it’s up to them to decide whether to agree.

How to Say It:
“I showed you I could do the job profitably for you, and I’m glad you were impressed enough to want to hire me. I want the job and I’d love to work with you! So I accept the job. But I cannot accept the terms you have offered. I’m ready to start work [tomorrow, or whatever day you choose] at $72,000. I will leave it up to you.”

Let the employer decide

Do not say anything more. (This is difficult, but keep your mouth closed past this point until they answer.) They already know all the reasons they want to hire you. Now let them consider whether they are willing to pay to get what they need, or whether they’re willing to lose you. (It can be a very long way to the next great candidate in a talent shorage!)

They will probably say no. But when they realize you’re really ready to walk away, it’s now on them to make a decision. They may come back with a better offer.

If they don’t, and you really are looking for a $70,000 job, politely tell them the following.

How to Say It:
“I am worth upwards of $70,000 in today’s market, where employers are complaining about a talent and skills shortage. I’ve found that your competitors are determined to hire hard-to-find talent and to pay what I’m worth. I wish you the best – it was wonderful to meet you and to learn all about your company.”

You don’t owe them any explanations at this point, so don’t let them drag you into a debate. Remember: They’ve already settled the main question: They want you. Now they must decide whether to accept your terms. If they press back, decide in advance whether you’re comfortable saying the following — then say it and stick to it:

How to Say It:
“I’m ready to take this job because I want to work with you. But my salary terms are not negotiable.”

Note that you have not rejected ther offer. In fact, you made a commitment when you accepted the job. Now let the employer decide whether it accepts your terms.

“I want more money.”

If you think you’re worth it, let an employer know you want more — and say how much. Just keep in mind that if they accept your revised salary, it’s not appropriate to negotiate anything else. You already said you’ll take the job if they meet your terms. If there are other things you want to negotiate, do that before you take a stand on the compensation.

For every employer that pays its CEO more than 200X what it pays the lowest-level employee, there needs to be a job candidate who is smart enough to insist on sharing that kind of wealth and success. The CEO is just another employee.

When they need you, extract concessions

You ask how such employers “get off offering entry-level pay for a director role to someone with 11 years experience.” Don’t over-think this. They do it because they think they can get away with it. That’s also why CEO candidates demand more money.

When is the last time you accepted “Because I said so” as the justification for why someone wanted to take advantage of you?

For more on this topic, please read “How can I go back and ask for more money?”
I’m not suggesting that you should be greedy and expect more salary than a job is worth. But if you’ve come to a reasonable conclusion that this employer is being greedy, and you think you can get a good job that pays $70,000 or more, you should not waste your time considering an unsatisfactory deal. Do not waste time negotiating. Instead, extract concessions or move on.

Look – if you need to pay the bills, and you need a paycheck of any size, I’m the last person to criticize you for talking yourself into a lower salary. Do what you must to live. But if you feel as strongly as you suggest you do, don’t fall victim to a greedy company that’s bargain hunting.

On to the next!

Do you know when to ask for more money? When you know you’re going to walk away anyway, don’t say “No” to a low job offer. Say “Yes, if you’ll pay me what I want.” Have you ever drawn a line like this?

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Job applications are the biggest recruiting scam

In the November 7, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a careful reader gets recruited to fill out a job application. Welcome to recruiting today.

Question

recruitingEarlier this week a recruiter contacted me. The salary was stated as a maximum only, and it would mean a 20% raise from my current salary. Even though I am not looking, I went ahead and applied. Following your advice, I asked who the company was and the recruiter told me “in confidence.”  I disclosed that I know someone there, but didn’t give a name. The recruiter said he could still submit my name, so I gave him a PDF copy of my resume.

Things changed fast!  First, he said I would be required to fill out an online application for the HR department. But I couldn’t proceed with the application unless I put in a numerical value for salary. I asked about this and he said whatever I put in could be discussed later. I put in $0. There was also a short “personality test.” I completed all this by mid-day Friday. By noon on Saturday, I got a rejection notice. BAM!

Could it be my salary expectations were too high? The recruiter recommended I come down, but because I’m not desperate I did not. Could it be that HR was totally offended that I was non-compliant? My feeling is that a junior HR person went over this and saw one thing out of order, and eliminated me. I seriously doubt that this application got further.

The bottom line is that I would not want to work for these people anyway, but I will admit that such a rapid-fire rejection hurts. Maybe I will hear from the recruiter as the week begins, or maybe not.

Next time I will ask if the recruiter’s contact is a hiring manager or HR. If it’s HR and not a manager, I will pass. So this was a good lesson learned. It cost nothing. Insofar as missing out on the raise? No problem there because I am not yet vested with my current company and I would lose the equivalent of the raise if I moved now.

Two last questions: Why does just about every recruiter who contacts me seem like a slime ball? How can they sleep at night?

Nick’s Reply

Welcome to the biggest recruiting scam going: job applications. Thousands if not millions are victimized daily. They don’t even realize it. You didn’t get recruited. You got scammed. And it’s legal. Employers encourage recruiters to scam you every day.

A recruiter contacted you to recruit you. That is, he’s out scouring the world for the right candidates for his client. He identifies the best, and then he goes after them — he pursues them. He and his client still need to interview you to be sure you’re right enough, of course, but they chose you and now they’re approaching you, enticing you, seducing you, cajoling you, trying to convince you — the guy they selected to go after — to consider a job there. They’re trying hard to impress you with an opportunity so you’ll invest your valuable time to talk with them.

Is that how this process felt to you? Of course not.

Recruiting you to fill out a job application

You were not recruited for a job. You were recruited to fill out a job application.

You were recruited off the street to do what anyone does to apply for a job they found posted on a job board. My guess is the employer is not even the recruiter’s client. I doubt they have a contract. The recruiter is hoping to throw enough job applications at this employer, in the hope one might “stick” so the employer might pay the recruiter a fee.

The recruiter led you down the path every other job seeker takes on their own. Like every other job seeker that is summarily rejected instantly, you got rejected. No surprise!

The only difference between job applicants who go through the process and you is this: If by some miracle you had been hired, the recruiter would have earned a big fee for doing nothing but ushering random people through the application process.

I’ll say it again: You were recruited not for a job, but to fill out a job application.

Recruiting to fill a job

Here’s what recruiting really looks like. Last week I finally reached a person I’ve been trying to recruit for almost a month. She’s a good candidate for my client. The president of the company and I carefully selected her because our research showed she fit our carefully defined criteria. I knew exactly why I was reaching out to her.

When I finally reached her, it was to set up an interview with the president of the company. No forms. No online links. No personality tests. No obstacles.

My job for a month was to eliminate obstacles so my client could talk to her. I never asked her for her salary information. I still don’t know it, and I don’t care what it is. When I finally got her on the phone, I spent most of the time trying to impress her. I didn’t want to let her get away.

My goal has been to pursue and persuade her to talk with my client about a job — and to impress her with the opportunity so that we’d have a good chance of hiring her. Why would we risk offending her by making her jump through hoops? That would not have impressed her!

How to test a headhunter

  • Who are some of the headhunter’s clients? Get the names of companies and managers.
  • Who has she placed? Get the names of a few candidates placed recently and a year or two ago.
  • What firm does she work for?
  • Where is she located?
  • Who owns the firm?

From How to Work With Headhunters, pp. 28-29.

Why they do it

Recruiters like this one sleep at night by mentally counting all the lottery tickets they’ve acquired — job seekers they’ve convinced to fill out job applications. Then they dream that a company will pay off on one of them.

The daily recruiting scam is a numbers game. Recruiters play it because sometimes it pays off — just like everyone else plays the lottery.

How to save loads of time

The recruiter’s trick is to get you to spend loads of time applying for a job that pays “20% more than you’re making!” It’s a simple rule of behavioral psychology: The more the recruiter can get you to do, the more you will then rationalize doing even more to comply. So the recruiter’s goal is to get you to start complying.

You ask what to do next time. Here’s a quick and sure way to save loads of time. The next time a recruiter contacts you, ask this question:

“Why does your client want me?”

Then ask this question — and nothing else:

“When does your client want to talk with me?”

For more on this topic, see Why do recruiters suck so bad?
If the recruiter answers with a list of tasks for you to do first — submit your resume, complete online forms, take a test, disclose your salary — tell the recruiter to take a flying leap into a cactus bush.

It takes a mental re-set to realize what that guy did to you. He made you apply for a job. It’s the daily recruiting scam.

How do you sort out the recruiters? What percentage of contacts from recruiters have resulted in face-to-face job interviews for you? At what point should the reader above have recognized what was going on?

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No college degree, no promotion?

In the October 31, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a successful manager pays the price of working for an employer who values a college degree more than the employee’s proven abilities.

Question

I have a great job in a fantastic company. Well, it’s fantastic except for HR.

college degreeI am an information technology (IT) manager with approximately 25 years experience. I lead a fantastic team. I have been a manager for many years here, I love my job, have never had a performance issue and, in fact, my team scores as the highest-engaged in the organization. I write industry articles and I am respected in my field.

While I am the only manager that reports directly to a C-Suite leader, my peers are at the director level. We (my boss and I) have been told time and time again that I cannot be promoted to director because I do not have a degree. I do the same work and have the same level of responsibility as my director peers, but without a degree they will not allow me to rise above manager.

I am basically a director without a proper title. Does this fall under any sort of discrimination? What can I do about it? I would love to go back to school but I am currently putting my own kids through college.

It is frustrating to think that I would have to leave a job and company I truly love just to further my career.

Nick’s Reply

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this story. It’s a distressing commentary on corporate management. Unless someone has explained to you what the material value of a degree is to the director-level jobs, the company is risking losing one of its most productive people for what seems to be an arbitrary reason.

How much is a college degree worth?

Check out what one reader did, in No College Degree, No Problem. The article discusses some tips from two of my PDF books that might be helpful in demonstrating your value to your employer.
I would stop there, but you said something that possibly reveals a more insidious problem. You do the same work as the directors, but you’re only a manager. I’m guessing you’re also paid less than the directors. Is it possible your lack of a degree is being used as an excuse to avoid paying you a director-level salary? How much is that degree worth in salary? Is there a way you could compensate for the degree that your company might find acceptable?

I’m not a lawyer so I can’t comment on discrimination or legalities. It might be worth investing a few bucks in a good employment attorney for an opinion and guidance. My guess is that their advice might depend on whether the degree requirement is levied on all employees or just on you — and on whether you’re paid less than others for the same work.

The EvilHRLady

To get another perspective, I turned to my good buddy Suzanne Lucas, who writes the outstanding (and contrarian) EvilHRLady column for Inc. magazine. She’s one of the few HR gurus I respect and trust — her insights and advice cut through the bureaucracy every time. She’s not a lawyer, either, but she’s got more experience with HR compliance than I do. Here’s her reaction to what I told her about your situation:

“There’s nothing illegal about discriminating against someone who lacks a college degree, but there is a whole lot of stupid involved. If you’ve got years of experience that prove your capabilities, then what does it matter what you did between the ages of 18 and 22?

“That said, I’d advise you to do a degree. I tend to recommend Western Governors University for situations like this. Not because I think you need to learn these things but because companies are super hung up on the idea that everyone needs a degree.”

A whole lot of stupid about a college degree

Suzanne and I agree: Your employer has a whole lot of stupid going on.

But we’re both pragmatists, and that’s why I also agree with her prescription. You need to decide what’s important to you, and figure out how to achieve it. If your company is dead-set against promoting you without a degree, your next step is to find good companies that will commit to your career growth without the need for a degree. Or you have to get a degree.

You must decide which route to take.

The ROI of a college degree

I think I’d take one more shot at convincing your management that you deserve to be a director without a degree. Run this by your boss first, but then request a meeting with the president or CEO of your company. Negotiate. Respectfully make your case about how you can deliver the ROI expected of a director — but do not threaten to quit. Explain that you understand the policy, but that you wanted to ask whether they’d make an exception after qualifying you in some other way for a director’s job. If you’re told No, shake hands, smile, and go back to work.

Then decide what to do.

If you decide a degree is a solution, you may not have to wait until your kids finish college. Be smart about it. Get a degree from an accredited distance-learning college that doesn’t cost as much as a traditional school. (See Can I earn a degree from the School of Hard Knocks?) In other words, calculate the return on investment (ROI). You may find it’s positive and worth the investment.

Find an accredited distance-learning school

While I trust Suzanne’s guidance, I don’t know the school she recommends. One of my favorite distance schools is New Jersey’s Thomas Edison State University. (I have no affiliation with TESU.) It’s a publicly funded, accredited state school. Do your own research. Consider trying a degree program. Just make sure it’s accredited and that any credits you earn are transferable.

Here’s what you might not know. The cost of a degree may be less than you think. Likewise the investment of time. And the ROI may be better than you’d guess. I learned these tips long ago from my friends at Thomas Edison:

  • You can test out of many required courses by virtue of your knowledge and experience.
  • This saves you money, and it can cut down the time to a degree dramatically.
  • You can even complete much of the coursework and then transfer your credits to a better-known bricks-and-mortar school if it means something to you to have a sheepskin from a “name” school. (I wouldn’t worry about that.)

Don’t rule out the degree too quickly because of cost. There’s probably a similar state-funded college where you live.

Solve the problem

Your problem is not lack of a degree. Your problem is that you can’t get the kind of job and title you want. So focus on how to do that. Talking to your management one more time is important — don’t make any assumptions. Then choose.

The risk you face if you leave your job to go to another company without a degree is that you may face the same problem. Like Suzanne Lucas, I think your company’s policy may be counter-productive. But I don’t control employers. And you can control only yourself.

I wish you the best.

An even bigger problem

pumpkins

Because we love to have in-your-face discussions about heavy-duty issues here, I’d like to point readers to an article in the Washington Post: Wanted for any job: A bachelor’s degree. Is that smart? (Heads up: The Post requires a paid subscription to read more than a limited number of free articles.) Here’s the controversy:

“Look closely at most job advertisements these days and you’ll notice an interesting, if not disturbing, trend: Most of them require a four-year college degree.

“Economists refer to this phenomenon as ‘degree inflation,’ and it is spreading across all kinds of industries and jobs. Among the positions never requiring a college degree in the past that are quickly adding that to the list of desired requirements: dental hygienists, photographers, claims adjusters, freight agents and chemical equipment operators.”

Hmmm. WTF?

When do college degrees really matter? Have employers gone bonkers? Are the economists right — is there real degree inflation? Okay, folks — it’s time to pile on!

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Salary History: Use California’s new law for better job offers

In the October 24, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, we take a deep dive into California’s new salary history law. Is it going to help you get a better job offer?

Note: This article is not legal advice or a substitute for obtaining competent legal counsel about salary history disclosure laws.


salary historyYou’ve probably heard this from an HR manager who has demanded to know your salary history while you’re applying for a job: “It’s required. If you don’t disclose your salary we cannot proceed with your candidacy.”

It’s akin to a salesman on a car lot demanding to see your bank account balance before he tells you the price of the car you want. Once that cat is out of the bag, you can’t negotiate effectively.

Now the State of California has made it illegal for employers to ask your prior salary. See Assembly Bill No. 168. (See also this article in the San Francisco Chronicle.) This can help you negotiate a better compensation deal.

You have 2 new powers over personnel jockeys

But not so fast. Hiding your old salary isn’t going to help you get a higher job offer unless you can obtain another critical bit of information from the employer: What’s the salary range for the job you’re applying for?

Good news: The California legislature thought of that, too. Starting January 1, 2018, employers can’t ask your old salary and, if you request it, they have to tell you what the pay range is for the job you want.

You now have two new powers over employers and their personnel jockeys in California. You may:

  1. Decline to disclose your salary.
  2. Ask the employer “to provide the pay scale for a position.”

What you need to know

It’s important to understand the details of your new rights. Therein lies your real power — the power to avoid wasting your time with jobs, applications, interviews, recruiters and employers who want to break you down so you’ll cave in and accept a lower job offer. Use these powers thoughtfully, and you should be able to get the kind of salary you want.

Here’s what the new California law says (emphasis added):

SECTION 1.  Section 432.3 is added to the Labor Code, to read:
432.3.  (b) An employer shall not, orally or in writing, personally or through an agent, seek salary history information, including compensation and benefits, about an applicant for employment.

Now we’ll expand on the aforementioned two new powers you can exercise when applying for a job.

1. Decline to disclose your compensation

This means never disclose your prior pay or the value of your benefits:

  • When you fill out a job application.
  • When an HR recruiter from the company requests it.
  • When a third-party recruiter (or headhunter) solicits you for a job at the company.
  • When you participate in a telephone interview.
  • When you communicate with the employer or recruiter via e-mail or otherwise.
  • During a job interview, and,
  • Apparently, under this new law, after you’ve been hired and you’re filling out employment paperwork.

An employer that doesn’t know your old salary and benefits has a harder time low-balling a job offer. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard employers say, “Our offers are 5-10% above a person’s old salary. That’s our policy.” As if that has anything to do with the value of the new job — or the value you bring to it! For more about this, see Revealing my salary earned me a lower job offer!

Never disclose your prior salary to anyone connected to an employer where you’re applying for a job in California (or anywhere else, but in that case for other reasons). Because if you do, you’ve relinquished your rights — because there’s a gotcha in the new law. We’ll discuss that in a minute.

First let’s look at the more important of the two powers California now grants you.

2. Request the pay range of the job

This is the best part. The employer has to tell you what the job pays. This is what will help you avoid wasting your time on jobs that don’t pay in a range you’re willing to accept.

(c) An employer, upon reasonable request, shall provide the pay scale for a position to an applicant applying for employment.

You read that right. They can’t ask for your salary history, but they have to tell you the pay range of the job you’re applying for. If you ask. So ask! And ask in advance of filling out forms, having interviews, and otherwise investing your time.

I think it’s more important to know the pay range of a job than it is to withhold your own pay information. But, of course, it’s best to use these two tools in tandem for maximum benefit.

Now, here’s the tough-love part. When they tell you the pay range, don’t kid yourself if it’s lower than you’d like. Don’t proceed under the impression that you can “talk them higher” later on. Conversely, if you use this law to apply only for jobs that pay twice what you may be worth, you’ll probably be disappointed if you expect enormous job offers.

Beware the gotcha in this salary history law

Those two new powers can gain you a lot during your job search in the State of California, unless you’re applying for a government job or other job that’s exempt. (Read the full text of the new law.)

Now let’s get to the aforementioned gotcha. Read this next part of the new law carefully. (Emphasis added.)

432.3.  (g) Nothing in this section shall prohibit an applicant from voluntarily and without prompting disclosing salary history information to a prospective employer.

Yep. That means you’re free to spill the beans if you want to. And here’s how spilling the beans will get you screwed:

432.3.  (h) If an applicant voluntarily and without prompting discloses salary history information to a prospective employer, nothing in this section shall prohibit that employer from considering or relying on that voluntarily disclosed salary history information in determining the salary for that applicant.

Got that? Once you disclose your salary history “voluntarily and without prompting,” much of your protection under this law disappears.

Why you may need a lawyer

Any time you’re dealing with a massive amount of money — like the salary you’re going to earn for a year or more — it may be worth consulting a lawyer. A consultation with a labor or employment lawyer, to ensure you know what you’re doing in an employment matter, will cost you only a small fraction of that massive amount of money in order to protect that massive amount of money. Consider making an initial investment in legal advice, then proceed prudently.

You may also need a lawyer if you find an employer has violated California’s new law, because of one more gotcha:

(d) Section 433 does not apply to this section.

Section 433 of the California Labor Code says:

433.  Any person violating this article is guilty of a misdemeanor.

This means that while violations of other sections of the Labor Code are a misdemeanor, a company that demands your salary history or refuses to tell you the salary range of a job is not committing a misdemeanor. This new law does not define the penalties for violations.

If you want to fight violations of this new law, you’ll probably need a lawyer. It might even turn out that this Section 433 clause renders Section 432.3 toothless once it winds up in court.

What about your state?

Similar laws are under consideration (or have already been passed) in some major cities including New York City, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, and in some states including California, Massachusetts, Delaware, Oregon and Puerto Rico.

Some of the legislation is controversial, and special interests are trying to block it. The Washington Post offers a good rundown in “New York City just banned bosses from asking this sensitive question.”

This issue is so hot that it’s best to look up your own city and state for accurate information.

What’s your best option?

We’ve barely touched on the myriad issues these laws raise. If you’re interested, you’ll find more here: Goodbye to low-ball salary offers.

Whether there’s a law against demanding your salary history or not, you can always say NO and decline to disclose the information. (See Keep Your Salary Under Wraps.) As long as you’re not party to a contract whereby you have agreed to disclose salary information (an employment contract might be an example), you never have to disclose it. There is no law I know of that obligates you to disclose your salary.

Of course, refusing to disclose might result in an employer rejecting you as a candidate. That may be their right.

In that case you may be better off finding a more reasonable employer who isn’t trying to manipulate salary negotiations by insisting on knowing your prior pay. You’ll get the best deal possible if you withhold information about your prior compensation, because the employer will be forced to base an offer on the value you prove you can deliver. (Did we just open a new can of worms? Yup. We don’t pretend anything is easy around here. See How do I prove I deserve a higher offer?)

Have you encountered one of these new laws in the wild? What happened? What’s your take on this kind of legislation — and on how to best protect your ability to negotiate compensation? What other issues do these new laws raise?

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Mom wants a new career

In the October 17, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a successful mom wants to be a successful job seeker.

Question

I’m a mature woman and I have to reinvent myself after a midlife divorce. I spent my prime years raising seven wonderful children. I home schooled my children over 20 years. I developed many skills that cross over into the work force: Organization, Punctuality, Customer Service, Training/Teaching, Computer Skills, Microsoft Word and Outlook, and more.

I have worked in a research analyst job for almost two years now and have gained vast office skills. The company I work for has very little room for growth without a two-year college degree. I can’t afford college. I am barely getting by on my meager salary. What can I do?

Nick’s Reply

mom

My compliments for raising seven great children! Getting the right job has much in common with what you’ve done, but today’s job market tells you to find a job by splattering your resume on the wall like spaghetti and waiting for some employer to figure out what to do with your myriad skills.

The truth is, employers are largely incapable of choosing hires effectively via resumes. This failure is the true source of the so-called “talent shortage” employers complain about. (See News Flash! HR Causes Talent Shortage!) They need your skills. They just aren’t good at understanding what you can do for them, so you have to mother them through it.

Mom credentials vs. needs assessment

Consider what would have happened if you handed your kids a multi-page list of all your knowledge, skills and credentials and asked them what they wanted you to teach them during home schooling — and whether they should “hire” you as their teacher.

That’s what happens when you hand an employer your resume. It really doesn’t help to enumerate all your qualifications and qualities. It’s simply too much for the employer to process.

More likely, when you stepped up to educate your kids, you assessed what they needed to learn, then you organized your skills (your “resume”) to satisfy those needs. That’s why you succeeded so marvelously. You based it all on your accurate assessment of what your kids needed.

Make choices first

You must do the same to find the right job: Assess what a particular employer needs before you decide which of your many credentials and skills to present. Employers say they want a comprehensive resume, but any good headhunter will tell you that the less you tell the employer at this juncture, the better — as long as the information you provide is 100% on the mark. (See Resume Blasphemy.)

First, select a handful of companies you’d like to work for. Pick the best ones that make products (or deliver services) you’d like to work on. Then set about to discovering what they need to be more successful, just as you assessed your children’s needs.

This takes careful thought and a lot of research and work, and considerable time. There’s no way to rush this. The alternative is to splatter your resume all over the job boards and wait even longer for some random employer’s algorithms to pluck your resume from thousands of others.

By choosing companies first, you take control of how well you can address their needs. There is simply no way to thoughtfully address the specific needs of 100 companies you find on a job board. So don’t apply for jobs that way.

Be A Wise Mom: Understand a manager’s specific needs

Do not rely on a company’s job postings. They’re produced by over-worked personnel managers, not by the managers who need to hire someone. Job postings are one of the biggest rackets in America today. They hinder hiring; they don’t help it. They ask for ridiculously extensive credentials, skills and experience — and for the latest buzzwords HR has heard about.

  • As a good mom, I’ll bet you ignored many requests for in-ground swimming pools, puppies, and the latest toy heavily promoted on TV. You determined what would make a material difference in your kids’ lives and invested wisely in that.
  • Did you know how to teach your kids every necessary topic when you started? Of course not. They’d never have “hired” you for lack of such skills! But you learned as you went along and figured out how to tackle each necessary task. If your kids had to hire you based on your skills, they’d never have hired you!

That employer needs a wise mom who sees past ephemeral wish lists. It needs someone who can see the desired outcomes. You must rely on personal conversations with the actual managers who would hire you — and on people who work with them — so you can assess what they really need in a worker. Only then can you possibly produce a brief plan showing how you’d do the work profitably for the manager. Your plan will of course include some notes about what tools, training and learning curve you’ll need.

Doing the job vs. doing the keywords

Having all the perfect skills won’t get you hired. The manager will hire you because you’ve demonstrated that you know how to assess his or her needs, and how to address them honestly and effectively. That is, you can demonstrate that you can do this job — and that you can learn quickly as you go.

The trouble is, personnel managers and “applicant tracking systems” which analyze your “keywords” are incapable of assessing your ability to do a job. That’s why people get rejected out of hand again and again and again.

You must go around the personnel managers and hiring systems to find the manager. Don’t enumerate the keywords requested in the job posting. Show how you’ll do the work the manager needs done. Have a conversation. Talk the manager through it like you talk your kids through a scraped knee. What any manager really wants is for you to make the pain go away. But first you have to have a heart-to-heart to learn where it really hurts. That kind of talk beats a “job interview” about your resume any day!

Some tips

Here are a few core Ask The Headhunter articles to help you get started:

Ask The Headhunter in A Nutshell: The short course

Pursue Companies, Not Jobs

Resume Blasphemy

Employment In America: WTF is going on?

You’ll find hundreds more helpful how-to articles on this website, all for free. (I also offer a few PDF books that organize my advice around specific topics.)

You raised seven wonderful children. You can find one great job. But you won’t find it by broadcasting all your skills and waiting for one company to “find” you.

Start by picking a good company, learning what a specific manager needs, and then organizing your skills into a short document (or presentation) that shows how you will do what the manager needs. Don’t expect any manager or employer to “process” all your credentials and figure out “what to do with you.” Most managers aren’t very good at playing Mom.

I wish you the best.

What advice would you give this mom, who clearly has considerable skills but little experience in the workforce? If you’ve made the transition from raising a family to getting a “regular” job, how’d you do it? What problems did you face? What obstacles did you overcome?

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Interview Me: How to Say It

In the October 10, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader fell off the wagon after mistaking a job form for a job interview — and asks for help.

Question

interviewI need an intervention. I almost filled out an online job application today that requires that you select a target salary from a drop-down menu of salaries in increments of $10K. How am I supposed to put a value on a job until the manager and I talk about it?

Maybe I also need an intervention for even thinking about doing an online application at all.

Is there some version of AA [Alcoholics Anonymous] that supports those seeking work who relapse and try playing the game according to corporate Amerika’s HR czars and czarinas?

Nick’s Reply

I dunno — maybe we should start Job Seekers Anonymous? It’s time we worked up a way to address employers who claim to want “exceptional talent” but expect you to turn off your talent and apply-for-jobs-by-numbers.

Stop messing around

In Job Assessment Tests: Don’t jump through hoops we discussed what to say to employers who make outrageous demands of job applicants before a face-to-face interview is even scheduled.

But this is different. You’re looking for a way to get an interview after you almost swallowed an online interrogation form.

I’m going to keep this Q&A column very brief, because what we need is loads of ideas and How to Say It suggestions from other readers. What can you say to an employer to get an interview?

The key, as you might suspect, is to talk directly to the right person in the company. So, why mess around? I’ll start. Try this. Send a note to the CEO or, better yet, call.

“Interview Me”

How to Say It:

“Hi, I’m Bill, a seasoned pro in [your field]. I’m interested in working for your company because it’s a shining light in our industry. But I’m puzzled by something. As a very busy [programmer, marketer, whatever] I don’t have time to waste with impersonal cattle-calls and online job forms, so I’m surprised your company is advertising rather than recruiting only the right people thoughtfully. I select potential employers very carefully. I’m ready to meet with your [marketing manager] to show how I can do the job to bring more profit to your bottom line.

“If you’re serious about hiring great [marketers] who know enough about your biz to have a working meeting with a hiring manager, I’d love to get together — but please, no personnel screeners who aren’t experts in [marketing]. There is indeed a talent shortage, and the talent doesn’t waste time on bureaucratic processes. I want to talk shop with someone at your company who’s qualified to talk shop with me. I’d be happy to fill out your forms later, if there’s a match. But I hope you respect my time and intelligence as much as I respect yours. If you want to talk with the best [marketers, etc.], interview me and I’ll interview you.”

That’s it.

Who else can you talk to? What else can you say? Who else can you talk to? What else can you say? (You’ll find more tips in this article, but let’s hear yours! Getting in the door.)

The recruiting, screening and hiring processes companies use are crap. We all know that. How else can you say, “Interview Me!” How can you avoid gagging on forms that peel off of HR’s toilet roll?

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Job Assessment Tests: Don’t jump through hoops

In the October 3, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader doesn’t like doing assessment tests for employers who put no skin in the game.

Question

I really enjoy your direct and honest feedback to job hunters each week. I’d like to get your thoughts on jobs that make you do “assessment tests” to prove you are qualified.

assessment testsI do not work in the tech field where I know these are common. I’ve worked in marketing for 15 years, won awards, and worked for some top-name businesses. But recently I have encountered many recruiters that want you to prove your worth.

My favorite was for a company in the San Francisco Bay Area that needs to fill a marketing and web content position. Two hours before the phone interview, the marketing director sends me an e-mail saying that I need to prove my research skills and she will send me a question 10 minutes before our interview time. I have to research the question and have it submitted before the interview.

I was ready to walk but did it just to see if I could. (I succeeded). After the talk, I was unimpressed with her abilities and withdrew my application.

Recently, during my first in-person interview for another job, I was asked to write a five-page press release by the next day. I politely told the manager that my extensive work experience speaks for itself and I would be happy to send links to my previous press releases. She said that wasn’t good enough and I said, “I’m withdrawing my application.”

As you can tell, I’m ready to walk away from imposing situations like this that, for the most part, waste your time. What is the proper way to say “no” to these assessments? Thanks!

Nick’s Reply

My compliments for walking away from these kinds of abusive hurdles. Such employers undoubtedly think what they’re doing is a clever “pre-assessment” of job applicants. That is, they want to assess whether it’s worth their time to meet and assess you. They lay the burden on you, while they avoid putting their own skin in the game.

My guess is they add this step because some HR consulting firm charged them a bundle for “best methods” in recruiting. But there’s nothing “best” about abusing the job candidates those same employers complain are in short supply! Talk about trying to appeal to a candidate!

Assessment tests are often bogus

For an in-depth look at this topic, see Dr. Erica Klein’s Employment Tests: Get The Edge.
Job assessment tests come in many flavors. Tests and assessments can be useful tools for employers and job seekers. But more often than not, they’re misused. Some assessment methods are transparently ridiculous and unreasonable — and they’re not assessments at all. They’re bogus.

I think the way you’re dealing with unreasonable demands is just fine. And I don’t think anything you say to employers or recruiters is going to make them stop insisting that you jump through hoops, participate in totally one-sided “interviews,” and do free work. These employers have established a policy and a process. You’re not likely to change any of it. But it may be fun to make a point to them — a point that may hit home after they lose lots of good job applicants to their competitors.

I love your story about the marketing director. I wonder if she instructs her company’s salespeople to pre-assess potential customers by making them submit a five-page statement about “Why I’m worthy to listen to your sales pitch.”

But you asked me how to say no to these “assessments.”

How to Say It

When you’re asked to jump through hoops that you think are unreasonable, be ready to respond. Here are my suggestions about how to say it, ranked by snarkiness. Decide how far you want to go.

Meet or beat it.

“I’d be happy to invest my time to meet with you so we can determine whether we should work together. If there’s serious mutual interest, I’d be glad to show you how I’d to the job profitably. But without a corresponding investment of time from a serious employer, it’s just not prudent for me to do what’s essentially a one-sided assessment. I’m currently in discussions with three other employers and I expect to choose one in the next X days. If you’d like to meet to explore working together, I’d be glad to come in on one of these dates and times: [list 2 or 3 dates]. If those are not convenient, please suggest some others and I will look forward to talking shop.”

That’s pretty assertive, but so’s an employer’s demand that you do work before just a phone interview. I’m a big believer in showing how you’ll do the work to win the job — in a face-to-face meeting. But if the employer isn’t investing its own time and effort, it’s presumptuous of them to expect you to do so.

Pay me to do your job.

Sometimes it helps to put a price on what the employer is demanding:

“Just as I’m sure you don’t charge prospective customers to do a sales call, or to provide product samples for their evaluation, I don’t charge for interview meetings or samples of my work. I’d be more than happy to meet with you. But if you want me to work solo while you attend to other matters, my hourly rate is $X. If you’re willing to invest a couple of hours of your time, I’ll invest mine, too — no charge.”

I’ll do it if you’ll do it.

Sometimes it helps to put the shoe on the employer’s foot. You’ll win only the most honorable fans with this, but please understand that this is the shoe the employer is trying to get you to walk miles in:

“Attached is a psychological assessment test to be completed by the manager I’d be working for if your company were to hire me. If you’ll please have him or her complete it, to help me ensure I’d be working for a properly qualified manager, then I’d be glad to take your assessment, too. Since you already have my resume, kindly forward a copy of the manager’s resume so I can review it. Since time is of the essence, please be aware that I’m at the offer stage with two of your leading competitors.”

I don’t do tricks.

This one’s pretty snarky but, hey, would you go on a blind date with someone who’s not going to show up?

“An interview is called that because inter- means between, mutually, reciprocally, together — not one-sided. I’m looking for a good employer, and that means one that respects me enough to invest time together and reciprocally. I don’t jump for treats. Do you really have so many great candidates that you can afford to ask them all to do tricks before you’ll interview them? I’m ready to interview you if you’re ready to interview me.”

You’re not worth my trouble.

This one requires no explanation.

Talk to the hand.

Why do they do this?

You know such jump-through-the-hoop job assessments are inappropriate and usually offensive. So do I. Why don’t employers know it?

It’s pretty simple. These are employers that don’t know how to recruit job candidates. They want you to do the work, preferably with no investment on their part. These employers want you to incur costs before they do. They want you to pay for hiring managers’ (and HR’s) ineptitude. They’re all telling you one thing: “You don’t want to work here because we have no idea how to hire.”

What are the most ridiculous or offensive assessment tests you’ve been asked to jump through? How have you responded? Is there a way to say no that keeps you in the running? If you’re an employer, how do you justify asking candidates to perform — before you invest any time in them? (That’s not a loaded question. We’d really like to know.)

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Consulting: Should I trade my fledgling business for a real job?

In the September 26, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks whether it’s worth trading a budding consulting business for a “real” job.

Question

consultingI’m an avid follower and have found Ask The Headhunter positively inspirational. I especially enjoy pushing back on senior executives for their lame hiring practices and nonsensical rejection methods.

Anyway, here’s my situation. I set up my own consulting practice while job hunting. It’s been 15 months and the business is growing, but I’m also finally getting close to a job offer. The role is in my field of expertise and it’s as full-time internal consultant for a huge multinational.

I’m toying with the idea of pitching an outsourcing (consulting) arrangement for my firm in place of taking the job they’re interviewing me for. It makes sense as they would gain extra manpower, and I know we could do a better job for the same cost. But I’m concerned this proposition might derail the process. What do you think?

Nick’s Reply

Ask The Headhunter is largely about helping people get jobs, because few people are capable of doing what you’re doing – starting and running their own little business.

I make no bones about preferring to see people run their own show rather than get a job, but it’s not for everyone. Neither option is very secure, and when you work for yourself you usually come to realize you work for a slave driver who’s often a jerk. (Believe me, I know!)

But when things go perilously wrong in either scenario – having a job or a business – it’s only when you’re your own boss that you get to make the critical choices. You always have the chance to right the ship.

There’s a twist on this “job vs. self-employment” issue that some readers might like to consider: Want a job? Threaten to start a business!
Only you can judge whether suggesting a consulting arrangement will jeopardize the hiring process in this case. Because your question seems to be about making a choice, I’m not going to get into how you might make your pitch to this company. I’m going to offer some thoughts about how to approach the choice.

Consulting yourself

It sounds like you have some employees in your little firm, and you may be willing to let them all go. But regardless, I think  the bigger question to ask yourself is, Does it really matter if turning your interviews into a sales presentation does derail the hiring process?

This leads to more good questions. So start consulting yourself:

  • If you pitch a consulting option to the employer that turns them off, can you replace the lost job opportunity with other new clients?
  • Even if you try to switch this to a consulting gig and fail, will you learn enough from the experience to make you a better salesman the next time you try?
  • Can you afford to give up this job opportunity and continue what you’re doing on your own? That is, do you need the kind of security a job offers more than the benefits your own business provides?
  • Is this job opportunity worth giving up the progress you’ve made with your own biz?

What’s the risk?

You’re worried about the risk of losing a job offer which, by the way, you did not say is a sure thing. All I see is an expected bump in the road for someone who is growing a little consulting business.

It’s hard to shake the idea that you need a job. If you accept a job offer, will you be able to shake thoughts of what you might have accomplished with your own business?

I offer you no advice. I just don’t know enough about you and, besides, this is a choice you must make. If you need the salary and “security” a job offers, I’m the last guy to criticize you if you decide to accept it.

Songwriter Paul Williams wrote during the Viet Nam War that, “Peace is just the impossibly high first step.” So is taking any risk if you have a worthy goal.

I wish you the best, and I’d love to know what you decide and how it turns out. Thanks for your kind words about  Ask The Headhunter!

Have you traded a job to start your own business? What questions would you tell this reader to ask? Has anyone out there made the move to start a business, and then gone back to a regular job? What did you learn that might be instructive for this reader?

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When a headhunter has to fire a client to save a candidate

In the September 19, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a headhunter screws up.

Question

headhunter

I read your PBS NewsHour column, Job interviewers shouldn’t be asking for your salary. Here’s why. I am a new headhunter and I agree with everything you said in that article.

I recently had a deal fall apart with a client in the northeast who was ready to pay up to a $220K base salary. My best candidate was making $150K in the midwest. He checked off most of the boxes on their wish list, was in a niche, and there are not a lot of people doing what he does. He was willing to move his family, but the company only offered $185K despite a $30K cost-of-living difference. He wanted at least $195K to make a move but the company wouldn’t do it because they were stuck on the 30% increase and thought it was too high.

Everybody in the company that met my candidate loved him. He was nearly perfect for the role but they wouldn’t budge because of his prior salary.

So my question to you is: How do you persuade your clients not to ask about salary history in states where it is allowed? I understand that you might not want to give out trade secrets but thought I would ask. Thanks in advance for your help!

Nick’s Reply

There’s no trade secret here. Just common sense, fair play, and good business. Your client is demonstrating none of those qualities. When a company pays a headhunter for help finding a top-notch hire, our job is to tell the client the truth and help them make a good deal.

But the problem here is not just that your client got stuck on your candidate’s prior salary. It’s also that you fostered the problem by disclosing your candidate’s salary to begin with. Get out of that habit. Learn to push back and say no. Part of telling your client the truth is telling them the candidate’s salary is none of their business — and not the basis for a sound offer.

When the client gets in its own way, the headhunter must take control — or fire the client. You can’t win when you do your job, deliver a great candidate for fair pay, and then let your client kill the deal so stupidly.

A good headhunter doesn’t run a bargain basement

What’s stupid is that your client is not recruiting your candidate for what he’s worth to them. They’re trying to get an unfair bargain by offering an excellent candidate only what he’s worth in the midwest. What’s going to happen is a competitor is going to snatch him up for what he’s really worth in the northeast.

The way to persuade your client to judge a candidate’s worth for themselves, without looking at salary history, is to tell them what I just told you. (Check the boldface in the paragraph above.) If they don’t respond well to that, then you tell them something like this:

How to Say It
“If you aren’t willing to pay someone what they’re really worth, then I won’t be referring candidates of this caliber to you any more. Your team loved him. He was highly motivated to take the job and do great work for you. We both know he’s worth at least $200K. If he was from the northeast, you wouldn’t hesitate to pay him $220K. So while you wasted his time and mine, you’re the losers. Lotsa luck when word gets around that you don’t know how to judge a person’s value to your business.”

If you can’t control your client with the first message, you have to fire them with the second. Do you want to go through this with them again? You’re not in the bargain-basement business.

Fire the client

Yes, I’d fire this client. They just cost you several big fees, because the candidate probably would have referred several other great candidates to you over the next several years if this had worked out.

This client has probably damaged your credibility with the candidate — and he’s going to tell people. While any headhunter’s fiduciary duty is to their client (the employer), the headhunter’s reputation rests on the experience of candidates, too. If you can’t negotiate a good — not just reasonable — compensation package for a truly good candidate, you’re hurting yourself.

A good headhunter controls clients

To other clients, I’d make your policy clear. Your job as a headhunter is not to disclose salary; it’s to negotiate it!

How to Say It
“I don’t disclose a candidate’s salary because it’s irrelevant. I’m working with you under the premise that your company has a competitive edge and is thus able to attract the best people. If you’re going to judge candidates by what other companies pay them, then where’s your edge? If you don’t have a competitive edge, why would my candidates want to come work for you? Why would I want to recruit for you? I’d be happy to invest whatever time is necessary to help you assess this candidate’s value to your company in this market and in this locale.”

A good headhunter controls candidates by teaching them how to manage their expectations reasonably and intelligently. But sometimes you also have to push back hard at a client, or you lose control – and that’s the end of any headhunter. When you disclosed your candidate’s salary, you forfeited your ability to negotiate a good deal for both parties. Everyone lost.

A good candidate becomes a client

I’m sorry you had to experience this. It’s a hard lesson. I’d fire the client, but I’d then quickly try to pick up some new clients — among its competitors. Can you get a similar assignment from them? I’m not suggesting peddling this candidate around town — that’s not what real headhunters do. (See Headhunters find people, not jobs.) But you’ve found one great candidate who will likely lead you to more, so work with what you’ve got.

If you can place him, I’d call back Lowball, Inc. and give them a heads-up.

How to Say It
“It looks like you’ll be working with Mr. X after all – but as a competitor. He’s a really talented guy, so I wish you luck! No, I can’t tell you where I’ve placed him — that would be unethical until he’s settled in. But you’ll know soon enough.”

And remember one other thing. When you fire a client, they become a source of candidates. And a good candidate can become a great client!

A good headhunter is a good broker

The best job seekers routinely encounter lazy, thoughtless, unscrupulous headhunters. So show this candidate you’re different. Build a relationship. I’d do all I can for a candidate who did such a great job to make me look good and to earn an offer, even if the employer blew the deal. If you can’t place him elsewhere, invest a few minutes to make some useful introductions for him in the northeast. He’ll remember it. That’s where new client companies come from!

A good headhunter is a broker who doesn’t just bring two parties together. A good headhunter educates, manages and guides them to a successful outcome that makes them both happy to work together. Sometimes you have to take charge to do that. And sometimes you have to fire a candidate or a client. In this case, your candidate may be more valuable to you in the long term than this particular “client.” If you can’t negotiate a fair salary with your client, fire the client and save your future relationship with the candidate. Don’t be any less than the best broker you can be.

I know some of my suggestions may seem a bit snarky, but employers that can’t get out of their own way aren’t good clients. I wish you the best.

My PDF book, How to Work With Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you is designed for job seekers, but it’ll show you how to be a good headhunter, too.

Dear headhunters in the audience: Do you disclose a candidate’s salary to your clients? How do you manage your clients? Did you ever fire one? Job seekers: Do headhunters help you get a better salary or do they let their clients roll over you (and them)?

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Revealing my salary earned me a lower job offer!

In the September 12, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader succumbs to an employer’s demand for his salary information and pays for not keeping his mouth shut.

Question

salaryNick, I need your help. I’m in a very tough spot with salary negotiations. HR told me the salary range for the position ($65K-$70K) on the phone before our interviews. They also asked for my salary expectations, and I told them $65K-70K. So we had the interviews knowing we were all on the same page. Or so I thought.

After the first interview, I was contacted by the HR rep and was explicitly told that I would need to provide my current salary or we would not be able to proceed further with the process. So I reluctantly gave my salary away ($53K, which will be $55K in five months when my annual merit kicks in).

After the second interview, which I knocked out the park, they made an offer. It was only $60K. On the phone, I told the HR rep that there is no deal but I would like to continue to try to negotiate the best compensation package, and we will revisit the offer in a couple days.

What do you suggest I do here? I don’t want to turn away more money, but they are $5K-$10K below my expectations. Is my only recourse to risk the offer as a whole? Thanks.

Nick’s Reply

You ought to charge them $5,000 for helping them negotiate a lower salary, because that’s what you did. Congrats on getting an offer, but I agree with you – you ruined your negotiating position by strengthening theirs.

Never, ever, ever disclose your current salary to an employer. (See Keep Your Salary Under Wraps.) They will use it to put a cap on any offer they make to you. Now you’re stuck.

You must decide one thing: What’s going to make you walk away from this deal? That is, what’s the least amount of money you’ll accept and still be happy?

They may offer you a bit more, or they may stand pat. If they raise the offer, my guess is it will be by one or two thousand dollars, to make you feel you won a concession. But that’s no concession. It’s still lower than the range they agreed to. They will still save money, and you’ll lose money. You have already made a concession, by considering less than the top of your range ($70K). The kicker here is that both parties plainly agreed to the same salary range before proceeding with interviews.

They screwed you.

What they did is bait-and-switch. They agreed to one thing but switched to something else. They screwed you. Now you must recover or walk away.

Once you decide what is the minimum acceptable offer is, the rest is easy – even if it’s not a happy thing. You cannot negotiate unless you know in advance what will make you walk away. Then you tell them this:

How to Say It
“I can do this job profitably for you, and I want to join your team. I make that commitment. But I told you very clearly when you asked me what salary range I would require: $65K-$70K. And you told me your range was the same. On that basis, I did the interviews with you. If you can meet the range you committed to and that I asked for, I’m ready to accept.”

The rest is up to them. Just be ready – they may say $60K is as high as they’ll go. Are you ready to walk away? If you agree to the $60K at this point, be prepared for lower-than-promised raises in the future, and other broken promises. These people have made it clear from the outset that they say one thing but do another.

The offer is based on your salary.

“HR logic” about salary goes like this. If you make $A, you don’t deserve more than about $A + X%, where X is some small percentage. Why does HR do this? Here’s what one HR executive wrote to me in response to my advice that job applicants should never disclose their salary to employers:

“Employers want your salary information because they believe that if you apply for a job that starts at $50,000, but you made $30,000 in the same sort of job at your last company, they’d be overpaying. They’d want the opportunity to buy you for $35,000 to start, saving them $15,000.

“The HR person who does that gets many kudos for their shopping moxie from their boss, and gets to keep their job and go on many more shopping trips.

“I’ve been a vice president of HR, a recruiter, a labor negotiator and a candidate, so I know from which I speak… I am so dismayed that someone pays you to hand out this kind of information.”

[Excerpted from Keep Your Salary Under Wraps]

If they try to “explain” that their offer is based on your old salary, your response can be only one thing if you want to negotiate with strength.

Tell them to go pound salt.

If HR gets pushy or threatens to “end the process,” tell them I said they should go pound salt. Your salary is none of their business. Will they tell you their salary?

Here’s what an Ask The Headhunter reader posted recently on LinkedIn:

“To anyone who wants to maintain their salary history confidential in a way which no prospective employer can hold against you, I utilized Nick’s technique at one point in my career and was very successful — including getting the job I was interviewing for. Nick has a foolproof technique on how to address previous salaries which actually makes the company respect the candidate.”

Here’s what another said:

“The hiring manager more or less offered me the position on the spot and indicated a salary range that is roughly 40-50% more than I make now. Your two biggest lessons (at least for me) at work in the flesh: (1) Never divulge my current salary, and (2) Talk about what I will do, not what I’ve done.”

You can decide for yourself how to proceed. Here’s my advice:

How to Say It
“My old salary is irrelevant. I told you my required range and we agreed to do interviews based on that. Will you make an offer in the range we agreed on?”

Once you decide your position, the rest is up to them. If they insist on judging your value on what your last employer paid you, it’s their loss, not yours. Move on. This is a company that admits it doesn’t know how to judge value for itself, or that cheats.

But please – this is your decision, not mine. If you decide $60K is good enough, then do what you think is right for you, not what I think is right. Only you have all the facts about your life and needs. I’d never criticize you.

Also keep this in mind: You killed the interviews. You impressed them. You pulled it off. Don’t let their negotiating tactics make you question your attitude, behavior, or worth. Do you think you can impress another employer? My guess is you can. But you must make that judgment for yourself.

We have of course discussed this topic many times before. See Goodbye to low-ball salary offers and Salary History: Can you afford to say NO?

How do you negotiate? Do you disclose your salary? What should this reader have done, and do next?

Coming next week

In the next edition, we’ll discuss a topic that may have headhunters (and their clients!) up in arms: Why a headhunter should never disclose her candidate’s salary to her client.

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