My headhunter is competing with me!

My headhunter is competing with me!
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In the August 20, 2019 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader is confused about how a headhunter operates.

Question

headhunterIs it an ethical or typical practice that a recruiting agency submits more than one person for the same position? A headhunter contacted me about a management role in information security. I went in for the interview first, and while following up with the headhunter afterwards I did a bit of a brain dump about the way it went and what their personalities were like. As I was telling the recruiter my experience, I heard her clicking away at the keyboard and instantly I was thinking who is helping whom? So I asked, are you submitting someone else, and she said yes, the agency was, but she was not personally. The information I shared was used to help the next person they sent to interview after me.

It seems there is a conflict of interest and cannibalization when you send two people for the same position.

Nick’s Reply

That’s exactly how recruiting agencies (headhunters) work. Unless this is some unusual situation where you are paying the agency a fee to get placed (Please don’t ever do that!), the agency’s customer is the employer, not you. The employer pays a fee to get a job filled.

On a typical assignment a headhunter will submit several candidates to an employer, not because the headhunter is gambling, but because the client wants several candidates from which to choose. The goal is to fill the job, not to get you a job. Even if this is an employee-fee agency, I doubt your agreement with the agency prohibits them from submitting other candidates anyway. But at your level, it’s safe to guess this is a traditional employer-fee deal.

One headhunter, several candidates

Because this is how the business works, there’s nothing unethical about it. An agency will use whatever information is available to help them get one of their candidates hired, including anything you told them during your debriefing. When you think about it this way, there’s no cannibalization or conflict of interest. The objective is to fill the job with a candidate, any candidate.

I wouldn’t hold it against the recruiter, but in the future I would refrain from telling her anything that might help another candidate from the firm to compete against you. Don’t compete with yourself or with the headhunter’s other candidates.

How the headhunter gets paid

This reminds me of a learning experience I had when I first started headhunting. It illustrates how headhunters get paid. I submitted a candidate to a company and they hired him without telling me. When I complained, they said they had received the same candidate from another search firm that was paid the fee. I was livid. My boss sat me down and explained the rules. I learned my lesson. Headhunters don’t have any exclusive control over a candidate. (See How long does the headhunter control me?)

When I confronted the candidate I had “lost,” he sheepishly admitted he’d already interviewed at the same company in another department. Did he behave unethically? I’m not sure about that, because his goal was to get a job. Did he know he was putting me in competition with another headhunter? Let’s call it an error of omission. Sure, he should have told me, but not for the reason you might think. In this case, the candidate was lucky. He might have gotten rejected for both jobs if the company realized it was interviewing him through two sources at almost the same time, because employers don’t like getting into the middle of fee fights between headhunters. If I’d started a legal battle for that fee, I would have lost — but the company’s lawyers probably would have advised that the employer stop dealing with both search firms!

I became more careful about submitting candidates, and always asked whether they’d already talked to company X.

Understand headhunters

I’d have a talk with the recruiter. Decide whether you trust her. Ask her to explain how the firm operates. If they’re going to refer you for another position, ask whether you’ll have competition from other candidates from the same firm. Keep in mind that even if you’re the headhunter’s only candidate, you’ll face competition from other candidates anyway.

There’s nothing you can do but decline the interview or avoid headhunters altogether, but why would you do that? More important, now that you’ve been rejected by that employer, and now that you know other headhunters at the agency work on similar jobs, ask about other opportunities they may be working on. Optimize your chances of getting placed by learning how headhunters work. But please remember that the agency’s business is to fill a job — not to find you one.

Additional resources

I know you’re frustrated. This is why I tell job seekers not to rely too much on headhunters! These articles might be helpful:

Headhunters find people, not jobs

Why do headhunters act like this?

If you need in-depth advice about headhunters, please check my PDF book, How to Work With Headhunters — and how to make headhunters work for you.

Hope it goes better next time!

Have you ever had a rude awakening when working with a headhunter? Do the rules of this game confuse you? What would you like to know about how headhunters operate?

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Age 70, working and job hunting again

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In the August 13, 2019 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader fends off age discrimination.

Question

ageI am 70 years old and still actively working. I have been a consultant for an energy company since early this year, serving in an interim role. The company had a disastrous last year. I was brought in to help turn some of this around in the first quarter and “stand in” until a full-time person arrived. This was to have been a 4-5 month assignment; I am still here. I know I will not be brought on because of my age and I accept this.

I have started searching again, now that the assignment is drawing to a close. I had a recruiter locate me on Monster.com and ask for my “full” resume, which I sent. Later in the day I received a text asking for “your DOB.” I responded “16 July,” to which I received a note saying, “Before I submit your resume to my client I need the year.”

I told her to remove me from her database and thanked her for bringing ageism into play. Is there anything I should have done? Just because I am 70 doesn’t mean I’m senile or moving around using a walker!

Thank you for your column. Even in my “advanced age,” I get what you teach.

Nick’s Reply

I collect stories from people who continue to work well into their 60s, 70s and even 80s. Thanks for yours! They all have one thing in common: They are forthright and spirited.

The age question

No recruiter needs your date of birth (DOB) for any reason I can think of, so I’m glad you told that one to take a hike. But please consider that if you’re going to swim in shark-infested waters, you’re likely to get bitten. Monster.com and its ilk are thick with recruiters like the one that found you. It’s up to you to avoid risky waters.

You could be discriminated against anyway, but job hunting online makes it even more likely a person will be rejected due to their age. The impersonal, rapid-fire Q&A that recruiters can do via e-mail, chat and texts with eager job seekers makes it easier to discriminate.

So, no, there’s nothing else you should have done. You avoided wasting your time further. If you expect to get hired because of your qualifications, then it’s up to you to control how a recruiting exchange occurs.

Show them the green

The only way I know to test a recruiting pitch is to expect the recruiter to evaluate you for what you can do to make the employer more successful. That’s also how you will get past biases. In the case of age, you want to arrange it so you can show them the green — how you will benefit their business — before they get distracted by the grey of your hair or your birth date. (See Age Discrimination: Help me market my dad!)

You don’t say how you’ve gotten your jobs during the past ten years. Whatever it is, keep doing it. My guess is that you rely on your reputation and abilities, not on random queries. Don’t be distracted by recruiters demanding to know your age. Fast-paced, high-volume, automated online recruiting doesn’t permit you to communicate the information that will get you interviewed and hired. That requires a one-to-one dialogue.

So ask yourself, no matter who is recruiting you, do they take time to talk with you about the job and about how — exactly — you might be able to help do the job profitably for the employer?

If the recruiter declines a substantive discussion about those two topics, you know you’re not being recruited. It’s just a cold call that’s not likely to go anywhere.

Personal contacts

If a recruiter indicates they don’t really know anything about you, don’t waste your time because that’s not really a recruiting call. I strongly suggest you rely on your personal contacts – and develop more of them – for your job search. Here’s a four-step outline for how to leverage this: Ask The Headhunter in a nutshell.

You’ve been doing this long enough that you probably know everything in that article. I just want to remind you that it works, and that the likes of Monster.com don’t.

Are you still working in your 60s, 70s or later (hopefully by choice)? How do you do it? How do you handle queries from recruiters? Have you encountered age discrimination? What can we do about it?

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Should I extort a salary raise out of my boss?

Should I extort a salary raise out of my boss?
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In the August 6, 2019 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader wants to use a job offer to get a raise.

Question

A competitor offered me a job with a higher salary. What is the best way to use this to ask my boss for a raise, and what could be the best speech to convince him?

Nick’s Reply

salaryUsing a new job offer to leverage a counter-offer — a raise in salary — from your current employer is almost always a costly mistake. In fact, it’s a kind of extortion, so let’s call it that, and let’s consider some of the risks you could face.

You’re marked

Even if this gambit works, you will likely be marked as disloyal and untrustworthy. The next time cuts have to be made, you’ll be on the list because you already threatened to quit over money. Management will be concerned you’ll be likely to pull this again the next time you get a better offer. (No matter how much your boss likes you, business exigencies usually trump friendships.)

Instant termination?

If you’re using this new offer to leverage more money from your current boss, be ready to start that new job ASAP, because you may be walked to the exit immediately. Some bosses don’t take kindly to threats, no matter how diplomatically you make them.

Paying for your own raise

If you succeed in getting a raise by holding your boss over a barrel, where do you think that extra money will come from? It will likely be an advance against a future raise or promotion. You usually can’t win at this game because the bean counters are counting dollars. Most likely, you will wind up paying that raise to yourself in some way.

They want you, so be happy

But there’s good news here, too. You’ve found a new job where they want you! If you’re motivated to take a new job in a new place because you’re unhappy now, getting a few more bucks to stay (assuming you can get it) isn’t going to change the fundamental problem of job dissatisfaction. If that new job is really great for you, just take it.

Go where they’re making you happy!

If what you really want is a raise, ask your boss for it before you go interview somewhere else. Please see Should I ask for a raise one more time?

The “best speech” to give your boss is one sentence, and it should be in writing. You’ll find it here: Quit, Fired, Downsized: Leave on your own terms.

Do you want a raise, or a better job?

The bottom line is this. You need to make a choice, so compare your two options: Do you want a raise from your boss, or do you want a new job with a raise?

  • Your current employer apparently doesn’t recognize your value, or it would have offered you a raise and/or a promotion.
  • The new employer is putting its money where its mouth is — without any prodding. That’s worth a lot by itself. If it’s a good job, that’s who I’d want to work for.

I’ve seen people leverage higher salary out of their current employers when they get a bigger offer elsewhere — and it works out in the long run. But it’s very rare. Such a negotiation and accommodation requires great integrity on the part of the employer and the employee.

Work where it’s better

My advice: If the work, the job, the new employer and the money are all better, just resign and move on. Don’t look back at an employer who wasn’t willing to do right by you without a threat. Don’t forgo your future.

Have you ever tried to use a new job offer to get a raise from your current employer? What happened? Is there a way to extort a raise and mitigate the risks I’ve listed? Am I over the top when I refer to this gambit for getting a raise as extortion?

Don’t miss this new feature!
News I want you to use highlights articles that can give you an edge in unexpected ways!

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NEW! News I want you to USE!

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news

In the July  30, 2019 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter we skip the Q&A and look at the news!

News?? Hey — where’s the Q&A???

Curated News with a point!

In place of the regular, weekly Q&A column, I want to introduce you to a new Ask The Headhunter feature section, News I want you to use!

(The Q&A will be back next week! Catch up on some of the recent Q&A columns in the Latest Posts list on the right sidebar.)

If you want to skip this introduction, you may jump right over to the first edition of News I want you to use: Employers are hiring all wrong! Published in the Harvard Business Review, it’s a devastating analysis by Wharton labor researcher Peter Cappelli of why companies can’t fill key jobs and why you can’t get hired. I can’t wait to see your comments about it.

What’s it mean?

Like many of you, I’m a voracious reader of news. Readers send me links to useful articles every day, and I learn something new about topics that affect job hunting and hiring from almost every one of them.

But what good is all this information if we can’t share, digest and discuss it? You’ve helped make Ask The Headhunter the leading community of thoughtful, serious job seekers and managers who gather regularly to discuss the problems and challenges of job hunting and hiring. We share great advice — but I think we’re missing a big bet.

The great links you frequently share tell me Ask The Headhunter needs a digest of curated news we can all use — content from other good sources, curated by us and for us!

News I want you to use will include:

  • A link to a provocative news item
  • Dialogue about what it means for job hunters and employers
  • How you might be able to benefit from it
  • And, most important, your comments and insights — and loads of discussion!

News I want you to USE!

There are loads of lists of rehashed career stories all over the web. But there are also many news items that can make a difference in your professional life — if you know how to interpret them. This isn’t the same-old “career news” — it’s business news that can give you an edge when job hunting or hiring! By highlighting useful articles, I hope we can put an even sharper edge on what we do around here — help one another advance our careers.

News I want you to use is just the first of several new features I plan to add to Ask The Headhunter to stimulate more great ideas and dialogue about job hunting, hiring and success at work.

New menu

I’ve created a new pull-down on the main menu above — Sections — and I’ve added a graphic at the top of the right-sidebar of this new section so you’ll know where you are. Like a themed section in a magazine, News I want you to use will be self-contained, so you’ll find only recent News items in the right sidebar. You can always click Home to return to the Ask The Headhunter home page, or go to the Q&A section from the main menu above.

(The weekly Q&A column will also get its own section shortly. And there’s more to come.)

Keep ’em coming!

Most of the curated news items presented will be brief — the first one is longer because I’m experimenting, and I’d love your input on how you would like this to work.

I promise you I’ll try to find the best online content that you can use to advance your job hunting, hiring and career efforts — and, of course, I expect you’ll send me links to content, news and articles you think we should share and discuss. To all of you that regularly send me great links, please keep ’em coming — now our entire community will be able to enjoy them.

News will be updated several times between the regular, weekly Q&A columns. I hope you enjoy this new Ask The Headhunter section. Please help me shape it as a great new resource.

Let’s have some fun with this!

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Why does HR waste time, money and the best job candidates?

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In the July  23, 2019 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter we take a look at how HR actually spends money to recruit the talent — or not.

In a recent column (10 reasons your company’s HR can’t fill jobs) we discussed how HR organizations bungle recruiting and hiring — when they have massive resources at their disposal. Reader David posted a comment and some questions that have nagged at me ever since. Why does HR reinvent the wheel every time it needs to fill a job?

Question

HRHR is paying for an ATS [applicant tracking system] to store/file what’s coming through the pipeline. They are already sitting on a pile of resumes. Why not just turn the spigot off, and contact the people you already have in your pile?

Or worse yet, HR engages so-called third-party recruiters or headhunters who present the same people already in your database. I’ve had stuff like this happen to me before. I apply directly and interview for job X, but don’t get it. Later, a third-party agency comes knocking, asking if I’m interested in applying for the same job at the same company!

In other words, if you fill a position, you likely had people that were runners-up and could have done the job nearly as well as the person you hired. When you have another opening for the same role, why not call those people? Why not give them first crack at the job before you pay money for yet another job advert and waste time (we know that time = money) screening a new batch of people?

I’m not necessarily sticking up for ATS usage here, just so we’re clear.

Nick’s Reply

I don’t read your suggestion as an endorsement of ATSes, resume databases or automated recruiting. You’ve cut to the core of what hiring should be all about: relationships between employers and people (aka, talent). Let’s look at why HR wastes good job candidates it has already met.

Personal contacts are a valuable asset

Whether these candidates arrived through an ATS, a third-party recruiter, or a personal referral, we’re talking about a special set of people: those who were judged worthy by the employer after interviews and assessments. That is, these are all now “personal contacts” — people the company knows, who are pre-screened, vetted, and somehow qualified.

In other words, unlike unknown people, they are already deemed good candidates for jobs at the company. That’s an asset worth a lot of money. After all, virtually every hiring survey ever done tells us that most jobs are found and filled through personal contacts. Every candidate a company meets is a new personal contact that it has already paid for. So your question should rattle every corporate finance executive: Why do companies pay again and again to hook the same fish and throw it back into the water?

What’s a personal contact worth?

I’ll let you in on a little secret about the dollar value of personal contacts. When headhunters find good candidates for their client companies, they stay in touch with those people even if they’re not hired. Having already invested in getting to know them, headhunters know these candidates are incredibly valuable — not just as potential placements at other client companies, but as sources of other good candidates.

When a headhunter gets paid $25,000 to fill a $100,000 job, a good-but-rejected job candidate is likely to be worth at least that much money on another assignment. These are people the headhunter keeps close for years to come. The headhunter will bring other opportunities to them, and even do favors for them when possible, to foster good relationships that are likely to pay off later — whether as placements or as sources of referrals to fill other assignments. One well-cultivated personal contact like this can be worth $25,000, $50,000, or upwards of $100,000 in future fees. (See Good Headhunters: They search for living resumes.)

HR: People are a fungible commodity

I suspect that because HR managers and internal recruiters are not paid like headhunters, for actually filling a position, those personnel jockeys aren’t concerned with maintaining relationships with good candidates. Does HR even know whether a hiring manager judged the person a good candidate before hiring someone else?

Because HR’s recruiting model depends on an automated system that delivers scads of new applicants every day, HR is not so concerned with tracking who it doesn’t hire. HR views job applicants as fungible, or interchangeable — and easily replaced.

While HR might pay a headhunter $20,000 or $30,000 for one hire, HR doesn’t see the potential future value in the other good candidates HR interviewed but didn’t hire. There’s no money to cultivate professional connections, but there’s always money to buy more resumes.

Why recruit again and again?

Over 15 years ago I met with top executives at two different companies — major players in their respective industries. They were independently interested in my suggestion that they make better use of time and money they had already invested to recruit, interview and assess job candidates who were qualified — but whom they could not hire. That is, these were surplus job candidates. They were worthy of serious consideration or worth hiring, but someone else was hired instead.

I pointed out to these executives that, when they have already spent a lot of money to recruit people, they should get the full return on their recruiting investment (ROI) by using smart methods to stay close to such good candidates. I offered to help build ongoing relationships with the best candidates without spending money to recruit them again.

The idea is simple, and it’s basically what you’re suggesting. Rather than reinvent the wheel every time a new job needs to be filled; rather than spend funds soliciting new resume submissions; rather than review thousands of unknown applicants (directly or via third-party recruiters); why not go back to candidates you’ve already interviewed — candidates you know? Why not turn to people you have already assessed as good candidates, but could not hire at the time?

The challenge, of course, is how to track and stay close to good candidates you don’t hire. That’s what I was selling. Neither company understood the value. In a moment, I’ll tell you more about what happened.

Excuses

I finally gave up trying to explain recruiting ROI to employers after one of my clients hired me to train its internal recruiters (who worked in the HR department) to “do it like a headhunter.” The recruiters understood everything I taught them about getting close to their candidates. But their HR boss — who paid me to do this training — wouldn’t let them practice what they learned. He didn’t want them spending time building relationships. He wanted them to process the newest batch of incoming job applications from the company’s latest job postings.

Of course, some new jobs really do require finding talent you’ve never encountered before; that’s a given. But it’s certainly true that people who impress us are valuable people to stay close to. The excuses employers offer for failing to keep good talent close are astonishing.

  • That’s not how we recruit.
  • Our ATS doesn’t support it.
  • We don’t have time to stay in touch with people.
  • Resumes have a short lifespan — a few months later, they’re out of date and thus worthless.
  • A year, or even a month, after being interviewed, a candidate’s employment status could change.
  • They might not be interested.
  • They might take another job.
  • They might have moved or retired or otherwise be unavailable.

HR: Relationships don’t apply!

But the simpler answers to my questions are painfully obvious:

  • HR is not compensated for cultivating relationships, only for processing applicants.
  • HR is not compensated for filling jobs, but mainly for interview transactions.
  • HR has a budget for job boards, but not for staying in touch with good talent.
  • HR does not fully exploit the single largest channel of good candidates — personal contacts — except with paltry employee-referral programs.
  • HR metrics do not capture the value of relationships, only the degree of matches between keywords on resumes and job descriptions.
  • There is no personal “high touch” protocol for developing relationships and personal contacts in the employer’s professional community.
  • HR relies almost completely on job boards, ATS vendors, and third-party recruiters that make money only when HR keeps paying to search for job candidates again and again.

In a nutshell, HR doesn’t actually recruit, catalog or pursue the best talent. (See HR Managers: Do your job, or get out.) HR pays to churn databases again and again for quick keyword matches.

Talent is not treated as a long-term asset to be held. Instead, people are reduced to job applications and resumes that are traded back and forth on job-board exchanges like commodities, or why would employers pay daily to sort through the same millions of resumes that their competitors repeatedly search?

HR technology vendors control recruiting

The problem is that the dominant hiring model peddled to HR by job-board and ATS providers — and accepted uncritically by HR —  is high-volume automated keyword matching. In other words, high-profit, rinse-and-repeat database services. (See HR Technology: Terrorizing the candidates.)

This churn-and-churn-again model of recruiting is controlled by HR technology vendors. And it is perhaps best exemplified by the manager at a Fortune 50 company who complained to me that he couldn’t get a few bucks to take good candidates out to dinner to recruit them. Why not? Because the big job boards and ATS firms wined and dined his company’s executives to ensure the entire recruiting budget was spent on job boards and ATS services.

If the potential future value of an individual job candidate actually mattered to HR, every applicant would receive a nice note after applying. We know that doesn’t happen because, why bother? There are 100 million more in the database where that one came from. Job applicants are fungible. Who cares about staying in touch with them? We can pay to access all of them anytime!

Our HR isn’t set up to operate this way

So, what happened with the two companies that considered my suggestions about protecting their recruiting ROI by fully capitalizing on good candidates they did not hire?

It was Company A’s V.P. of Public Relations that initiated this discussion with me. She believed building solid, long-term relationships with job candidates would be a good way to enhance the company’s “presence” in its professional community, as well as a good public relations story to help it stand out in general. However, the V.P. of HR squashed the idea because “Our HR isn’t set up to operate this way.”

At Company B, it was an innovative HR manager that wanted to implement methods I had suggested to cultivate and track good candidates that managers had interviewed and liked but could not hire. When time came to execute a contract to develop a program, the company’s legal department squashed it because it had no precedent on which to base an agreement. The HR manager gave up. “We don’t do relationships.”

In both cases, one thing was clear: Recruiting and hiring the best talent was not the mission. Adhering to the status quo was paramount.

Why not turn the spigot off?

Reader David asks, “Why not just turn the spigot off, and contact the people you already have in your pile?” It’s a good question, and it shines a bright light on the dizzy dance of musical chairs that HR calls recruiting — if we might mix metaphors.

Every time HR finishes with a job candidate it does not hire, it wastes time, money and talent when it does not cultivate a relationship to keep the talent close. Should an employer look first at all candidates that it paid to recruit last time, before it pays to recruit again? That’s a bit dicier because a company doesn’t assess (or interview) everyone it recruits, so it doesn’t have judgments — or personal knowledge — about all of them.

I’d be happy if employers fully exploited their contacts with people they already know. This includes anyone and everyone they do business with, including current and past employees! Where do you think we headhunters look to find many of the candidates we present to our clients? We don’t turn on a fire hose; we’d drown.

Why keep screening new batches of people?

What does HR learn after interviewing and rejecting loads of people for a job? What company conducts an outcomes analysis after recruiting for a position? Do companies ever catalog and cultivate the best candidates they meet? Echoing reader David, why do employers keep screening new batches of people when they likely have good candidates in their surplus pile? It seems they do it because they can, and because they don’t know better. (See How HR optimizes rejection of millions of job applicants.)

HR should capitalize on its investment in recruiting, interviewing and assessing people it judges worthy of serious consideration or worth hiring — even if it doesn’t hire them. Paying all over again to search for candidates with every new job opening benefits no one but job-board and ATS vendors who, as we’ve already pointed out, make the most money when employers keep going back to search again and again. That’s what outsourcing recruiting is all about — paying for repeated access to databases and keywords, and avoiding taking people to dinner to forge long-term professional relationships and personal networks that can pay off again and again — for the employer.

Is it smarter for employers to collect and cultivate relationships with the best talent? Or to advertise anew each time they need to fill a job? Are there any employers out there who stay close to good candidates after interviewing them? How do you do it?

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Resigning Your Job? Don’t tell.

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In the July  16, 2019 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader worries about resigning the wrong way.

Question

resigningI finally landed my next job after months of interviews. Now I don’t want to blow it until I’m actually on board at the new company. I say that because the last time I changed jobs I made the mistake of telling my boss too soon, before I even had a job offer. I thought he respected me enough to wish me well, but it blew up in my face. He told HR and I was walked out the door. I can use some advice. How should I handle it this time?

Nick’s Reply

Congratulations — now be careful!

Before I offer my suggestions, I’ll tell you about a vice president of engineering I placed. I moved Hans from the southern Florida “spook industry” (that’s what he called it) to San Jose, California, where he was hired to run an engineering department at a company that made state-of-the art communications equipment.

Resigning & telling

A week before Hans was to move his entire family and start the new job, the president of my client company called me. “Someone left me a worrisome voicemail. They didn’t leave their name and the number is untraceable. They said Hans has affiliations we should be aware of. What’s this about, Nick?”

The tight-knit Florida “spook industry” (purveyors of electronic equipment that spies use) didn’t like that Hans was leaving their little community and taking his insider knowledge with him. They made that call to nuke Hans’s new job — and his family’s future. Never mind how I found out; that’s my job. In the end, it all worked out and Hans had a long, successful career in San Jose.

What happened? Hans made the mistake of telling someone back home where he was going. Hans knew full well how to keep his mouth shut — that was the business he was in. But Hans also had a healthy ego and he wanted to impress some of his close friends, not realizing the risk he was taking.

Risking getting nuked

When I discussed this with him later — he was incredibly embarrassed at his own behavior — I explained risk to this seasoned executive.

“The risk that someone you told would hurt you was probably very small, so you overlooked it. The trouble is, even the tiniest risk is not worth taking when the potential consequences could be catastrophic. The tourist who climbs over the railing at the Grand Canyon to take a selfie knows the chances they’ll fall into the abyss are tiny. But the consequences are enormous. So it’s not prudent to take that risk.”

That’s why, when you plot your exit from one employer to another, you should never, ever disclose to anyone — least of all your boss and co-workers — what you’re about to do and where you’re going.

Don’t jump the gun

Ask yourself, who needs to know and what do they need to know? Your employer needs to know you’re leaving, but only when it’s safe for you to tell them. No one needs to know where you’re going — that’s private and confidential. And you can tell them later, when it’s safe.

The following is from my PDF book, Parting Company: How to leave your job. It’s just a short excerpt of the chapter, “Resign Yourself To Resigning Right,” pp. 42-43:

Too often, in the throes of deciding whether to accept a job offer, a person will start the resignation process too early. That is, he’ll let his boss know he’s thinking about leaving in an effort to get more input as he’s working through the decision. But he’s looking for advice in the wrong place. (See “Should I tell my boss I’m leaving?”, p. 38.)

Unless you have a rare boss who is more concerned about your future than about his own or the company’s, don’t do it. Regard any discussion about your potential resignation as tantamount to tendering it. Once you let the cat out of the bag… it may be impossible to put it back.

Word may get out among your co-workers, and it may affect their attitude about you. Your boss may view what you’ve divulged as an indication that you’ll continue looking, even if you don’t accept the job offer. And, if you haven’t yet made a decision, all that talk may lead you to make the wrong decision.

I’m a believer in getting advice and insight about a potential job change. But, I think it’s dangerous to seek such advice from people whose own jobs and lives will be impacted by your decision. If you work in a very tight-knit organization of mature professionals who respect one another both personally and professionally, your experience might contradict what I’m suggesting. But most people don’t work in such an environment. If you need advice, get it from a trusted peer or mentor who preferably works in another company. Don’t jump the gun. Don’t disclose your intentions when it might hurt you.

Protect yourself

My advice is to give notice to your employer only after you have a bona fide offer from the new employer in writing, signed by an officer of the company, and after you have accepted the offer in writing. Your acceptance letter should include a statement to the effect that you are “advising that my acceptance of this job will require me to resign my position at [the old employer] and to relinquish my income from that job, and that I will rely on the compensation of [$X — whatever the offer is] from you.”

Also covered in Parting Company:

  • Getting fired is a state of mind
  • Stock option handcuffs
  • Did you get downsized?
  • Should I take a package to quit?
  • How to handle exit interviews
  • What about counter-offers?

That “statement of reliance” is recommended by an employment lawyer who advises that it might protect you legally if the offer is withdrawn. (Please see Lawrence Barty’s comments in Job offer rescinded after I quit my old job, but please understand that this is not offered as legal advice in any particular situation.)

Don’t tell anyone at your old company where you are going, even if you’re so excited you could burst. Tell them you’ll be in touch once you’re settled into your new job (preferably for at least a couple of weeks) because you value your friendships and want to stay in touch. You can decide later whether you really want to do that.

If they beg to know where you’re going, just tell them that some headhunter once cautioned you to keep it confidential — and that when the time comes, they should, too.

Has resigning ever come back to bite you? What does your employer really need to know when you resign? How risky is it to tell people where you’re going? What “parting company” tips would you offer this reader?

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Don’t subcontract your job choices

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In the July  9, 2019 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader says all the job-search tools are mind boggling. What delivers the best job choices?

Question

job choicesI can’t decide whether to change employers or try for an internal move. I haven’t had to search for a new job in over a decade. The number of “tools” being marketed is mind boggling! Job sites, coaches, intelligent agents (really?), video resumes, and my favorite, services that use “big data” to match me to the perfect job. I tried one service that sends jobs to my mobile, but it’s spam. Can you recommend a few of the very best services to try?

Nick’s Reply

Your best job-search tool is the one between your ears. When you subcontract your job choices to someone (or something) else, you may wind up pursuing what comes along, rather than what you really want.

The employment industry is forever telling us that we need Big Data and career experts to guide us to our next great jobs. We need coaches and counselors and someone else to write our resumes. We need job boards and intelligent agents to deliver “opportunities” to our mobile devices. The problem is that while these tools may turn up something novel, they also lead us to relinquish our power to choose what’s best for us.

Which do you choose?

Try this little test. Think about going to interview with a company that found your resume in a database. What company? Well, one the database matched you to. So you go on the interview. How well would you come across in that meeting? How high would your enthusiasm and motivation be?

Now think about a product you really love, or a company you’d do flips to work for. Imagine what it would be like to meet and talk with a manager at that company. Exciting, eh? Incredibly motivating?

So, why would you let a database pick your next opportunity?

Relying too much on career help can make us passive and less effective. Take control of your career and learn how to advance it by pursuing what motivates you. How can you do this without automation and “professional” help? By taking small steps.

4 steps to your next job

In the world of psychology, we know that a daunting task — like job change – is best approached in steps. Succeed on the first little step, and you’re ready to take the next. Achieve several successes, and your confidence grows. Soon, you know you can reach the ultimate goal, and your self-assurance signals others that you’re worth hiring. Take charge. Take four steps on your own to get where you really want to go.

1. Talk to managers in your company

I’m glad you’re considering an internal move, especially if you feel you work for a good company. There are people who would pay a coach a lot of money for help to get a meeting with managers in your company. Yet, you can poke your head in almost any manager’s door almost any time you like. Pick one in an area you’re interested in. Introduce yourself. Ask the manager for advice and insight about how someone like you might fit into their area of the business.

Establish your credibility with the manager by briefly outlining what you accomplished last year in your current job. Talk about three things you did that helped the company. Then, ask the manager to name three challenges they see in their department. Suggest what you might be able to do to help. With proof of past success and ideas for what’s next, you have set the groundwork for an internal interview. It’s up to you to decide when is the right time to make a specific request.

2. Talk to a friend

Go visit a friend who works at a company you admire. Meet their co-workers and discuss your careers. What better way to “get in the door?” People pay to join networking groups to make new career contacts – but it’s hard to win the trust of strangers. So start with people that know you.

Your friends are the best sources of new contacts and ideas, if you put your heads together and consider who you know that can give you the advice and insight you want — before you actually need it. When you let other people open doors for you, it enhances your status. The next step is to return the favor: Offer introductions to the new folks you meet. One more step, one more success!

3. Talk to a company

Yes, directly. Not via a job ad or resume or recruiter. Pick your target company. Who do you know who knows someone who works there? How about the company’s customers, vendors, consultants, banker, accountant, or lawyer? I can almost guarantee you can find someone who will introduce you to an insider. (See Skip The Resume: Triangulate to get in the door.)

But, don’t ask them for a job interview. Instead, ask about their work. It’s an easy step – all you have to do is listen! Ask what they’re reading that influences their work, and for their insight and advice about their industry. Make a friend, and you’ll become an insider worthy of a referral to a new job.

4. Go to a professional event

Most job hunters freeze at the thought of picking up the phone and calling someone they don’t know. They’d rather write a stiff, formal cover letter ending with a plea that’s often interpreted as a threat: “I will call you in five days to schedule a meeting.”

From How Can I Change Careers?, p. 28

Attend professional and industry meetings regularly. Then take the next step: Offer to speak or conduct a workshop on a topic you know well. Attend more meetings. Become an active participant. Offer to help others. Become a hub of information and introductions. This takes time, so start taking steps now. The closer you are to the action in your industry, the closer you will get to managers who might be your next boss. (See Shared Experiences: The key to good networking.)

You’re right. So many tools are being marketed to help you find a job that it’s mind boggling. Most of them don’t work. Worse, almost all of them make you a bystander to the selection process. Don’t jump at “opportunities” that come along, and don’t subcontract your career choices to some database or to a coach.

The best career tool is between your ears — it’s you. You’re good at your job because you do it step by step. You can build confidence — and the network you need — to succeed at career change. Or you can wait for Indeed and LinkedIn to text you with your next job.

Start taking small steps toward the goal you choose, not the one that comes along. Every one of those steps is other people who do the work you want to do.

Where is the locus of control in a job search when we rely on automation, databases and “experts?” How do you choose the companies and work you pursue? What “tools” actually limit your choices? What tools expand them?

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Disabled and unemployed? Or are you a TAB?

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In the July  2, 2019 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter we get a reality check about disabled job seekers.

Question

disabledI worked in publishing, graphic design and general computer consulting when my spine was injured severely in an automobile accident. During four years of recovery, I completed a lot of education and became proficient in web development and programming. Finally, I returned to the work world as a network and computing coordinator for a local college. I was re-injured on the job and since my sixth surgery (anterior spinal fusion) I have been unable to return to work. I would have to work from home.

While I get countless headhunter calls and e-mails regarding employment, I have been afraid to accept an interview. I am confident that I would be a valuable telecommuting employee, but I am somewhat embarrassed by my disability and I fear rejection.

What is the climate like for telecommuting webmasters? Do you think it would be worthwhile for me to attempt to get a job? I have been putting all my efforts towards entrepreneurship. Your advice, comments and suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thank you in advance for your help.

Nick’s Reply

I have no special expertise in helping a disabled person land a job, and I don’t think there’s any special method or strategy to make it happen. (I use the word “disabled” advisedly, knowing many prefer other terms, because the federal government uses it.) There are of course resources you can turn to, including the U.S. Department of Labor’s website. Perhaps more helpful are  the many lists of “friendly” employers, including Best Places to Work for Disability Inclusion, published by the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD).

Disabled? Try the equalizer.

Disabilities is an umbrella term, covering impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions. An impairment is a problem in body function or structure; an activity limitation is a difficulty encountered by an individual in executing a task or action; while a participation restriction is a problem experienced by an individual in involvement in life situations. Disability is thus not just a health problem. It is a complex phenomenon, reflecting the interaction between features of a person’s body and features of the society in which he or she lives.

World Health Organization

I have taught job-hunting methods to all kinds of people, from high school students to financial executives to soldiers in transition to women and minorities. I teach them all the same thing: How to show a manager that if you’re hired you will contribute to the bottom line. That’s what matters most to any successful enterprise, and I encourage you to make it the cornerstone of your job search, even if it’s from a wheelchair or from your telecommuting station in your home.

Every kind of group and every individual encounters obstacles — some of them onerous. Discrimination and bias are among the worst obstacles because they’re founded on ignorance. But even some of the most ignorant, biased managers in the world will cock their heads and listen if someone approaches a job with a mini-business plan that suggests, if they’re hired, how they’ll improve the bottom line. (Please see You can’t CLICK to change careers.)

I believe that’s the equalizer. Seemingly biased employers suddenly turn out to be friendly and welcoming when dollar signs appear where they once saw only something they didn’t understand. You must decide whether to engage with such people, and whether to make the effort to educate them.

Of course, some bigots and idiots will never abide a person they’re biased against. Perhaps the main way to deal with that is to sue them. Otherwise, you may be wasting your time. I just don’t believe in trying to work with jerks, or being frustrated by employers who aren’t worth it. But I’ll repeat: If you feel strongly about it, sue them.

Call for insight and advice

Please do not let fears about how people will react to your disability keep you out of the job market. What matters is that you’re good at your work. With that in mind, you should not be embarrassed about anything.

There are companies that will hire you because you can produce, not because you can walk. (Some companies might hire you to fulfill their equal opportunity hiring requirements. As long as you’re productive and they value your work, accept the advantage.)

I’d like to invite other Ask The Headhunter readers to offer insights, advice and any specific suggestions they have about your challenge, especially if they’ve been in your situation or if they’re managers that have hired disabled employees. Their insights will be more valuable than mine.

Disabled or TAB?

But the main reason I decided to publish this Q&A is not to dole out my advice. It’s to address the perceptions that interfere with an employer’s ability to hire people who can do the job — disabled or not. I learned this lesson long ago, and I think my experience might be a good lesson for any employer.

Years ago I was at a conference held by Apple, concerning how personal computers could be modified to suit disabled users. There were a few disabled people in the room. One guy was in a wheelchair, dressed in biker garb, and he was clearly militant about it. After listening to us work our jaws about all our great ideas, he piped in.

“You keep referring to me and others as ‘disabled’ and ‘handicapped’. Do you know what I call all of you?”

Everyone cringed during the long silence.

“You’re all T.A.B.s. Know what that stands for? Temporarily Able-Bodied.”

It started to sink in as he went on chiding us.

“At some point, whether you get hit by a car or just get old, you won’t be able-bodied any more. So it isn’t a question of being different from me. It’s a question of when that temporary status of yours will end. Kinda makes you think, doesn’t it?”

Since then, I’ve never looked at anyone with a disability the same way. It not only altered my attitude; the biker’s reminder made me realize that I had an unwarranted attitude about myself. I’m a TAB. All of the rest of us are. So get real.

There is no question about it

You asked whether I think it would be worthwhile for you to attempt getting a job. Absolutely. There is no question about it — unless, of course, you decide to start your own business and hire yourself!

  • Don’t be afraid. Focus on what what an employer can’t do that you can. (Substitute customer or client for employer, if you’re going to start a business. It’s the same challenge!)
  • Be ready to show how you’ll do the job for the employer’s benefit, whether you’ll do it sitting, standing or lying down.
  • Don’t be embarrassed that you lack an ability today that the hiring manager will lose at some point, too. If you have to explain TABs to a manager, smile and do it!
  • Don’t make it easy for employers to ignore you. Show them how you can make them more profitable.

If you can do that, some of them will let you work from home, and they won’t worry about how well or how fast you can move around – as long as you can deliver the expected work.

Get past rejection

Bear in mind that many companies won’t let you – or anyone else – work from home. Telecommuting still isn’t as popular as we’d like. But, don’t take that personally. Keep looking for companies that want your production rather than your presence. (Learn all about Getting in the door.) But just like I accept the fact that I’m a TAB, you must accept that you will be rejected most of the time, just like every job-seeking TAB — even when it has nothing to do with your disability.

Whether you want a job as a webmaster or want to run your own business, go for it. The key is to take responsibility for showing how your work will profit someone else.

How would you advise a disabled job seeker about getting a job? Like I said, I’m not the expert. If you or someone you know has faced this challenge successfully, please share your experience and advice! Advice from TABs is welcome, too — we’re not biased against anyone around here, especially if their comments are profitable to us!

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Why un-do your resume? 25 cats.

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In the June  25, 2019 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader wants yet another look at the resume.

Question

resumeI think you once wrote that your resume can’t defend you, because if the answer is no, you’re not there to defend yourself or explain why you still deserve an interview. I get that, but I still need to use a resume. I like how you turn a resume on its head in Resume Blasphemy, so it seems you’re not entirely opposed to resumes as long as they deliver a different kind of message. Since I’m going to use a resume anyway, got any other interesting ideas about what I could do to make it more alluring?

Nick’s Reply

Sheesh. You want to make your resume alluring? Like fast food, a resume isn’t very alluring! Why not just list your employers, jobs, titles and what you did? Keep it simple. But I think I see where you’re going, so maybe we can have some fun with this.

I’m forever telling people to skip the resume when they’re looking for a new job. And I realize some think this is kooky advice, or that it must be a headhunter’s hyperbole. Actually, my advice is intended to make you think about how to express your value in terms that make dollar signs appear in an employer’s eyes. But there’s another view of what a resume should do: make your story memorable.

The trouble with a fast-food resume

Everyone knows resumes are processed by applicant tracking systems that check your words against enormous databases. So you try to use keywords that might make those databases yield job interviews. But what you may not realize is that few jobs are actually filled that way. You’ve been suckered by Indeed’s, and LinkedIn’s, and ZipRecruiter’s marketing into feeding fast food to their algorithms.

So if you really want to experiment, try some marketing of your own. Here’s an example that might get you thinking about how a resume can be something else — if that’s what you want. Remember, we’re exploring ideas, not trying to come up with a perfect solution.

Un-do your story

My good buddy, marketing guru Mark Levy, tells about visiting a Quiznos sandwich shop in How You Tell A Brand Story Matters. Waiting in line, he read an advertising placard that told “The Quiznos Story.” This sign, of course, is Quiznos’ resume. In his article Levy rips that sign to shreds, while I’ll bet millions of other Quiznos visitors didn’t give it a second thought.

And that’s Levy’s point exactly. The sign turned the story of Quiznos into a cheesy clone of virtually any dish on the menu at Chipotle or Applebee’s, or any of a number of high-volume themed eateries that produce overly cheesy, nondescript chow. It’s all the same.

Levy writes:

“I felt duped. Here I was excited to learn what separated a brand I enjoy from the rest of the pack, and what I was fed was a surface story that… could have been trumpeted by any competitor.”

While I preach un-doing your resume to turn it into a story of how you’ll produce profit for an employer, Levy is more interested in what’s iconic and memorable about you. After all, that’s what good marketing is. I can just imagine what he thinks of resumes he receives himself. Levy’s criticism tears into all banal marketing — including the marketing that comprises your professional resume or your LinkedIn profile.

A resume that makes a dent

What can we learn from Levy’s critique? Is your resume larded with the kind of fast-food twaddle that’s on Quiznos’ sign?

“For a sub shop to say it believes in great-tasting food, consisting of freshly-sliced quality ingredients, is like a automobile manufacturer saying it believes in building cars that drive forwards and backwards. Or, a computer maker bragging about how its machines can connect to the internet.”

Is that what your resume sounds like? I’ll bet you it is. And I’ll bet, like the Quiznos sign, it’s totally forgettable.

“The story Quiznos told may be true, but it wasn’t told in a way that would make a dent in anyone’s consciousness… I’m guessing few customers have read that sign fully or remember what it said if they did.”

And that’s why you come off tasting like just another bag of fast food when you apply for a job with a resume. Oh, the keywords probably match up just fine, along with those in a million other resumes. But eventually the hiring manager who’s going to interview you has to read that thing — and you cannot tell a compelling story in your own resume if you’re using the keywords you found in some advice column about “what employers are looking for.”

25 hungry cats

Levy says your story must include “a context… an insight… a promise… a substantiation… a frank detail… an unexpected bit of color.”

Are all those ingredients in your resume? Or is your story just more bland fast food?

Nothing good can come of this column unless you click to one more page on Mark Levy’s website. Try this resume test. Please read Levy’s follow-up article about 25 hungry cats: The Best Brand Story Is Often Informal.

If you’re going to un-do your resume and re-do it as your “marketing piece,” is your story this unexpected and iconic? Sometimes you have to leave the signs and resumes behind, and tell a story that makes a dent.

What’s on your resume? What do you think of Mark Levy’s example about the 25 cats? If you’re going to do something clever, or creative, or more meaningful with your resume, what is it? Or, should we just leave resumes alone?

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Inside a counter-offer disaster

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In the June  18, 2019 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader wonders whether it’s ever smart to make or accept a counter-offer.

Question

counter-offerAfter I accepted a new job at a better company, my employer brought me in for a high-level meeting with management and made a counter-offer to get me to stay. I politely turned them down, even though the money was higher, because as I said, the new company is a better place to work. As a manager myself, I’ve never made a counter-offer to a departing employee. My view is, if they want to go, they should go. Am I wrong?

Nick’s Reply

I think you’re right. It’s a very rare situation where a counter-offer is made and accepted and the outcome is good.

Counter-offers are almost always made and accepted out of fear. An employer fears an empty position. An employee fears the next unknown job. But counter-offers almost never resolve the underlying reasons for why the worker looked elsewhere for a job, simply because more money doesn’t satisfy other hungers — which linger until satisfied.

A counter-offer delays the inevitable

Headhunters routinely advise candidates who receive counter-offers from their current employers to turn them down. Some keep a sheet with a list of reasons to reject counter-offers handy. It’s of course self-serving — why would you want a candidate you’re about to place for a hefty fee to stay at their old job?

But in almost all situations, counter-offers are a big mistake for both the employee and the employer. Here’s why:

At the point where a candidate accepts a job offer, the myriad factors that led them to consider a new job coalesce to reveal just how potent the desire for change really is. Relying on a counter-offer to squelch all those factors just spawns other problems, or delays the inevitable until it reaches crisis proportions.

Virtually every case I’ve seen where a counter-offer was accepted still resulted in a parting of ways — it was merely delayed. And that’s why in most cases employers should never make counter-offers. The cat is out of the bag. Let the employee go.

There is no better lesson about counter-offers than the very-high profile story of Robert Kelly, CEO of Bank of New York Mellon, that was reported by Fortune magazine in 2011. It’s a case study that everyone should read.

Wishful thinking breeds mistakes

A person can work happily at a job for years before feeling the urge to move on. But as soon as they realize “it’s no longer working out,” the job is a bad match because something’s changed. There may be no fault in that scenario, as long as the match is broken up before the misery begins.

I often counsel overly eager job seekers that they should be very careful what job they take next, because the reason they’re job hunting is probably because they took the wrong job last time. This goes double for employers.

In BNY’s case, it seems clear Kelly was a bad match from the start. The fault seems to rest clearly on BNY’s board of directors, whose wishful thinking led to a bad hire and to ongoing agonies.

The article describes BNY as “a highly conservative, old-line institution that specializes in mundane, grind-it-out businesses and prizes tradition, self-effacement, and loyalty.” In 2006 the board nonetheless hired Kelly, a CEO with a huge ego who craved publicity, courted controversy, and relentlessly pursued “the next new thing — a grander job, more money, and more excitement.”

Kelly lacked the conservative nature that marked BNY’s reputation, but the board “decided that Kelly was just the change agent it needed to revive the fabled institution.”

Right there the board blew it on the match: Change was the last thing the board really wanted. And his urge for change drove Kelly away from the board.

A counter-offer is a mistake

CEO Kelly secretly pursued a bigger job with the bigger Bank of America. When he finally disclosed his intentions, the board of BNY resigned itself to announcing his departure. But BofA soured on Kelly and never made an offer. The premature news about hiring him turned into a public relations disaster for all involved.

According to Fortune, burned and burned out from pursuing BofA, Kelly returned to the BNY board with his tail between his legs and begged to keep his job — just moments before the board was to announce his replacement. You’d think BNY would have sent him packing, but Kelly pleaded and BNY’s board rationalized.

The board should have considered all the reasons they were already dissatisfied with Kelly; all the disconnects between his style and their corporate mission. An overpaid spendthrift wasn’t the right leader for the bank Alexander Hamilton founded on frugality in 1784.

But they took Kelly back — “not wanting to disrupt the bank’s operations and management, and hoping to avoid a potentially messy succession.” Translation: BNY’s board was scared. They made him a lavish counter-offer even though the guy was on the street with nowhere to go. The board renewed its vows for a bad marriage.

Never take a counter-offer*

The BNY board members weren’t the only foolish party in this story. Kelly’s next two years were marked by the board’s growing suspicions, and by the dearth of loyalty between them. Kelly should have rejected the rich counter-offer the BNY board made, because the factors that drove him away lingered.

BNY feared change. Kelly was terrified of being left without a job. But the counter-offer deal did not resolve the underlying problems between them. The rapprochement didn’t last. In the end, the board gave Kelly such a boot that the story became an expose in Fortune magazine. Then the board replaced him with the kind of CEO that BNY should have promoted to begin with — a lifer whose style and values matched the company’s.

Even if you part on good terms, remember that the decision to part company probably stems from a complex tangle of factors that cannot be so easily cut with a counter-offer.

* I can think of only one case where a counter-offer turned out very well for both the employer and employee. Maybe you’ll get lucky!

Have you ever made a counter-offer to keep one of your employees who already had both feet out the door? Have you ever accepted a counter-offer yourself? Did the counter-offer change any factors that triggered the departure?

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