Do this before accepting a job offer!

Do this before accepting a job offer!

Question

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

Nick’s Reply

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

Look around the company

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

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

Before accepting a job offer

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

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

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

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

What’s upstream and downstream?

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

Here’s how to explain it:

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

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

Interview the employer

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

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

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

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

Your job success depends on others

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

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

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

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

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9 Rules for Employers: Respect job candidates

9 Rules for Employers: Respect job candidates

Question

Okay, Mr. Smarty-pants. You criticize how HR and hiring managers treat applicants. You say we don’t respect job candidates. You seem to think we’re here to baby them and show them a good time. Let me remind you that we have to deal with hundreds or even thousands of applicants for every job. (No matter what anybody says, we get too many applications, not too few!) You don’t like what you refer to as the impersonal nature of it all. So go ahead — tell us the “right” way to handle them. I can’t wait.

Nick’s Reply

respect job candidatesIt’s hard enough to identify top job candidates and entice them into an interview, and even harder to hire them. The last thing you want to do is alienate a potential hire by subjecting them to an unpleasant, disrespectful interviewing process.

In many years as a headhunter, I’ve seen companies conduct interviews that drive away the best people. I’ve also seen companies conduct interviews that leave candidates panting for a job offer. If you want your company to be the kind that candidates are eager to join, here are a few DOs and DON’Ts about how to treat people you hope to hire.

1. DO give the candidate an agenda.

Job applicants come to conduct business and to derive some benefit. Respect job candidates as you would a prospective customer meeting you for the first time. Before any interview, provide an agenda that will inform, please and stimulate them. More than a job description, this demonstrates you know what you’re doing and what they must do to get a job offer. It tells the candidate this is a business call, not an awkward interrogation or, worse, a waste of time. If you can’t produce a solid agenda, you have no business conducting a job interview. (This is why 5 or 7 or 9 interviews are never justified, no matter how you rationalize them. It reveals you don’t know what you’re doing.)

2. DON’T set a negative tone.

As the host, you set the tone. A first interview is not a place for personnel jockeys to screen applicants whose work they don’t understand. (If you haven’t already screened the person, why are you even meeting them?) The candidate comes to meet the manager they will be working with, and to get an impression of your company’s acumen. A respectful meeting with a job candidate should be a challenging but appropriate engagement of two professionals. It’s not the time for filling out forms, and it’s not for asking presumptuous questions. (For example, “Why are you interested in this job?” — when you recruited them.) Set a positive tone: talk shop.

3. DO state your business clearly.

You’re the host. You asked for this meeting. So take the lead. What does your company do? What are the deliverables for this job, at 3, 6, 12, 18 and 24 months? What are the immediate challenges? The problems you’re facing? What’s your interest in the candidate? Then invite the candidate to show how they’d apply their skills and abilities to the work. The tone, substance and outcome of an interview are largely determined by the subject of the interview. (That’s why a written agenda is crucial.) Make sure everyone on your end is clear about what the interview is for. “Getting a feel for the candidate” is a poor excuse for taking up anyone’s time.

4. DON’T be presumptuous.

Don’t ask candidates to open their kimonos until you’ve opened yours. Don’t poke and prod too soon. Imagine going on a first date and asking a person you barely know about the facts and figures of their life: Who are your parents? How were you raised? Why are you attracted to me? How much do you earn? How many kids do you want to have? Don’t laugh. The analogy is very apt. Nothing upsets a job candidate like a presumptuous interviewer. Show some respect. For example, tell them the salary range in advance. They’ll tell you whether it’s enough.

5. DO put your best foot forward.

A personnel jockey or an A.I. or video bot is not your best introduction. It tells the applicant you think their time is less valuable than yours. Never allow anyone but the hiring manager to make first contact with the candidate. (Do job applicants send proxies to meet you?) Then introduce candidates to their peers immediately — the people they will be working with. (Remember what HR loves to proclaim: People are our most important asset! So show off your people!) Your goal is to assess the candidate, but it is also to establish your team’s credibility. You cannot recruit effectively if you cannot impress the candidate at the first step.

6. DON’T schedule irrelevant interviews.

Your interviewers should be of a such caliber that they could win this job if they were interviewing for it. A personnel clerk who isn’t expert in the work of your department is not the person you want to represent your company to the candidate. Likewise, when you schedule those 3 interviews, why would you let a junior team member whose acumen isn’t a match question the candidate? Why let a clerk quiz a programmer about their long-term career goals? If the manager is not technically savvy enough, then find someone who is and include that person in the meeting.

7. DO cut to the chase.

If you want to show a candidate true professional respect, don’t interview them. Instead, roll up your sleeves and have a working meeting. Your discussion shouldn’t be about the candidate or where they see themselves in 5 years. A manager’s first contact with a candidate should be to lay out a live problem and to present the work as concretely as possible because that’s the first deal-breaker. If there’s not a match, you’ll both know right away. This discussion opens up all the other hidden doors to a candidate’s personality, character, work ethic, experience and background — and to the manager’s too.

8. DON’T conduct a psychological strip search.

Having recruited and enticed a desirable job candidate to come visit, many companies administer a battery of personality and aptitude tests — before the candidate gets to see the manager who’s supposedly interested in meeting them. Many qualified candidates simply walk away when confronted with this kind of intrusive questioning. Always give candidates solid reasons to consent to detailed assessments — like a chance to confirm there is serious mutual interest in working together before investing more of their valuable time.

9. DO show respect to all candidates.

Interviewers are not excused from professional courtesies and responsibilities. No matter what HR says, recruiting and interviewing are not an administrative process, and job applicants are not supplicants to abuse — even when you must reject them. Recruiting and interviewing are a highly social art: the art of tactful influence. You’re guiding professionals into your fold. You want them to fall in love with you. Do it gently. Do it responsibly. Make sure when they depart they’ll say good things about you to their professional community because lack of respect on your part will damage further attempts to recruit from that community.

A few more ways to respect job candidates

I’m repeating some of the same ideas, but I like this short list for stimulating discussion. Share it with your team and let them fill in the details.

  • Don’t make the candidate wait.
  • Don’t send a clerk to meet a professional.
  • Don’t run candidates through a gauntlet of lackeys.
  • Do be glad to see the candidate.
  • Do welcome the candidate as a valued guest.
  • Do personally escort them into your office.
  • Do thank the candidate for accepting your invitation and taking time to visit.
  • Do stimulate the candidate’s professional interests and goals immediately.
  • And do offer your candid, honest opinion of the prospects of working together each time you’re done talking with them.

It doesn’t take much to make job candidates feel your respect, if you just remember how much you need them.

Which rule is most important to you if you’re a job seeker? If you’re an employer? What rules would you add that I’ve missed? Which of these rules do most employers seem to follow, and which do they commonly disregard?

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Give resignation, or get a raise?

Give resignation, or get a raise?

Question

I haven’t yet joined the “great resignation” but I’m tempted because it’s a good way to get a raise nowadays. I like my job, my boss and my team, but I don’t know how to get the money I think I’m worth by staying put. My performance review is coming up but I suspect a job interview will pay off better! Before I make a mistake, can I get a raise rather than give my resignation?

Nick’s Reply

give resignationThere’s way to help your employer give you a raise before you give your resignation. Who wants to go on job interviews when a well-managed performance review might get you what you want? You can make a performance review pay off better than a job interview, if you seize it. That means you must trigger the review even before it’s scheduled. With many employers worried about losing workers, I’m going to suggest a way to pull this off.

Get a raise: Call your own performance review

Someone once described the annual review as “an exercise in corporate kabuki theater,” and I agree. Formal, rote review meetings should be pitched out the window, and replaced with a roll-up-your-sleeves work session with your boss.

The main problem with performance reviews is that by the time you walk in to do one, your fate has already been sealed. The human resources department and your boss have likely already done all the talking. They’ve filled out the forms and they found you a nice place for next year — on the fat middle of the company’s salary curve. All that’s left is the formality of running through a list of canned questions with you.

I see these reviews a different way. Your challenge is to subvert the process. If your performance review is coming up, great — use it. If it’s not, do your employer a favor and call your own performance review. Subvert the review process by taking the initiative to show why you are on the leading edge of that salary curve — and perhaps off the curve altogether. You’re the exceptional producer who deserves the kind of raise you’d get if you changed companies.

Don’t give your resignation yet: Get a raise

Resigning and getting a new job is indeed a way to get a good raise nowadays. But as you note, some people like their jobs and the people they work with. They’d rather be part of “the great stay-cation” than the great resignation — if they can get the raise they want.

You may not need to give your resignation and change employers to get the raise you want. Here are three suggestions for how to avoid a resignation and trigger a raise. Maybe if more people would take the lead in their performance reviews with their bosses, something could actually change for the better.

3 steps to a raise

  • Don’t wait for your formal review. If you’re not in a hurry, lay the groundwork. Start meeting with your boss casually all year long – do it once a week, or once a month. Just explain you want to talk briefly “to make sure we’re both on the same page.” Then recount three ways your work is paying off for the company and how it’s making your boss look good. These meetings are crucial because it’s how you establish that your boss’s expectations and your work are in synch all the time. It’s how you train your boss to recognize your performance. (If your goal is to hide your performance, then stop reading. I can’t help you.)
  • Think and talk profit. If you’re itchy for a raise and can’t wait, create a reason for a review. Tell your boss, “Look, I know the CFO doesn’t measure how profitable my work is. But I’d like to try to figure it out, using any terms we can. When you assign me a project, I’d like to figure out how to do it so it either helps to increase the company’s revenues or decreases its costs. Are you game?” Then outline three ways you can make incremental improvements in the way you do your job.
  • Look back and look forward – all the time. Every worker should do this all year long. Show your boss the money! Create opportunities for casual meetings to discuss how the work you’ve been doing pays off – or how it didn’t. Be candid and be honest. “I realize that if I had done this rather than that… it would have benefitted the company more. What do you think?” Listen for input. Then take this tack: “Learning from that, do you think I should tweak the way I’m doing this new project to be more efficient?”

I won’t resign if you hire me all over again!

What’s subversive about this? You’re showing your employer why they should hire you all over again, rather than replace you at a much higher salary in today’s market. You are showing your boss why you’re worth more, and that it’s easier to “retain” you!

But you’re also demonstrating that you’re always thinking about your performance in terms of the company’s objectives — and its profits. No other employee will talk like this. You will stand out. You may reveal that you are one employee worth the bigger salaries the company is paying to snag new talent.

Make the case to get a raise

You might need to quit and move. But, rather than resign, first consider whether you can motivate a good raise. Offer your boss a short written report. You must help your boss make the case that you’re worth more than you’re being paid. It can be as simple as this:

  • Outline three key things you’ve done in the past year that positively affected the department’s success and the company’s profitability.
  • Then show three things you’re going to do in the coming year – and discuss your projected outcomes. How will these three things boost profitability and success?

If you’ve played your cards right, these are all items you and your boss have already been discussing. End the report with, “What do you think? How would you suggest I modify my plan to make it a reality?”

A good raise could cost your boss less than your resignation

By the time your boss meets with HR to talk about you, everyone will have a clear grasp of your value to the company. They should also realize what a catch you would be to another company willing to pay you what you’re really worth. And that replacing you will likely cost them a lot more anyway.

Does this seem like a lot of work? Well, it is. But so is going job hunting.

If you cannot show your value like this, or your manager can’t see it, then the next best thing could be to join the Great Resignation. (But don’t do that without reading Parting Company: How to leave your job.) However, in either case, you must be ready to demonstrate your value to this employer or to a new one.

If your company eliminated performance reviews altogether, and if it were up to you to demonstrate your worth each year, how would you do it? If you think you can command a good raise elsewhere, how could you pull it off where you work now — rather than give your resignation?

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Edition #900: The single best interview question (and answer)

Edition #900: The single best interview question (and answer)

Ask The Headhunter online began publication a long time ago. The newsletter launched soon after. This Q&A column marks the 900th edition of the newsletter — that’s 900 weeks of free advice inspired by the best questions asked by the Ask The Headhunter community. To mark the occasion, I’m reprinting a column from 2003 about the best interview question ever. It has withstood the test of time, and it could not be more relevant or applicable today. I hope you find it as helpful as many others have.

Question

What is the single best interview question ever — and the best answer?

Nick’s Reply

best interview questionThere used to be a book titled something like 2,800 Interview Questions & Answers. Even today, you can find books that will automate your job interviews with canned repartee. These books feature 701 interview questions (and “best answers), or 201, or 189, 101 — or, How many interview questions you got???

All the interview questions

I’ve always had a fantasy about these books. You walk into the interviewer’s office. You smile broadly and shake hands:

“Glad to meet you! Let’s get down to business and have an interview!”

Then you slide one of those babies across the desk.

“Here are all the questions you’re going to ask me… and the answers! Now you know what they are, and I know what they are, and we don’t need to waste our time. So we can do something useful, and talk about the work you need to have done!”

Instead of teaching job candidates and hiring managers to talk shop —  that is, about the job — career experts outdo themselves regurgitating job-interview scripts.

The silly answers they offer are rehashed and marinated in expired creative juices, and about as satisfying as a bolus coughed up by the last person who interviewed with the manager.

One Interview Question

Then there’s the “one, the only, the best interview question” designed to be so clever that you must think it’s also smart. The trouble is, these click-bait offerings have nothing to do with the job you’re interviewing for!

Lately, these include (on LinkedIn) Lou Adler’sWhat single project or task would you consider the most significant accomplishment in your career so far? and (on Inc.com) economist Tyler Cowen’s “What are the open tabs in your browser right now?” (We won’t even get into the perennial “What’s your greatest weakness?” or ” How many golf balls would fit in the Empire State Building?”)

In 2003, the editors of Fast Company magazine put together a cover story titled, “All The Right Moves: A guide for the perplexed exec.” It was a collection of 21 Q&As for managers covering everything from how to be a star at work, how to be an effective leader and how to dress for success.

Editor Bill Breen asked me to write a “memo” to managers about Question #16: What is the single best interview question ever — and the best answer?

The best interview question

Here’s the memo I sent to Breen as it appeared in the July 2003 edition of Fast Company. Almost 20 years later, I’ll still put this question up against any list of interview questions (whether it includes 50, 200, or 2,800), or against any other “best, most important question” anyone has ever come up with. I think proof of its power is that job candidates can — and should — raise the question themselves and answer it to prove they’re worth hiring.


Memo From: Nick Corcodilos
To: Hiring managers everywhere
Re: Reinventing the job interview

The purpose of any interview is simple: to determine whether the candidate can do the job profitably. A smart interview is not an interrogation. It’s not a series of canned questions or a set of scripted tests that have been ginned up by HR. An interview should be a roll-up-your-sleeves, hands-on meeting between you and the candidate, where all of the focus is on the job.

Think of the interview as the candidate’s first day at work, with the only question that matters being this:

“What’s your business plan for doing this job?”

To successfully answer that, the candidate must first demonstrate an understanding of the company’s problems, challenges, and goals — not an easy thing to do. But since you desperately want to make a great hire and get back to work, why don’t you help the best candidate succeed? Two weeks before the interview, call up the candidate and say the following:

“We want you to show us how you’re going to do this job. That’s going to take a lot of homework. I suggest that you read through these 10 pages on our Web site, review these publications from our marketing and investor-relations departments, and speak with these three people on my team. When you’re done, you should have something useful to tell us.”

This will eliminate 9 out of 10 candidates. Only those who really want the job will put in the effort to research the job.

At the interview, you should expect (or hope) to hear the most compelling question that any candidate can ask:

“Would you like me to show how your company will profit from hiring me?”

The candidate should be prepared to do the job in the interview. That means walking up to the whiteboard and outlining the steps that he or she would take to solve your company’s problems. The numbers don’t have to be right, but the candidate should be able to defend them intelligently. If the candidate demonstrates an understanding of your culture and competitors — and lays out a plan of attack for solving your problems and adding something to your bottom line — you have some awfully compelling reasons to make the hire.

But if you trust only a candidate’s past accomplishments, references, credentials, or test results, you still won’t know whether the candidate can do the job.


Recruiting is still — and always has been — about finding the best candidates. But the best candidate isn’t just the one who can answer that question. The best candidate is the person who brings it up and volunteers to answer it — and is ready to show you how they will do the job profitably.

Do the job in the interview

If you cannot do the job to win the job, then it doesn’t matter what tabs are open on your browser, what animal you’d be if you could be any animal, what your greatest accomplishment was, or where you see yourself in five years. There is certainly more to do in a job interview, and we can have a lot of fun with clever questions and rejoinders. But, if you cannot demonstrate, right there in the meeting, your business plan for how you will do the work, then you will not stand out — and you have no business in that job interview.


How Can I Change Careers? picks up where that Fast Company column leaves off. And it’s not just for career changers. It’s for anyone who wants to stand out in the job interview. The book explains why this “single best interview question ever” for hiring managers is also the single best question for candidates to bring up in the interview — and how to do it. (Fast Company says it’s “chock full of tips for the thorniest of job-hunting problems.”)


You be the judge of what counts in your job interviews: Does anything matter more than showing you can do the job? What are the best and worst questions you’ve asked or been asked?

Thanks to all in the Ask The Headhunter community for assembling here every week, and especially to those who have contributed questions and comments over the years! This website and the newsletter are successful because of the quality of discourse you bring every week! How long have you been a subscriber? If you don’t get the free weekly newsletter, please sign up for edition #901 and share this link with friends!

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Can salary surveys help me negotiate job offer?

Can salary surveys help me negotiate job offer?

Question

I’m going to be talking with a manager who just made me a job offer. I’m going to say yes, but I’m inclined to ask, “Can you do any better?” I want to know how far to push it since my research on salary surveys indicates this is a rather good offer in my industry. Of course, I don’t want them to withdraw the offer, but it seems like I shouldn’t just say yes. I’d appreciate your insight.

Nick’s Reply

salary surveysWhy is it that when people get a good deal, they feel obligated to try and get an even better one? Maybe it’s because all those books about negotiating teach us that only the weak and meek take the first offer; that we can and should squeeze out a few more bucks. “Real negotiators know how to get more!”

Bunk. It isn’t about clever negotiating tactics. It’s about being able to answer the question, “What makes you worth more?”

Are you worth more?

Yes, I’m the same guy that recently advised you to demand bigger salaries. Only you can determine whether you’re worth more. But you have allowed that you already have “a rather good offer.” It’s fair to guess you elicited such a good offer because you performed well in your interviews. Is there something you left out that would support a request for even more salary?

If you posture for more money when you don’t have a leg to stand on, you will fall over. And that’s the crux of this. Unless you can show the employer why — exactly — you are worth more, then don’t ask.

What about the salary surveys?

“But wait — the salary surveys say I’m worth more! I’ll show them the salary surveys!”

Bunk again. Some “career experts” will tell you to use the survey data to support your salary request. What they don’t tell you is that the surveys describe a population of people who have similar titles and credentials. They don’t describe you.

Go ahead — try and tell an employer you’re worth what everyone else gets paid. It will earn you a blank stare, because any smart employer has evaluated you and decided what you are worth. “We don’t hire statistics. What are you going to do for me that’s worth more than I’m offering?”

That’s a tough question, and this is where people usually fall down flat. They think this is a matter of aggregate salary statistics when it’s a matter of one person’s value — yours.

Always negotiate?

Or, as you’ve admitted, “it seems like I shouldn’t just say yes.” Negotiating experts sell a lot of books marketing the idea that we can, and should, always negotiate! Every offer deserves a counter-offer, and only they can teach you how to make it.

If you can offer a compelling answer to the question Can you demonstrate additional value? then you should go for it.  I suspect that if you could, we’d have no question to discuss and you’d already have a higher job offer. But don’t do it only because it seems like you should.

But, seriously, what about the salary surveys?

The experts go further in advocating salary surveys. They claim that employers use the same surveys to establish their budgets and salary scales. So, if the employers use the surveys, you should, too.

Again, I say bunk. If an employer relied on the surveys to produce your offer, what more is there to talk about? Are you going to argue that this survey is better than that survey? Can you crawl out of one salary pigeonhole into another?

It’s not uncommon for a company to withdraw a good offer when the candidate asks for more without being able to rationally justify the request. That’s why you’re so nervous about asking for more.

What’s it worth?

Don’t feel bad. You’re just trying to be as assertive as the next person. But set aside the conventional wisdom and use your own common sense. If you definitely want the job and the offer is a good one, then don’t jeopardize it.

Here’s why. The better the offer is to begin with, the less you’ll be able to goose it up. In other words, you’re not likely to get more than a few extra bucks. Is it worth the impact on the employer’s attitude about you? Is the difference between one salary survey and another going to make a compelling case for you?

I’m not saying job candidates should not negotiate the best deal they can get. But we’re talking about an offer you believe is good to begin with. Part of my aim is to debunk the myths of job hunting, and this is one of them. Not every situation requires negotiating. And negotiating when there’s little or nothing to gain reveals a petty person.

But how can you ask for more anyway?

So okay, I’ve got that off my chest. I’m not trying to beat you up. You asked a valid question and you clearly recognize the pitfalls. What can you do?

First, judge the employer. Will they be offended if you try to squeeze out the last buck? (Some might actually be impressed, but not many.) Second, estimate the tradeoff. Will it affect how you’ll be perceived once you’re on the job? Finally, are you willing to lose the offer altogether if they balk?

Here’s how to ask for more with — I believe — the least risk. You could try to finesse this by first accepting the offer, then explaining that your salary objective is a bit higher. You must be able to give them a specific (and very reasonable) number, and a good justification for it. But be very clear about your intent.

How to Say It

“I’m excited about coming to work for you, and I accept your offer. That said, I’d like to ask if you’d be willing to consider a higher salary. My objective is $X. If you can come closer to that, it would mean a lot to me. If you can’t, I still accept enthusiastically. I want to work on your team.”

You are making a clear commitment to accept the offer as-is, but you’re politely asking if they could make it better.

Be prudent

If this seems like a bit of a stretch, well, it is. But you asked, and this is the best, most prudent and honest approach I know.

If you’re looking for a negotiating secret, here it is. Companies rarely boost an already good offer by much. I’m more inclined to negotiate up a big difference than I am to gild the lily. So it’s up to you — use your judgment. If you can get more money, great. But remember that prudence and good will may be worth a lot more in the long run than a few more dollars now. Congratulations on getting a good offer for a job you want!

Would you negotiate a good offer for a few extra dollars? When you ask for more, do you typically rely on salary surveys? Has an offer ever been withdrawn when you tried to negotiate? What’s your personal rule about negotiating job offers?

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What are stock options worth in a job offer? 2 tests

What are stock options worth in a job offer? 2 tests

Question

Part of the compensation in my job offer will be in stock options. The company is a start-up a few years old that’s backed by private equity. I know this might seem crazy — joining a start-up in this economy. But I’ve made my decision. The company appears to be in a solid position to grow in the coming years. What I need your help on is this: How can I equate stock with straight salary? What kinds of things should I consider when factoring in the stock options to determine if this is the right way to go? Thanks.

Nick’s Reply

stock optionsHey, I don’t knock start-ups. As long as you’ve made your own judgment, and have done it carefully, the decision is yours. So let’s focus on your questions.

Stock options as pay

The best analysis of start-ups and “stock as compensation” that I’ve seen is in Sizing Up A Start-Up by Daniel Rippy, an oldie-but-goody you can buy used. Rippy’s book will be very helpful. But the important point is that you’re “throwing in” with the company. You’re accepting the risk that part of your pay is riding on the company’s success (and on the honesty of the investors and the management team).

What does it mean to accept stock?

Welcome to the lottery!

You can’t equate stock with salary. That’s why start-ups often assign significant blocks of stock to newcomers like you — the value is totally uncertain, and it can take a lot of iffy shares to make up for real dollars in salary.

Now, if that sounds anti-entrepreneurial to you, I don’t mean it to be. Start-up businesses are the economic backbone of our country’s future. I’m all for taking risks. But don’t lull yourself into accepting a job offer because of the stock.

Make sure you’re happy with the job and the income you’ll be earning. Consider the stock your lottery ticket. If you get rich, great. But don’t count on it. Even if you really believe in the company, remember that the value of stock at IPO time is determined by factors that are largely out of your (and the company’s) control: investors including private equity and venture capital firms, the economy, stock market psychology, competition, the weather, which side of the bed the chairman of the Federal Reserve woke up on, and so on.

2 tests for stock options

I’ll offer you two thinking exercises to help you figure out for yourself how to view stock options in your job offer.

First is a test that was suggested to me long ago by the CEO of a start-up. If you were not considering a job there, but this start-up’s stock were in fact available to purchase on the open market, would you buy some at the strike price today? (The strike price is how much you’d pay per share when your stock options are fully vested.) It’s an interesting question that forces us to realize that, if we’re considering stock options as part of salary, to accept those options is to make an investment in the company. Do you believe in the company enough to be an investor?

75% of start-ups fail

The second test forces us to eliminate the stock options from our calculation, as if the options will be worthless. While you could get rich from stock options, consider that, depending on the survey, 65%-75% of venture-funded start-ups fail.

You’ll know the company and the job are right for you if you’d take the job at the salary offered without stock. This helps us see stock more clearly as a reward and a bonus, and the salary as pay for our work. You can spend salary now. You cannot spend stock options.

Do you want to be an employee or an investor?

But don’t think only like an investor. Think like an employee. That company might fail and your stock options might be worthless, but you could win big. Between a good salary and the opportunity to develop your skills working in an innovative, leading-edge business where you get a chance to do work not offered elsewhere — this job might be perfect for you.

If you need help negotiating your job offer, please see Fearless Job Hunting, Book 9: Be The Master of Job Offers.

I believe the bottom line is that you can’t equate stock with salary. My advice is to decide whether you want to be an employee or an investor in this start-up company. You can be both, but don’t confuse stock options with salary. You’ll know the offer is right if you’re willing to accept the salary and put the stock in a drawer and forget about it for now.

Apply those two tests to this opportunity and be brutally honest with yourself about what motivates you.

Would you accept less salary in a job offer if it included stock options? Did you ever receive stock options as part of a job offer? How did it factor into your decision? Have you ever profited from stock options you got in an offer?

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The data say, Demand bigger salaries!

The data say, Demand bigger salaries!

Question

I’m about to get a job offer from a company I want to work for. They asked how much I want. The talent shortage must be producing bigger salaries in job offers, so I’m inclined to ask for the top of the range I’ve researched. But I’m also nervous about going too high and turning them off. Is there a safe middle ground?

Nick’s Reply

bigger salariesLike you, I like the middle ground. Most of the time. But this isn’t most of the time. In fact, I believe we’re living in a time when there’s good reason to take bigger risks to get bigger rewards.

Why? Because on the whole, companies are pulling down unusually higher profits hand over fist. They can afford to pay you more. There’s data to prove it.

Days of bigger salaries

This is the time to ask for more, even to demand it and gently signal that you will walk away from that hard-to-fill job if they don’t meet your salary requirement.

Savvy investors tell us that the big gains are made when we encounter unusual circumstances in which our chances of a big win are somewhat higher than normal. That can make it worth the attendant risk. Of course, only you can decide how much risk you will tolerate.

I would ask for more money. I’d ask for the top of the range or more. Now let’s discuss why job applicants should demand bigger salaries today.

Employers need to hire

I don’t need to link you to 10 articles about employers crying they can’t fill jobs because of “the talent shortage.” And I don’t need to give you an Economics 101 lesson in supply and demand. (Ah, what the heck! When supply of labor is down, wages go up.)

If so many employers are desperate to hire, they must be paying top dollar to get workers like you on board, right? Wharton labor researcher Peter Cappelli suggests that, on the whole, they’re not.

What do you mean, real wages are down?

In an October 2021 report Cappelli writes that “Wages are not rising dramatically, at least on average. A shortfall between a big demand jump and a modest increase in supply should not necessarily cause a shortage in a market economy. It should cause prices — in this case, wages — to rise.”

But despite their posturing about recruiting aggressively to fill those vacant jobs, Cappelli notes employers are not offering competitive market pay. In fact, he says, no matter what anecdotal stories the media broadcast, the data tell us “Real wages have fallen by the largest amount in decades.”

And that’s why you should ask for higher pay. In fact, if you don’t demand a higher job offer, you may be getting lower real pay than you even realize.

Inflation is hurting workers

Cappelli continues: “The idea that wages are rising dramatically just isn’t true…  workers are living in a world where their money isn’t going as far as it used to due to rising costs of goods and services.”

We call that inflation. “Real wages” are wages adjusted to account for rising consumer costs.

And, today, it’s even worse than Cappelli suggested last fall. In its April 12, 2022 Real Earnings Report, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us:

“Real average hourly earnings decreased 2.7 percent, seasonally adjusted, from March 2021 to March 2022. The change in real average hourly earnings combined with a decrease of 0.9 percent in the average workweek resulted in a 3.6-percent decrease in real average weekly earnings over this period.”

But inflation is enriching companies

Maybe employers just can’t afford to pay higher salaries, eh? Maybe you should bite your tongue and tell that employer you’d be happy in the middle of the salary range. Play it safe.

But you’d be wrong, and you’d be dumber than greedy corporations, says Lindsay Owens, the executive director of the Groundwork Collaborative. In I Listened In on Big Business. It’s Profiting From Inflation, and You’re Paying for It, Owens reviews hundreds of corporate earnings calls she’s listened to — “calls, where, by law, companies have to tell the truth.”

“The Federal Reserve chair, Jerome Powell, said that sometimes businesses are raising prices just ‘because they can.’ He’s right. Companies have pricing power when consumers don’t have choice.”

The examples she cites are chilling because CEOs brag about unheard-of profits triggered by economic factors that hurt consumers and, therefore, workers and job seekers.

  • “What we learned on these earnings calls was quickly reflected in data. Despite the rising costs of labor, energy and materials, profit margins reached 70-year highs in 2021. And according to an analysis from the Economic Policy Institute, fatter profit margins, not the rising costs of labor and materials, drove more than half of price increases in the nonfinancial corporate sector since the start of the Covid pandemic.”

Owens reports one profit brag after another during the earnings calls:

  • “As Hostess’s C.E.O. told shareholders last quarter, ‘When all prices go up, it helps.’”
  • “Executives on their earnings calls crowed to investors about their blockbuster quarterly profits. One credited his company’s ‘successful pricing strategies.’”
  • “Another patted his team on the back for a ‘marvelous job in driving price.’”
  • “The head of research for the bank Barclay’s said ‘The longer inflation lasts and the more widespread it is, the more air cover it gives companies to raise prices.’ More than half of retailers admitted as much when surveyed.”

Corporations can afford handsome job offers

Companies are intentionally jacking up prices to consumers to boost their profits — using inflation for “air cover” — while they pay lower real wages. Is there anything illegal about that? Probably not. Nor is there anything wrong with you jacking up the salary you want if a company is flush. And in this economic climate, it may be prudent to pursue only employers that are flush.

This is why, in today’s economy and job market, you should always be ready to ask for more money. I’m forever telling you to make sure your job delivers profit to your employer. Now I’m telling you to make sure employers that are bursting with colossal profits deliver a concomitant share to you in the form of higher salary. Lindsay Owens might say this is the best time in 70 years to go for the gold.

(See More Money: What to ask for in a talent shortage.)

Find one smart, good employer

Are all employers so greedy that they make below-market job offers so they can hoard profits? For that matter, are all employers laughing all the way to the bank? Of course not. But successful, smart employers see an opportunity to hire the best workers by sharing their good fortune via higher salary offers. Why work among pigs?

Even if, as the data suggest, most employers are killing real wages, a wise job seeker takes refuge — and finds hope and patience — in the knowledge that they need only one good employer to make them one outstanding job offer.

But you have to ask for — even demand — bigger salaries.

Peter Cappelli offers compelling tough love to employers, and advises “looking beyond just signing bonuses and modest wage increases, instead considering what’s possible in compensation in order to attract and retain the workforce you need and want.”

Could following my advice to demand bigger salaries lead a greedy employer to boot you to the curb because they’d like to hire you for less? Could the message in this column cost you a job offer entirely? Yep. So use your judgment and do the best you can.

Me? I’d ask for more because the data tell me profit-rich companies can afford it. If they’re not willing to share their rising profits with their workforce, I’ll go find an employer that will. It’s that kind of economy. The data tell us it’s that kind of job market.

Are bigger salaries a thing? Can you actually ask for the top end of a salary range and get it? What’s your experience? Got any examples of corporate greed and low-ball job offers? How have you gotten more money from an employer?

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HR Background Checks: Where does your info go?

HR Background Checks: Where does your info go?

Introduction

backgound checksWhen you grant employers permission to run background checks and credit checks on you, where does all that confidential information go?

Last year we asked Does Human Resources go too far? Now, a subscriber who is an HR professional suggests that Pandora’s Box has been opened. He points out that in their zeal to protect themselves and their companies, HR departments may be covering up illegitimate and possibly illegal practices.

When HR outsources background checks and investigations of candidates, is HR merely doing its job, or is it ensuring plausible deniability while letting loose an investigative demon that systematically violates people’s privacy and feeds the specter of identity theft? Does HR go too far when screening job candidates? Hold onto your seats. We’re about to take a rough ride through a nasty landscape.

I’m not disclosing our insider HR executive’s name for obvious reasons. I cannot confirm every claim he makes, but we spoke and I find him credible. If some of his insider claims seem farfetched, I’d love to hear any rebuttals. Here’s what he has to say.

An HR insider speaks up

Regrettably, all these [background investigation] procedures and processes are advocated by the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), as reading its web site will reveal. And, just as regrettably, many HR people fall right in line, like little ducklings swimming behind the mother duck of SHRM. It’s the latest rage, and every HR person wants to be a part of it.

Background checks galore

With thousands of people applying for each job and the jobless rate for skilled and white-collar workers at a recent all-time high, the applicants, like sheep being led to the slaughter, will subject themselves to almost any practice and jump through almost any hoop to get a job. The theory is that any job is better than no job.

The background-check processes are, the majority of the time, being outsourced to security companies that have turned these processes into a lucrative business:

  • background checks
  • personality testing
  • criminal checks
  • educational checks
  • military service checks
  • employment verification
  • reference verification
  • credit checks
  • drug testing
  • searches into legal agreements
  • scanning of your phone records
  • scanning of your Internet activities and e-mail
  • and so on.

This total invasion of privacy beyond your wildest dreams (actually, nightmares) is outsourced. The worst part is that much of the data and information these outsourced security agents collect is erroneous.

Have you been checked without knowing?

HR will narrow the list of candidates down, and then turn the outsourced security investigators loose on that list. Background checks are often done before the first interview, and before any sort of an agreement, authorization, or disclosure is signed by the job applicant.

You will never know about it until you order a copy of your credit report and find all the inquiries (that’s the first sign) and wonder, who in the devil is that who has run checks on you?

The larger outsourced security and investigative companies have started keeping databases of their own. One advertises they have a database of over 1.5 million people for employers to run their candidates against. If you have signed one disclosure for one employer, the investigations company that did the checks will keep the information about you in their database and then just re-sell the results to their next client.

Do you know where your background checks are?

They start with a name and phone number and e-mail address from a resume or application. Then, they cross-reference information until they get a date of birth or social security number and go from there. When an applicant walks into HR for that first meeting, they already may have been investigated. Never mind that much of the data gathered may be erroneous. The “data” was gathered at arm’s length, but the employer will treat it as absolute fact.

Security and background checking has become a lucrative business. The outsourced investigators are starting to sell that information amongst themselves, expanding their databases and increasing their profit margins. The shuffling around of this data only makes its accuracy even more questionable.

This is an industry that is almost totally unregulated. The multiple levels of outsourcing and subcontracting yield enough plausible deniability to the companies themselves, and their clients, that abuses run rampant.

Nick’s comments

The statement above was submitted to Ask The Headhunter unsolicited. I’m grateful for the permission to publish it. Once again, I cannot present it as fact — but I have encountered examples of many of the claims. If anyone in the investigations business would like to comment on these allegations, please do so below or feel free to contact me. This is worth discussing and researching further.

Where is the accountability in background checks?

When HR asks you to provide information that is confidential to you, or to sign permission for your background to be investigated, or to waive liability if your confidential information is leaked or misused, HR must be accountable to you. Whether or not we have hard evidence of abuse, I am convinced there is a serious problem with this part of the hiring process at many companies.

While some employers may be innocent, we need to ask whether they are being responsible. Others are overstepping the bounds of what is legitimate and ethical – and possibly legal — when conducting aggressive background checks on job candidates. Worse, employers may be putting you at risk because they presume to entrust sensitive information about you to third parties with whom they have only an arm’s-length relationship. Where is the accountability?

Do you know how your confidential information is being used?

Job applicants need to be aware of the risks they take when divulging information about themselves – any information. It seems that even your name, address and phone number might be enough to allow an employer’s investigator to access every nook and cranny of your life without your knowledge. If the law is being circumvented, then the law needs to be enforced – or our legislators need to start working on laws that will protect our privacy.

In this day of heightened sensitivity to security, it’s important to recognize that the problem lies not in checking people out. The problem lies in unethical, unwarranted and possibly illegal procedures conducted at arm’s-length from employers by third parties. In some cases, there’s a cascade: An employer outsources reference checks to Service A, which in turn outsources criminal and credit checks to Service B and Service C. (Read about one third-party investigations company that’s so “arm’s-length” it conducts automated background checks.) Who’s accountable — the independent investigative service, or the employer?

Time out for questions

A responsible employer should have good answers to these questions, and a job candidate should not hesitate to ask any of them before submitting even a resume. If this list seems over the top, perhaps it is. I think every item is legit, but you must decide which ones are important to you.

  1. What kinds of checks does the employer conduct? Are they legal?
  2. Is the candidate notified in advance and given the opportunity to decline to be investigated? Is the permission form clear and easy to understand?
  3. Who is conducting the checks — the employer, or a subcontractor who in turn subcontracts the investigations to yet another firm?
  4. What information is gathered? How is its accuracy determined? How valid and reliable is it?
  5. Does the candidate have an opportunity to review and confirm or contest the information?
  6. Is the information secure? Who has access to it? Is there a risk of identity theft?
  7. Who owns the information and what rights do they have to it?
  8. Is the information maintained in data bases not directly controlled by the employer? For how long?
  9. Is the information made available to any other parties at any time for any reason? Is the information re-used or sold?
  10. Does the candidate have the power to limit or rescind rights they have granted for use of the information?
  11. What responsibility and liability does the HR department accept regarding the collection and use of your private information?
  12. Last and most important, is the employer prepared to sign an agreement to protect you and your private information?

What are the risks if you apply for a job without answers to these questions?

Time for less invasive practices

Maybe the biggest question we’re left with is the one we originally asked: Does HR go too far when screening candidates? It seems that HR routinely abuses the job seeker’s frame of mind — often that of a terrified supplicant — when it indiscriminately demands all plus the bathroom sink before it consents “to proceed with your application.”

Does anyone seriously contend that HR doesn’t ask for more private information than it really needs? Having immense power over relatively helpless applicants is no justification for unnecessarily abusing them. I’ll echo our HR insider’s implied challenge to the SHRM: When’s the last time your august group recommended less invasive practices?

Until HR owns up to its responsibilities, maybe the job seeker’s best protection is to lay their own confidentiality agreement on the table – and decline to divulge anything until the employer signs it and makes itself accountable.

What’s your experience with background checks when you apply for a job? Have you encountered any of the issues our insider enumerates? If you work in HR, can you confirm or deny what he presents? What can job hunters do to protect themselves?

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Should I accept money from a headhunter to take a job?

Should I accept money from a headhunter to take a job?

Question

Just as COVID hit I worked with a headhunter who attempted to place me with a firm in New York. (I live in Boston). Everything was set, then COVID ended the deal. Two months ago, the recruiter called to inform me that he was ready to pick up where we left off. That is when I learned that the salary had decreased, they would not pay my expenses for another NY interview, and they would not pay any moving expenses.

The headhunter has not been forthcoming with me, and he was noticeably irritated with my questions about reimbursement for travel to NY, and uncomfortable about advocating my financial requirements. This morning he informed me that the firm was anxious to hire me and that he would pay me $1,000 in moving expenses if I took the job.

It seems a little shady to me. The way he worded his offer to pay my moving expenses was definitely suspect: “You go down there, accept the position and technically you will be working for them. Then I will pay you the $1,000 in moving expenses.” Is this normal?

Nick’s Reply

headhunterNo, it’s not normal. A headhunter could legitimately “chip in” part of his fee to help you offset your relocation expenses, but this kind of payment can also be construed as a kickback unless it is disclosed to, and approved by, the employer.

Is this a bribe?

Suppose the company finds out the headhunter gave you that $1,000 and accuses you of taking the job because the headhunter bribed you. Suppose that in three months — after the headhunter’s guarantee period to the company ends — you decide the job’s not right for you and you resign. To the company, it might look like you and the headhunter conspired to defraud it of the search fee. For that matter, how would you prove to the company that the headhunter didn’t split his fee with you 50-50? (For the benefit of the uninitiated, it’s worth noting that if this job pays $100,000, the headhunter’s fee could be $25,000-30,000. Half of that is a nice chunk of change.)

Ask the employer about the headhunter

This wouldn’t be the first headhunter who “shared the commission” with the candidate. It’s unethical and it demeans the headhunter, the candidate and the employer. Instead of negotiating a hire, a salary and a fee that’s fair for all parties, these “headhunters” take the low road and make the transaction sleazy. Now, we could assume the best intentions of the headhunter, but if you secretly take money from a headhunter when you accept a job, I agree it’s shady. I wouldn’t do it.

You need not agonize about this. The solution is simple. My advice is to ask the employer about the offer. Be up front and expect the same from the headhunter. If he’s being generous, then the company should know about it and have no problem with it. But it seems you don’t have the whole story. (See Why do headhunters act like this?) Go to the company and tell what you know, then ask them to confirm how this all came to pass. “I just want to be sure I’ve got the story straight before I accept the position. I want this to be on the up-and-up.”

If you have any doubts about this headhunter, talk to the company directly. I wish you the best.

Has a headhunter ever offered you part of the placement fee, or suggested something unethical to you? Maybe you’ve encountered other sleazy practices. Tell us about it.

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Must I “kiss ass” to get a job?

Must I “kiss ass” to get a job?

Question

My husband is a recent college graduate in need of a professional job. He’s had a couple of possibilities, but no offers or anything.

I know what the problem is. He’s going about it the old-fashioned way, by applying for “available” jobs he finds via the Internet. He dutifully fills out applications and sends resumes to places advertising jobs. Obviously he needs to get on the networking ball, but he’s having a difficult time with it, for two reasons.

First, he thinks it’s wrong. He wants to get a job on his merits, not because he “knows somebody.” He wants to feel like he earned the job by being competent, not by being the best ass-kisser or because somebody’s brother’s cousin’s friend has some pull with the company owner’s daughter’s dog groomer. I don’t know what to say to him about this, because I happen to agree. It feels like, at least in the current climate, success in a job search has relatively little to do with your actual ability to do the job.

Second, and this is the part I’d like your help with, it’s really a downright unpleasant thing to have to do. Calling up everyone you know, begging for a job and asking them to beg for you to everyone they know. I think it would be easier to ask people for money, frankly.

How do people do it? Do you reward yourself with a treat every time you make an icky phone call? Imagine your “contact” in nothing but their skivvies? Risk sinking into multiple personality disorder by dissociating yourself from the entire process?

Help, please!

Nick’s Reply

get a jobI understand your husband’s hesitation and his attitude, because I was a new college grad once. However, he is absolutely, positively, completely wrong.

It’s easy to assume that “who you know” is a corrupt way to get a job. The truth is, companies hire people they know because they’re less likely to encounter problems with “people they know.”

Need to get a job? We hire who we know.

A V.P. at a successful company explained it to me many years ago.

“We hire using our company’s ‘people filter’. We hire only people who are referred by our employees and by people we know. This assures us that we’re getting good people, because why would our friends and employees refer turkeys? It assures us that the new hire will work hard, because if she doesn’t it would reflect poorly on the employee who referred her. And, we are assured that the new hire will get lots of help and support — it’s a kind of guaranteed on-the-job-training.”

Know what? That V.P. doesn’t hire people just because they “know someone.” Good companies will still examine a highly-recommended candidate carefully. They will look at your skills and abilities, and hire you only if you’re right for the job. A good company won’t hire a turkey whose only credential is that she “knows someone.” But, that people filter is what gets a candidate in the door, and it’s what seals a relationship if all other criteria are met.

We don’t hire resumes or turkeys

You are worried that “success in a job search has relatively little to do with your actual ability to do the job”. Step back a minute. How is your husband demonstrating his ability to do the job? By sending employers a document with his name and credentials on it? Do you really think that convinces anyone he can do the job?

Contrast this with a candidate who talks to that dog groomer, who in turn introduces the candidate to a friend whose father owns the company. The friend talks with the candidate, satisfies herself that the candidate is talented, then refers the candidate to her dad, who refers them to a manager who is hiring. I’ll take that dog groomer over a scrap of paper any day — and so will most hiring managers.

When you send a company your resume, you’re not demonstrating anything. All you’re saying is, “Here are my credentials, all typed up nicely. Now, you go figure out what the heck to do with me.” Employers are lousy at hiring from resumes. A personal contact is your opportunity to actually show what you can do — it’s your opportunity to demonstrate your value and to suggest how you will help the company. (This won’t work if you’re a turkey!)

We trust our icky contacts

Your husband needs to get over this. (And so do you.) If you don’t follow my logic, consider this. Companies pay headhunters lots of money to deliver the very best candidates for a job. A $100,000 position will yield a $30,000 fee. Do you know why companies pay that kind of money? Because they don’t want to waste time with thousands of resumes of people they don’t know. They want the personal referrals of the headhunter. They’re paying handsomely for those icky contacts.

When you develop relationships that gain you a personal referral, you’re being your own headhunter. You see, companies don’t hire people they know in order to do a favor for someone. They hire people they know because of the trust factor. They’re simply more likely to get a good hire from someone they know.

Trust: Get a job without icky

Developing professional contacts is crucial to success. If you regard it as icky, then you’ve got the wrong idea entirely. Is it dishonest or immoral to make an effort to meet people who do the work you want to do? Is it ass-kissing when you call people in your field to discuss their business and to learn how you can make a contribution to their industry? Is it unpleasant to take a step into your chosen line of work — or is it just uncomfortable because you don’t know how to do it? (Please check Natural Networking: An end to stupid networking.)

If your husband can’t get comfortable talking to people about the work they do (and the work he wants to do), then I can’t help him. He’s going to have to learn the hard way.

Here’s the risk he takes. If he gets hired strictly on the basis of a blind resume submission, the odds that he will have the support and attention he needs to succeed are much smaller than if he gets hired through a personal contact. My friend the V.P. devotes lots of time to help his new hires succeed because he’s beholden to the people who referred the candidate — there’s personal responsibility and trust involved. You see, it works both ways: personal contacts yield good hires for employers, and they yield the best opportunities for job hunters.

Don’t kiss anything to get a job. Networking must not be icky. It should be a natural, satisfying experience of getting to know good people in your field — and helping them get to know you.

I wish you and your husband the best.

What’s your take on networking and using personal referrals to get a job? Maybe more important, why do so many people think networking is “icky?” Is networking a skill, or an attitude?

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