Am I underpaid?

Am I underpaid?

A reader may be underpaid but doesn’t really know. Let’s explore how to find out in the August 25, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter.

Question

underpaidI want to change jobs because I suspect I’m underpaid. I’ve been looking at Glassdoor and other salary surveys. Are they accurate? How can I find out what salary I should expect from a new job, so that I can figure out if I am currently underpaid, as I contend, or if I should stop my whining?

Nick’s Reply

We live and work in a quasi-capitalist environment. For the most part, the market determines value. So put yourself on the block and see what kinds of bids you get. Seriously.

Do surveys say you’re underpaid?

Salary surveys are usually either out of date, or they are naturally biased toward the mean. That is, they survey people who want to be surveyed and they emphasize the value of the average worker. They’re not good at explaining why people on the leading edge of the curve are paid what they are paid. (See Glassdoor Salary Data: Worse than useless.)

Trying to look up a job title that fits you in a salary survey is like trying to find a job ad that matches you exactly. You’re not likely to learn much about your individual worth from either.

Surveys don’t predict individual value

You don’t say what work you do or what industry you’re in, but you seem to suggest salaries in your field are increasing while yours is not. Does it matter? Does it mean you will get a bigger raise or a bump in salary to change jobs? Asking me what you’re worth is as good as consulting the salary oracles — not very! While a survey may be useful in understanding trends, it does not predict salary for any individual. That means you.

Short of putting yourself on the block, I think the next best way to get an idea of your value in the market is to talk to real, live people in your field.

Ask your peers

Get the information you seek straight from the horse’s mouth. Meet these people through professional associations, at industry meetings, through industry publications and at training courses outside your company — and, of course, in relevant online professional communities. In other words, discuss compensation issues directly with people who are not under your company’s control so you can form a better picture of what your compensation could look like.

(I am not suggesting blasting messages to 50 people with your job title on LinkedIn and asking how much they earn. I prefer venues where you’ll have to earn your reputation and credentials before you’ll get any really useful information.)

Of course, some people won’t discuss their own salaries, but I find in general that people will talk about compensation in their field and share what they know about it. You’re far better off talking with others who do the kind of work you do simply because such dialogue is far richer than reviewing cold numbers from a survey.

If you’re not participating in your professional community this way, you’re making a big mistake. These are the folks who can help you figure out the value question, and perhaps help you find your next job. Don’t whine. Go mix it up with your peers!

This is a good exercise for all of us. We can’t ask questions of a data point on a salary survey. But we can ask one another.

How does anyone figure out what they’re worth? How do you figure it out? Does it change the way you handle your career? What advice would you give this reader about whether they’re underpaid?

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Can they find out I was fired from my last job?

Can they find out I was fired from my last job?

A reader worries that getting fired means not being able to get a new job, in the August 18, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter.

Question

firedIf a person has been fired from their job, does a prospective new employer have the right to contact the old employer and ask the reason for the end of employment? I’ve heard previous employers can only state the dates of employment, compensation, and nothing else, but wasn’t sure if that was really true. This is assuming the firing is for general performance reasons and nothing egregious or illegal (something like embezzlement, drugs, or violence). Thank you.

Nick’s Reply

You should assume the new potential employer is going to find out, whether it has the right or not. Before I explain why, let’s check in with Mark Carey, an employment attorney and Guest Voices contributor on Ask The Headhunter.

Were you fired?

Mark’s advice would depend on the specifics of your case, which we don’t know. But these are his general comments:

The new employer may ask about the reasons for termination, but the old employer is only obligated to provide name, title, years of service and maybe salary. Employers do not offer the reason for termination, as they are in fear of two possible claims.

First, if they say something knowingly untruthful about the employee they may get sued for defamation.

Second, if the new company hires based on the representations made by older employer, the new employer may sue for negligent hire against old employer based on what those representations were.

There is also the confidentiality of personnel matters pursuant to state law, so the employer will want to avoid divulging such information.

Plan for the worst if you got fired

Even if such a question about why you were fired is not right or legal, the new employer might ask anyway and your old employer may tell too much. Your only recourse might be legal action, and few people are willing to go that far.

That’s why my advice is to assume the worst and prepare to deal with it. Take it for a given that the new employer can find out why you were fired. I know HR managers who have wide circles of contact in the HR community. They can use back channels — ethical or not — to call one or another HR buddy who might easily find out about you on the q.t. The same goes for recruiters. You’ll never know why you were rejected.

What will they say?

Since you’re asking whether the new employer can and will find out from your old employer whether you were fired, I’ll offer some suggestions about how to ascertain what the new employer knows.

Take a direct approach. Call your old company and ask HR and your boss what they intend to say on a reference call. They might not tell you, but why not ask anyway? At the very least, you will have put the company on notice that you’re concerned and watching them.

Along these lines, attorney Carey offers this caution:

An old employer may state to the new employer that they do not recommend you for re-hire, as code for “this was a bad employee and be warned.”

Check indirectly. Do you know a friendly manager at a company you’re applying to anyway? If they’re going to check with your last employer, would they be willing to share with you what they learn, as a friend? Be careful – don’t use a ruse to get this information.

This article might be helpful: How can you fight bad references?

Keep in mind that the manager who interviews you may have been fired and have some bad references of their own. Full disclosure that your old boss had an issue with you about X may land on sympathetic ears. In other words, take the wind out of that sail yourself.

What to do

Control the game. Whatever happens, you must be ready well in advance to counter any negative comments with positive recommendations. More here: The Preemptive Reference.

So my advice is not to concern yourself so much with what a new employer can legally ask or not ask your old employer, unless you’re willing to pay for a legal action. My advice is to change the game entirely.

Change the game. I believe the most compelling way to deal with a black mark on your record (whether it is deserved or not) is to help the new employer focus on something more important: evidence about how you would do the job profitably. Show the new employer that what you can do matters more than any reference does. More about that in this video from an interview I did on Bloomberg TV: Profit-based job hunting & hiring.

I wish you the best.

How do you deal with getting fired when you apply for a new job? Do you try to hide it? Do you come clean? Ever been busted for not disclosing it?

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Another exploding job offer

Another exploding job offer

A reader’s entire family gets seriously hurt by the fallout from an exploding job offer in the August 11, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter.

Question

exploding job offerA few weeks ago my husband applied for a new job. It took weeks just to go through the process. They ran a background check, had him take a drug test, gave him a start date, and told him when he would be flying out of state for training.

He passed the drug test and he was cleared on the background check. Now, my husband is a felon, but his conviction was 15 years ago and he has had no other problems since then. The company only went back seven years on the background check, so he saw no reason to discuss a problem 15 years old. Technically he did not lie. When they asked him about his past, he was honest and told them everything. Everything was going great. He had his dream job. I moved all of our belongings into storage and we were going to move in with family until we got the relocation fee from his new company to get a house.

The night before we were leaving my husband got a call saying he might not get hired because of the old conviction. Still, HR told him not to worry because he should be fine. So I drove my children to the new town. Then my husband gets an e-mail saying, “Upon further review of your background we have to deny you the position due to the severity of your crime.”

Are you kidding me? They gave him a start date, a date and time of his flight, how long he would be gone for training, etc. The hiring process took weeks and he passed everything. Then they tell him last minute — after I already started moving out our belongings that they changed their mind? Can they do that?

I’ve been doing all the moving by myself. I’ve gotten so sick from the stress. I can hardly eat, I’m breaking out in hives, my husband is depressed, my girls are crying because we were told he had the job, when he was going to start, and when he was going to catch a flight to go to California for training. And now — nothing. Now, I have to worry about getting evicted from my home and worry about having to go through this all over again. Is there anything we can do?

Nick’s Reply

I’m very sorry to hear about this, but it’s not the first sad story I’ve heard about an exploding job offer. A 15-year-old conviction is a lifetime ago — but your husband’s good performance and reputation are current, and in my opinion that should have held sway with this company. But I don’t run the company.

In a column about a related problem — a reader’s DUI history — I discussed some ways to deal with adverse background-check results: Bankrupt & Unemployed: Will a background check doom me?

How an exploding job offer happens

I see two problems. The employer is responsible for one; your husband, for the other. First, it appears the company did not actually give your husband a written offer, but encouraged him to believe there would be a written offer so that he’d get started on his transition immediately. That’s unethical. They should have cautioned him that he should take no actions on the new job until they delivered a written offer. (This is another reason why I believe HR should get out of the hiring business.)

Second — and this is a mistake lots of people make in their excitement about a new job — your husband should not have taken any action, including moving the family, until he had a real offer in hand in writing. I know that’s hard to swallow. But it’s just not smart to risk it all without a written offer. If he had waited until all the contingencies were resolved, he’d still lose the new job but your entire family would have been spared such trauma.

What really troubles me is the number of stories readers are submitting to me about job offers being extended — then the employer pulls the plug with no consideration for what this means to the applicant. It really stinks.

What can you do?

If this job is in a state where employment is “at will,” there’s probably little you can do. An employer can fire you at any time, for any reason or no reason — even on day one of the job.

However, you still might want to consult an attorney about this. It depends on the laws in the state where the job is and on the details. A lawyer might be able to make the case that even an oral offer is bona fide. I think it’s important that the employer told your husband “not to worry,” implying it understood his reliance on the offer. It would probably not cost a lot to consult with a good employment lawyer. No matter what you learn, you may at least feel better knowing what your options are.

The one other thing I’d suggest is that your husband reach out directly to the hiring manager that wanted to hire him. It seems only HR is handling this matter. If your husband has any respect left for this company, it’s possible that a rational appeal to the manager could turn this around. That job vacancy is costing the company money. Some assurances and a direct discussion may lead the manager to make a new judgment call. See Hiring Manager: HR is the problem, you are the solution.

I wish I could be more helpful other than telling you to be more careful next time. Since this is affecting your health and your children, please try to find some counseling. Your trauma is clearly very real. Do not let a lousy employer ruin your health and your family’s peace of mind. It’s important to be able to talk it through and deal with it.

Bad stuff happens, and sometimes dishonest employers cause it. The people at the company did not behave with integrity. The best thing your husband can do is immediately move on to the next opportunity, with a better employer. I wish you the best — I really do.

Do you have a story about an exploding job offer? How did you handle it? What advice would you offer the reader in this week’s Q&A?

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Am I good enough for a higher-level job?

Am I good enough for a higher-level job?

A reader faces a crisis of self-confidence when considering a higher-level job in the August 4, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter.

Question

higher-level jobHow can a programmer know that they’re good enough to work as a developer? I found this interesting perspective posted on Quora from someone who has worked in software a long time: “If I only applied for jobs I was qualified for, I’d still be living with my parents.” The person said some companies will take a chance on you. Do you find this to be true?

Nick’s Reply

First, let’s clarify something for readers who don’t know a lot about computer software jobs. In simple terms, a programmer writes the code for a software project. A software developer can code, but is involved in almost all aspects of the project, including creating the concept for a product, designing it, and following it through to production. (Of course, not every programmer wants to become a developer!)

But what we’re going to discuss applies to almost any kind of job, and it applies to your desire to do more so you can earn more.

A chance at a higher-level job

I like that quote: “If I only applied for jobs I was qualified for, I’d still be living with my parents.”

Put another way, loads of employers may reject you because you haven’t already done the job they want to fill. They want to hire someone who’s been doing the job for the last five years — for less money. But you need just one employer to give you a chance to do something new and more advanced for higher pay. So you have to reach!

There are employers that will hire you because they need help and because they believe you will be able to rise to the demands of a higher-level job than you’ve ever had.

I find this to be true in almost all areas of work, not just programming and software development. Some of the best, most highly experienced professionals I know earned their chops by talking their way into jobs they had never done before. They learned through self-study, by taking necessary courses, by doing and by learning from others. I refer to them as people who can ride a fast learning curve without falling off. Companies hire them not just because of what they can do, but for what they can learn to do.

A programmer is good enough to work as a developer if they can show they are good enough, and if the employer allows for a learning curve (and perhaps also provides mentoring or training). For the employer to take a chance putting you in a higher-level job, you must take a chance and try to justify it.

Find an employer that values learning

Peter Cappelli, a labor researcher I know at the Wharton School, has studied why people can’t get hired. He found that one big reason — obviously — is lack of skills. But he also found that there’s a shortage of specific skills because many employers don’t offer existing employees the training required to do more sophisticated work. They’d rather hire someone new who doesn’t need training.

Cappelli found that over the past 40 years employers drastically reduced their investment in training and development. I think this is partly the reason people started “job hopping.” They want to do new things. Programmers want to be developers. Customer service workers want to be be sales people. Bookkeepers want to be cost accountants.

Some of these people make a leap by finding employers who welcome them. Moving up in your chosen career requires learning, even when employers don’t value training. So you may need to get your own training.

Help an employer take a chance on you

You cannot wait for an employer to judge whether you’re “good enough” to do a more sophisticated job. Figure it out yourself first, then help the employer take a chance on you. You may invest in appropriate training, or you may study and practice on your own. Then prepare a mini-business plan showing how you will do the job you want.

Your plan might include some guesswork because you can never know all you need to write up this kind of plan. But what impresses a good manager is how you defend and support your plan. If you can explain this clearly and simply, a good manager may decide you are a good investment and may be more likely to take a chance on you. (See The New Interview.)

It’s up to you to make a commitment, then don’t let your new boss down. Do what’s necessary to come up to speed quickly and prove you’re smart, dedicated, capable and dependable. I know managers who would jump over 10 complacent software developers to hire an enthusiastic programmer who shows evidence of self-motivation and an ability to learn fast.

You may have to hear a lot of No’s before you get to one Yes. But you need only one Yes.

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not suggesting that any programmer can start managing a software development project, or that any bookkeeper can get hired as a cost accountant. But if you apply only for jobs you are qualified for today, you’ll never get the chance to demonstrate that you can ride a fast learning curve to the next step in your career.

How do you know you’re good enough? When you can convince that manager.

Do you ever apply for jobs that you’re probably not qualified for? Tell us how you pulled it off! Is it better to wait for a promotion than to change employers to move up? Is this a chicken-or-egg problem, since employers want to hire without offering any training?

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Do I need the job offer in writing?

Do I need the job offer in writing?

A reader needs a reality check about job offers, in the July 28, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter.

Question

How important is getting the job offer in writing? And specifically what should I look for when I receive it? Thanks.

Nick’s Reply

job offer in writingJob applicants are often so grateful to get an offer that they cast prudence aside and put their future in jeopardy. Don’t succumb to the thrill of an incomplete job offer. I would never, ever accept an offer I didn’t have in writing, and I’d certainly never resign another job to accept it. Any company that declines to put it in writing is trouble.

Is the job offer in writing?

A purely oral offer of a job puts you in a bad spot. If the terms expressed to you don’t match what you find when you start work, you’ll have little to rely on. Good luck arguing your case without anything to prove it.

Now, an employer can rescind even a written job offer. We’ve discussed this elsewhere. But this is not just a matter of the offer being bona fide; that is, for real. The more likely problem you’ll face if you don’t insist on a job offer in writing is that the details of the deal could deviate significantly from what you thought you agreed to. For example:

  • The offer the manager expressed to you was for the job of Marketing Manager, but the business cards issued to you list you as Marketing Representative.
  • The offer was for “$75,000?” But your bi-weekly paycheck is for $2,790.
  • Your new boss said, “No problem, it’s part of the offer” when you asked for three weeks’ paid vacation, but six months into the job HR says “No dice!”
  • Healthcare benefits were described as “industry standard,” but don’t include levels of coverage you’ve always had.

Either you get the job offer in writing, or you’ll probably be disappointed.

What to look for in a written job offer

“Contract” jobs

Getting a job offer in writing is all the more critical when you’re being offered a “contract” job through a third party. These firms demand your agreement on compensation before they disclose the employer or what the job is. Be careful!

Always insist on a written offer letter before you take an action you cannot undo, for example, quitting another job for this new one.

Here’s a short list of just some of the key things to look for in your written job offer:

  • Does it include all the terms that were agreed to in your discussions?
  • Is the job title what you understand it to be?
  • Does it include a firm start date?
  • Does it refer to other documents, like the company’s benefits plan and employee policy manual? (You’ll want copies of any documents incorporated by reference.)
  • Does the “fine print” include surprises that were not discussed, like a non-compete agreement that might restrict you from pursuing jobs with other companies in your field and industry?
  • Is the compensation explicitly and clearly stated?
  • Do any promised bonuses, commissions or incentives include a clear, objective definition of what they’re based on? (A bonus might seem generous until you realize it’s not achievable.)
  • The offer should state who your supervisor will be. It’s not uncommon to interview with one manager, but to report to someone you’ve never met – and can’t get along with.

There’s more, but we’ll stop here for now. (I hope readers will add to this list!)

The offer should be signed by a manager of the company, not by a headhunter or other agent. If you have it in writing, you’re in a better position to protect your interests if you need to take legal action. If an offer is made only orally, you don’t have as much leverage, though successful legal action has been taken over unwritten offers, too. (Bear in mind that I’m not an attorney, and this isn’t legal advice.)

The more complex the job offer or employment agreement, the more you should consider having a good attorney review it. Bottom line: Get it in writing.

Have you ever been burned by a job offer that wasn’t in writing? What do you insist must be included in a written job offer? How would you advise this reader?

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Get feedback from your boss early and often

Get feedback from your boss early and often

A reader has gotten no feedback at work and wonders what will happen at a performance review, in the July 21, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter.

Question

feedbackI’ve been at my current job about ten months. My first review will be coming up but no one has brought up anything about it. Other employees tell me it’s rote. The boss gives you feedback after filling out some forms, you sign them and then HR meets with you. I think my boss is happy with me. She’s had no complaints that I know about and I’m basically happy here except I’d like more interesting work. Should I be worried about my upcoming review?

Nick’s Reply

I worry about people who wait for review time to ask for feedback from the boss. Of course, your boss should be talking with you regularly about your work and your performance. She should be expressing any concerns and letting you know what you’re doing right. Unfortunately, formal performance reviews have become so bureaucratic and rote that many managers avoid them and employees are glad when the meeting is delayed.

Feedback

Don’t  wait for your boss to tell you how you’re doing. Without frequent feedback it’s very difficult to adjust your work behavior so you’ll perform well. In fact, feedback is so fundamental a control mechanism throughout our lives that I wonder how people could miss its significance in their careers.

Almost every life science (biology, psychology, medicine) involves the study of feedback. I remember this question on a biology exam in college: Why do animals have their brains at the front of their bodies rather than on the back end or in the middle? The answer is that, as the processor of sensory input, the brain is near the eyes, ears, nose and tongue. An animal’s sensory apparatus is positioned at the part of the body that goes first when the animal moves.

Why is that important? Because survival depends enormously on the ability to process input quickly. When an animal moves forward, instant feedback about the results of that action is crucial to the animal’s survival. The human brain is on top of the body because that’s where the most important sensory input arrives: a few feet off the ground. (Or so we’re told.)

Imagine what would happen to a horse galloping towards the edge of a cliff. If its brain and sensory apparatus came last, the animal would likely go over the cliff before it could process the visual input that provides feedback about danger and motion.

Get feedback early and often

This is why, when you’re doing your job, it helps to gather feedback early and often – to help you avoid going over a cliff. There’s very little difference between that horse and the employee who fails to get regular feedback and is fired for not doing the work in the way expected.

Make your case

Feedback is also a great tool to help you make more money: How should I ask for an overdue raise?

Studies have shown that people who ask for feedback tend to do a job the way the boss wants it done, and they tend to get promoted. Even more interesting is that younger workers seem to ask for feedback more than older workers. (They get promoted more often, too.)

Asking your boss, “How am I doing?” doesn’t imply that you lack confidence. It shows that you’re trying to do the job the way the boss wants it done. While you may have great suggestions about how to do the work better, what matters most is that you talk to your boss and listen to what the boss has to say. The feedback you receive should direct your behavior on the job.

Create a feedback loop

If there’s a problem, a feedback loop can help you identify it early and give you (and your boss) time and a chance to adjust your behavior, or to make other necessary choices before the matter is beyond your control.

Creating a regular feedback loop is not hard. Keep it informal. One or more of these tips should get you started on a path that avoids surprises at review time.

  • When your boss gives you a new assignment, map out your approach, show it to your boss, and ask for comments and suggestions.
  • When you complete all or part of a project, show the results to your boss and ask for feedback on how you did it.
  • When you encounter problems or challenges on a project, outline the issues to your boss, suggest how you’ll deal with them, and request guidance.
  • A month before your review meeting, make a brief, informal list of your accomplishments during the year. Discuss it with your boss and ask, “Can you give me an idea of what I’ll be working on next year?” Be ready to express a short wish list of your own.
  • Stick your head in your boss’s doorway (or e-mail box) and casually ask, “So, how’s our company doing?” or “How’s our team doing on delivering what management expects of us?” This opens a discussion and a channel for important dialogue on how you fit into the business.

Tune these suggestions to suit your situation, your boss, and your style. The idea is to make your work an ongoing discussion without appearing to lack confidence.

Don’t wait for a performance review

To get a measure of control over your forthcoming performance review, engage in regular discussion about your work and how you do it. By talking about it you’re helping your boss verbalize and express judgments about you. Another fun fact from the world of psychology is that people tend to remember opinions they have expressed out loud. Help your boss say it to remember it and believe it!

Obviously, you want to have discussions that put you and your performance in a good light! When your formal performance review arrives, both you and your boss will be on the same page. No surprises. No worries.

While factors beyond your control can affect your job (the economy, the pandemic, changes in management), don’t let your relationship with your boss depend on an annual review. Don’t wait until review time for your boss to tell you how you’re doing. Make it an ongoing conversation about your work.

(The studies referred to above are described more fully in From the Outside in: Seven Strategies for Success When You’re Not a Member of the Dominant Group in Your Workplace, iUniverse, 2005, by Renee Blank, Sandra Slipp and Vincent Ford.)

Do you ever ask your boss about your performance at work? How often? Has a performance review ever turned into a nightmare? How do you know where you stand?

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Over-Worked: Boss is killing us softly

Over-Worked: Boss is killing us softly

A reader who manages a shrinking team asks how much extra work the remaining workers can possibly do, in the July 14, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter.

Question

over-workedMy boss just laid off five members of the team I manage and directed that we pick up the slack. So we’ve each been doing multiple jobs. At first it seemed like a challenge and everybody got to it, but now it’s killing me and my team. We all want to prove we’re worth keeping in this grim economy, but we are working over 60 hours a week, some of us including Saturdays. Our “normal” was around 45 hours, maybe 50 when there was a crunch. I need minimum two new staff to stay on top of the work, plus new software and tools. I’m afraid some of my employees will get sick, and others will get fed up and quit (me included). There’s only so much people will take. What do you advise?

Nick’s Reply

“A man’s reach should exceed his grasp,” Robert Browning famously wrote. I don’t know whether he had met Elizabeth Barrett yet, or he might have said “peoples’ reach,” but you get the point.

We’re all capable of doing more, and challenges test us and often make us better. But Browning never suggested falling into the abyss by reaching too far.

There is no easy, certain or risk-free solution to your problem — especially as the job market spirals down as a result of the pandemic. But tolerating unreasonable work demands is no solution, either. It’s worth discussing options. I’m going to present one, and ask readers to propose others so we can talk about them.

Over-worked

Your boss seems motivated to find out what your limit is. A good boss who tests you will closely monitor your health and manage accordingly. A lousy boss will keep piling on the work and kill you softly and slowly. You should ask yourselves what kind of boss you have.

More important to me is how you manage your boss. My advice is to tell your boss the truth. I know that’s risky, but part of your job as a manager is to speak up. You’re expected to get the work done, but keeping your own team members healthy is also your job. As you note, losing more of your team because they are over-worked is another risk — to the company.

Over-worked and candid

Insecurity can lead an employee — including a manager like you — to interpret unreasonable demands to work longer and harder as a threat: “Do or die!” An insecure manager won’t dare to confront the boss candidly for fear of getting fired. Does your boss want to hear the truth from you? Or does your boss not care? Getting the answer requires a frank conversation. Then you need to present your boss with a realistic and honest choice.

One approach is to say yes to your boss’s extreme expectations, and to qualify it with “but…” Yes, but.

How to say it
“I’d like to give you an update on our productivity. Since the layoff, the new requirement for the smaller team is to add A and B to our deliverables without increasing company headcount. I’ve outlined a plan. Please have a look. As you can see, YES, we can deliver A and B. BUT, to deliver one or the other, we need to transfer one more company employee to our team. To deliver both A and B, we need to transfer two more employees to our team, and we need some new tools. In either case, we can keep up this level of performance for about six months. Then, as you can see in my projections, the stress on the system and my team will adversely affect product quality and delivery schedules. I know this is not what you’d like to hear — it would be great if we could do A and B with current resources, but it puts the rest of our operation at risk. Can we discuss the trade-offs, what is the best choice, and what is a realistic business plan and delivery schedule?” (A related approach works when negotiating salary.)

Of course, you will have to think through your own plan in your circumstances. But this is part of your job. The company is trying to do more with less, when what it needs to do is decide what its priorities are and choose what has to go.

Risk my job?

I know some will suggest that, in the current economy and job market, no one can afford to risk their job by questioning increased work loads or unreasonable employer demands. Everyone must set their own tolerance level. But everyone has a breaking point. It’s important to know in advance where you’ll draw the line.

The cost of consent

If you avoid the discussion with your boss, and are fearful of appearing uncooperative or even incapable, you’re likely to dig the hole even deeper. When you’re already over-worked, quiet compliance just makes the boss think you can do even more. So the weight on your back will likely be increased. There is no good outcome for you. That’s poor management and poor business.

Where I’ve seen this happen in particular, even in good economies, is with managers who are insecure because they lack a college degree, or they are insecure about their skills and judgment. (See impostor syndrome.) They consent to staggering workloads to avoid appearing somehow unqualified, or to avoid calling attention to themselves. All of them almost invariably burn out or take it so far that they get fired.

Yes, BUT

It’s your job to do the best you can so your company will succeed, and sometimes that means working harder and longer in a crunch. But don’t make it your goal to prove you can do whatever is demanded, that you can figure anything out, and that you can be counted on no matter what. That’s the path to catastrophe because you will lose your job soon anyway — perhaps after you become very sick. The only outcome is doom.

Our reach should exceed our grasp, but not kill us. Never over-promise just to “prove” yourself. Part of what you’re paid for is to tell your boss the truth, even if it’s bad news, as long as your assessment includes proposing rational, prudent choices to protect the business and the employees that make it successful. Don’t say “Can do!” to what can’t be reasonably done. Say YES, BUT — and outline the options and their costs. Otherwise, you’ll either go out on unemployment, or get carried out on a stretcher.

There is no easy answer to this problem. So let’s talk about the hard but honest answers. When the chips are down and your company asks the world of you, how much should you deliver, and under what kind of deal? How would you explain it to your boss? Would you even try? What risks would you face? Are there any benefits?

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Predictions for post-pandemic job market

Predictions for post-pandemic job market

A reader asks what will be different in the job market in the June 30, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter.

Question

The coronavirus pandemic is a game-changer for the job market. What changes do you see coming in the new normal? Any tips on how to be one of those who can get a job again as things open back up?

Nick’s Reply

post-pandemic job market

This could be a long discussion! I’ll try to stick to a few points that I think I’ll be able to defend when the discussion starts in the comments section below. I can’t offer much evidence yet, but my gut tells me employers will be more selective when hiring going forward, so you will have to adjust your job-search methods accordingly.

Why?

Selective hiring in post-pandemic job market

Over 40 million people have lost their jobs and filed for unemployment since the pandemic began. That’s a lot of jobs. I don’t think it’s hard to predict that when employers start hiring again they will re-fill only a portion of them.

It seems Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell agrees. He recently told a gathering of bankers there will be “well into the millions of people who don’t get to go back to their old job. In fact, there may not be a job in that industry for them for some time.”

Employers will have to be more selective simply because they won’t be able to hire as many workers. The reason is elementary: In the post-pandemic job market, companies will have to save money, many of them without choice.

Managers will do their own recruiting

Wharton labor researcher Peter Cappelli has pointed out that modern corporate accounting systems treat vacant jobs as a reduction in costs, and thus as an increase in profits. My good buddy Jeff Pierce, an executive in the IT services industry, calls this “junk profitability.” I think he’s right.

UPDATE: The Economic Policy Institute reported on June 29, 2020 that Nearly 11% of the workforce is out of work with zero chance of getting called back to a prior job.

“Of the 164.8 million workers who are either in the labor force or who have dropped out of the labor force as a result of the virus, 11.9 million workers, or 7.2%, are out of work with no hope of being called back to a prior job; 5.7 million workers, or 3.5%, expect to get called back to work but likely will not; and 14.8 million workers, or 9.0%, may reasonably expect to be called back. In other words, even if all workers who can reasonably expect to be called back to their prior jobs were called back, the share of the workforce out of work would still be 10.7% (7.2% plus 3.5%), higher than the highest unemployment rate of the Great Recession.”

As businesses try to recover, I believe they will spend less on staffing. But managers will likely face the same, if not higher, productivity expectations. Managers will have to operate on lower staffing levels, and this will force them to step up to the challenge by hiring more carefully.

I think the best managers will handle more recruiting on their own because they know HR has no skin in the game. Fed up with HR organizations that have always shoveled the wrong candidates into interviews, managers will rebel. They will take hiring into their own hands because not to do so could risk their own jobs.

Job seekers who’ve got game will prosper

Employers will invest their salary budgets prudently and selectively. I believe managers will be much more receptive to job candidates who walk into an interview and demonstrate, hands down, how they will do the work and do it profitably.

In a recent article, Job Search During The Pandemic, Jason Alba suggested that job seekers need to be on their best game: “The pandemic makes it necessary to do more of what we know works best.”

This means:

Job ROI will matter

The University of Chicago’s Becker Friedman Institute projects that up to 42% of the pandemic-related layoffs in the U.S. will be permanent. If you are a victim of these cuts, how will you position yourself for a new job?

If managers have less money to spend, they will monitor hiring ROI (return on investment) much more closely. Every hire will matter more. This means what you can offer employers in the post-pandemic job market will matter more.

I think this will be a smart employee’s market where the best workers will pursue jobs where they show how they’ll make a difference — and thus be able to negotiate good compensation packages. Job seekers who keep dialing for dollars by playing the numbers game with job applications will lose.

We’ll see if I’m right. Now let’s hear everyone’s comments.

What are your predictions for the post-pandemic job market? How will the massive, pandemic-related job cuts affect your ability to get — or to fill — a job? Will those jobs ever come back? What will make you worth hiring in the new economy and job market?

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I stopped shortchanging myself and my career

I stopped shortchanging myself and my career

A reader who’s been shortchanging their potential has an epiphany in the June 23, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter.

Question

shortchangingYou get a lot of questions. I thought you might enjoy an answer I discovered.

I finally ironed out the details of my new job and my relocation (very generous and I really expected nothing). During my morning shower, I had this fleeting thought, “Wow. They are really paying too much for me to take this job. With benefits like moving expenses, closing costs, salary and bonus, I am really being paid way too much for this job. I would have taken it for a lot less.”

Then I stopped and chided myself for these negative thoughts.

Obviously, I realized, I must be filling some need that they are willing to pay me this much for. And, I thought to myself, I am very good at what I do, I know the company, know the people and I know I will do a great job in this position.

Of course, I am sure there are cases where people are paid far more than they are worth for a job. But I realized this morning, really for the first time, how much I have shortchanged myself over the years by thinking things like:

  1. “Oh, I don’t think I could do that job,” or
  2. “They wouldn’t want someone with my background for that,” or
  3. “I know they wouldn’t be able to meet my salary for that position.”


I realized this morning that I have really been selling myself short in a lot of ways in my career, rather than “reaching for the brass ring,” and extending myself a bit farther to achieve more.

Now I know that the first step in looking for a better position is valuing yourself and what you can really do for an employer, regardless of your job history and industry background. Today I stopped shortchanging myself. The answer to my own doubts is that undervaluing myself is a mistake. I hope I never make it again.

Nick’s Reply

The Question in this column doesn’t always have to be a question! Your story is one of the most eloquent, wonderful expressions of newfound career wisdom I’ve ever read. And we could end this column right there. It’s enough to prompt discussion all by itself.

Becoming suddenly aware of how you’ve been shortchanging yourself and your potential is the kind of “Aha!” experience that will make others start thinking, too. That makes this epiphany as important as the questions I answer in this column. Thanks for sharing it.

Shortchanging yourself

I’ve experienced the kind of misgivings you have, and I’m sure many others have, too. We all doubt our worth sometimes. The three examples of shortchanging yourself that you shared are the kinds of doubts that stop us dead in our tracks. Rather than ask ourselves, “Why YES?”, we say “NO, but I don’t know why!” — perhaps because it’s easier!

For some people, self-doubt can be a serious problem called impostor syndrome. Most of the time it’s a passing worry that we overcome by recognizing and enjoying our achievements. Sometimes it’s debilitating and leads to needless failure.

While criticism and disparaging remarks from others can spark a crisis of self-confidence, we tend to doubt compliments and praise. Sometimes praise is casual and perfunctory; sometimes it’s genuine and well-deserved, like the exceptional job offer you received.

The best praise is our own honest judgment of ourselves that’s based on solid facts and success. I think your job-offer success is quite solid!

Shortchanging your potential

Every time someone asks me, How much money should I ask for? or, What am I worth?, I want to say to them, You’re shortchanging your potential! Don’t get stuck on what you’ve done. Plan what you can do by realizing your potential. That’s your worth.

People who acknowledge their potential know what they are worth. They have a power that surpasses the greatest negotiation skills. Their self-confidence is anchored in self-knowledge — knowledge of their skills and ability to create, fix or improve something, and to recognize opportunities they can capitalize on. That’s what the employer discovered about you. Now you see your potential, and that the money follows.

Potential value = more money

Once you accept your potential value, it’s easier to express it in terms of what another person (or business) needs – and that gets you more money. (For another approach to how to judge your own value please see The Cardinal Rules of Worth.)

Someone values you enough to pay you more, and now you know you deserve it. You’ll never be the same again for this realization. It will spur you to deliver even more value because now you know your value doesn’t depend on your credentials or on your history. It depends on what you can do. And that’s wonderful. Thanks for sharing your epiphany!

Do you shortchange yourself? How do you calculate your worth — and then express it to get a better job offer? What metrics can we apply, other than a resume, credentials and experience? (Or is that all of it?)

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Headhunter demands I quit my job before his client will interview me

Headhunter demands I quit my job before his client will interview me

In the June 16, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter an executive gets an ultimatum from a headhunter.

Question

headhunter demandsI am an executive at a large U.S. bank. I was approached by a headhunter and have had serious and positive discussions with a company he represents. We were at the next stage of me speaking with the CEO of the company. However, it turns out that the company is a business client of my bank and the CEO of the company is good friends with my boss. On account of this, the CEO is not comfortable meeting with me. The headhunter informed me that the CEO has asked me to resign or notify my boss of my intention to resign before he will meet with me and resume discussions. While they have indicated that they would then “fast track” the process immediately after that, it’s not a guaranteed offer. This seems absurd to me. The headhunter tells me this is not unusual at my high level, but I have never heard of such a practice. What are your thoughts?

Nick’s Reply

This is a good example of the headhunter’s version of mixed signals. “Let’s talk about a job!” Then “We can’t talk to you about a job!” Not unless you quit your job first. Go, then stop, then go? What’s behind all this? The headhunter’s naivete or the CEO’s incompetence?

You’ve had multiple interviews with the company. They have undoubtedly read your resume and know where you work. So does the headhunter and the company’s HR department, which knows the company’s recruiting policies. Now the CEO interjects and implies there’s some sort of conflict in even talking with you because he’s your boss’s friend and the company does business with your bank.

What a mess. How absurd. How unprofessional. Why did they bring you in to interview at all?

Recruiting conflicts?

Perhaps the CEO thinks he’s a paragon of ethical behavior in not hiring anyone that works for any of his friends or who works at any company his company buys from. He has manufactured a significant and risky constraint on who his company can hire.

Podcast

Last week I chatted with Mac Prichard on his “Find Your Dream Job” career podcast. Have a listen: Choosing your target companies, with Nick Corcodilos.

I might understand if you worked for a customer of the CEO’s company. Then the CEO might risk losing the account. But would the CEO forego hiring an employee of the electricity provider that services his building? A lawyer from the company’s law firm? An employee of a restaurant the CEO frequents? A programmer from Apple if the company uses iPhones? Where does it end?

The only true conflict would be if the company’s contractual relationship with the bank forbids the company from recruiting its employees. I’ve never heard of such a thing. (However, it is common for a contract between a headhunting firm and its client company to forbid the headhunter from poaching the client’s employees. But that’s a different story.)

Friends and fiduciaries

If the friendship between the CEO and your boss is the issue, then that CEO should stop recruiting anyone. How many friends does he have and at what companies?

The CEO has a fiduciary obligation to his company. This means he must act entirely on his company’s behalf and best interest. That includes when hiring. Unless there is some contractual or legal obligation preventing him from recruiting and hiring you, the CEO may be violating his obligations to his board of directors. His duty is to hire the best candidates, whether his friends like it or not.

Do you think the CEO disclosed to his board all the companies where he has friends, and from which he will not recruit candidates (like you)? Does HR know which companies represent forbidden fruit? Apparently not. That headhunter certainly doesn’t know.

The CEO’s company will have no access to all those potential candidates (like you). The company would be foolish to limit its access to good candidates.

Headhunter demands it

Far more bizarre is that the headhunter demands you resign your current job just for the chance to meet with his client. Absurd? It’s insane, irresponsible, kooky and the sign of an employer you should cross off your list and warn your friends about.

Additionally, the headhunter’s explanation is disingenuous. If the company has a no-recruit list and your bank is on it, why doesn’t its headhunter know about it? Why did he recruit you from your bank, on behalf of the CEO’s company,  and put you through multiple meetings? The headhunter is wrong. He owes you a big apology for his and his client’s unprofessional conduct. (For more about how to deal with headhunters in such situations, please see How to Work With Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work with you, pp. 26-33.)

Off the rails

This is so far off the rails that you might consider having some fun with it. Tell the headhunter you’ll quit your job if the CEO will write you a check for a year’s salary if he doesn’t hire you for at least a 15% compensation increase within 3 months. You want the check now. You will refund the money if the CEO hires you.

Alternately, tell the headhunter you want to hear this directly from the CEO. You want to see the “no-poach” agreement the company has with your bank. You’ll get none of this, of course, but it’s a conversation I’d love to hear!

Good for you for stepping back for a reality check. You’re dealing with a very naïve headhunter and with a CEO that’s mismanaging his company, from the HR department up to the C-suite.

Perhaps he should hire his friend (your boss) to protect their friendship. Maybe that’s what he’s planning anyway.

On to the next!

What do you make of this bungled recruiting episode? Has a headhunter ever issued bizarre demands like this? What would you do if you were the candidate? What would you say to the CEO and the headhunter?

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