Open Mic: Got a job or hiring problem?

Open Mic: Got a job or hiring problem?

In the April 7, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter I invite you to ask your own job search or hiring questions. It’s open mic!

open micSpecial Edition

Every week I answer one question from a reader in the traditional Q&A format. In this special edition, the mic is open to everyone — we’re going to tackle any questions you post. (Yes, we.) All the questions. (Yes, all.) Just post your questions in the comments section below.

Open Mic: You’re on!

The open mic idea stems from webinars and live conferences I do for professionals where I make a brief presentation, then we open it up. Anyone may ask any question about job hunting or hiring (or about work), and I do my best to provide useful advice on the spot. I love doing these events because I don’t have to prepare! In fact, I can’t prepare. I have no idea what anyone will ask. I also enjoy doing it because it tests me — how much value can I deliver, to someone with a problem, in the space of a few minutes? (Yes, I sometimes get egg on my face…)

With the economy, the job market and our daily lives almost totally upended, I know a lot of people are facing unusual situations. Let’s try to help. (If you’re new to Ask The Headhunter, check out The Basics.)

What’s your job search or hiring problem?

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

  • Lost your job and don’t know how to start hunting for a new one?
  • The manager made you a good offer, but HR just called to rescind it?
  • You’ve still got a job but you’re teleworking. How’s that work?
  • They want your salary history, but you don’t want to share it?
  • Your company posted a job and got 5,000 applicants. What now?

What’s your problem? Post it and we’ll tackle it.

Two suggestions:

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

The coronavirus crisis has changed business and jobs dramatically. I expect we’ll get some unusual questions. Don’t hold back.

Open mic for advice, too!

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

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

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Is hiring a cost or investment? How employers blow it

Is hiring a cost or investment? How employers blow it

In the March 31, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader says hiring and job offers should not be based on your tax returns.


hiringI was once asked for my tax returns after a job interview, evidently to determine a job offer. I thought you priced a salary to a job — not what you might have to pay a candidate to hire them. I declined the job because the request displayed the kind of people I would be working for. They were forced to sell the company shortly thereafter. What’s your opinion on how to set a salary and job offer?

Nick’s Reply

I don’t believe in setting compensation based strictly on the job. That’s shortsighted because it assumes a job cannot be done in a way that increases its value to the business. I think sound job offers are based on the value of the job at that company, and on the added value the best candidate brings to the job. In other words, if it recruits effectively, a company spends more than it planned because it finds a hire who can do more than it expected. HR managers will want to hang me for that.

Consider the example of a job posted to write computer code using computer language X. Hiring a programmer who knows language X would get the job done just fine and within the budgeted salary. A programmer who is facile in languages X and Y (languages unexpected and not required by the job description) shows it would take less code and time to produce a more powerful program in language Y. (Software developers don’t hang me! This is an over-simplification.) But this programmer expects a salary 25% higher than the budget for the position. Does the employer calculate the benefits of investing more in that programmer?

Hiring: How are job offers determined?

A smart company has to start by (A) pricing a salary to a job. But that means management has a realistic idea of the value of the job. That is, how does it contribute to the bottom line? I don’t know many companies or managers that could explain how any particular job contributes to profits. Of course, it’s a game of estimating, but I think few even try. They focus strictly on the overhead cost of filling the job.

Once that number is set, I think a company needs to (B) look at the market for availability of candidates, and adjust how much to pay accordingly. Of course, that’s an estimate, too. (I do not advocate relying on salary surveys.) We must assume employers are rational and that they calculate expected profits before making hiring decisions, right? Or, how could they defend their business model and be successful? (Yes, those are loaded questions and snipes.)

Job offers test the employer

As an employer, you find out how well you understand your business when you actually make job offers. Your job offers are a test. If you get turned down by your best candidates, then your (B) estimates are probably incorrect. You’ve failed.

But it’s also possible your (A) number is off — and I think that means you have to reassess your business assumptions: Is that job really valid? That is, does it really feed the bottom line, or is it actually busywork? Put another way, can your company afford to hire someone to do the job? The accuracy of your job offers — Do the best candidates accept them? — tests the viability of your business model.

If you can’t afford to hire the best workers, there may be something wrong with your business.

Learning from candidates

I think the fun starts when you talk with candidates who can upend your (A) estimate. That is, they show you they can do the job in a way that increases profitability beyond your expectations. This is where the interview process really pays off if you do it properly. You’re learning about the candidate, but you’re also learning from the very best candidates, who will show you how to tweak the job and the work to cover higher compensation and to produce more profit.

Do your interview protocols identify such candidates? Does your compensation policy enable you to hire them?

Perhaps a candidate has unexpected skills and expertise that would boost creativity and efficiency in that job, thereby increasing the value of the hire. (That means you’re recruiting well!) Isn’t that the “dream candidate” every company would love to find? Isn’t that who HR is really advertising for when the job posting says, “We’re looking for stars who think out of the box!”

Is hiring a cost or an investment?

I find this is where most companies blow it — especially if their HR department is mired in policies that interfere with re-pricing a job to a higher compensation level. They absolutely will not consider paying more to get more.

Rather than change the parameters of the job and the compensation to suit an exceptional candidate, they reject the candidate “because they cost too much.” (Age discrimination, anyone?) But that exceptional candidate is not a cost. They are a potential investment that can pay off handsomely — if the company steps up to pay more to get more. (Of course, management must also know how to properly exploit exceptional skills.) This is an incredibly important part of a company’s learning curve, and I think too many companies don’t recruit to find that kind of value. They’re potentially blowing an opportunity to boost their return on investment.

So much for “We want to hire people who are off the performance curve!” They’re also off the normal compensation curve. They’re pricier!

How companies blow it

It’s one thing when a company prices a job inaccurately. That is, when it gets its estimate (A) wrong. But I think a company really blows it when it inaccurately estimates (B) the value that’s available in the candidate market — and refuses to pay more to get more.

The problem is HR policies that make the very best candidates walk away. For example, “Our salary range is fixed. We cannot consider a higher salary.” Or, “We can’t proceed until you give us your salary history [so we can preemptively destroy your ability to negotiate your new salary].”

Or, as in your case, “We can’t proceed without your tax returns.”

These are all silly practices that drive away the very best candidates. (See Your Approach to Hiring Is All Wrong.) Exceptional hires return the investment required to get them, and then some. But again, I think the key is that management must know how to measure the value of both a job and the candidate who is going to do it.

Perhaps more to the point, management must understand the basic idea that the ROI of a job can be enhanced by investing more in a hire who can do it better.

Regarding the company that was sold shortly after you turned it down: It seems you heard the message loud and clear. “We rely on some other company’s judgment of your value (reflected in your tax returns). We have no competitive edge because we have no idea how to judge your value to our business! Run!”

What are you worth to an employer? How does a smart company figure it out? Here’s my challenge to you, dear readers: If you’re dealing with an employer that can’t figure it out on their own, is it worth making the effort yourself to explain it to them? (That is, to show them why you’re worth more?) How would you do that?

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Should I renege because I got a better job offer?

Should I renege because I got a better job offer?

In the March 24, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a student accepts a job offer, then gets more interviews and a better offer. What now? Renege on the first offer?


renegeI am in deep turmoil right now. For quite a while I was not getting any calls let alone interviews. About a month ago I got interviews with three companies. Company A made an offer and Company B made an offer later in the week. I didn’t hear anything back from Company C. Out of fear of losing my first real offer, I quickly accepted Company A. Company B’s offer was nothing compared to what A offered. However, it’s a job in the industry I prefer.

About two weeks later, I got calls from Companies D and E. I passed phone screenings at both, and both invited me to fly out for interviews. These were really good jobs for a soon-to-be graduate that include good leadership programs. I asked my professors for advice on how to prepare for these new interviews, and what to do about the offer I accepted from Company A. They right away reproached me for still interviewing after accepting an offer. They talked me out of going forward with Companies D and E, so I cancelled those interviews and told them my situation.

Now I am having second thoughts. I am still in talks with Company B for a possible better salary. It’s a better fit for me. I am even considering reopening talks with Companies D and E. And now I am receiving calls from a new Company F. I am thankful for where I am, but worried that I may have accepted to soon and the job might not fit me.

Nick’s Reply

Congratulations on all the interest you have stirred up, and on your job offers. While I respect the intent of your professors, I don’t agree with them. In fact, this problem of staggered job offers and rescinding acceptance of a job offer is something I’ve covered in detail in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 9: Be The Master of Job Offers.

The bird-in-the-hand rule of job offers: When you have one offer in hand, and you’re waiting to complete interviews with several other employers, you still have just one offer in hand. And that means you have just one choice to make. (From Fearless Job Hunting, Book 9: Be The Master of Job Offers, p. 12)

Should you renege?

The gist is this. To renege on your acceptance of a job is a crappy thing to do and it may have adverse consequences. But it is your choice to accept those consequences if you think another offer is compelling. That is up to you.

Just as companies sometimes rescind job offers (rare, but it happens) and companies sometimes lay people off for purely business reasons (nothing personal), people sometimes renege after accepting a job and take the consequences.

But be careful: It seems your C, D and E opportunities are still not solidified completely. That’s another risk you take if you rescind your first acceptance. Don’t play the odds and be left with no offers at all. Sit down and flow-chart how things may play out, and how your decision might have some adverse impacts on your reputation. There’s a cost to everything. The thing is to make informed judgments and choices.

Choose the best job offer

I know your professors will disagree with me, but I stand by my advice: Make the best choice, consider the downside, and decide whether you’re willing to accept the consequences. (For example, upsetting an employer.) Please keep in mind that there is risk in any of these choices, including the dissatisfaction of working at a job you changed your mind about.

Odds are high that you will search for a new job within a couple of years – not because you didn’t choose carefully, or because you’re not dedicated. It will be because you will develop your first sense of what’s important to you and what motivates you. The simple truth is, at your age you will change very much in the next one or two years – and that’s good.

Choose the best company

Concern yourself with making a choice to work with a company that has these 4 qualities:

  • Good people – who will mentor you.
  • Good projects and products in the pipeline – that you will work on and learn from.
  • Good financial prospects – so you won’t have to leave unless you want to!
  • The respect of its customers, vendors, and peer companies.

But mostly, choose the company with the best people. Ask to spend a day shadowing someone in the department where you will be working. You’ll see firsthand what it’s really like to work there.

Learning how to control information

I admire how you are taking this one step at a time and learning as you go. You’ll get better at juggling job offers with time and experience.

It’s really no one’s business who else you’re interviewing with. It would have been better to conduct your search and negotiations without telling each company what you were doing with others. Recruiters might get offended, but they control information to their advantage all the time. They have no problem making an offer to their #1 candidate and stringing you (the #2 candidate) along until they get an answer from #1. They want to keep all options open, so they won’t tell you they’ve already made an offer to someone else.

Make sense? Controlling information (without ever lying) is what we do in business.

The book I referred to above tells a lot more about how to deal with job offers. In any case, I hope something I’ve said here is helpful. I would like to know what you decide and how this works out for you. Best wishes on your first job!

Is this job seeker being unethical? Is it ever okay to renege on a job offer? What other ways could a person handle this? And what about the appalled professors?

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Corona Crisis: How are you doing?

Corona Crisis: How are you doing?

In the March 17, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter we talk about how everyone’s doing in the time of corona crisis and stock market meltdown.


coronaNick, what are you hearing from your readers about the effects of the coronavirus and the stock market meltdown? There’s a lot in the news about companies suspending business, schools closing, curfews and people self-quarantining and working from home. (Working from home is going to be interesting since many companies have never been able to accommodate it!) But how is all this affecting jobs, job hunting and hiring, and how bad is it going to get?

Nick’s Reply

I can address this only anecdotally because I don’t have a lot of input yet from readers. I expect we’re going to hear a wide range of unexpected stories, and of course I have no idea how bad it will get.

Here are three personal accounts people have shared with me, in the order I received them. This is of course no indication of what you may experience, but I find it interesting that on the one hand employers are producing good job offers in the middle of the crisis, while on the other hand employers aren’t even telling workers whether they still have a job. On the third hand — it does feel like there are more hands in this than we’d imagine — employers are instituting hiring freezes.

Corona 1

Reader 1 says over the weekend she received a job offer for a senior management position that she’s “happy with” for $150,000 plus bonus, company stock and a good healthcare and retirement package. The interviews took a couple of weeks. She has submitted a few questions that she needs answers to before she accepts.

Corona 2

Reader 2 works for a 400-person professional office in one of the major U.S. cities that have been hit by the coronavirus. She commutes from outside the city and is reluctant to take public transportation to work. As of Sunday night, management has not yet informed employees whether they must report to work or whether they can work from home. She has no idea whether she still has a job and wonders whether she should leave a voicemail for her boss saying she’s not coming into the office on Monday.

Corona 3

Reader 3 has been unemployed for almost a year and is about to enter negotiations for a $95,000 position with a company he’s excited about working for. He has two concerns. First, he’s worried he may have to take a drug test — because he’s been using marijuana to alleviate arthritis pain — but doesn’t know whether he’ll be tested immediately or in a month. Second, he suspects the job may be withdrawn because the coronavirus “has business and investors all cowering.”

All three want to know how I think the corona crisis could affect their respective situations. The best advice I can offer them is: Make no assumptions and wait for the employer to take the next step.

(By the time I finished this column, Reader 3 notified me that the company put in a hiring freeze and went with an internal candidate “because he knows the material.”)


The worst thing to do during this crisis is make assumptions based on what “seems” to be happening in the world. The crisis will quickly separate well-managed companies from poorly managed ones — and responsive companies from indolent ones.

Please consider that you may not know what kind of company you’re dealing with until the pressure of the crisis actually hits it. I’ve seen seemingly inept companies and managers rise to the occasion and blow away all expectations, just as I’ve seen experienced ones crumble.

I think everyone’s best bet is to pause. Stay calm and learn all you can while watching closely before you act.

I don’t know, but you do

I’m not a good person to ask about the myriad impacts and effects of the coronavirus and stock market crisis. I expect things to get worse before they get better — but that’s not telling you anything.

In fact, I hesitate to tell you anything. I’d prefer that members of this community tell one another what they’re experiencing and what they see, and also offer suggestions to help one another deal with the great variety of problems and challenges we will face in the coming weeks and months.

Corona Crisis Questions

I’ve got a hundred questions but will leave it at this short list — and ask you not only to share any answers you may have, but to add more questions you’d like answers and insights about so we can all pile on to discuss.

  • Are employers still hiring?
  • Are you still working — at your company or at home? (Assuming you were not unemployed when this started.)
  • Has anyone lost their job?
  • Are employers requiring workers to take unpaid time off?
  • Are employers still interviewing and, if so, how?
  • If you’re job hunting, will you continue? How?
  • Has anyone received a job offer, accepted or started a new job in the past week?
  • Have any companies shut down their operations temporarily?
  • Have any companies gone out of business entirely?
  • What are companies and managers expecting of their employees?
  • Does your employer have a real disaster plan? What is it?
  • Have you (or someone you know) been diagnosed with coronavirus?

Most important:

How are you doing?

How you’re all doing matters more to me than knowing exactly what’s happening. I hope you’ll come back to this discussion again and again in the weeks (and months?) to come, to share how how you’re doing is changing, hopefully for the better.

Please share your experiences, questions, concerns, answers, insights, fears, hopes, advice — and lend your ears to one another. This is a big topic because it’s a big crisis. Feel free to vent; there are shoulders here to cry on. Best of all, there are friends that care about one another — and you can get as close as you like while staying back six feet.

All I ask is that we don’t turn this into a political debate or engage in rants about who’s responsible for the crisis and who needs to fix it — please use Facebook for that. Our goal here is to help one another through a very tough, unpredictable time. Our goal is to be with friends who care how you’re doing.

Love and best wishes to you all.

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Must I tell a new employer everything?

Must I tell a new employer everything?

In the March 10, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader will need time off for a medical procedure soon after starting a new job. Must the new employer be told before the employee starts work?


new employerI tore my ACL playing volleyball. I just got over the hurdle of getting hired, but my new employer doesn’t know about my injury. I start next week and I am hoping to schedule my surgery in the next couple of months. However, I am not sure how to have this conversation with my new employer. Do I pretend as if the injury is new? Do I tell them that my surgery is already scheduled? I will be out for 7-14 days after surgery, although I am hoping I could work from home after the first 7 days. How do I approach this conversation? Any advice would be so helpful!

Thanks so much, I love your newsletter. It has helped me see my value as an employee and has helped me stop feeling weird about taboo subjects like pay. I tell all my friends about it when they’re having work trouble or are job hunting.

Nick’s Reply

Sorry to hear about your injury. This is really a decision you must make for yourself. I’ll try to give you a few things to consider.

What to tell and when

First, although you already have the injury, your surgery is not yet scheduled, and you have no idea when your doctor will be able to do it – so there is nothing firm you can tell the employer. You cannot in all honesty supply a date when you will have to interrupt your work. So, you start the job and, when the time comes, you notify your employer that you are scheduled for surgery and ask what the policy is for such a situation. You may find they are quite cooperative, especially if you volunteer to work from home while you recuperate.

I believe that as long as you accepted the job and agreed to a start date and you follow through, time off for a medical reason is not unusual – even if it’s so soon. You could start any job and get hit by a truck the next day – what then? I’m not trying to rationalize hiding information from the employer. I’m trying to emphasize that a medical matter should not play into a hiring decision, as long as you plan to do the job you were hired to do, and that includes helping minimize the impact on your new employer as reasonably as possible.

Do you have an ethical obligation to the new employer?

Second, the ethical consideration is not as clear as it may seem. I’m not sure whether this is really an ethical matter at all. I think it’s a practical one. Suppose you stayed at your old job and took the time off for surgery. That employer will have to deal with your time off. The point is, some employer will have to deal with it. Is it unethical to get surgery while at your present job? Of course not. So, why is it unethical to get surgery shortly after starting the new job?

You don’t have a choice about taking care of your health. It’s a reality that everyone that relies on you must deal with.

Now, you could give the new employer a heads-up before you accept and start the new job. I think your concern is that this may lead the employer to withdraw the job offer, right? Well, would that be ethical of the employer? If you were made a job offer because you’re qualified to do the job, how does two weeks off for a health issue matter? You’ll do the job when you’re hired, and you’ll keep doing it after you return.

I think this is really a matter of any employer – your current one or the new one – managing its employees. And that includes employees’ medical issues. It’s part of any business.

(For further perspective on a job seeker’s ethical disclosure obligations to a new employer, see Am I cheating on the company that’s interviewing me?)

Try the shoe on the other foot

Telling them in advance puts you at risk of losing a job you want. Telling them later may upset them. Either way, it will cost them work time. What’s worse in the overall scheme of things? I think the former is worse because it would deprive you of a job altogether.

Ethics are a fine thing to consider. But put the shoe on the other foot. If the new employer knows it’s going to experience a business downturn soon, that might result in layoffs, must it tell you this before you accept a job there? Perhaps – but I don’t think it ever would! This is part of any business, too.

(Here’s another good example of this “shoe on another foot”: Why do companies hide the benefits?)

Do what’s comfortable

“Telling all” in the hiring process is not necessary or prudent. I think the most important thing in a hiring transaction is to deliver what you promise – to do good work under whatever circumstances ensue. You may find the employer will take care of the cost of the time you need to take off for surgery by not paying you for that time, because you’re “on probation.” You’ll have to live with that, just as the employer must live without you for a short time.

So what’s the best course of action? Now that you have some things to think about, my advice is to do what feels right to you. I’d love to know what you decide and how this works out.

Thanks for your kind words about Ask The Headhunter. Good luck with your surgery. I wish you a speedy and complete recovery!

What does your new employer really need to know before you start your job? Is my advice ethical? What’s your advice to this reader?

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Should I tell my boss I might resign?

Should I tell my boss I might resign?

In the March 3, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader who might resign may tread dangerously close to getting fired. This is the 800th edition of the weekly Newsletter since its inception in 2002!


resignI left a decent-size company for a start-up some time ago. Like any other start-up, the work requires a lot of hours. The work itself is very challenging and truly leading-edge technology. However, since the birth of my daughter, I’ve realized that I’m much more of a family man than I imagined. I can clearly see that the hours will only get worse as time goes on.

So, I’m considering leaving the job. My question: Do I wait until I get an offer to tell my boss? My current boss has been more than understanding about my personal life and fairly lenient when I was absent several days for family reasons. Rather than surprising him, I want to give him as much indication as possible before I leave the project. I want to say, at least, “I’m not sure this start-up thing is right for me,” as a passing remark without mentioning a job search. I might have left earlier, had it been a different boss. Thanks. I appreciate and enjoy your columns.

Nick’s Reply

First, you’re allowed to change your mind, especially about a career change like moving from a relatively stable company to a start-up.

Second, I think it’s wonderful that you respect your boss so much. After what I have to say, you may still feel you have good reasons to disclose your plans to your boss. But my first concern is not being nice to your boss. It’s to flesh this out in a way that helps you avoid a costly mistake.

Don’t get fired before you resign

Full disclosure isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Use your good judgment and remember that some things are better left unsaid until it’s time to say them. Don’t get fired before you resign.

Ready to resign?

  • Don’t disclose where you’re going until you get there.
  • Decline to do an exit interview.
  • Don’t sign any non-disclosure or non-compete agreements.

Learn why and how in Parting Company: How to leave your job. Today’s Question originally appeared in this PDF book. Nick’s Reply is expanded here.

As long as you act responsibly and ethically within the generally accepted rules of business, my advice is to decide what’s best, and then act on it. Don’t feel guilty for wanting time with your family, even if it means earning your employer’s ire. Likewise, don’t feel guilty for protecting yourself from a serious potential risk.

I would not tell your boss that working at the start-up may not be right for you — not any more than I’d tell him you may resign. Any smart manager would interpret a passing remark that you’re not happy as a sign that you’re out looking for a new job. And that could hurt you. There are other ways to show respect for your relationship. For example, if you do resign, assure your boss you will leave your work in a good state for whoever replaces you.

Remember that until you have a job offer in hand, you’re not going anywhere. If you don’t get another a job offer, it’s all moot. But if you’ve told your boss you may resign and then don’t, you may find yourself fired.

It’s just business

Imagine what could happen if you tell your current boss your plans, but you don’t find a new job and he is forced to make a choice he doesn’t want to make. For example, suppose you go nowhere, and in six months your boss is required to eliminate one or more employees. You will have signaled that you want to leave anyway. That puts a target on your back. Remember that your boss, though he is friendly, has obligations to the company.

In another scenario, what if your boss feels obligated to notify others in the company about your possible plans? What if his boss questions your loyalty and orders him to terminate you?

Suddenly you could be on the street, and your boss could very honestly tell you, “Nothing personal. It’s just business.”

Planning to quit is also just business, and it’s confidential business.

Resign on your terms

I respect and admire your attitude, but you must ensure that you will always be able to care for your family. That comes first. Signaling in advance that you may resign puts you and your family at unnecessary risk. Resign on your terms; don’t get fired by surprise.

You can still show your boss that you value your working relationship. For example, when you get an offer you plan to accept, try to negotiate as long a “notice to current employer” period as you can. That’s what you should give your employer when you actually resign. (Caution: Even giving notice can blow up in your face.)

Your old boss must be prepared to handle this without rancor, and to accept this vicissitude of life. If he can’t accept it, you’ll be able to rest knowing you did all that was prudent to part on good terms.

This is a difficult situation, but you can handle it if you approach it as you would any tough work decision you have to make — responsibly.

Did you ever speak too soon before you resigned your job? What happened? Is it ever worth letting on that you are unhappy and might resign soon? How would you advise this reader?

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Should I accept a job offer with a salary cut?

Should I accept a job offer with a salary cut?

In the February 25, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader asks whether it’s possible to recover after accepting a job offer with a salary cut.


salary cutI’ve been unemployed for six weeks. Was earning around $120K. Have been offered a position at $85K and, quite frankly, I need the money. Even more important, I recognize that my self-esteem is too bound up in my career: I need to work for more than just the money. Am seriously considering accepting this lower offer, because I believe these folks cannot afford to pay more. Will my chances of negotiating another position at a higher salary be irrevocably damaged if I accept a salary cut? Advice, please, and thanks in advance.

Nick’s Reply

You’re facing an important decision, and you need to be sure you are balancing the key issues. How long can you afford to go without a job? If you accept this offer, how much time will you be able to devote to continuing your search for one that pays better? Will being under-employed versus unemployed affect your self-esteem?

(And consider this: Is it possible to get more money out of a company that “cannot afford to pay more?” We’ll get to that at the end.)

What’s your objective?

I could easily tell you not to give in yet, and that it would be smarter to continue your search until you find a job where the pay is more in line with what you’re accustomed to. Six weeks is not a long time to find the right job. But being able to pay the bills is just as big a consideration. You could borrow to meet expenses until you find something better — but how would that affect your motivation and effectiveness in interviews?

These are very personal questions that only you can answer, and I think they are more relevant at this point than the main question you’ve asked: Will a salary cut damage your ability to win a higher salary later? While it might seem penny-wise and pound foolish to focus on the short-term problem (paying the bills), there’s something to be said for surviving today so you can stay in the game.

It’s important to think about what your objective really is.

Why a salary cut?

In today’s business climate, radical corporate restructurings and the outsourcing of jobs to “consulting firms” seem to be killing wages and salaries. While economists consider it a minor footnote and blow it off, stagnant wage growth tells us something is very wrong. Seemingly low unemployment suggests pay should be going up — but it’s not. This is for another discussion, but it seems the U.S. Department of Labor may be misrepresenting the impacts of masses of uncounted people who are returning to the labor market. I could make the argument that there is no talent or labor shortage; that in fact, we’re in an unprecedented talent glut. That’s why employers think they can hire you even with a salary cut.

There are a lot of good people on the street. Some employers are capitalizing on this by hiring great workers cheap. But this is no more of an ethical problem than you accepting a low-paying job while continuing your job search — and then quitting for a job with more pay.

(Is it ever worth taking a salary cut, other than because you need the money? I see one possible benefit, if you look at it as a re-tooling investment. A lower-paying job might be the price you pay for an opportunity to gain a foothold in a new field or business, and to learn new skills.)

Are good salaries dead?

While some employers are buying talent at a discount, others are smarter. They don’t assume that because you took a pay cut at your last job, you’re now worth less. They see an opportunity to land a great new employee who might not have been available to them otherwise at any price. (See Dr. Dawn Graham’s insightful article: The Salary Negotiation Mistake That’s Costing You.)

I know one very rare HR manager whose policy is to offer candidates what they’re really worth. If they are truly under-paid, she helps get their compensation back on track, and earns the new hire’s loyalty. Good salaries are not dead. (See Why employers should make higher job offers.)

So, no, I don’t think your chances for more money will be irrevocably damaged — not unless you become complacent. You must continue your job search if you take this lower-paying job. If you stay in the $85K job too long, you could indeed hurt yourself long-term.

Encourage better job offers

As you continue to search while newly employed, you must learn how to negotiate from a position of strength — even if the employer says it “cannot afford to pay more.”

  • Never disclose what your current salary is. It’s none of their business. An employer will always use your current salary to negotiate against you. See We need to know your salary because —.
  • Ask the employer what the salary range is before you agree to interview. Don’t fall into the trap of interviewing for jobs that won’t pay enough. You’re likely to rationalize accepting another low salary simply because you invested so much time in it.
  • Assess the value you could add to any new job you’re considering. Can you do it faster, more efficiently, more profitably than the employer expects? Couch your salary expectations in terms of what you will bring to the employer’s bottom line. Be ready to explain it.
  • Choose higher-paying jobs and, for each one, prepare a mini business plan that demonstrates clearly why you’re worth the money.

What counts most in any job negotiation is what positive impact you’re offering to an employer’s bottom line. That’s what wins you more money. Focus on conveying that critical message to an employer, and you’ll always be able to negotiate for more money — with a current employer, or with a new one.

Have you accepted a job with a salary cut? Why? Were you able to regain your higher salary level? How? What should this reader do? Do you believe salary cuts are more likely in today’s job market?

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How can I survive a reorganization at my company?

How can I survive a reorganization at my company?

In the February 11, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader worries about navigating a reorganization.



My company will be undergoing changes after a reorganization and I will be settling in a new part of the company. I currently manage a team of five. The nature of my job should stay the same, but my boss, co-workers and direct reports will be all new people. I’ve been at this company for about a year and was just getting into a rhythm with my current boss and department. Now it feels like I have to start over and prove myself again in a new department — almost like a new job.

I’ve never been involved in a reorganization. I know from friends that sometimes a reorganization doesn’t turn out well, but I’m keeping a positive outlook. Do you have any advice or insight about these kinds of situations? Thanks!

Nick’s Reply

When a company undergoes reorganization, whether due to a merger or due to any internal or external impetus, it can indeed be like starting a new job in a new company. There’s loads of opportunity and, of course, risks.

Every “reorg” is different, and the process and outcome really depend on the quality of management and on the company culture. You must decide whether what I’m going to suggest is prudent or risky and whether it fits your style. Then do what you think is best.

Take the initiative

I find that the best approach to corporate reshuffling, or reorganization, is to take the initiative to make your arrival easy for your boss and your team. You’re just as new to them as they are to you. Don’t wait for them to come to you. By taking the initiative, you will demonstrate your commitment to making it all work.

I’m not suggesting that you “take control” or try to position yourself as “the solution to the department’s problems.” Rather, show your new team and boss that you’re ready to get to work by making it easy for them to bring you into the fold. It actually helps to consider your insight that this is “almost like a new job,” and that’s why you might find this article helpful: Afraid to ask for feedback in job interviews?

Talk shop

I’d ask your new boss for a meeting to further introduce yourself and to “talk shop.”

How to Say It
“I’d like to get an idea of the problems and challenges the department faces, and to discuss how I can best contribute to your success.”

The point is to get your boss (or your peers or new reports) to talk about themselves and their work first, so that you can then direct your own comments and questions appropriately.

It’s like being on a first date. Encourage your date to talk. Learning about the other person is the foundation of any new, successful relationship — and it’s how to determine what you say and do next. Psychological research also suggests that when we ask others about themselves, they perceive us as more likable!

Here are some additional examples of talking shop.

How to Say It

  • “Thanks for welcoming me to the team. Can you help me understand the team’s objectives, and what the day-to-day work is like?”
  • “May I ask what led you to this job, and what you see as the key challenges and objectives?”
  • “What do you think helps make this department more successful, and what might hold it back?
  • “I’m not sure how much of this is already fleshed out, but it would help me to know what you’d like me to accomplish, or work on, during my first month, three months, six and 12. I like to think in terms of deliverables — because my job is to do what you need. The more concrete, the better, though I also realize the work can be fluid. And I’d be happy to roughly outline how I’d go about it. Then we can discuss and fine tune a plan that you’re happy with.”

Remember: Don’t appear presumptuous. It often helps to “ask permission” before you offer your ideas. Until you understand your new boss’s style, be deferential. Make it clear that, while you are self-motivated, you want to fit in, do your share, and focus on the department’s objectives.

Learn where you fit in the reorganization

If your boss asks you to talk about yourself, offer three things you accomplished last year that made a material difference to the business. Then ask what the boss would like to see from you in the coming year. This helps establish your credibility, and also focuses the discussion on the benefits you will deliver to the organization — not on your aspirations, which it’s fine to discuss later on. Your new team’s needs should come first. That will earn you the right to talk about what you’d like out of this deal — later on.

This is just one way to break the ice and start forming a sound relationship. It’s good to talk shop and get specific. It shows that you are hands-on and ready to contribute.

You can take similar steps with your co-workers and reports: Ask for a casual meeting where you can learn about what each member is working on and how it all combines to achieve the department’s and the company’s objectives. The more you can get your boss, your peers and your new reports to talk about their work, the more you’ll see how to best fit in.

I can’t promise that doing any of this will ensure you survive this experience, but I hope my suggestions help you see what some of the fundamental issues are in trying to succeed in any job anywhere.

For a more in-depth look at how reorganizations often work, check out this resource from the Wharton School.

Worst case

As you’ve noted, a reorg can be like a new job. It might not work out!

I’m a cautious optimist, so I always like to consider a worst-case scenario when there’s a reorg, acquisition, or merger, because some of these “transitions” don’t always succeed. That means it’s smart to hedge your bet until you can form a sound judgment about the next few years of your career. This may surprise you, but it’s what I recommend to anyone when they start a new job.

Start (or continue) a quiet, low-level job search, just in case. You can end it if things go well at work, or accelerate if necessary. Keep a positive attitude about your new job, but hedge your bet and always have something cooking — don’t wait til the last minute. It will make you a more powerful decision-maker in the meantime for having something in your back pocket. Hopefully, you won’t need it!

In the meantime, find your new place. Take the initiative to get to know your new boss, your peers and your new reports — by helping them talk shop with you. I wish you the best.

Have you been through a reorg? What challenges did you face? Did you survive? How? What advice would you offer this reader?

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She got mugged in a stress interview

She got mugged in a stress interview

In the February 4, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter we consider the meaning of a stress interview.


stress interviewMy daughter just went through what’s called a “stress interview.” She said she held it together, but came home and burst into tears. She didn’t know this was a thing. She’s had three such interviews in a row that left her feeling worthless in some unknown way. WHY is this a thing? It’s just mean. Why would anyone want to work with such awful people?

Nick’s Reply

Please tell your daughter there’s nothing wrong with her. What she went through is the corporate equivalent of getting mugged. The victim feels that they somehow did something wrong to put themselves in that position.

Many employers’ hiring methods are rooted in HR consultants’ reports that advise using “best practices” – like stress interviews – in the name of “HR science.” But there is no science in intimidation, and abusing job applicants is not a good practice!

Is a stress interview a hiring method?

Let’s make an important distinction from the start. There is a difference between asking a job candidate to consent to participate in a work simulation that models the pressures of a job, and subjecting the candidate to an unexpected personal attack as part of an interview. Even in the former case, an employer is obligated to disclose the stressful nature of the job and give the applicant the option to decline any interview at all. For our purposes, the rest of this column refers to the latter scenario.

Job applicants like your daughter strive to be cooperative during the highly bureaucratic hiring process. I’m sure she trusts that, even if job interviews are fraught with anxiety, employers will conduct themselves with integrity. There is no business without trust, though we sometimes get hurt for trusting. Tell her to be careful around people who lack integrity, but not to stop trusting.

Many online resources purport to teach how to handle the pressure of a stress interview and how to prepare for it. But I don’t think a stress interview is ever justified. If it’s a “method” of testing applicants, then someone doesn’t know how to assess job applicants. I’m in agreement with this BBC article on the subject: The ‘stress interview’: a technique that goes too far? If an employer wants to give you a “front-row seat to the ugliest side of the company,” that’s your signal to run to the fire exit.

Stand and deliver

My advice to anyone who finds themselves in a stress interview is to calmly and politely stand up and deliver a message like this one:

“I’d never subject a fellow employee or a customer to such treatment for any reason, and I don’t tolerate it myself. Good luck finding someone who does.”

And walk out.

What kind of people do you want to work with?

Of course, that means no job. But there was no job there to begin with; just abuse and nasty people who have no clue that business is about trust, integrity, and respect. If the explanation is that the company wants to prepare you for working with abusive customers, for example, you should reconsider the job entirely. Would you consent to being tortured, so we could see how durable you are? Ask yourself, what kind of job do I want and what kind of people do I want to work with? (See Never work with jerks.)

Please tell your daughter to hold her head high and move on – to companies that have a standard of behavior as high as her own. To accept anything less is to debase and devalue herself.

In answer to your question, no one should want to work with awful people. Walk away from them. They are never worth the torture they inflict. Just because “it’s part of the interview process” doesn’t make it legitimate or acceptable.

I wish your daughter the best and I compliment you for not remaining silent about how she was treated. Good for you for letting out your ire. Sharing experiences like this is how we help others avoid them.

Now it’s time for your daughter to go find smart people worth working with.

How far should an interview go? What’s the wildest “test” you’ve encountered, and was it justified? Is there any way to conduct a legitimate stress interview? Is there a better way than I suggested to deal with one?

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6 hoops to make recruiters jump through

6 hoops to make recruiters jump through

In the January 28, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter 20 recruiters contact a reader — from just one company.


recruiters20 HR recruiters from one [big-name defense contractor] contacted me via LinkedIn during 2019. One of them contacted me twice in two weeks, with the exact same message: Send me your most recent resume. She clearly didn’t know she had contacted me already. Others used the same message. I never heard from 19 of them again.

With recruiter #20, I blew back and told him [the company’s] recruiters are burning their reputation with me. He called, said he was impressed with my experience, that he’d get back after circulating my resume, and never did. I sent a brief “Hello?” on the LinkedIn message thread he started. I got no response.

Is this HR “ghosting” new? I recognized years back that most employers aren’t sending even automated responses to online applicants, but I never expected they’d drop the ball when they initiate the contact! I’d appreciate any theories you have on why this is occurring.

Nick’s Reply

Ghosting by HR is nothing new. Now, do you want to save 95% of your time that phony recruiters waste?

Recruiting or advertising?

20 different people contacting you from that defense contractor are not recruiting you. They are advertising. They know nothing about the jobs they’re advertising and nothing about the people they are soliciting. Sending out job spam through LinkedIn is not recruiting.

A real recruiter knows all about you before they contact you. They already know that you’re a pretty good fit for the job. They court and pursue you — you’ll be able to tell instantly. A phony recruiter turns the knobs on the LinkedIn machine and sends a bunch of job descriptions to thousands of people and tells you all to apply for them. Welcome to automated, phony recruiting.

HR: High tech, no metrics

As long as Human Resources can maintain an image of being high-tech, the board of directors at companies like this one gratefully relinquishes the icky task of recruiting to HR.

HR shovels billions of dollars into “HR technology” — automated job sites and keyword-based Applicant Tracking Systems (ATSes). These are nothing more than keyword crunchers and spam generators that unskilled keyboard punchers can operate. It doesn’t matter that the HR tech doesn’t really work, or that HR is failing miserably at hiring, because there are virtually no meaningful metrics in HR departments. (Check this Harvard Business Review report: Employers are hiring all wrong.)

Likewise, because there are no meaningful metrics, a “recruiter” at this company doesn’t know that 19 others already contacted you.

You ask why this is occurring. Why doesn’t the C-suite or the board of directors take notice?

Recruiters pass the buck

Every top executive reads the same news every day: There’s a “talent shortage” and a “skills shortage!” It’s become impossible to find good people! Never mind that employers have access to every resume, every person on the planet.

This “news” exculpates HR — so HR can plausibly deny accountability. When HR fails to fill jobs, someone and something else are to blame: schools, the labor market, unskilled workers, the economy.

Why, it’s right there in the business media!

This leaves HR free to buy and deploy even more HR technology, to outsource recruiting to boiler-rooms of telemarketers and spammers, to pass the buck, and to wash its hands of frustrated people like you. The board of directors doesn’t bat an eyelash.

What can you do?

What good does my explanation (or my rant) do you? Understanding that most “recruiters” don’t recruit is the first step toward fixing this broken employment system.

You have already wasted hours of time fielding, responding to, and fretting over phony “recruiting” contacts. I get it — you’re concerned that one of them might be a real opportunity (even though you’re 0 for 20). There’s a way to handle automated recruiting advertising and seemingly legit solicitations. Respond with an automated reply of your own.

Ask the recruiter what specific job they think “you would be a great fit” for, the salary, and the name and contact information of the hiring manager. If you’re really being recruited — rather than advertised to — the recruiter will call you (or request your phone number) immediately for fear of losing “a great fit.” Phony recruiters won’t bother.

6 hoops for recruiters

But there’s another way to test any recruiter before you go to the trouble to respond. Ask yourself these six questions about the solicitation and, if you like, ask the “recruiter,” too:

  1. Is this solicitation really addressed to me personally, or is it boilerplate that was mass-mailed to a list?
  2. Am I being recruited for a specific position, or is this an advertisement inviting me to read a bunch of job postings?
  3. Is there any evidence that the “recruiter” knows enough about me to know whether I’m really “a great fit” for this job?
  4. Did the “recruiter” mention the name of someone that recommended me, or am I just one of 14,000 matching profiles turned up by an algorithm?
  5. Does the “recruiter” reveal that they understand what this job is about?
  6. If I’m really the “great fit” they say I am, why isn’t this a request for an in-person job interview?

A good job candidate is worth a lot to a real recruiter, who will take your questions seriously. If you don’t get good answers to those six questions, you’re not being recruited. 95% or more of solicitations are not from real recruiters. They’re from job spammers paid to force feed you job postings. Beware what you swallow.

Make recruiters jump through hoops

The bottom line is, those 20 “recruiters” that contacted you are actually bots deployed by inept personnel jockeys who work for executives and boards of directors that believe what they read online and hear on the radio – that Indeed and ZipRecruiter and LinkedIn have figured it all out.

“HR says we don’t have to waste money on skilled recruiters because LinkedIn does all the hard work! Let’s buy more HR technology!”

You know better. You just need to trust your judgment. If the employer contacts you then drops the ball, don’t pick it up — certainly not 20 times! Don’t get hurt by a broken system. Do something smarter. Learn how to vet those solicitations. 95% of them are not pursuing you. They’re advertising jobs to you. Make recruiters jump through hoops before you give them your valuable time.

Invest your time talking only to real recruiters, real employers and real hiring managers that are ready to talk to you about real jobs. If only HR were to invest those billions in hiring real recruiters.

Which of the six hoops do you rely on to test recruiters? What other hoops do you make recruiters jump through — before you’ll jump through any hoops for them?

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