Am I chasing the salary surveys?

In the August 23, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a frustrated reader who’s been on the job for just a couple of months checks the salary surveys and wonders whether it’s already time to ask for a raise…

I love my new job. However, I checked some recent salary surveys and it seems I am underpaid as much as $5k/year. Since I’ve only been here for two months, how long should I wait to discuss this with my boss? Or do you think I’m chasing the salary surveys? This has really been bothering me and I want some peace of mind.

I think salary surveys are fine as general indicators, but do they tell you anything about yourself? I think using them to establish your salary requirements is like checking the cover of Vogue to plan what your face should look like…

What’s this reader to do? Are salary surveys good tools for career development? What do you think of how they present the data?

My detailed advice to this reader is published in the free weekly Ask The Headhunter newsletter, which is delivered only by e-mail. Subcribers and I discuss the question and my advice here on the blog. Please join us! But to read my advice — including frequent How to Say It tips and links to other valuable resources — Sign up for your own FREE subscription! Don’t miss another edition!



How do I tell my boss I’m overworked?

In the June 21, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader worries about burnout because the boss has piled on too much work:

I’ve had more and more work piled on me until I’m a bundle of nerves and stress. I like my job a lot, and the pay is good. But, I have now inherited more work than I can handle. I’ve absorbed the workloads of two people who left. I’m only one person and can only do so much in a 16-hour day! (Isn’t it supposed to be 8 hours?) Help!

Here’s the short version of my advice: (For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)

Even people with a good work ethic must sometimes tell management, “This is too much!” This goes for top executives, for professional staffers and even for blue collar workers.

Part of your job is to tell your boss the truth: The work you do requires more manpower. As long as you accept more work, the company will continue to heap it on. It’s their fault for expecting so much, but it’s your fault for letting them think you can handle it.

Prepare a plan. Outline:

  • The work that needs to be done,
  • The rough cost of manpower and tools required to do it,
  • An estimate of the profit produced by the work,
  • The relationship between headcount and “output” (16 hours days are not allowed),
  • The work you want to cherry-pick for yourself.

Don’t tell your boss you’re having a problem.
Explain that you have “the work” organized now, and show your plan, including the requirements for additional staff. No complaints; just the facts. Don’t be afraid to do the job your way. It is your responsibility to explain what needs to be done to handle the work effectively, but not to work 16-hour days.

If you don’t deal with this now, you will probably face overwork at your next job. The sign of a good worker is dealing with the demands of the job, not taking on the functions of other workers yourself.

A caution: Some companies prefer to kill an employee with work rather than invest in doing the job right. If this describes your company, be prepared to start looking for a new one. I hope your employer is ethical. You owe it to yourself to have a job that’s reasonable.

(Note: When you get to heaven, St. Peter doesn’t give you extra points for having worked yourself to death.)

First it feels like an opportunity: Your boss seems to be offering you more authority. But it turns out to be merely more responsibility and work. What started out as a chance to prove what you could do, has turned into your boss expecting you to do more than you can possibly do. Is there a way out? Let’s talk about getting over-worked, and burning out. Can this be turned into success?


Unemployment & Poverty: A choice American companies make

Curt Landi was raised in New Jersey, near Thomas Edison’s old laboratories. Landi says he used to sneak into one of the abandonned buildings when he was a kid, and wander around, dreaming of becoming an inventor. In the 1980s, Curt and Susan Landi started their company, Supracor, in a tiny Silicon Valley office. Curt invented flexible honeycomb technology, and he and Susan fabricated samples of their products by hand in their kitchen. Curt peddled his samples to anyone who would listen. The Landis lived for years on a shoestring, and invested their lives in their business. They launched Supracor without a penny of venture capital. Today, Supracor produces state-of-the-art technology and sells it to the world.

Landi’s company does something unusual: It manufactures products made from American raw materials in the U.S. and only in the U.S. — “in Silicon Valley, where the cost is enormous to do business for a traditional manufacturer.” He employs only American workers. And his company pays American taxes because all its operations are here.

At a recent business event, Landi explained the greatest threat to America’s future: Poverty. Landi issued a challenge — to every American company — that he says is the real solution to poverty and unemployment. At the start of his presentation, Landi asks executives in the audience, “Do you love your country? Are you patriots?”

By the end of his presentation, Landi lets them ruminate on the profound contradication between their answer to those questions, and the choices they have made for their companies.

“Just imagine, if technology is built here — not licensed off shore. Manufactured here. Think about it. We built China… They manufacture everything there. We manufacture hardly anything here. Imagine the opportunity — building machines, making clothing, making computers… here… American jobs…

50 million people in poverty. America needs to wake up… We need to bring manufacturing back here… Get us out of poverty. This is the answer. Not to be greedy… GE: billions of dollars in profit, and not one cent paid in taxes… Sacrifice a little profit. A little profit. Like I do. To provide jobs to American citizens here, and spread the wealth… We together can make this happen. It only takes a spark… and that’s what’s needed. It must happen, for the survival of the United States… Let us never forget that we are heirs to an American revolution.”


Readers’ Comments: Why does he get paid more than me?

In the February 15, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader says he’s way underpaid:

I recently started a new job, and there is one other person here who does what I do. He was hired about six months before me. While he was helping me get settled, he showed me his annual benefits enrollment form as an example. It had his salary pasted all over it, and I was dismayed to find out that he makes 30% more than I do. We have the same job, the same responsibilities, and my initial assessment is that my skills and background are stronger than his. (He did have a contracting relationship with the company for some time before he was hired.)

It’s been very demoralizing to learn this so soon after starting this job, which is otherwise a good situation for me. Is there any way to handle this, besides going out and finding another job? It’s hard to be happy and effective at work knowing someone else who does the same things you do earns so much more. Thanks! 

Here’s the short version of my advice: (For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free weekly newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)

There’s an important parable in the Bible. Two guys hoeing in a field stop for a break. Abe mutters, “I can’t believe I work this hard for $5 an hour.” Isaac is stunned. “$5 an hour? I get only $3 an hour!”

Later, Isaac goes to the boss. “How come you pay Abe more than you pay me?” The boss cocks his head at Isaac: “What did I offer you to do this job?” Isaac says, “$3 an hour.” The boss leans toward him a little closer. “And what do I pay you to do this job?” Isaac shrugs his shoulders, “$3 an hour.”

“So, I’m a man of my word,” says the boss.

You have no idea why the boss pays the other guy more than he pays you. But there may be many reasons. For example, your co-worker may have been hired on a career track you’re not aware of, and he may have skills you don’t have that the boss will need later.

Your buddy may have been better at negotiating his deal than you were. Or, it may be easier to find workers today than it was six months ago. Maybe the company can’t afford to pay more now. The list of possibilities goes on.

The point is, you accepted a certain deal, and your boss is honoring it. Don’t leap to a conclusion about this. Instead, when the time comes for your first performance and salary review, I suggest you apply some of the ideas in this article: How to Perform in a Performance Review. It will help you justify your value to your boss.

In the meantime, consider how presumptuous it would be to ask your boss to pay you more, right after you accepted the deal you did. I’m not going to get into the ethics of hiring the exact same kinds of people for the exact same kinds of jobs at different rates of pay, because I have no idea whether everything is equal. Do you?

(My apologies to the Bible for mangling a good parable.)

Untangling the factors behind someone’s salary is not always as simple as it seems. Fair pay is a good thing. But jumping to conclusions is not. Have you ever found yourself earning less than the next guy doing a job similar to yours? What did you do, and what was the outcome?


Readers’ Comments: Should you stay? How to decide.

In the February 1, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader is pretty happy at work, and wonders about sticking around:

I have been with the same company since college graduation: nine years. The company was a small start-up and has grown to become profitable. It provides average benefits with somewhat below-average salary. I have had opportunities to leave (job offer in hand) in the past, but have decided to stay with hopes of the company continuing its growth. I see many people bouncing from one job to the next for professional challenge and career advancement. Should I consider “moving on?” Or should I stay with good chances of being “in the right place at the right time?” Let me know your opinion. Thanks. 

Here’s the short version of my advice: (For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free weekly newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)

After nine years with the company, I’d hope your management would welcome a discussion about the future. You’re certainly loyal, and it’s prudent to express your interest in the company’s goals since they will affect you profoundly.

My suggestion: Request a meeting with the president or CEO of the company. (If you worked for a big company, I’d suggest the head of your division or operation.) Invite him (or her) to lunch. This might seem odd, but it’s not at all. You have invested a lot in this company. You need to keep track of its progress like you would any company you own stock in.

At lunch, explain that you have been thinking about the company’s future direction, and you’d like to know what the CEO thinks. Don’t let on that you’re considering making a job change. If the CEO is smart, he’ll figure it out, but he’ll also see that you’re approaching your own future intelligently: by trying to assess the company’s future.

Here’s a suggestion about How to Say It: “I know there are certain things you can’t discuss, but I’m trying to get a feel for where the company plans to go over the next five years, and how someone like me would be impacted by those plans. A lot of people just get up and leave a company because they don’t know what the future holds. I feel like I’m part of a family here, and I care about our future, so I’d like to learn more about this from you.”

Most people never bother to talk to The Big Boss before they decide to move on. The Big Boss is probably more approachable than you think. Ask your questions. Make sure there is a future there, rather than “more of the same” (unless that’s what you really want). That’s how to figure out whether you should stay put. The best person to ask is the one at the top of your company.

I like it when a person tries to find good reasons to stay put, rather than try to change jobs quickly out of desperation. If you feel like you’re in the right place, but also feel a bit itchy, sometimes the best way to scratch the itch is to go talk to your bosses…

What’s made you decide to stay put? Are you glad you did?

What information was helpful in making that decision? How did you obtain it?


Why you should offer job applicants more money

In the last post, The Ethics of Juggling Job Offers, we talked about accepting a job offer, then rescinding the acceptance if a better deal comes along shortly thereafter (or even before you start the first job). The discussion was from the candidate side.

It begs the question, What can an employer do to avoid losing a new hire?

A company will sometimes work too hard to keep the salary offer as low as possible, virtually challenging the candidate to accept it. If the candidate gives up on negotiating a better deal and accepts the offer, the company has instantly set itself up for a quick resignation if the candidate can find a better deal elsewhere.

That’s why I advise my corporate clients to do what company presidents like to insist that their employees do for their customers: “Don’t just satisfy the customer. Delight the customer!”

Why not delight the candidate?

What does that mean? Read more

College: POP! goes the conventional wisdom

“The people running America’s colleges and universities have long thought they were exempt from the laws of supply and demand and unaffected by the business cycle. Turns out that’s wrong.”

Some might suggest this quote from National Review Online is politically motivated. The real problem is, Bill Barone’s article, The Higher Education Bubble, is chock full of food for worry.

Among Barone’s citations is A guide to what college rankings don’t tell you. Operated by ACTA (The American Council of Alumni and Trustees), this rating site evaluates schools on whether they require students to take courses in seven core subject areas. (ACTA also defines what success in these core subjects means.)

  • Composition
  • Literature
  • Foreign Language
  • U.S. Government or History
  • Economics
  • Mathematics
  • Natural or Physical Science

But here’s the catch, says ACTA:

“The fact that a college has requirements called Literature or Mathematics does not necessarily mean that students will actually study those subjects.”

ACTA  points out that schools might recommend certain core courses, but they let students slide by meeting “distribution requirements” that get them around those core courses.

“If a core course were one of several options that also included unqualified courses, the institution did not receive credit for that subject; credit is given only for what an institution requires of its students, not what it merely recommends.”

ACTA lines up the schools and busts their balls. Does Stanford University really rate a C? Harvard a D? Amherst an F? It seems a student doesn’t really have to master the core subjects at those schools.

Barone closes his article with this:

“As often happens, success leads to excess. America leads the world in higher education; yet there is much in our colleges and universities that is amiss and, more to the point, suddenly not sustainable.”

I don’t know anything about Barone or about the referenced website. But I’m interested in what you know about this topic and in your comments. Should we be worried that the conventional wisdom about going to college is far more wrong than it’s right? And if you think all kids should go to college, What are they learning?

(Thanks to Jason Johnson on the Phi Beta Kappa Group/LinkedIn for the heads-up on Barone’s article.)

PS — After I posted this column, I found a sort of poetic economic justice right below it, where I let Google publish its ads. While the ad periodically changes, it’s sometimes an ad from a certain for-profit college… They’re everywhere.


Readers’ Forum: A matter of college degrees

In the August 31, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newslettera reader asks:

I am making a career change to improve my life, and I plan to pursue a master’s degree. Any suggestions on how to proceed after I earn it? The U.S. News & World Report school rankings are out again, which reminds me that it seems to matter where your degree comes from. Do you have any tips on selecting the best grad programs for the best career payoff?

Here’s the short version of my reply. (You’ve got to subscribe to the weekly newsletter to get the whole story!)

Magazine school rankings make great birdcage liners. For every edition of a magazine that ranks schools there are several articles that criticize the methodology. Perhaps more important, serious questions have been raised about the cost of higher education. Take a look at a recent USA Today report: Where’s all that college tuition money going?

It’s not just unclear which schools are “best,” but it’s not clear whether your tuition money is well-spent. I don’t think it’s even clear that you need additional education because, if you think about it carefully, you may not be the best judge.

When you buy education, you are certainly the customer, but you’re not the only customer… So what about that “other” customer who’s ultimately paying for your education—with a salary, after he hires you? The question the employer tries to answer is, Does the advanced degree mean better performance on the job?

(In the newsletter, I also discuss what to ask your target employer before you invest in that new degree.)

College degrees. Advanced degrees. MBA’s. Executive MBA’s. What about them?

Let’s take the matter of more learning off the table for a minute. More learning is good. But the question here is about value.

  1. DiplomaDo more degrees pay off? Are we all brainwashed to believe that more college degrees mean better careers and higher salaries? Sometimes I think it’s all about marketing. Schools tout their position in the rankings published by U.S. News & World Report and other magazines.  They promote the “value” of their degrees, but none will guarantee you a higher-level job or higher salary once you spend tens of thousands of dollars on the degree.
    (How silly, Nick! Schools can’t do that! Well, then why do they advertise and promote the correlation between degrees and earnings?)
  2. Do you get what you pay for? A scathing new book by political science professor Andrew Hacker (Queens College, New York) and Claudia Dreifus (Columbia University) tears into exorbitant college tuitions and accuses schools of spending students’ money in all the wrong places — and least of all on delivering education. Higher education: How colleges are wasting our money and failing our kids contends that the price of your degree is wildly inflated because schools don’t apply the tuition dollars you pay them to educate you.

A special case of degrees is the MBA and the EMBA (Executive MBA). We discussed this in Should you get an MBA? I also covered the topic in a special edition of the Ask The Headhunter Newsletter: How executive MBA’s do it, where I suggested that a job candidate’s initiative might trump any degree. (I wrote the latter article after I gave the keynote presentation to the career center directors of 30 of the top MBA schools in the world. Many of them read this blog — and I’d love their comments especially!)

What’s your experience? If you’re a manager or a coach, what’s your advice? Do higher degrees pay off? Would you invest in another degree?


Readers’ Forum: Why did I lose my job again?

In today’s August 10, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, I riff on a question that seems so general that it’s not worth talking about… Why do people wind up losing their jobs every few years?

A reader asks:

I’m  a dedicated, loyal employee, and I would do anything for my employer. Why,  then, do I lose my job every few years and have a hard time landing a new one?

Here’s the short version of my reply. (You’ve got to subscribe to the weekly newsletter to get the whole story!)

Your problem raises a bigger question that’s relevant to everyone: Why do people take a job, only to find themselves job hunting again so soon?

Some people take a job because it’s offered, not because it’s right. Others take jobs because employers flatter them, not because they’re particularly interested in the company or the job. Lost in the joy of being judged worthy, they forget to judge the job and the company, and to think about whether a job is really the kind of long-term investment they want to make. Relieved to be “off the street” (or impressed at being recruited), they will rationalize a poor choice and accept work that does not satisfy them. Gradually, their morale drops and their performance suffers. The effect is cumulative, and eventually the mismatch becomes glaring. They get fired, laid off, or they quit, and the cycle starts again.

The real question is, Will you choose your next job, or will it choose you?

We all know that people lose their jobs due to the economy. What I’m interested in is the other reasons. The economy will improve, somehow, sometime. But I think today’s question will continue to plague people. So let’s talk about other reasons people lose their jobs and have a hard time finding new ones. It’s not always the economy.


Readers’ Forum: What’s a guinea pig to do?

Discussion: May 25, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter

A reader says:

I took a government job knowing the culture was not to my liking. But they said the plan was to change the culture, and I’m part of that because I’m the only “non-insider” doing this job. (The one other person who was hired along with me was an internal transfer.) Neither of us has gotten any guidance. We’re on our own. When I tried to speak up a few times, I felt I was speaking a different language. Now a few months have passed and we’re finally getting a new boss. Should I try to adapt to this culture, or am I wasting my time?

Talk about a “state” of flux! Sounds like you’re a “cultural change” guinea pig… hired as part of a new “culture policy,” but everything seems to hinge on who this new boss is.

You’ve essentially been in limbo, and your “new job” is about to start when the new boss starts. No wonder you’re disenchanted.

Should this reader stay or go? Why or why not, and what are the good options?