How to Say It: Reviewing the boss

Discussion: May 11, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter

A reader asks How to Say It:

I’m in a new position and coming up on my 90-day review. I like what I’m doing but my new boss is inconsistent (moody) and micro-manages (control freak who insists she wants me “to be the expert”). Do I have any options for broaching these topics in a diplomatic way?

Hmmm… Who’s reviewing whom? I like your perspective. You want to candidly review your boss. It seems your boss has two strikes against her already. And if she isn’t willing to talk about changing her style, the third strike may hit you in the butt on your way out the door…!

Okay, folks. How do you say it? How do you tell your boss her style is affecting your work without getting yourself fired?


How to Say It: Mo’ money is the problem!

Discussion: May 4, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter

A reader asks How to Say It:

Recently my job description was changed without notice. But there was no discussion of a change in salary. My responsibility level has increased and so has the time commitment. I like the work, but I cannot justify doing so much more for the same low salary. My boss commends me again and again on how well the transition is going and what a great job I’m doing. How should I tell him I want to discuss the salary?

Here’s How to Say It: “I love the new job — it’s a huge change from what I was doing before. I fact, it’s a promotion with added work, new responsibilities and more time required. Does this new job include a new salary range and performance metrics?”

By raising two issues — salary and metrics — you emphasize just how big this change has been, and you avoid seeming like money is your only concern. (Frankly, I have no problem with just talking about money — it’s a huge concern by itself. But I’m trying to be diplomatic…)

What you need to consider is whether you’d leave the new job if they didn’t pay you adequately for the work. Unless the answer is yes, you don’t have much leverage if they refuse to pay more for the added work.

Don’t just sit and stew. You need to have a discussion with your boss soon. The longer you wait, the more it seems you have tacitly agreed to the new deal at the old comp level.

But that’s not the only useful advice about this. The best is yet to come… I expect the ATH audience will have more to add!


6 scenarios about making more money

On my earlier posting (How to Make More Money), reader Svetla posed a comment with a list of six challenges that she believes prevent her from making more money at her job. After describing an abominable skinflint of a boss, she asks how she might justify a raise in the following situations. It’s a thought-provoking question that deserves a bit of space to discuss…

I’m going to try some short, fast suggestions for Svetla’s list. The challenge I throw right back is, if Svetla can work up a specific approach based on just one of my comments, then maybe she should give me a raise ;-)

Please check Svetla’s comments on the other posting so you’ll better understand her list.

What should you do about getting a raise when:

1. There is a set budget for your position or department.

My suggestion: Identify something your employer would really like to have more of. (Good ideas? Detailed lists of implementation steps for new projects? Faster turnaround time on reports?) Figure out a way to deliver it within your job. (Come on — put your thinking cap on. This could be worth money.) Make delivering it contingent on getting paid more. The added value you create should offset the higher compensation. If your boss orders you to take your list and implement it without additional pay, take it to his competitor and ask for more pay. (See also my response to 4. below.)

2. There is no direct link between your work and the bottom line.

My suggestion: I think this is never true in a healthy company. In cases where it is true, your job should be deleted for obvious reasons, or you should quit soon because your company is in a death spiral. In your post, you explained that your “cost center job” actually yields revenue improvements. I believe you. The connection is actually pretty obvious, if not defined in detail. That your boss doesn’t measure how your work yields profit and success for the business doesn’t mean there is no link. You showed that there is. So my suggestion is to find a different employer. Never work with jerks.

3. Your boss is unable to make the link between your work and the bottom line.

My suggestion: Then you must teach him. Put together a business plan and a spreadsheet that explains the links and estimates the yields in dollars. Your numbers won’t be accurate, but your assumptions should be defensible. If your boss refuses to learn, then you must turn him in or move on. Imagine what the board of directors would say to your boss if he looked them in the eye and stated that he does not know of any link between an employee’s work and the bottom line. If you move on to another company, consider sending your presentation to the chairman of the board at your old company, with your compliments. Close with a succinct comment about how you quit because your boss didn’t see the connection you just showed them. Offer to accept your old job back if they fire the boss and double your old salary.

4. You are giving more than the organization asks you to.

My suggestion: This is up to you. If that’s how you get your jollies, then don’t ask for more money. Otherwise, prepare a biz plan that shows how your job pays off, and how you will make it pay off even more next year. Put a quote on the project. (Ask for more money.) A rational manager will analyze your claims, test your ability to deliver, and gladly pay. Or you must quit and move on. I think the best way to actually attempt this is by offering a monthly deliverable in exchange for a monthly performance bonus. That way the company isn’t out a dime unless it gets what it wants. This is worth attempting only if you’ve got a solid written agreement that defines the terms and the payout. Mark my word: More companies will be doing this sooner rather than later. Those that do will blow away their competition.

5. Your boss refuses to give you credit for the work you have done.

My suggestion: Credit is part of pay. I know people who are paid a lot but get no credit. They don’t care. They want money. Some people value acknowledgement and accolades more than money. It takes all kinds to run a business. You’re saying you’re not getting either kind of compensation to an adequate degree. So it’s time to lay it out to your boss, or to his boss, and be ready to move on if they won’t compensate you fairly. Remember that their view of what’s fair may vary from yours, and upon getting a thorough explanation from them, you may decide they’re right and you’re wrong. Also remember that smart companies are in business to produce profit. They will pay to get the profit.

6. Your boss is stingy (happens often with entrepreneurial businesses).

My suggestion: You’ve defined a boss who does not want to pay for work. How can we have a rational discussion about compensation when the employer doesn’t want to pay money? The best entrepreneurs I’ve known are very happy to share the wealth when their partners and employees help produce that wealth. They recognize that success is generated by people, and sharing money with them is merely a happy step towards more success that pays for itself. If you want to get paid to work for an entrepreneur, go find one. Your boss fails the test.

Okay, these were quick responses. Ideas. Some of them are very in-your-face. I think all of them pose risks. (Business is risk, remember?) Business should be in-your-face. Business should operate to make money, and you should work for the kind of pay that you want.

Now if Svetla isn’t already bugged with me for holding her up here for everyone to see (Love ya, Svetla — no offense intended. You’ve put a sharp point on some important issues), let’s look at one thing she wrote that I think most people believe is true:

Oftentimes the quoted reason for the level of salaries or raises is the budget limit for the department.

Sorry, but that’s a perspective (or rule) worthy of a commune-ist operation. Any self-respecting capitalist operation will continue to throw more money at a department if every dollar spent on it produces more profit. M-o-n-e-y is spent to produce more money. And a lot more money will be spent if it will produce a lot more money.

Of course, companies today have rules about compensation that have absolutely nothing to do with producing profit. Like, We can’t pay you more than we pay the next guy because that would be unfair (or maybe even illegal!), no matter how productive you are.

People are our most important asset, and we like to think out of the box, and we recruit the best people in our industry, but we pay everyone alike and we have no interest whatsoever in hiring someone out of the box who is an important asset because she can produce more profit than those employees who are already on our salary curve.

Got it?

I’m reminded of a big layoff AT&T did around 1997. Whomp, thousands of people were given exit packages and fired. I know about this because AT&T hired me to help some of those people find jobs. I was there. Then management saw this one woman walking out the door. “Where are you going?”

“You gave me a nice package, thanks. I’m leaving.”

“But we didn’t mean you. We want you to stay. Heck, you’re great! You’ve been contributing over a million dollars a year to our bottom line! It’s pure profit! We want you to stay!”

“No, I’m sorry, but the baby is going out the door with the bathwater. I’m starting my own consulting company. And I already have my first client, who is paying me a percentage of the million bucks a year I’ll be generating for them. Sure beats the $70,000 you were paying me. Hey, thanks!”

Always remember: If you produce more than you cost, in a capitalist society there’s an employer that will hire you. I don’t claim it’s easy to find that company, but it’s out there. You will probably have to make the case that you really do produce more than you cost. What a concept, eh? Could be it’s more important to do that than to write up a resume, huh? Especially in this economy.

A word to Svetla’s boss, if he’s reading this: You say you don’t see a connection between Svetla’s work and your company’s success. If I were your boss, I’d fire you for employing people who don’t make a difference.

(Thanks, Svetla, for the sharp poke in the eye that made me look. There’s nothing like an in-your-face reader!)


Readers’ Forum: How to make more money

Discussion: March 2, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter

The Q&A in today’s newsletter is a biggie: What are the hot spots in your job and your career that present opportunities for you to goose up your compensation? And, when you encounter such an opportunity, what should you do?

This is the topic of a new book I’m writing, and I’d like your help.

In the newsletter I discuss two hot spots where you can influence how a company will pay you: when you approach a company for a job and when you have a performance review. Note that, before you can ask to be paid more, you’ve got to do lots of advance work and be ready to demonstrate how you will make more money for a company.

Now I’ll tell you about the book I’m working on. I’m outlining a lot of hot spots where I believe there are distinct opportunities for talented people to boost what they get paid. No single one is going to make or break your compensation level, but if you recognize these hot spots and capitalize on them, then you should see an overall boost in your earnings.

Why am I telling you this? Because I need your advice and insight. I think many of these hot spots are revealed when you tell me about obstacles and hurdles you face as you work toward greater success in your work.

  • What situations have you encountered where you think you could have boosted your pay, but you blew it (or didn’t exploit the opportunity as fully as possible)?
  • What obstacles do employers create that you believe limit your pay artificially or unreasonably?
  • In what ways have you gotten stuck in salary negotiations?
  • Which compensation topics mess with your mind, leaving you feeling like you have no control over the outcome?
  • Is there an experience that keeps nagging at you, where you think you might have influenced the outcome for the better but didn’t?
  • What do you want to know about making more money?

This is a big topic. I don’t pretend to have my hands around it, but since it comes up a lot on Ask The Headhunter, I’m determined to tackle it in a more organized way. I want to know, What do you want to know?

Most people pick their jobs for reasons other than money. They want to work with a certain product or technology or they want to work in a certain culture. But let’s face it: We all work to make money so we can take care of those we love and to enjoy a good quality of life. If you want to stand out in your field, one of they key measures is how you get paid for the work you do. Knowing how to make as much money as you can is an important skill that should pay off for you and for your employer.

Please read today’s newsletter, then tell me what kinds of hot spots you’ve encountered—and how you handled them. How can I help you boost your compensation?

[Update: Reader Svetla posed an interesting challenge in the comments section below. It’s so provocative that I think it merits a reply in a new posting. Here it is: 6 scenarios about making more money.]


Colleges fail How

What do your kids learn in college? Lots of people ask the question only when they see the tab for higher education. It’s a good question. A better question is, do they learn How?

I’m a big believer in education for its own sake. Anything you learn is something that might “grow you,” and it might even be something you’ll someday use to good effect. So if that’s why you’re sending your kids to college, good for you.

If you’re paying for higher education because you think it’s gonna help your kids get better jobs, make more money and have a higher standard of life — well, think again. I’m not saying college won’t provide those benefits. I’m saying it isn’t really set up to provide them.

Lots of magazines publish annual college surveys that rank the schools and even suggest how much higher your kid’s lifetime earnings will be if he attends one school versus another. But I look at this another way — a far more pragmatic way.

My buddy Brooke Allen, who runs, came up with a test of colleges that makes a lot of sense. Brooke is a numbers guy, so his test is really cool because it’s got nothing to do with numbers. Here it is in his own words:

Here is an experiment: Find an on-line college catalog. Search for the phrase “how to” and see if you find it anywhere, in a title or in any course descriptions.  (Things like, “How to sign up for this class” don’t count.) If you find a course that promises to tell students how to do anything, let me know. I haven’t found one yet.

I’ll tell you something: Nothing has gotten under my skin lately more than this. Sure, there are college courses that enable students to walk away and do something or other… so what’s the problem? The problem is that colleges don’t structure their curricula around how to do anything. Learning is fine, but where is the doing?

I think there are probably no courses about How to do something because colleges don’t value How. It’s not part of the institutional mission. So professors don’t teach How to do anything because to the institution, How doesn’t matter.

Why don’t colleges teach How to Be an Accountant? Or, How to Make Money? Or, How to Build a House? Or, How to Do Anything? (All are credible skills that would serve a student — and Mom and Dad — well.)

Now I’m re-defining what it means to me that education is good for its own sake. Learning What is fine, but that doesn’t “grow you” unless you learn How to put it to use. I don’t care if you never get a job or do any work or ever apply the How, because that’s up to you. What I care about is that the How is missing, and How is at least half of any education.

Any school that fails to teach How — about any subject it teaches —  fails its students.

Why don’t colleges teach How? And why do you pay so your kids will learn only What?


Readers’ Forum: Where are the weirdoes?

Discussion: December 15, 2009 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter

A reader asks:

I am a mission-driven person (and a turn-around expert) who shares a fair number of beliefs from the Lockheed Martin Skunk Works style of business and project management. Even today, this is still an “out of the box” style of management and is not exactly listed in job postings as a qualification. Companies don’t seem to express it to recruiters or discuss it on their websites. I rarely find this style among people or businesses. But when I team up with them it is true business magic. How do I find these kinds of companies and people?

Whew! Why do out-of-the-box thinkers keep showing up here? Hmmm… We’re all weird on Ask The Headhunter and no one knows what to do with us. One thing left to do: Take over.

How can this reader find other innovators who crave autonomy and avoid bureaucracy… And hopefully a company that tolerates (and hires) them?

Help us break the bureaucracy. Please give us some insight!


How to Say It: Ouch! No more work!

Discussion: November 10, 2009 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter

A reader asks: How do I tell my boss that I am overloaded with work and can’t accept additional projects without letting an existing project slip?

How to Say It: Bosses hand out assignments but often don’t realize the cost a new assignment exacts. It’s your job to tell them… [the rest of my advice about How to Say it is in the newsletter].

Is my suggestion about how to say it nuts? How would you say it?


Should you get an MBA?

It’s a question that comes up a lot, but we’ve never discussed it here. In today’s newsletter, in the Readers’ Forum, a reader asks:

I’ve been quite successful in my field (Information Technology) and I’m trying to move up the corporate ladder. I read conflicting things about MBA degrees. Should I get one? Will it pay off?

Put aside the MBA school rankings in the major magazines and all the marketing the schools do. How much of a difference does it make to add an MBA to your credentials?

And let’s take it a bit farther: How much does it matter whether the degree is from a big-name school?


Fib to get a raise?

Lots of folks work on contract, not on salary. It’s easy to net out less money when expenses go up and your client isn’t sensitive to it. Should you get paid a higher rate when that happens?

I work as a contractor for a company and I have a pretty good setup. However, my expenses have grown and I feel it’s time to ask for an increase in my contract rate.

I spoke to my immediate supervisor who said, “You will have to talk to my manager. If you were to say that you have another offer, the company would be likely to increase your rate to keep you. The manager would have something to go on to get approval from his boss.”

Now, I didn’t really care for this because I’m not going to lie. I do not have another offer, and enjoy working for this company.

I spoke to my husband and told him I wasn’t too enthused to go my boss’s boss and lie to get a higher rate. He said that I should just tell the truth and be myself. I smiled, because that isn’t the problem. Schmoozing someone who I may lose respect for — that is the problem.

What would you do?

I agree with you. Do it honestly. But that means being ready to show the boss’s boss a brief analysis and business plan. Showing how your expenses have grown is good… but what’s really good is showing how you contribute to the bottom line and how you will help with the company’s success. In other words, show a benefit to the company for the extra pay. It’s a healthy thing to sit down and work this out now and then. You might be able to figure out new ways to be a better worker who contributes more to the business. That’s what work is all about.

If you can’t figure out how to increase your value to the company in exchange for the higher rate, get your boss to help you out — or the boss’s boss. Try this: “I don’t expect you to pay more unless I can do my job in a way that adds more value to the business. Can we talk about the company’s objectives? It would help me to understand where the opportunities are to boost profitability. I might be able to offer ideas on how my job could return more on the investment.”

You get the idea. Nonetheless, the expenses argument might work by itself because it is valid… Use your judgment… but don’t stop thinking about were you fit in the profitability equation.


Those lazy-ass women… workin’ in the coal mine?

Thanks to Mike Urbonas for sharing this “… my ass!” moment…

Mike Stankus, sales guru over at STM360, did an informal survey asking, Does work need to be your top priority? It seems Jack Welch thinks it does, and lazy-ass women who don’t give it all up for the corporation deserve what they get.

Stankus quotes Welch: “There are work-life choices, and you make them, and they have consequences.” (Jack Welch’s stock is lookin’ more like GE’s…) Then Stankus comments: “He [Welch] was referring to women who take time off to have/raise a family, basically saying that you can’t get to the top if work is not your top priority.”

But the juice in Stankus’s post is a tasty little informal survey he did. Read the results for yourself. The question he posed: “Would you hire someone for a critical sales/sales management position if they told you work was NOT their first priority?”

Yeses outnumbered nos 5 to 1. Are there just a lotta politically correct managers out there who — unlike Welch — would kill off their companies just to be nice to employees?

Shucks, no. I think there are just lots of managers who realize that 20 hour days don’t translate into more success. Cave men worked longer and harder rather than smarter. They still do. Give it all up for Jack, my ass!

We covered a related topic a few years ago in the Ask The Headhunter Newsletter: Maverick Women Fire Back! (One of my favorite oldies but goodies.) The best I can offer Jack’s acolytes is this: Those lazy-ass women are the canaries of the corporate coal mine… they know when it’s starting to get stinky around the old cave-man clubhouse. But these canaries know enough to leave for better company. (There’s consequences!)