Flushing your rep

The hot story this year in the career pages of many publications is about how the Internet tracks you leave behind could cost you a job. We all know that now. (It’s akin to plastering your resume all over the Net, or writing your phone number on bathroom walls.) The question is, what can you do about it?

If you’ve been an errant blog poster, commenter on discussion forums, or out-of-control Facebooker, your digital leavings might be cleaned up — if you know how to do it. In Erasing Your Tracks, Computerworld editor Tracy Mayor walks us through efforts to expunge Google results on three people who regret their droppings. While only one got satisfaction, the stories of all three are instructive.

The Internet is wide and deep, and there is no flush handle.

Salary history: Just say NO

Want to earn what you’re worth? Yes? Learn to say NO when employers demand your salary history.

Say what? You can’t say NO? They’ll rip up your application? The HR manager will laugh in your face and tell the world you are uncooperative and unworthy? Say what? Withholding salary information just isn’t done? Aw, don’t be a wuss.

I covered the importance of Keeping Your Salary Under Wraps back in May (Just say NO), but a reader’s pointed policy should be yours, too. She gets 10 Headhunter Points for integrity and street smarts. Can you afford to give it up when employers demand to see your pay stub?


Thank you, thank you, thank you!

I drove my stake in the ground earlier this year while unemployed. Divulging my salary was blowing up on me because I had either earned too much or not enough.

It isn’t always easy. An officious, as well as uppity, Sr. Human Resources Manager scoffed at me by saying it wasn’t true that my previous company wanted that information held private because other people from my previous company had shared their salary history with her. I delicately replied the behavior of other people did not mean the policy wasn’t in place and thanked her for acknowledging I was unique as a person who demonstrated integrity.

As a sales person, I have had success answering the salary history question with, “There are so many variables with sales positions such as inside vs. outside sales, travel requirements, ratio of base to commission, etc., that I have found it easier to discuss the parameters of and the value you have placed on the position you are offering.

As I was working with a recruiter who was insisting I share salary history and be prepared to show W-2s at the interview, I sent an email stating:

“Regarding sharing privileged salary information, I honor the commitments I make to my employers and do not share that information with anyone.  Even my parents and siblings have never known what I have earned. One of my litmus tests for how well a company’s management team makes decisions is how well they assess skill sets/experience in regard to the particular position and base compensation on those salient factors. If they believe W-2 information is a valid determination, that raises red flags for me. I want to work with a company that demonstrates sound, not specious, business decisions.”

Within five minutes, the recruiter’s manager called me to explain they were having trouble with the demands of that particular employer and he had a better position for me, one more closely in line with my passions and skill sets, with better compensation, and for which I wouldn’t have to divulge salary history.

There is a tremendous value to taking a stand. I will never divulge salary history again. I am spreading the word and encouraging my colleagues and business acquaintances to stop sharing as well.

Thanks again for supporting us as we have the courage to take the high road. Companies and employees alike will be better served when salary history is no longer a part of the discussion.


Kudos to Jesica for taking on the salary question with aplomb. When the going gets weird in a job interview and HR gets out of line, raise your standards. If the employer doesn’t know what that means, toss them a quarter and tell them to call you when they figure it out.

How much would you pay for a job?

I never cease to be amazed at the scams sophisticated professionals fall prey to. But when you’re looking for a job, any help is welcome. People want to believe that if help costs a lot of money, it must be good help. Think again. I’d like to share some e-mails between a reader and me. (I’ve blocked out the names because, as you’ll see, the names don’t really matter.)

A reader asked: Do you have experiences with [XXX Enterprises] in Atlanta, GA? They are in the “executive marketing” business and say they can help me land a good job. They want $2,400 down and $2,400 in the next 6 months for a one year contract, with a guarantee. They claim to have their own list of people that they have placed inside of local companies, and that for the most part they use these to get recommendations and, of course, interviews. And, yes, they will re-write my resume, put me through interview rehearsals and use their skill at going through the Atlanta business databases for companies that would hire someone like me. Sounds good… but…

I responded: Get three references from them: people they have placed. Three more: managers who have hired their clients. Call them all. The firm’s claim implies the people they have placed hire multiple new clients from them. It’s a kind of a ponzi scheme. My bet: They will never give you references. It sounds good, yah. But, check the references before you give them a check. Is the guarantee of the “money back” variety? Read more

Poo on who you know

I’ve always contended that being well-connected isn’t what it’s purported to be. I discuss this briefly in Meet the right people. Lots of folks think that unless they have a big-time inside contact at a company, they’re better off applying for a job through a job board and the personnel department. After all, only a few decision-makers in a company really matter. Who wants to waste time with nobodies?

Poo on all that, says Duncan Watts, one of my favorite social scientists. I don’t much care for social scientists, and I think why I like Watts’ social research is that his Ph.D. is in theoretical and applied mathematics. But much of his work is in networks — how people connect with and influence one another. (Watts wrote the best book I know about networking, Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age. But don’t expect lightweight tips. This book requires you to read carefully and think.)

So, how does this help you land your next job? Simple: You might have a big-time inside contact at your target company, or you might know a lowly programmer or marketing assistant. I think it’s better to have one or two credible grunts telling the boss that he ought to talk to you, than to have a vice president (of Human Resources? Gimme a break.) do it.

Watts re-did Stanley Milgram‘s famous “small world” experiment to show this effect. (We know this today as six degrees of separation.) Fast Company magazine reports on Watts’ work in its February 2008 edition (it’s an oldie-but-goodie). In 2001, Watts used a web site to recruit about 61,000 people, then asked them to ferry messages to 18 targets worldwide. Sure enough, he found that Milgram was right: The average length of the chain was roughly six links. But when he examined these pathways, he found that hubs — highly connected people — weren’t crucial. Sure, they existed. But only 5% of the e-mail messages passed through one of these superconnectors. The rest of the messages moved through society in much more democratic paths, zipping from one weakly connected individual to another, until they arrived at the target. Grunts — not big-time contacts — are the key to good networking.

Poo on who you know. What matters is that lots of good people know you. You don’t need a powerful headhunter, or the CEO of a company to recommend you to a hiring manager. Run-of-the-mill people are good sources of referrals that can pay off nicely. The more solid people that know you, the better. Which proves something I’ve said for a long time. If you want to find your next good job, go hang out with people who do the work you want to do. The more, the better.