Gotcha: The Non-compete agreement

Employers have an edge today when they’re hiring. More people are out of work. So employers up the ante and bargain harder. More companies are insisting that people sign non-compete agreements (NCAs) before they’ll hire them. An NCA protects a company from you after you leave because it restricts where you can work, what kind of work you can do, and who you can work for. It protects the company from competition.

Desperate for a job — or just because they’re in a hurry to close a deal –, people sign NCAs without realizing the consequences. An NCA could shatter your career plans by literally restricting you from the jobs you want.

Computerworld‘s article last week, Don’t sign away your future, is one of the best career pieces the mag has done. (The date on the article on the website is April 23, 2009, but it appears in the May 25 edition of the magazine.) It discusses six tips to protect your career. Don’t miss it.

What the article doesn’t discuss is how goofy employers are — and what they get away with. For example, usually only top-level executives get employment contracts that define terms and obligations between the employee and the employer. These agreements protect both parties. Companies won’t give these agreements to lower level workers.

But employers routinely demand that employees at almost any level sign one-sided, restrictive covenants that benefit only the employer. NCA’s are an example. And herein lies the negotiating tactic you should use when an employer asks you to sign a restrictive NCA before giving you a job offer. Your objective is to get compensated for signing an NCA, just like a top-level executive — or to avoid the NCA altogether. Try this: Read more

Where are the headhunters?

Someone is stealing all the headhunters… or so it seems to an Ask The Headhunter reader:

Are there still headhunters out there? People paid by companies to find good candidates? I thought they were extinct. They all seem to have moved on to doing “outplacement” services. The only headhunters I hear from are the fee-for-service types! They want me to pay them. Are there any headhunters left in this economy, who actually place people with their clients?

Funny, I look around and I suddenly realize that lots of “headhunters” have indeed turned into outplacement consultants, selling services to job hunters — and to employers who are downsizing. Do you get calls from real headhunters any more? Or are they all selling something else nowadays?

Where are the headhunters?

Wanted: Big small candidate

What really goes on in the room where job ads are written?

I saw a listing for a security specialist the other day. It listed a  bunch of high-level requirements and looked interesting, though I noticed they also said “heavy attention to detail.” Is that a  realistic expectation for someone who has a more strategic thinking mind?  Can you “pay close attention to detail” and “see the big  picture” on a regular basis? Don’t people tend to have a pull toward one or another?

Maybe I am just a slacker, but as I go on in my career, I am agreeing more and more with the “Strengths” movement that I should focus on my strengths and spend a lot less time wrestling with my weaknesses. While some attention to detail is clearly necessary in any job, I am not convinced that I will ever be as detail focused as someone who thrives on that.

Do you have thoughts on this? Am I wacko or are the job listings?

It’s called the “kitchen sink” approach to job ads. They are usually written by personnel jockeys after they “review” a manager’s requirements and “add” their “insights” about the company’s needs. They throw in everything they think the company “wants.” Big small candidates are perfect because they satisfy two important company goals (in many companies).

Ever go to an interview and realize that the job you read about in the ad has little to do with what the manager wants to talk about?

Bingo. You’re not applying for a job. You’re applying for an ad. Problem is, managers are trying to fill a job. And personnel deparments don’t hire security specialists. They only hire other personnel jockeys. Ooops.

Forum: Whistleblower’s dilemma

In the new! improved! Ask The Headhunter newsletter, a new “forum” section presents challenges that readers are facing — and asks subscribers to chime in with their ideas.

I’m getting so many e-mails about the forum that there’s no way to get all the good ideas into the next edition of the newsletter. So I’m going to try highlighting some of the submissions here on the blog. (Maybe next up is a discussion forum?) I’ll try to do this once a week to support the forum feature — but the blog will continue to cover a broad range of topics as always.

So here’s the scenario submitted by a reader to the newsletter — it’s what started this topic:

Employers keep asking me in interviews why I don’t want them to contact a previous employer. The reason is that I turned my employer in to the state attorney general for selling fraudulent discount health benefits. Instead of respecting my candor in answering the question (and for doing the right thing), they run from me like crazy. So how does a whistleblower effectively answer that question?

And here are some of the thought-provoking responses from other readers. (I publish readers’ names only if they give me permission to do so.)

This guy has integrity and I would use that value to my advantage. I would simply tell the truth in the interview but in such a way as to make it sound like (and it’s probably the truth anyway) he just couldn’t stand around and do nothing. His personal value of integrity just wouldn’t allow that. This in and of itself is a great asset to employers. What this is saying to an employer is that you as an employee will not allow that company to get ripped off by either inside or outside entities. Now what company does not value an employee like that?

Joel C. Whalen

There’s the direct, in-your-face approach that counts on the employer’s common sense: Read more

Jobs, jobs everywhere

Toby Dayton nails the problem: Jobs, jobs everywhere, but not an offer to be had. Twitter is the new channel — companies are paying to tweet their jobs? Coke oughta get into the act: Post them under bottletops or on can lids. (Who cares if the job gets filled by the time you flip the lid? TheLadders doesn’t care about stale jobs; why should Coke?)

Look, don’t screw around. Own your own channel for advertising: buy a shirt fromt this guy. At least, when all is said and done, you have a shirt.

“Executive Career Management” scams

I’ve been getting more queries than usual lately about “executive career management” firms. No surprise. There are lots more executives out of work.

These are the firms that offer to provide top-level consulting to top-level executives who need professional help finding a job. One of these outfits quotes Tiger Woods to make its pitch: “Professionals hire a manager to increase their chances of winning, amateurs don’t.”

In the career world, we can put it more accurately this way: “Professionals use their skills to get hired. Amateurs get scammed.”

The psychological underpinnings of the Tiger Woods pitch are classic. The message is, if you’re not paying for help, you’re an amateur. You’re not an amateur, are you? Of course not. Pay up.

This racket has not changed a bit. In The Executive Marketing Racket: How I dropped ten grand down a hole, a CFO tells how he got burned when he signed up with one of these outfits. Since I published this expose written by someone who lived it, Ask The Headhunter has turned into the place “the burned” turn to tell their tales. Executives and their spouses have shared demoralizing and depressing stories of getting taken for tens of thousands of dollars — at a time in their lives when they need that money to survive while they get re-situated.

There are good career counselors and coaches out there. But none of them go by the moniker “Executive Career Manager.” It’s the first sign of a crook. Another sign: The “firm” in question claims that it is an executive search firm and a career management firm. In other words, companies pay them to fill positions, and people like you pay them for jobs. Come on. No self-respecting headhunting firm does that. The ones who turn to selling “executive career management” are failed headhunters.

There is no one out there that you can hire to get you a job. Headhunters don’t do it; career counselors don’t do it; and career coaches don’t do it. Best case, you’ll get advice. The honest practitioners don’t promise a job. You will find the honest practitioners through their satisfied clients. And I don’t mean you ought to ask a coach or counselor for references you can call. I mean, find people who got good help from good practitioners — and ask them who they used. That’s who to go to, if you really want someone to advise you.

But job hunting is something you should do for yourself. If you can’t, you probably don’t deserve to be hired. Think about it: What good are you to a company that needs a job done, if you can’t do this job for yourself? That’s what Ask The Headhunter is all about. Try it before you relinquish your future to someone else. (No, I’m not trying to sell you a book. You can get the book for free at your library. And virtually everything else on Ask The Headhunter is free, too.)

Sorry if you’ve been job hunting a long time or if you’re very down on your luck. But paying someone to find you a job is not the answer. Because no one can guarantee you a job. Unless you believe what you read in an advertisement.

TheLadders wins a Webby!

A reader just called my attention to this, and by gawd, he’s right! The Webby Awards has awarded the Webby for Best Employment Web Site to… TheLadders!

Thought I’d celebrate by highlighting one of the recent posts (April 28) on this blog about TheLadders!

The Ladders posted a job in February for an IT Management job at Finish Line
in Indianapolis. I applied, and got a phone interview.

The interviewer asked me what salary range I was looking for. When I told
him 100 to 110 he appologies. He told me the position was only paying $76k
at max.

I paid for my “TheLadders” membership. Now they automatically renewed my
membership for the next 3 months for $75 and make it a point that the DO NOT
PROVIDE REFUNDS. We’ll see about this.

How do you spell SCAM?

Congratulations to TheLadders! And many thanks to that bastion of Internet Quality, The Webbys!

Yes, Virginia, offers sometimes get rescinded

This is a very painful experience. Sometimes, though, an employer shows integrity and the job candidate reveals common sense. This reader has been through the mill, but has survived and gained an unexpected benefit…

I just read your article The company rescinded the offer (Ask The Headhunter newsletter, 4/14/09 — too late to get that edition but not too late to become a subscriber — it’s free!) and was astonished to learn this situation is not uncommon.

Back in February I received and signed a written offer. Four days later, I got a call from the COO who delivered the news that we needed to push my start date out from March to April. Since this company is a small start-up, they’re running their business on a month-to-month basis. In between making an offer and pushing out my start date, the company lost two forecasted deals in their pipeline that shook their stability. The following week, one of their customers went into bankruptcy. The COO wanted to remain in contact and we agreed to talk weekly and he kept his promise. We talked every Friday and I got an update on the situation. It became apparent towards the end of March that the April start date wasn’t going to happen either. 

I had a quick thought about contacting an employment lawyer but chose not to. Would you have handled this situation differently, and how? 

(I did go back to the COO when I found a company that might be a potential partner for them. This company also happened to be looking for someone just like me! So I asked the COO to introduce me to the CEO and provide a reference for me. He happily obliged and gave me a wonderful reference. This hasn’t gone anywhere, but I think it speaks to the COO’s values and I was appreciative. And in the meantime, I’m still searching…)

I think the COO has class and good sense, and he used it in difficult circumstances. You made no mistake in foregoing legal action. You have made a valuable friend. Stay in touch with him. He probably has other friends he can refer you to. And don’t be surprised that if his company goes down, and he resurfaces somewhere else, you’re not one of his first hires. Thanks for sharing the story.

How to Say It: I’ll take less money

A few weeks ago we started a How to Say It challenge in the newsletter, and submissions have been voluminous! Here’s a good one:

I think your tree analogy in Taking a Salary Cut to Change Careers is an excellent way to describe the potential pitfalls associated with climbing the wrong branch, and the rewards associated with backtracking and choosing a more fruitful branch.

However, how do you convey to a potential employer that you are willing to take a salary cut (perhaps a substantial one) without actually saying those words and cheapening your overall worth?  The company I am interested in working for (in a different industry) has a lower pay scale than my current employer, but based on my research, has greater potential for advancement and rewards.

Isn’t it frustrating when you want to say something that’s so clear, so honest — but you’re afraid it will be misunderstood? I find that the solution is often just as simple as your intent. Engage the other person in a discussion and ask for their candid advice:

Use the tree analogy that makes so much sense to you. Describe to the manager what you read in Taking a Salary Cut to Change Careers: “I think I see the wisdom in that article. This is the industry I want to work in. While I’d like to keep my current salary, I’d like your candid opinion about this idea of moving down one branch to go back up a stronger branch. What do you think about the cost of making the transition? …Every step along my career is an investment, and if I can see profit at the end of the tunnel, I’m willing to go in… So please tell me what you think. If I’m motivated to make change into this industry, how do you think that would affect my earnings now and in the long term?”

That’s how I would say it. Other suggestions?

Show me the money!

We’ve talked about disclosing salary to employers, and we’ve discussed when it’s appropriate to bring up money during the hiring process. The conventional wisdom says job applicants shouldn’t bring up money at all — wait until the employer brings it up. (I think that’s nuts. But I’m not conventional.)

I think it helps to consider other situations where money plays a role in decision making. You go to a car dealer. You pick the car you want, you take it for a test drive, you decide it’s what you want. You sit down with the salesperson. You tell him you want to buy it. Is that when you first ask about the price? (I’d like to do that after test-driving a Murcielago or an Aston Martin DB9. Whoa, sorry there, Bud — turns out there’s not enough in the checkbook…)

An Accountemps survey of managers asked when money should be brought up during the hiring process.

Most managers (30%) say candidates should ask about compensation and benefits during the first interview. 17% suggested bringing it up even sooner — during the phone interview. Good for them! That’s almost half of managers advising job applicants to ask about money early in the process. 26% suggest raising the money question in the second interview. (That’s 73% advocating asking about money before an offer is made.) Only 12% suggest bringing it up after a job offer is made.

Guess the conventional wisdom is wrong. The trick is in How to say it:

“So, what’s the compensation like?” (Smile.) How could anyone get upset if you ask like that?

At what point do you bring up the money?