Readers’ Forum: Dropping a dime on the bad guys

Discussion: March 8, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter

From a reader:

I was let go suddenly from a very small business after only one month, despite being told I was doing a fantastic job. (They had me doing three jobs: office manager, paralegal and client intake.) To make a long story short, this two-attorney firm has a pattern of hiring and then firing both attorneys and paralegals before the benefits are due to kick in. Would you happen to know if there is any “red flag list,” maybe through the department of labor, to place suspect employers who are taking advantage of the high unemployment rate and changing employees like pantyhose?

Hmmm, a red flag list. A gallery of rogues. Pantyhose… I’d contact my state department of labor and ask whether any complaints have been filed about this company. Who else has dropped a dime on the firm? Get in touch, compare notes, then file your own complaint if you feel you have a legitimate beef. If others have complained, an investigator may look into any funky doings — and these attorneys may find they need a lawyer…

That’s my two bits. Is there somewhere you guys drop a dime on misbehaving employers?



How to Say It: Shaking hands

Discussion: March 9, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter

In today’s newsletter a reader says:

I have a medical condition (since birth) that has no effect on my work: my hands tremble a little or moderately. It’s called “benign essential tremor.” It is not Parkinson’s or anything like it. I worry that it scares off employers when I interview.

Today I was invited to an informal interview. In my reply, I tried something new. I said, “Great! I would love to meet with you. One thing I should let you know about. My hands shake slightly, but this doesn’t affect my work.”

I don’t want to scare off prospective employers by saying the wrong thing. I figure if I discuss it up front, that’s best. How should I say it?

How to Say It: I think you already say it well. You might add that it’s not a degenerative condition, if you want to go that far. I’m sure you’re aware that you may be protected under the disabilities laws, but it also seems you prefer to be candid. I like that.

Should this reader explain it up front, or wait until the interview?



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.]



How to Say It: Is this a bar or an interview?

Discussion: March 2, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter

In today’s newsletter a reader throws down a challenge:

I love this classic question from interviewers, as if they’re in a bar looking for a date rather than in an office hiring an employee: “Tell me about yourself.” I can answer that, but what’s the best way to say it?

How to Say It: “I’m glad to tell you about myself. But when we’re done with that, I’d like to ask you a question, okay? The question is, Would you please lay out a live problem you’re facing in your department, one that you’d want me to tackle if you hired me? And I’ll show you how I’d do it.”

Or you could just say, “Glenlivet, straight up.”

How would you answer that question?



How to Say It: What’s the point of an interview?

Discussion: February 23, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter

In today’s newsletter a reader takes an interview with a company that wants to “meet and talk in general,” with no indication there’s a specific opportunity on deck. No problem, I say to the reader. It’s good to meet new people. But when the company brings you back for a second interview — to meet the president — and there’s still no objective, then it’s time to reconsider what you’re doing. I offered the reader a suggestion about How to Say It in the newsletter — “No job in mind? No meeting.” (Well, a bit more politely than that, but that’s the gist.)

But there’s more the reader could do to ferret out an opportunity — and to make some money in the meantime. Here’s what else to say to the employer:

If there isn’t a specific job you’d like to discuss, it might be because you’re trying to figure out what kind of position you want to define. I believe I could help you with that by applying my expertise in XYZ… Until you define and fill a position, I’d be glad to offer you my consulting services at $X per day. I look forward to hearing back from you… and I’d like to help you any way I can. Thanks again for your interest… I really enjoyed our wide-ranging discussion. Kind regards…

See how that works? You play every angle but put the onus on them to either define a job or pay you for your time to help them do it.

Otherwise, it’s a bunch of guys blowing smoke with nothing better to do than waste your time and their own. Believe me — many managers are clueless and should be fired for wasting company time and resources on meetings like these. Sometimes, you just have to realize there is no job there. That’s no reason to decline a first meeting — you might meet some cool people and explore possibilities. But beyond that, we’re business people and we work for a living. Either the employer has a clear agenda that presents a clear opportunity to you or he’s wasting your time.

(The tipoff in this reader’s story was that after the second interview with the president, the company did not follow up further, did not respond to queries or bring closure to the discussions. Bear in mind, it was the company that reached out and initiated the meetings.)



Readers’ Forum: What’s with the goofy tests?

Discussion: February 23, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter

In today’s newsletter, a reader asks for advice:

What’s with the psychological multiple-choice questions in job applications? What are they looking for and what do I do when I don’t “test well” with these kinds of questions? I’m a great employee, but these tests mess with my brain! Are there any resources on how to answer these questions? I’m finding I can’t even get an interview unless I first pass this part of the application process.

You can’t tell a company to stop using those goofy tests, and you’re right: It’s virtually impossible to figure out how to “pass” one. So the alternative is clear: Don’t apply using job applications. Go directly to a hiring manager.

HR uses such tests to weed out “undesirables.” (At least in the opinion of the HR manager.) But if a manager has already decided to interview you or hire you, the personnel jockey is not likely to stand in the way. The “weeding” tools usually go flying out the window. When you have a manager already interested, the smart thing to do is politely but firmly decline to do this kooky stuff. “Once we meet and decide there’s a mutual interest in taking our discussions further, I’d be glad to fill out your application forms.”

This ever-more-ridiculous, impersonal “hiring strategy” that companies are increasingly using accomplishes one thing. It alienates the best workers, who refuse to play the game. They will find their way in the door through personal contacts — or they’ll go to work for a competitor. Rather than waste their time with such administrative roadblocks, job hunters with high standards will invest their time meeting and cultivating people who can refer them to a hiring manager. They won’t bend over for personnel jockeys.

So the way to handle such tests (and preliminary application forms) is not to do them. Avoid them. Get in the door through a manager or another employee of the company.

This article might be helpful: Employment Tests: Get an edge.



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?



TheLadders: Would DaVinci buy a resume from Marc Cenedella?

When is TheLadders’ CEO Marc Cenedella gonna give it up? This latter-day P.T. Barnum knows no shame.

On January 21, 2010 I posted How to apply for a job: The Working Resume, highlighting a job application Leonardo DaVinci sent to the Duke of Milan. (DaVinci’s letter was brought to my attention by reader Phil Hey.) I used DaVinci’s application to demonstrate the job hunting methods I’ve been teaching on Ask The Headhunter for over a decade.

A few days later, Marc Cenedella posts a strikingly similar article on his blog: Leonardo DaVinci’s Resume. It also appears in his February 15 e-mail blast. Gimme a break. It seems Cenedella is running out of ideas.

I don’t read Cenedella’s sales letters because he sends them via e-mail, so they’re useless as bird-cage liners. (I get plenty of those in my U.S. mail already.) But reader Rick brought today’s missive to my attention in a comment he posted on this blog:

Nick – I trust you are on Mark Cenedella’s email list, and have received this morning’s pep talk from him… er you… seeing as its a copy of this post. Now we know that Cenedella reads this website… Hey Mark, I want a job that pays 100k give or take!!!!


Coincidence, ripoff or merely more of Cenedella’s P.T. Barnum-esque carny-barking? Whatever it is, it’s all in keeping with the adage, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” The sales pitch promotes one thing, while the huckster delivers something else entirely.

So where’s the contradiction in Cenedella’s current e-mail? Take a look at TheLadders’ resume-writing services. Ladders will sell you a $900 update to your resume, but wait minute… the Ladders CEO is warning you that such resumes aren’t what you need…

Cenedella tells his users that they need a DaVinci-style resume that emphasizes an employer’s needs rather than their credentials:

“… that’s exactly what your resume needs to do, too. Not the laundry list / standard bio that talks about you, but the marketing piece that talks about the benefits to your future employer and how you fit into his or her needs and desires.”

Trouble is, TheLadders runs a resume-writing operation that sells you a pricey, traditional “laundry list / standard bio that talks about you.”

Cenedella goes on to explain that, “I’m a hopeless pedantic, so of course I’m going to take this opportunity to let you know what you can learn from Leonardo’s resume…”

…Uh, learn what? That Cenedella’s advice and his own resume writing service totally contradict one another? Would Leonardo DaVinci buy a resume from TheLadders?

Perhaps Rick is correct, and Cenedella lifted from this blog the idea that DaVinci’s letter to the Duke of Milan is a model resume. More important, Rick’s posting points out that there are lots of people like Rick who are paying attention. They’re talking about fraud. They’re talking about Cenedella’s goofy sales e-mails and they question his ethics. They’re taking Cenedella and TheLadders to task for charging customers for “Only $100k+ jobs” that aren’t only $100k+. They’re not suckers.

Maybe Cenedella will address that in one of his e-mails.