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Yearly archive for 2017

Ask The Headhunter Secrets in a Nutshell

In the December 19, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader wants the short version of secrets to landing a job. Okay… here we go!


I’ve been reading Ask The Headhunter all year long. I read The Basics, but as a year-end favor, would you please summarize the Ask The Headhunter secrets and highlight some of the most important parts? Help me understand the main differences between ATH and the traditional approach to job hunting? Thanks and happy holidays!

Nick’s Reply

Anyone who’s been around Ask The Headhunter for a while knows this question often comes up around December. But there are no secrets! The ATH strategy is spread across this website, in the free weekly e-mail newsletter (This is the 700th edition! Please subscribe!) and in my PDF books. But I’ll try to summarize by sharing some of my tips, in the form of reprints straight from the books.

I’ve selected sections that should be helpful by themselves, and I hope they get you off on the right foot. If you’d like more details that are beyond the scope of this column, please check the links.

Here’s Ask The Headhunter in a nutshell:

You want secrets? Find the right job!

1. The best way to find a good job opportunity is to go hang out with people who do the work you want to do — people who are very good at it. Insiders are the first to know about good opportunities, but they only tell other insiders.

To get into an inside circle of people, you must earn your way. It takes time. You can’t fake it, and that’s good, because who wants to promote (or hire) the unknown? Here’s how the distinction works.

From How Can I Change Careers?, pp. 27-28, “A Good Network Is A Circle of Friends”:

Don’t speculate for a job
The way most people network for a job smacks of day trading in the stock market. The networker has no interest in the people or companies she’s “investing” in. She just wants a quick profit. She skims the surface of an industry or profession, trying to find easy contacts that might pay off quickly.

When you encounter an opportunistic networker, you’ll find that she listens carefully to the useful information you give her, but once you’re done helping, she’s not interested in you any more. She might drop some tidbits your way, but don’t expect her to remember you next week.

Invest in relationships
Contrast this to someone who reads about your company and calls to discuss how you applied new methods to produce new results. She’s interested in your work and stays in touch with you, perhaps sending an article about a related topic after you’ve talked. She’s investing in a potentially valuable relationship.

This initial contact might prompt you one day to call your newfound friend for advice, or to visit her company’s booth at the next trade show and introduce yourself. Maybe it never goes beyond that or maybe one day you’ll work together. The point is, after a time you become familiar to one another. You become members of one another’s circle. You’ll help one another because you’re friends, not “because it will pay off later.”

The methods in How Can I Change Careers? are not just for career changers — they are for anyone changing jobs that wants to stand out to a hiring manager as the profitable hire.

Get the interview… but there are no secrets!

2. The best way to get a job interview is to be referred by someone the manager trusts. Between 40-70% of jobs are filled that way. Yet people and employers fail to capitalize on this simple employment channel. They pretend there’s some better system — like job boards (or secrets). That’s bunk. There is nothing more powerful than a respected peer putting her good name on the line to recommend you. Deals close faster when the quality of information is high and the source of information is trusted. That’s why it takes forever to get a response when you apply “blind” to a job posting.

How can you get interviews via the insiders who have the power to recommend you? I once gave some advice to a U.S. Army veteran who had just returned home from overseas duty and wanted to start a career in the home building industry. This method works in virtually any line of work.

From Fearless Job Hunting – Book 3: Get In The Door (way ahead of your competition), pp. 15-16, “How to make great personal contacts”:

Pick the two or three best builders in your area; ones you’d really like to work for. They may not be the biggest, but they should be the ones you have a real affinity for. Find out who finances their projects. This is pretty easy — the name of the bank is often posted at the work site.

Then go visit the bank. Ask which vice president handles the relationship with your target company. Then sit down and explain that you are evaluating various companies in your town because you want to make a career investment… After you make your brief statement, let the banker talk. You will get a picture of the entire building industry in your area. Your goal, at the end of the meeting, is to make a judgment about which companies are the best. Ask the banker if he could recommend someone for you to talk with at each company. Then, ask permission to use his name when you contact them. This is how you pursue companies rather than just jobs.

So, don’t just send a resume. Figure out who the company’s customers, vendors, consultants and bankers are — and talk to them. It’s how smart business people do smart business with a company: by talking to people that the company trusts.

Stand and deliver

3. The best way to do well in an interview is to walk in and demonstrate to the manager how you will do the job profitably for him and for you. Everything else is stuff, nonsense and a bureaucratic waste of time. Don’t believe me? Ask any good manager, “Would you rather talk to 10 job applicants, or meet just one person who explains how she will boost your company’s profitability?” I have no doubt what the answer is.

The idea of showing how you’ll pay off to an employer intimidates some people. But it’s really simple, once you get out of the mindset of the job applicant and start thinking like a business person.

From Fearless Job Hunting – Book 6: The Interview: Be The Profitable Hire,
pp. 8-9, “How can I demonstrate my value?”

Estimate your impact to the bottom line If the work you do is overhead and mostly affects costs: Do you shave two minutes off each customer service call you handle? Have you figured out a way to get projects done 20% faster? Multiply this by the hourly wage or by the salary. The savings are just one part of the profit you contribute. Get the idea? I’m simplifying, but few of your competitors will offer any estimates at all. This gives you a good, honest story to tell the employer about how you will contribute to the success of the business. It gives you an edge.

If the job affects revenue, try to quantify the impact. Your estimate may not be accurate, simply because you don’t have all the relevant information at your fingertips, but you must be able to defend your calculations. Run it by someone you trust who knows the business, then present it to your boss or to your prospective boss. You can even present your estimates in the interview, and ask the employer how you might make them more accurate. This can be a very effective ice breaker.

If you can’t demonstrate how you will contribute to the bottom line, then be honest with yourself: Why should the employer hire you? Or, why should your employer keep you?

Employers don’t pay for interview skills. They pay for your work skills. The rare job candidate is ready to discuss how he or she will do the job profitably. That’s who stands out, and it’s who gets hired.

Profit from headhunters

4. The best way to get a headhunter’s help is to manage your interaction for mutual profit from the start. Hang up on the unsavory charlatans and work only with headhunters who treat you with respect from the start.

If you’re not sure how to qualify a headhunter, when the headhunter calls you, here’s how to say it:

From How to Work with Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you, p. 30, one of 34 How to Say It tips:

How to Say It
“If we work together, you will check my references and learn a lot about me so you can judge me. But likewise, I need to know about you, too. I’d be putting my career in your hands. Would you please share a few references? I will of course keep the names you provide confidential, just as I expect you will keep the names I give you.”

Don’t waste time with headhunters who don’t demonstrate high standards of behavior. Sharing references is test #1.

Then, instead of “pitching” yourself to the headhunter, be still and listen patiently to understand the headhunter’s objective. Proceed only if you really believe you’re a match. Then show why you’re the headhunter’s #1 candidate by outlining how you will do the job profitably for his client. Headhunters adopt candidates who make the headhunter’s job easier, and who help the headhunter fill the assignment quickly. (Coda: If you follow suggestions 1-3 carefully, you won’t need to rely on a headhunter. But if you’re lucky enough to be recruited, you need to know How to Work with Headhunters.)

That’s Ask The Headhunter in a nutshell.

Why ATH works

You ask what is the main difference between ATH and the traditional approach. It’s pretty simple. The traditional approach is “shotgun.” You blast away at companies with your resume and wait to hear from someone you don’t know who doesn’t know you. Lotsa luck. (ATH regulars know that I never actually wish anyone luck, because I don’t believe in it. I believe in doing the hard work required to succeed.)

ATH is a carefully targeted approach. You must select the companies and jobs you want. It takes a lot of preparation to accomplish the simple task in item (3).

Please read my lips:

  • There are no shortcuts.
  • No one can do it for you. (Nope, not even headhunters, not even job boards, not even algorithms created by database jockeys.)
  • If you aren’t prepared to do it right, then you have no business applying for the job, and the manager would be a fool to hire you.

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How to be the stand-out candidate

I’ll leave you with a scenario that illustrates why the traditional methods don’t work well. You walk up to a manager. You hand her your resume — your credentials, your experience, your accomplishments, your keywords, your carefully crafted “marketing piece.” Now, what are you really saying to that manager?

“Here. Read this. Then you go figure out what the heck to do with me.”

Managers stink at figuring that out. You have to explain it to them, if you expect to stand out and to get hired. Do you really expect someone to decipher your resume and figure out what to do with you? America’s entire employment system fails you every day because it’s based on that passive mindset.

The job candidate who uses the Ask The Headhunter approach keeps the resume in his pocket and says to the manager, “Let me show you what I’m going to do to make your business more successful and more profitable.” Then he outlines his plan — without giving away too much.

That’s who you’re competing with, whether he learned this approach from me or whether it’s just his common sense. Long-time ATH subscriber Ray Stoddard puts it like this:

“The great news about your recommendations is that they work. The good news for those of us who use them is that few people are really willing to implement what you recommend, giving those of us who do an edge.”

In the meantime, if you’re working on your job search, check out these resources:
The Basics
The Q&A Archive
I hope Ask The Headhunter helped you get an edge in 2017. The newsletter and the website will be on hiatus for two weeks while I take a vacation! See you with the next edition on January 9! Meanwhile, here’s wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays (no matter what you celebrate or where you celebrate it), and a Happy, Healthy, and Prosperous New Year!

How have you used the ATH methods to land the job you want, or to hire exceptional employees? What other methods of your own have worked well for you? (Did anything you did shock, awe or surprise an employer?)

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3 Anti-Behavioral Interview Questions to Ask Job Candidates

In the December 12, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a manager gets fed up with behavioral interview  questions and wants to know how to really judge a job applicant. 


behavioral interview

My HR department insists I use a list of 30 Essential Behavioral Interview Questions published by LinkedIn when I meet with job applicants. These are the questions 1,300 hiring managers said they use.

The questions are canned and don’t reveal whether a candidate could do the job if I hired them. It feels silly to ask these questions because it’s like dancing around the REAL question — whether the person can do the job! What do I care how they handled a difficult situation at their last job, when they have no idea what a really difficult situation is at my company?

I haven’t gotten busted yet, but I’m one hiring manager who doesn’t use the behavioral questions. Maybe there’s something I don’t get. Do you advocate using them and, if you do, please explain the benefits.

Nick’s Reply

I don’t use behavioral interview questions. Like you, I think the practice is silly — and it’s frankly lame because, as you suggest, it’s like “dancing around the real question.” Behavioral interviews are indirect assessments that create more guesswork instead of enabling a manager to directly assess whether an applicant can do the work.

You don’t say how you interview and assess job candidates, but you hint that you focus your interviews on a direct assessment of whether the person can do the job you need to fill.

If we could all hire only great people who perform to their max, we’d all be rich. But choosing and managing new hires is a dicey proposition. I’ll warn you that my approach to interviewing job applicants will result in some of them canceling the interviews you schedule. No worries — it’ll just save you time.

The problem with behavioral interview questions

Loads of candidate assessment methods have come and gone through the decades. My own approach as a headhunter is to get one key question answered before I go on to other assessments.

Can the candidate demonstrate that he or she can actually do the job?

Surprisingly, that’s left out of most job interviews. Instead of getting a demonstration, most employers do an indirect assessment. They ask job applicants the popular set of “behavioral interview” questions, hoping they can read between the lines of a person’s answers about how they handled certain situations in the past. (Job seekers: See The Basics.)

If your HR requires you to use behavioral interviews, I agree that not getting busted for not using them should be your goal!

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Keep Your Salary Under Wraps • Parting Company | How to leave your job
Employment Tests: Get The Edge

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This is a limited-time discount!

3 Anti-Behavioral Interview Questions

Here’s my take on some of the lame questions LinkedIn suggests — and 3 anti-behavioral interview alternatives that actually nudge candidates to demonstrate how they’ll do the work. These are direct assessments because you’ll be talking about your team, your work, your job — not about some hypothetical situation that you don’t even know the applicant is telling the truth about.

Behavioral Question #1:

“Tell me about the biggest change that you have had to deal with. How did you adapt to that change?”

My anti version:

“We hit a challenge with the project you’ll be working on if we hire you. [Describe the problem or challenge in detail.] How would you approach that?”

That’s is a discussion about real change. You can of course ask the applicant about similar issues they’ve faced at other jobs. But if you focus on specific issues you’re facing, you’ll quickly learn not just how the person approaches work; you’ll learn a lot about problem-solving abilities that are relevant to you.

Behavioral Question #2:

“Tell me about a time in the last week when you’ve been satisfied, energized, and productive at work. What were you doing?”

My anti version:

Don’t ask a question. Invite the applicant to spend a couple of hours with your team in a live work meeting about a live project. Sit in on the meeting, but don’t say anything. Watch and listen. My guess is you’ll learn most of what you need to know about the candidate’s style and motivation, and it’ll be relevant to your setting, not someone else’s.

Behavioral Question #3:

“Describe a time when you volunteered to expand your knowledge at work, as opposed to being directed to do so.”

My anti version:

“Now that we’ve discussed the deliverables we’d expect from you on this job, please list the three relevant areas where you’d need to expand your knowledge. This is not a loaded question — I expect you’ll be learning as you go. Then outline how you’d get that knowledge and what you’d need from me to help you do it.”

I’m sure you see the difference in the questions. Though it may be interesting, I don’t care so much how you handled something at your last job. After all, I’m not hiring you for your past performance. I want a demonstration of how you’ll do this job for me.

Behavioral interview answers can be faked

Like other canned interview questions, clever candidates can study any of a number of books that list loads of typical behavioral interview questions. If you ask, “Tell me about a time when…”, you have no idea whether the experience the candidate discusses is real or from a book.

When you ask the questions I suggest, the applicant has to deal with a real-life situation from your business. You get to see how they’d handle a problem or challenge in the present or in the future. I can’t confirm what an applicant did in the past, so let’s talk shop on my turf, about the work I need done.

Learn more about the Working Interview in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 6, The Interview: Be The Profitable Hire, “How can I demonstrate my value?” pp. 8-9.

The book includes “How to do a Working Interview,” “What’s your business plan for this job?” and 10 other methods to show you’re the profitable hire — plus 8 How to Say It tips.

How to cull out the weak applicants

Now I’ll leave you with an unexpected suggestion to get the most out of your interviews. Let a candidate know in advance what you’re going to ask about.

Surprise every candidate. Call them in advance of your interview. (If they’re worth a face-to-face meeting, they’re worth calling first!) Outline the work, projects and challenges you want them to discuss with you and your team when they arrive. Let them prepare, just like you expect your employees prepare when you give them an assignment.

Heck, help them prepare. You want them to succeed, right? The best candidates will show up ready to rumble. (Check this article I wrote for Why You Should Treat Job Applicants Like Consultants.)

If you’re a job seeker, be ready for this kind of job interview! You cannot fake it, but you can Prove you deserve a higher job offer.
Those who don’t want to do the preparation such a “working interview” requires will cancel their interviews. They’re the weak candidates.

Like I said, that saves you time.

The best candidates will be prepared, ready to rumble, and excited about talking shop with you and your team. You’ll actually see their behavior in your real-life work setting!

Do behavioral interviews work? Or are they just another trick that prevents a manager and job applicant from getting to really know one another? If you’re a manager, how do you directly assess someone’s ability to do the work during a job interview?

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Job boards say they fill most jobs. Employer says “LMAO!”

In the December 5, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, an employer questions the claims job boards make about how often they fill jobs. 


job boardsI’ve read many of your posts about job boards, including Job Boards: Take this challenge, but it was one about The Bogus-ness of that really got my attention because it has over 200 comments on it, and because now I’ve seen how Indeed works for employers — and I’m LMAO!

My wife runs a popular retail chain store and recently took to to find qualified applicants. In Los Angeles, at a high profile new location opening (it’s in the news), she received just three applicants, all of whom had simply uploaded their resume and clicked any title that closely matched their interests. None of the three even knew who the company was, or what the details of the job posted were, they simply clicked “send resume.”

Two didn’t speak high-school level English, the third had never heard of the company and wasn’t sure where it was located, but applied just the same.

I’m sure there are people really looking for work. Are they using the potential of Indeed? Glassdoor? Monster?

I know what you think of the job boards, Nick, but I doubt you’ve had to look for a job recently. I wonder what your readers think. Can you ask them what their experiences have been with the big job boards like the ones we’ve had such bad luck with?

Nick’s Reply

I’m happy to put your question to our community. They love red meat. (That’s a joke, vegans and vegetarians among us!)

Do job boards really fill most jobs?

Thanks for your story about your wife’s problems with job applicants from Indeed and other job boards. It would be interesting to hear from more employers, who don’t seem to say much (at least in public) about how effective the job boards are.

  • Indeed cites a report from SilkRoad (“the world’s leader in Talent Activation”) that claims “Indeed delivers 65% of hires and 72% of interviews from job sites.” (The actual report is free but must be downloaded from SilkRoad.)

What’s not to like? Game over. Problem solved.

  • A few years ago, while I was researching a story I wrote for PBS NewsHour (Is LinkedIn Cheating Employers and Job Seekers Alike?) a CareerBuilder spokesperson claimed the job board accounted for nearly 50% of all jobs filled by staffing and recruiting firms — but told me the study behind the numbers was not published.

So, what’s the problem with all those vacant jobs?

  • Year after year, job-board watcher CareerXRoads has reported that around 25%-30% of external hires come from job boards.

Closer inspection of the data suggests about 10% of hires were being made during those periods through all job boards combined. (I have not looked at CXR’s reports recently.)

Truth or tricks?

Now go back and read those claims about where employers find their hires one more time. I’ve been watching these numbers for over two decades and I’ve learned the code. Can you find the tricks in those claims?

I’m really glad to get a question from an employer (well, from her spouse) on this topic. And I’m glad you’re asking Ask The Headhunter readers for their experiences and opinions — rather than me.

Okay, employers — big and small — are job boards delivering the hires you need?

You don’t have to be an employer to play. What do you make of Indeed’s (and SilkRoad’s) claims? I think there’s a deft sleight of hand — and some clever word play — in how SilkRoad, Indeed, and other job-boards characterize their “findings.”

Let’s get at the truth about job boards, folks. And if you’ve got some expertise in big data analysis, I’d really love to know your take on these reports. Do job boards really fill most jobs?

: :

Benefits: The employer trick that lowers your job offer

In the November 28, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader interviews for a job at an acceptable salary, only to learn the employee benefits would mean a 20% reduction in compensation.


Well, thanks for hitting me between the eyes… again. I’m talking about your recent column, More Money: What to ask for in a talent shortage. I was rationalizing a pursuit of a job offer. 

benefitsIt’s a great fit. I “did the job” with the Chief Information Officer and Director. The 30-minute phone interview turned into a 90-minute great discussion on where they want to be in 18 months. Now I have the technical interview. 

The problem is that I misunderstood the benefits. Originally I thought it was a wash in salary, and that the cost of living, benefits, retirement, and bonus were going to be a 20% bump. With relocation to a warmer climate, it was a win-win. Then I got the benefits package. 

I completely misunderstood. Once the benefits are factored in, it’s effectively about a 20% pay cut. There is no way I can absorb that. It’s a small shop and moving up would not be possible for a while given the staff they have in place.

(By the way, the recruiter for this company is absolutely amazing. She completely vetted me before she passed me to the company. She asked for my resume and then recommended that I change the wording on a couple of things. She never had me fill out an application. Then she set up the preliminary phone interview. We discussed salary but I think I heard what I wanted to hear. Fortunately, after that first interview, I asked for the benefits package. She sent it to me while I was on the phone with her.)

So here is my question for you. Do I go through with the technical phone interview and see if I can work with these folks? Then, before we put in any more time and money (and airfare), do I see if they can pay what I think I am worth? Or do I call it off now saying that it is a waste of our time if they are going to stick with their current salary range, given that the benefits are actually going to cost me money?

Nick’s Reply

The recruiter tells you: “The salary range is $X-$Y and the benefits are industry-standard.” Once upon a time, that meant you could decide to go on the interview based on the salary range. Today, it’s a common trick to lead you into a series of job interviews that result in a job offer far lower than you expected — after you realize that a lousy benefits package has effectively lowered your total compensation.

There are many other reasons to decline a “job opportunity.” See When job interviews are bad for you.
It seems you learned an important lesson: Get the compensation facts before you dive into a time-consuming interview process. That means understanding all the bottom-line terms, including benefits — up front.

Benefits are compensation

Make no mistake: Benefits are part of compensation. Lame HR managers like to say, “Oh, our benefits package is industry-standard,” as if you should be impressed. Really? A company’s benefits package should be as competitive as the salaries it pays — that’s what gives a company an edge!

(Note to HR managers: Learn to use your company’s benefits as a tool to get the best candidates to accept your offers! That means you must construct great benefits packages. That’s a key part of your job.)

Benefits and bonuses are components of compensation. Until you can tally up the total, you don’t really know what the offer is — or whether the company is worth working for.

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Why are benefits a secret?

But don’t kick yourself too hard. Companies generally don’t hand out benefits details before interviews – though they should.

Many employers consider employee benefits a company secret that’s not disclosed until you show up for orientation. (Imagine a car dealer saying, “We’ll tell you what the warranty is, and how many wheels the car comes with, after you pay for the car.”) As you’ve learned, benefits are a critical part of any compensation package. Meager benefits can undermine a seemingly good salary.

So, ask about the benefits and the salary range before you invest time interviewing.

Look under the rug

When a company’s lousy benefits have such an adverse impact on a compensation deal, there’s probably something wrong with the company. There’s dirt under that fine-looking rug. So turn up a corner and look underneath.

Is the employer a cheapskate? See WANTED: Top talent to work for dog food.
Good employers offer good benefits. And they don’t hide such information. When they do, it’s the oldest sales trick in the book: They count on you to rationalize a bad deal because you’ve already put so much time and effort into it.

I don’t see any evidence that you misunderstood. If you didn’t have the benefits information in advance, how could you really judge whether this was a good opportunity or a waste of time? How could you have judged the whole compensation package?

The recruiter’s role

What’s “amazing” about the recruiter is that she did not disclose up front that the company’s benefits package is lousy.

Is that really a good recruiter? Use these tips to decide: How to Judge A Headhunter.
I assure you, she knows, because other candidates have experienced the same shock you did. While I give her credit for some of the things she did (and didn’t do — like demanding an application), if she’s a really good recruiter, she reviews all compensation components before she recruits people like you. I’d never pitch a company with lousy benefits to any potential candidates. I’d wind up wasting their time and mine. My guess is she’s lost other good candidates late in the process, after all the facts came out.

Ask to see the benefits

Job seekers rarely ask to see benefits, retirement, vacation, bonus and commission details before agreeing to interview. That’s a mistake. Employers don’t like sharing such information until they make an offer, but that’s disingenuous. Any company with great benefits is more than happy to use them to entice good candidates to interview.

One of my favorite HR ruses is this statement: “We offer the same benefits to all employees. We cannot change our benefits for just one person.” People hear that and they shrug. Of course they can’t change their benefits just for me. That would be unfair to all the other employees. Then an applicant rationalizes that there’s no choice. If I want this job, I have to settle for what everyone else gets. Wrong. If the employer really wants to hire you, it can improve other terms of the offer to compensate (remember that word?) for poor benefits. (We’ll get to that in a minute.)

Companies with lousy benefits hide them, and HR managers try to make job applicants feel it’s “unprofessional” to ask for the information in advance. What’s unprofessional is luring people into dead-end interviews.

Don’t kid yourself

I see it again and again. Job applicants get offended and angry about the details of a job offer at the end of a grueling interview process — because they failed to ask about all the terms before they invested all that time and trouble to interview. Of course the terms matter! Don’t kid yourself! Understand the fundamentals of the deal before you work so hard to get it.

Many career experts recommend proceeding with the hiring process anyway. “Hey, you have a shot at a job! Why blow it by bringing up money?” They will tell you to wait until the offer stage to convince an employer to do what it already told you it will not do. Don’t kid yourself. That kind of advice reveals the advisor doesn’t have an answer for your predicament, because the advisor believes in fairies and miracles.

It’s up to you, but I would not rationalize any more, or move further into this process, now that you know the benefits are a deal breaker. Talk to the recruiter. Tell her your concerns. Tell her you’re very surprised and dismayed at the benefits package.

How to Say It
“Thanks for sharing the company’s benefits package. Unfortunately, it’s not competitive and would represent an effective 20% pay cut. I’d love to continue our interviews, but first I need the company’s commitment to compensate me for the significant difference in benefits they are proposing. It would be a waste of our time to keep talking about the job if the compensation terms — and that includes benefits — aren’t acceptable. Will your client make that commitment?”

What to ask for next

Don’t be too hard on yourself. If the salary range was acceptable and you based your decision to have a preliminary phone interview on that, I think you took a reasonable risk to explore the job. While you should have asked to see all the benefits up front, 99% of applicants don’t ask until after a job offer is tendered. At least you asked early in the process.

What troubles me is that the recruiter didn’t disclose the problem with benefits when she first spoke with you. I put that on her. So I’d let the recruiter know what’s wrong immediately.

Don’t say no to proceeding. Instead, tell her what the terms need to be so they’re acceptable to you. Don’t worry about whether the employer is likely to accept your terms. The point is to establish what it will take before you are willing to proceed. The details are up to you. Here are some possible gimmes:

  • Higher salary, commensurate with the loss of benefits value. I think this is the best offset because it will fund the difference.
  • A starting bonus, but keep in mind this would be a one-time payment that does not affect future pay. I’m not a big fan of this, unless you can’t negotiate higher salary. Then you must decide whether it’s worth it.
  • A higher bonus structure that effectively makes up for the loss in benefits. Just keep in mind that bonuses are not guaranteed. So ask for a guaranteed bonus.
  • Other terms that might satisfactorily compensate you.

Clearly, they are impressed enough with you to go the next step. They want to pursue this with you. That gives you leverage. Don’t be afraid to use it wisely and appropriately. Hey — if they have no qualms about offering you poor benefits, don’t worry that you’re asking for too much! Let them say no, or let them fix the problem.

Manage the recruiter

It seems you’ve found a pretty good recruiter — she’s done a lot right. Take advantage of that.

I’d tell the recruiter that if this deal doesn’t work out, you’d like to work with her again, if she commits to vetting these deals more thoroughly for you in the future, before setting up even phone interviews. Like this employer, she has recognized a good candidate. She is likely to work harder for you in the future because you represent a really good chance for her to impress another client — and to earn a good fee!

Make the employer work for it

Don’t get tricked into dead-end interviews by an employer that uses crummy benefits to effectively lower a job offer.

An employer uses interviews to test a candidate, to determine whether it’s worth proceeding with the hiring process. Job candidates should do the same. Test the employer. Will its compensation package, including benefits, bonus and other terms, measure up to your requirements? Then determine whether to proceed. Make them work for it, just like you do in your interviews.

I’d love to know how this turns out. My comments and suggestions are obviously limited to what I know. You’re the one that must live with the choice you make – so please use your best judgment.

What information do you demand before you agree to interview? We’ve covered only a couple of things here — salary range and benefits. What surprises have you encountered only after you’ve invested a lot of time in an “opportunity?” What else should this reader assess before going any further?

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More Money: What to ask for in a talent shortage

In the November 14, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, an employer makes a lousy job offer and a job seeker misses the point: Ask for more money.


more moneyAfter three interviews that included a lengthy presentation on how I would do the job, I was made an offer for a director-level position in a major city. I expected the salary to be upwards of $70,000. My current salary is $63,000. I also get good health benefits that cost me nothing out of pocket.

I was stunned when the offer came at $45,000, and I’d have to pay for health insurance. I literally cried. I am 33, 11 years out of college, and my resume rocks. Do they think I’m stupid? Are employers really so clueless? In this booming metro area, new grads get $45,000 for entry-level jobs. What they offered seems like a joke!

Should I even try to negotiate for an additional $20,000 to $30,000?

Part of me wants to tell them to screw off. The problem is that this director-level job sounds really great. But I would lose my apartment because average rents in the area are $1,800 a month. I couldn’t afford it, and I wouldn’t have enough for gas or  food. Maybe they think I live with my parents?

Where do they get off offering entry-level pay for a director role to someone with 11 years experience? Any advice? My family, my friends and I are in shock. Help!

Nick’s Reply

Employers complain there’s a talent and skills shortage, and that good workers are hard to find. But wages are not going up enough to reflect such claims.

Greedy employers and the talent shortage

I think it’s clear employers are doing three things:

For more about cheapskate employers, see Wanted: Top talent to work for dog food.
  1. They’re bargain hunting.
  2. They’re keeping more of their profits while productivity is increasing.
  3. They’re avoiding sharing profits in the form of higher pay for hard-to-find employees.

What does this tell us? If you’re a talented, hard-to-find worker talking to a company that’s facing a talent shortage, you should ask for more money because you can.

In July 2017, the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) reported that “CEOs of America’s 350 largest firms made an average of… 271 times more than a typical worker in 2016.” (In 1965, the compensation difference was 20X.)

If you don’t think there’s any error in the offer you received, then consider that it may be how the company operates. It’s greedy. So ask for a higher job offer.

Don’t contribute to the problem

Now I’ll reprimand you. I imagine you did not ask the salary range on the job before you invested your time inteviewing. That’s a huge mistake. Make sure you and the employer are on the same page from the start. When job applicants fail to test a salary range before interviewing, their wishful thinking contributes to wasting time. On the other hand, if you tried to assess the salary range and the employer declined to tell you what it is, see The employer is hiding the salary.

I give you a lot of credit for using the interviews to demonstrate how you’d do the job. (See The Basics.) That’s how to interview, and I’m guessing that’s why they chose you! But the salary offer is another issue.

Don’t rationalize

I’m concerned that you are already rationalizing taking a job for half what you think it’s worth because “this director-level job sounds really great.”

Really? Many employers try to substitute impressive job titles for fair salaries. They count on candidates talking themselves into an undesirable deal.

The problem now is that you may be confusing monetary compensation with the lure of a fancy job title. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume this really is a director-level role. Please be careful not to sell yourself short during a talent shortage. A title is not compensation for doing a job.

Accept the job and ask for more money

Learn from those highly paid CEOs. The EPI report notes that: “CEO compensation has grown far faster than that of other very high earners in the top 0.1 percent…” Why? EPI concludes it’s because of

“the power of CEOs to extract concessions.”

Pay attention! CEOs make big demands because companies perceive that there’s a shortage of great CEOs. You can play this game, too, if you have the nerve.

If you are ready to walk away from that job offer, then you have power because you have nothing to lose. So do not say “No” to the employer. Drive them nuts instead. (They deserve to have their cage rattled for playing salary games with you.) Treat them like desirable CEO candidates treat them. Accept the job, but extract concessions on the pay.

That’s right: If you still really want the job, why not try to get it on your terms? I’d accept the job, but I’d change the terms. You’re allowed to change anything you want in their offer before you accept it completely. Then it’s up to them to decide whether to agree.

How to Say It:
“I showed you I could do the job profitably for you, and I’m glad you were impressed enough to want to hire me. I want the job and I’d love to work with you! So I accept the job. But I cannot accept the terms you have offered. I’m ready to start work [tomorrow, or whatever day you choose] at $72,000. I will leave it up to you.”

Let the employer decide

Do not say anything more. (This is difficult, but keep your mouth closed past this point until they answer.) They already know all the reasons they want to hire you. Now let them consider whether they are willing to pay to get what they need, or whether they’re willing to lose you. (It can be a very long way to the next great candidate in a talent shorage!)

They will probably say no. But when they realize you’re really ready to walk away, it’s now on them to make a decision. They may come back with a better offer.

If they don’t, and you really are looking for a $70,000 job, politely tell them the following.

How to Say It:
“I am worth upwards of $70,000 in today’s market, where employers are complaining about a talent and skills shortage. I’ve found that your competitors are determined to hire hard-to-find talent and to pay what I’m worth. I wish you the best – it was wonderful to meet you and to learn all about your company.”

You don’t owe them any explanations at this point, so don’t let them drag you into a debate. Remember: They’ve already settled the main question: They want you. Now they must decide whether to accept your terms. If they press back, decide in advance whether you’re comfortable saying the following — then say it and stick to it:

How to Say It:
“I’m ready to take this job because I want to work with you. But my salary terms are not negotiable.”

Note that you have not rejected ther offer. In fact, you made a commitment when you accepted the job. Now let the employer decide whether it accepts your terms.

“I want more money.”

If you think you’re worth it, let an employer know you want more — and say how much. Just keep in mind that if they accept your revised salary, it’s not appropriate to negotiate anything else. You already said you’ll take the job if they meet your terms. If there are other things you want to negotiate, do that before you take a stand on the compensation.

For every employer that pays its CEO more than 200X what it pays the lowest-level employee, there needs to be a job candidate who is smart enough to insist on sharing that kind of wealth and success. The CEO is just another employee.

When they need you, extract concessions

You ask how such employers “get off offering entry-level pay for a director role to someone with 11 years experience.” Don’t over-think this. They do it because they think they can get away with it. That’s also why CEO candidates demand more money.

When is the last time you accepted “Because I said so” as the justification for why someone wanted to take advantage of you?

For more on this topic, please read “How can I go back and ask for more money?”
I’m not suggesting that you should be greedy and expect more salary than a job is worth. But if you’ve come to a reasonable conclusion that this employer is being greedy, and you think you can get a good job that pays $70,000 or more, you should not waste your time considering an unsatisfactory deal. Do not waste time negotiating. Instead, extract concessions or move on.

Look – if you need to pay the bills, and you need a paycheck of any size, I’m the last person to criticize you for talking yourself into a lower salary. Do what you must to live. But if you feel as strongly as you suggest you do, don’t fall victim to a greedy company that’s bargain hunting.

On to the next!

Do you know when to ask for more money? When you know you’re going to walk away anyway, don’t say “No” to a low job offer. Say “Yes, if you’ll pay me what I want.” Have you ever drawn a line like this?

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Job applications are the biggest recruiting scam

In the November 7, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a careful reader gets recruited to fill out a job application. Welcome to recruiting today.


recruitingEarlier this week a recruiter contacted me. The salary was stated as a maximum only, and it would mean a 20% raise from my current salary. Even though I am not looking, I went ahead and applied. Following your advice, I asked who the company was and the recruiter told me “in confidence.”  I disclosed that I know someone there, but didn’t give a name. The recruiter said he could still submit my name, so I gave him a PDF copy of my resume.

Things changed fast!  First, he said I would be required to fill out an online application for the HR department. But I couldn’t proceed with the application unless I put in a numerical value for salary. I asked about this and he said whatever I put in could be discussed later. I put in $0. There was also a short “personality test.” I completed all this by mid-day Friday. By noon on Saturday, I got a rejection notice. BAM!

Could it be my salary expectations were too high? The recruiter recommended I come down, but because I’m not desperate I did not. Could it be that HR was totally offended that I was non-compliant? My feeling is that a junior HR person went over this and saw one thing out of order, and eliminated me. I seriously doubt that this application got further.

The bottom line is that I would not want to work for these people anyway, but I will admit that such a rapid-fire rejection hurts. Maybe I will hear from the recruiter as the week begins, or maybe not.

Next time I will ask if the recruiter’s contact is a hiring manager or HR. If it’s HR and not a manager, I will pass. So this was a good lesson learned. It cost nothing. Insofar as missing out on the raise? No problem there because I am not yet vested with my current company and I would lose the equivalent of the raise if I moved now.

Two last questions: Why does just about every recruiter who contacts me seem like a slime ball? How can they sleep at night?

Nick’s Reply

Welcome to the biggest recruiting scam going: job applications. Thousands if not millions are victimized daily. They don’t even realize it. You didn’t get recruited. You got scammed. And it’s legal. Employers encourage recruiters to scam you every day.

A recruiter contacted you to recruit you. That is, he’s out scouring the world for the right candidates for his client. He identifies the best, and then he goes after them — he pursues them. He and his client still need to interview you to be sure you’re right enough, of course, but they chose you and now they’re approaching you, enticing you, seducing you, cajoling you, trying to convince you — the guy they selected to go after — to consider a job there. They’re trying hard to impress you with an opportunity so you’ll invest your valuable time to talk with them.

Is that how this process felt to you? Of course not.

Recruiting you to fill out a job application

You were not recruited for a job. You were recruited to fill out a job application.

You were recruited off the street to do what anyone does to apply for a job they found posted on a job board. My guess is the employer is not even the recruiter’s client. I doubt they have a contract. The recruiter is hoping to throw enough job applications at this employer, in the hope one might “stick” so the employer might pay the recruiter a fee.

The recruiter led you down the path every other job seeker takes on their own. Like every other job seeker that is summarily rejected instantly, you got rejected. No surprise!

The only difference between job applicants who go through the process and you is this: If by some miracle you had been hired, the recruiter would have earned a big fee for doing nothing but ushering random people through the application process.

I’ll say it again: You were recruited not for a job, but to fill out a job application.

Recruiting to fill a job

Here’s what recruiting really looks like. Last week I finally reached a person I’ve been trying to recruit for almost a month. She’s a good candidate for my client. The president of the company and I carefully selected her because our research showed she fit our carefully defined criteria. I knew exactly why I was reaching out to her.

When I finally reached her, it was to set up an interview with the president of the company. No forms. No online links. No personality tests. No obstacles.

My job for a month was to eliminate obstacles so my client could talk to her. I never asked her for her salary information. I still don’t know it, and I don’t care what it is. When I finally got her on the phone, I spent most of the time trying to impress her. I didn’t want to let her get away.

My goal has been to pursue and persuade her to talk with my client about a job — and to impress her with the opportunity so that we’d have a good chance of hiring her. Why would we risk offending her by making her jump through hoops? That would not have impressed her!

How to test a headhunter

  • Who are some of the headhunter’s clients? Get the names of companies and managers.
  • Who has she placed? Get the names of a few candidates placed recently and a year or two ago.
  • What firm does she work for?
  • Where is she located?
  • Who owns the firm?

From How to Work With Headhunters, pp. 28-29.

Why they do it

Recruiters like this one sleep at night by mentally counting all the lottery tickets they’ve acquired — job seekers they’ve convinced to fill out job applications. Then they dream that a company will pay off on one of them.

The daily recruiting scam is a numbers game. Recruiters play it because sometimes it pays off — just like everyone else plays the lottery.

How to save loads of time

The recruiter’s trick is to get you to spend loads of time applying for a job that pays “20% more than you’re making!” It’s a simple rule of behavioral psychology: The more the recruiter can get you to do, the more you will then rationalize doing even more to comply. So the recruiter’s goal is to get you to start complying.

You ask what to do next time. Here’s a quick and sure way to save loads of time. The next time a recruiter contacts you, ask this question:

“Why does your client want me?”

Then ask this question — and nothing else:

“When does your client want to talk with me?”

For more on this topic, see Why do recruiters suck so bad?
If the recruiter answers with a list of tasks for you to do first — submit your resume, complete online forms, take a test, disclose your salary — tell the recruiter to take a flying leap into a cactus bush.

It takes a mental re-set to realize what that guy did to you. He made you apply for a job. It’s the daily recruiting scam.

How do you sort out the recruiters? What percentage of contacts from recruiters have resulted in face-to-face job interviews for you? At what point should the reader above have recognized what was going on?

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No college degree, no promotion?

In the October 31, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a successful manager pays the price of working for an employer who values a college degree more than the employee’s proven abilities.


I have a great job in a fantastic company. Well, it’s fantastic except for HR.

college degreeI am an information technology (IT) manager with approximately 25 years experience. I lead a fantastic team. I have been a manager for many years here, I love my job, have never had a performance issue and, in fact, my team scores as the highest-engaged in the organization. I write industry articles and I am respected in my field.

While I am the only manager that reports directly to a C-Suite leader, my peers are at the director level. We (my boss and I) have been told time and time again that I cannot be promoted to director because I do not have a degree. I do the same work and have the same level of responsibility as my director peers, but without a degree they will not allow me to rise above manager.

I am basically a director without a proper title. Does this fall under any sort of discrimination? What can I do about it? I would love to go back to school but I am currently putting my own kids through college.

It is frustrating to think that I would have to leave a job and company I truly love just to further my career.

Nick’s Reply

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this story. It’s a distressing commentary on corporate management. Unless someone has explained to you what the material value of a degree is to the director-level jobs, the company is risking losing one of its most productive people for what seems to be an arbitrary reason.

How much is a college degree worth?

Check out what one reader did, in No College Degree, No Problem. The article discusses some tips from two of my PDF books that might be helpful in demonstrating your value to your employer.
I would stop there, but you said something that possibly reveals a more insidious problem. You do the same work as the directors, but you’re only a manager. I’m guessing you’re also paid less than the directors. Is it possible your lack of a degree is being used as an excuse to avoid paying you a director-level salary? How much is that degree worth in salary? Is there a way you could compensate for the degree that your company might find acceptable?

I’m not a lawyer so I can’t comment on discrimination or legalities. It might be worth investing a few bucks in a good employment attorney for an opinion and guidance. My guess is that their advice might depend on whether the degree requirement is levied on all employees or just on you — and on whether you’re paid less than others for the same work.

The EvilHRLady

To get another perspective, I turned to my good buddy Suzanne Lucas, who writes the outstanding (and contrarian) EvilHRLady column for Inc. magazine. She’s one of the few HR gurus I respect and trust — her insights and advice cut through the bureaucracy every time. She’s not a lawyer, either, but she’s got more experience with HR compliance than I do. Here’s her reaction to what I told her about your situation:

“There’s nothing illegal about discriminating against someone who lacks a college degree, but there is a whole lot of stupid involved. If you’ve got years of experience that prove your capabilities, then what does it matter what you did between the ages of 18 and 22?

“That said, I’d advise you to do a degree. I tend to recommend Western Governors University for situations like this. Not because I think you need to learn these things but because companies are super hung up on the idea that everyone needs a degree.”

A whole lot of stupid about a college degree

Suzanne and I agree: Your employer has a whole lot of stupid going on.

But we’re both pragmatists, and that’s why I also agree with her prescription. You need to decide what’s important to you, and figure out how to achieve it. If your company is dead-set against promoting you without a degree, your next step is to find good companies that will commit to your career growth without the need for a degree. Or you have to get a degree.

You must decide which route to take.

The ROI of a college degree

I think I’d take one more shot at convincing your management that you deserve to be a director without a degree. Run this by your boss first, but then request a meeting with the president or CEO of your company. Negotiate. Respectfully make your case about how you can deliver the ROI expected of a director — but do not threaten to quit. Explain that you understand the policy, but that you wanted to ask whether they’d make an exception after qualifying you in some other way for a director’s job. If you’re told No, shake hands, smile, and go back to work.

Then decide what to do.

If you decide a degree is a solution, you may not have to wait until your kids finish college. Be smart about it. Get a degree from an accredited distance-learning college that doesn’t cost as much as a traditional school. (See Can I earn a degree from the School of Hard Knocks?) In other words, calculate the return on investment (ROI). You may find it’s positive and worth the investment.

Find an accredited distance-learning school

While I trust Suzanne’s guidance, I don’t know the school she recommends. One of my favorite distance schools is New Jersey’s Thomas Edison State University. (I have no affiliation with TESU.) It’s a publicly funded, accredited state school. Do your own research. Consider trying a degree program. Just make sure it’s accredited and that any credits you earn are transferable.

Here’s what you might not know. The cost of a degree may be less than you think. Likewise the investment of time. And the ROI may be better than you’d guess. I learned these tips long ago from my friends at Thomas Edison:

  • You can test out of many required courses by virtue of your knowledge and experience.
  • This saves you money, and it can cut down the time to a degree dramatically.
  • You can even complete much of the coursework and then transfer your credits to a better-known bricks-and-mortar school if it means something to you to have a sheepskin from a “name” school. (I wouldn’t worry about that.)

Don’t rule out the degree too quickly because of cost. There’s probably a similar state-funded college where you live.

Solve the problem

Your problem is not lack of a degree. Your problem is that you can’t get the kind of job and title you want. So focus on how to do that. Talking to your management one more time is important — don’t make any assumptions. Then choose.

The risk you face if you leave your job to go to another company without a degree is that you may face the same problem. Like Suzanne Lucas, I think your company’s policy may be counter-productive. But I don’t control employers. And you can control only yourself.

I wish you the best.

An even bigger problem


Because we love to have in-your-face discussions about heavy-duty issues here, I’d like to point readers to an article in the Washington Post: Wanted for any job: A bachelor’s degree. Is that smart? (Heads up: The Post requires a paid subscription to read more than a limited number of free articles.) Here’s the controversy:

“Look closely at most job advertisements these days and you’ll notice an interesting, if not disturbing, trend: Most of them require a four-year college degree.

“Economists refer to this phenomenon as ‘degree inflation,’ and it is spreading across all kinds of industries and jobs. Among the positions never requiring a college degree in the past that are quickly adding that to the list of desired requirements: dental hygienists, photographers, claims adjusters, freight agents and chemical equipment operators.”

Hmmm. WTF?

When do college degrees really matter? Have employers gone bonkers? Are the economists right — is there real degree inflation? Okay, folks — it’s time to pile on!

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Salary History: Use California’s new law for better job offers

In the October 24, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, we take a deep dive into California’s new salary history law. Is it going to help you get a better job offer?

Note: This article is not legal advice or a substitute for obtaining competent legal counsel about salary history disclosure laws.

salary historyYou’ve probably heard this from an HR manager who has demanded to know your salary history while you’re applying for a job: “It’s required. If you don’t disclose your salary we cannot proceed with your candidacy.”

It’s akin to a salesman on a car lot demanding to see your bank account balance before he tells you the price of the car you want. Once that cat is out of the bag, you can’t negotiate effectively.

Now the State of California has made it illegal for employers to ask your prior salary. See Assembly Bill No. 168. (See also this article in the San Francisco Chronicle.) This can help you negotiate a better compensation deal.

You have 2 new powers over personnel jockeys

But not so fast. Hiding your old salary isn’t going to help you get a higher job offer unless you can obtain another critical bit of information from the employer: What’s the salary range for the job you’re applying for?

Good news: The California legislature thought of that, too. Starting January 1, 2018, employers can’t ask your old salary and, if you request it, they have to tell you what the pay range is for the job you want.

You now have two new powers over employers and their personnel jockeys in California. You may:

  1. Decline to disclose your salary.
  2. Ask the employer “to provide the pay scale for a position.”

What you need to know

It’s important to understand the details of your new rights. Therein lies your real power — the power to avoid wasting your time with jobs, applications, interviews, recruiters and employers who want to break you down so you’ll cave in and accept a lower job offer. Use these powers thoughtfully, and you should be able to get the kind of salary you want.

Here’s what the new California law says (emphasis added):

SECTION 1.  Section 432.3 is added to the Labor Code, to read:
432.3.  (b) An employer shall not, orally or in writing, personally or through an agent, seek salary history information, including compensation and benefits, about an applicant for employment.

Now we’ll expand on the aforementioned two new powers you can exercise when applying for a job.

1. Decline to disclose your compensation

This means never disclose your prior pay or the value of your benefits:

  • When you fill out a job application.
  • When an HR recruiter from the company requests it.
  • When a third-party recruiter (or headhunter) solicits you for a job at the company.
  • When you participate in a telephone interview.
  • When you communicate with the employer or recruiter via e-mail or otherwise.
  • During a job interview, and,
  • Apparently, under this new law, after you’ve been hired and you’re filling out employment paperwork.

An employer that doesn’t know your old salary and benefits has a harder time low-balling a job offer. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard employers say, “Our offers are 5-10% above a person’s old salary. That’s our policy.” As if that has anything to do with the value of the new job — or the value you bring to it! For more about this, see Revealing my salary earned me a lower job offer!

Never disclose your prior salary to anyone connected to an employer where you’re applying for a job in California (or anywhere else, but in that case for other reasons). Because if you do, you’ve relinquished your rights — because there’s a gotcha in the new law. We’ll discuss that in a minute.

First let’s look at the more important of the two powers California now grants you.

2. Request the pay range of the job

This is the best part. The employer has to tell you what the job pays. This is what will help you avoid wasting your time on jobs that don’t pay in a range you’re willing to accept.

(c) An employer, upon reasonable request, shall provide the pay scale for a position to an applicant applying for employment.

You read that right. They can’t ask for your salary history, but they have to tell you the pay range of the job you’re applying for. If you ask. So ask! And ask in advance of filling out forms, having interviews, and otherwise investing your time.

I think it’s more important to know the pay range of a job than it is to withhold your own pay information. But, of course, it’s best to use these two tools in tandem for maximum benefit.

Now, here’s the tough-love part. When they tell you the pay range, don’t kid yourself if it’s lower than you’d like. Don’t proceed under the impression that you can “talk them higher” later on. Conversely, if you use this law to apply only for jobs that pay twice what you may be worth, you’ll probably be disappointed if you expect enormous job offers.

Beware the gotcha in this salary history law

Those two new powers can gain you a lot during your job search in the State of California, unless you’re applying for a government job or other job that’s exempt. (Read the full text of the new law.)

Now let’s get to the aforementioned gotcha. Read this next part of the new law carefully. (Emphasis added.)

432.3.  (g) Nothing in this section shall prohibit an applicant from voluntarily and without prompting disclosing salary history information to a prospective employer.

Yep. That means you’re free to spill the beans if you want to. And here’s how spilling the beans will get you screwed:

432.3.  (h) If an applicant voluntarily and without prompting discloses salary history information to a prospective employer, nothing in this section shall prohibit that employer from considering or relying on that voluntarily disclosed salary history information in determining the salary for that applicant.

Got that? Once you disclose your salary history “voluntarily and without prompting,” much of your protection under this law disappears.

Why you may need a lawyer

Any time you’re dealing with a massive amount of money — like the salary you’re going to earn for a year or more — it may be worth consulting a lawyer. A consultation with a labor or employment lawyer, to ensure you know what you’re doing in an employment matter, will cost you only a small fraction of that massive amount of money in order to protect that massive amount of money. Consider making an initial investment in legal advice, then proceed prudently.

You may also need a lawyer if you find an employer has violated California’s new law, because of one more gotcha:

(d) Section 433 does not apply to this section.

Section 433 of the California Labor Code says:

433.  Any person violating this article is guilty of a misdemeanor.

This means that while violations of other sections of the Labor Code are a misdemeanor, a company that demands your salary history or refuses to tell you the salary range of a job is not committing a misdemeanor. This new law does not define the penalties for violations.

If you want to fight violations of this new law, you’ll probably need a lawyer. It might even turn out that this Section 433 clause renders Section 432.3 toothless once it winds up in court.

What about your state?

Similar laws are under consideration (or have already been passed) in some major cities including New York City, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, and in some states including California, Massachusetts, Delaware, Oregon and Puerto Rico.

Some of the legislation is controversial, and special interests are trying to block it. The Washington Post offers a good rundown in “New York City just banned bosses from asking this sensitive question.”

This issue is so hot that it’s best to look up your own city and state for accurate information.

What’s your best option?

We’ve barely touched on the myriad issues these laws raise. If you’re interested, you’ll find more here: Goodbye to low-ball salary offers.

Whether there’s a law against demanding your salary history or not, you can always say NO and decline to disclose the information. (See Keep Your Salary Under Wraps.) As long as you’re not party to a contract whereby you have agreed to disclose salary information (an employment contract might be an example), you never have to disclose it. There is no law I know of that obligates you to disclose your salary.

Of course, refusing to disclose might result in an employer rejecting you as a candidate. That may be their right.

In that case you may be better off finding a more reasonable employer who isn’t trying to manipulate salary negotiations by insisting on knowing your prior pay. You’ll get the best deal possible if you withhold information about your prior compensation, because the employer will be forced to base an offer on the value you prove you can deliver. (Did we just open a new can of worms? Yup. We don’t pretend anything is easy around here. See How do I prove I deserve a higher offer?)

Have you encountered one of these new laws in the wild? What happened? What’s your take on this kind of legislation — and on how to best protect your ability to negotiate compensation? What other issues do these new laws raise?

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Mom wants a new career

In the October 17, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a successful mom wants to be a successful job seeker.


I’m a mature woman and I have to reinvent myself after a midlife divorce. I spent my prime years raising seven wonderful children. I home schooled my children over 20 years. I developed many skills that cross over into the work force: Organization, Punctuality, Customer Service, Training/Teaching, Computer Skills, Microsoft Word and Outlook, and more.

I have worked in a research analyst job for almost two years now and have gained vast office skills. The company I work for has very little room for growth without a two-year college degree. I can’t afford college. I am barely getting by on my meager salary. What can I do?

Nick’s Reply


My compliments for raising seven great children! Getting the right job has much in common with what you’ve done, but today’s job market tells you to find a job by splattering your resume on the wall like spaghetti and waiting for some employer to figure out what to do with your myriad skills.

The truth is, employers are largely incapable of choosing hires effectively via resumes. This failure is the true source of the so-called “talent shortage” employers complain about. (See News Flash! HR Causes Talent Shortage!) They need your skills. They just aren’t good at understanding what you can do for them, so you have to mother them through it.

Mom credentials vs. needs assessment

Consider what would have happened if you handed your kids a multi-page list of all your knowledge, skills and credentials and asked them what they wanted you to teach them during home schooling — and whether they should “hire” you as their teacher.

That’s what happens when you hand an employer your resume. It really doesn’t help to enumerate all your qualifications and qualities. It’s simply too much for the employer to process.

More likely, when you stepped up to educate your kids, you assessed what they needed to learn, then you organized your skills (your “resume”) to satisfy those needs. That’s why you succeeded so marvelously. You based it all on your accurate assessment of what your kids needed.

Make choices first

You must do the same to find the right job: Assess what a particular employer needs before you decide which of your many credentials and skills to present. Employers say they want a comprehensive resume, but any good headhunter will tell you that the less you tell the employer at this juncture, the better — as long as the information you provide is 100% on the mark. (See Resume Blasphemy.)

First, select a handful of companies you’d like to work for. Pick the best ones that make products (or deliver services) you’d like to work on. Then set about to discovering what they need to be more successful, just as you assessed your children’s needs.

This takes careful thought and a lot of research and work, and considerable time. There’s no way to rush this. The alternative is to splatter your resume all over the job boards and wait even longer for some random employer’s algorithms to pluck your resume from thousands of others.

By choosing companies first, you take control of how well you can address their needs. There is simply no way to thoughtfully address the specific needs of 100 companies you find on a job board. So don’t apply for jobs that way.

Be A Wise Mom: Understand a manager’s specific needs

Do not rely on a company’s job postings. They’re produced by over-worked personnel managers, not by the managers who need to hire someone. Job postings are one of the biggest rackets in America today. They hinder hiring; they don’t help it. They ask for ridiculously extensive credentials, skills and experience — and for the latest buzzwords HR has heard about.

  • As a good mom, I’ll bet you ignored many requests for in-ground swimming pools, puppies, and the latest toy heavily promoted on TV. You determined what would make a material difference in your kids’ lives and invested wisely in that.
  • Did you know how to teach your kids every necessary topic when you started? Of course not. They’d never have “hired” you for lack of such skills! But you learned as you went along and figured out how to tackle each necessary task. If your kids had to hire you based on your skills, they’d never have hired you!

That employer needs a wise mom who sees past ephemeral wish lists. It needs someone who can see the desired outcomes. You must rely on personal conversations with the actual managers who would hire you — and on people who work with them — so you can assess what they really need in a worker. Only then can you possibly produce a brief plan showing how you’d do the work profitably for the manager. Your plan will of course include some notes about what tools, training and learning curve you’ll need.

Doing the job vs. doing the keywords

Having all the perfect skills won’t get you hired. The manager will hire you because you’ve demonstrated that you know how to assess his or her needs, and how to address them honestly and effectively. That is, you can demonstrate that you can do this job — and that you can learn quickly as you go.

The trouble is, personnel managers and “applicant tracking systems” which analyze your “keywords” are incapable of assessing your ability to do a job. That’s why people get rejected out of hand again and again and again.

You must go around the personnel managers and hiring systems to find the manager. Don’t enumerate the keywords requested in the job posting. Show how you’ll do the work the manager needs done. Have a conversation. Talk the manager through it like you talk your kids through a scraped knee. What any manager really wants is for you to make the pain go away. But first you have to have a heart-to-heart to learn where it really hurts. That kind of talk beats a “job interview” about your resume any day!

Some tips

Here are a few core Ask The Headhunter articles to help you get started:

Ask The Headhunter in A Nutshell: The short course

Pursue Companies, Not Jobs

Resume Blasphemy

Employment In America: WTF is going on?

You’ll find hundreds more helpful how-to articles on this website, all for free. (I also offer a few PDF books that organize my advice around specific topics.)

You raised seven wonderful children. You can find one great job. But you won’t find it by broadcasting all your skills and waiting for one company to “find” you.

Start by picking a good company, learning what a specific manager needs, and then organizing your skills into a short document (or presentation) that shows how you will do what the manager needs. Don’t expect any manager or employer to “process” all your credentials and figure out “what to do with you.” Most managers aren’t very good at playing Mom.

I wish you the best.

What advice would you give this mom, who clearly has considerable skills but little experience in the workforce? If you’ve made the transition from raising a family to getting a “regular” job, how’d you do it? What problems did you face? What obstacles did you overcome?

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Interview Me: How to Say It

In the October 10, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader fell off the wagon after mistaking a job form for a job interview — and asks for help.


interviewI need an intervention. I almost filled out an online job application today that requires that you select a target salary from a drop-down menu of salaries in increments of $10K. How am I supposed to put a value on a job until the manager and I talk about it?

Maybe I also need an intervention for even thinking about doing an online application at all.

Is there some version of AA [Alcoholics Anonymous] that supports those seeking work who relapse and try playing the game according to corporate Amerika’s HR czars and czarinas?

Nick’s Reply

I dunno — maybe we should start Job Seekers Anonymous? It’s time we worked up a way to address employers who claim to want “exceptional talent” but expect you to turn off your talent and apply-for-jobs-by-numbers.

Stop messing around

In Job Assessment Tests: Don’t jump through hoops we discussed what to say to employers who make outrageous demands of job applicants before a face-to-face interview is even scheduled.

But this is different. You’re looking for a way to get an interview after you almost swallowed an online interrogation form.

I’m going to keep this Q&A column very brief, because what we need is loads of ideas and How to Say It suggestions from other readers. What can you say to an employer to get an interview?

The key, as you might suspect, is to talk directly to the right person in the company. So, why mess around? I’ll start. Try this. Send a note to the CEO or, better yet, call.

“Interview Me”

How to Say It:

“Hi, I’m Bill, a seasoned pro in [your field]. I’m interested in working for your company because it’s a shining light in our industry. But I’m puzzled by something. As a very busy [programmer, marketer, whatever] I don’t have time to waste with impersonal cattle-calls and online job forms, so I’m surprised your company is advertising rather than recruiting only the right people thoughtfully. I select potential employers very carefully. I’m ready to meet with your [marketing manager] to show how I can do the job to bring more profit to your bottom line.

“If you’re serious about hiring great [marketers] who know enough about your biz to have a working meeting with a hiring manager, I’d love to get together — but please, no personnel screeners who aren’t experts in [marketing]. There is indeed a talent shortage, and the talent doesn’t waste time on bureaucratic processes. I want to talk shop with someone at your company who’s qualified to talk shop with me. I’d be happy to fill out your forms later, if there’s a match. But I hope you respect my time and intelligence as much as I respect yours. If you want to talk with the best [marketers, etc.], interview me and I’ll interview you.”

That’s it.

Who else can you talk to? What else can you say? Who else can you talk to? What else can you say? (You’ll find more tips in this article, but let’s hear yours! Getting in the door.)

The recruiting, screening and hiring processes companies use are crap. We all know that. How else can you say, “Interview Me!” How can you avoid gagging on forms that peel off of HR’s toilet roll?

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