The data say, Demand bigger salaries!

The data say, Demand bigger salaries!

Question

I’m about to get a job offer from a company I want to work for. They asked how much I want. The talent shortage must be producing bigger salaries in job offers, so I’m inclined to ask for the top of the range I’ve researched. But I’m also nervous about going too high and turning them off. Is there a safe middle ground?

Nick’s Reply

bigger salariesLike you, I like the middle ground. Most of the time. But this isn’t most of the time. In fact, I believe we’re living in a time when there’s good reason to take bigger risks to get bigger rewards.

Why? Because on the whole, companies are pulling down unusually higher profits hand over fist. They can afford to pay you more. There’s data to prove it.

Days of bigger salaries

This is the time to ask for more, even to demand it and gently signal that you will walk away from that hard-to-fill job if they don’t meet your salary requirement.

Savvy investors tell us that the big gains are made when we encounter unusual circumstances in which our chances of a big win are somewhat higher than normal. That can make it worth the attendant risk. Of course, only you can decide how much risk you will tolerate.

I would ask for more money. I’d ask for the top of the range or more. Now let’s discuss why job applicants should demand bigger salaries today.

Employers need to hire

I don’t need to link you to 10 articles about employers crying they can’t fill jobs because of “the talent shortage.” And I don’t need to give you an Economics 101 lesson in supply and demand. (Ah, what the heck! When supply of labor is down, wages go up.)

If so many employers are desperate to hire, they must be paying top dollar to get workers like you on board, right? Wharton labor researcher Peter Cappelli suggests that, on the whole, they’re not.

What do you mean, real wages are down?

In an October 2021 report Cappelli writes that “Wages are not rising dramatically, at least on average. A shortfall between a big demand jump and a modest increase in supply should not necessarily cause a shortage in a market economy. It should cause prices — in this case, wages — to rise.”

But despite their posturing about recruiting aggressively to fill those vacant jobs, Cappelli notes employers are not offering competitive market pay. In fact, he says, no matter what anecdotal stories the media broadcast, the data tell us “Real wages have fallen by the largest amount in decades.”

And that’s why you should ask for higher pay. In fact, if you don’t demand a higher job offer, you may be getting lower real pay than you even realize.

Inflation is hurting workers

Cappelli continues: “The idea that wages are rising dramatically just isn’t true…  workers are living in a world where their money isn’t going as far as it used to due to rising costs of goods and services.”

We call that inflation. “Real wages” are wages adjusted to account for rising consumer costs.

And, today, it’s even worse than Cappelli suggested last fall. In its April 12, 2022 Real Earnings Report, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us:

“Real average hourly earnings decreased 2.7 percent, seasonally adjusted, from March 2021 to March 2022. The change in real average hourly earnings combined with a decrease of 0.9 percent in the average workweek resulted in a 3.6-percent decrease in real average weekly earnings over this period.”

But inflation is enriching companies

Maybe employers just can’t afford to pay higher salaries, eh? Maybe you should bite your tongue and tell that employer you’d be happy in the middle of the salary range. Play it safe.

But you’d be wrong, and you’d be dumber than greedy corporations, says Lindsay Owens, the executive director of the Groundwork Collaborative. In I Listened In on Big Business. It’s Profiting From Inflation, and You’re Paying for It, Owens reviews hundreds of corporate earnings calls she’s listened to — “calls, where, by law, companies have to tell the truth.”

“The Federal Reserve chair, Jerome Powell, said that sometimes businesses are raising prices just ‘because they can.’ He’s right. Companies have pricing power when consumers don’t have choice.”

The examples she cites are chilling because CEOs brag about unheard-of profits triggered by economic factors that hurt consumers and, therefore, workers and job seekers.

  • “What we learned on these earnings calls was quickly reflected in data. Despite the rising costs of labor, energy and materials, profit margins reached 70-year highs in 2021. And according to an analysis from the Economic Policy Institute, fatter profit margins, not the rising costs of labor and materials, drove more than half of price increases in the nonfinancial corporate sector since the start of the Covid pandemic.”

Owens reports one profit brag after another during the earnings calls:

  • “As Hostess’s C.E.O. told shareholders last quarter, ‘When all prices go up, it helps.’”
  • “Executives on their earnings calls crowed to investors about their blockbuster quarterly profits. One credited his company’s ‘successful pricing strategies.’”
  • “Another patted his team on the back for a ‘marvelous job in driving price.’”
  • “The head of research for the bank Barclay’s said ‘The longer inflation lasts and the more widespread it is, the more air cover it gives companies to raise prices.’ More than half of retailers admitted as much when surveyed.”

Corporations can afford handsome job offers

Companies are intentionally jacking up prices to consumers to boost their profits — using inflation for “air cover” — while they pay lower real wages. Is there anything illegal about that? Probably not. Nor is there anything wrong with you jacking up the salary you want if a company is flush. And in this economic climate, it may be prudent to pursue only employers that are flush.

This is why, in today’s economy and job market, you should always be ready to ask for more money. I’m forever telling you to make sure your job delivers profit to your employer. Now I’m telling you to make sure employers that are bursting with colossal profits deliver a concomitant share to you in the form of higher salary. Lindsay Owens might say this is the best time in 70 years to go for the gold.

(See More Money: What to ask for in a talent shortage.)

Find one smart, good employer

Are all employers so greedy that they make below-market job offers so they can hoard profits? For that matter, are all employers laughing all the way to the bank? Of course not. But successful, smart employers see an opportunity to hire the best workers by sharing their good fortune via higher salary offers. Why work among pigs?

Even if, as the data suggest, most employers are killing real wages, a wise job seeker takes refuge — and finds hope and patience — in the knowledge that they need only one good employer to make them one outstanding job offer.

But you have to ask for — even demand — bigger salaries.

Peter Cappelli offers compelling tough love to employers, and advises “looking beyond just signing bonuses and modest wage increases, instead considering what’s possible in compensation in order to attract and retain the workforce you need and want.”

Could following my advice to demand bigger salaries lead a greedy employer to boot you to the curb because they’d like to hire you for less? Could the message in this column cost you a job offer entirely? Yep. So use your judgment and do the best you can.

Me? I’d ask for more because the data tell me profit-rich companies can afford it. If they’re not willing to share their rising profits with their workforce, I’ll go find an employer that will. It’s that kind of economy. The data tell us it’s that kind of job market.

Are bigger salaries a thing? Can you actually ask for the top end of a salary range and get it? What’s your experience? Got any examples of corporate greed and low-ball job offers? How have you gotten more money from an employer?

: :

Kick the job candidate out of your office

Kick the job candidate out of your office

Question

The current employment climate seems to be the new normal. At my company it’s just very difficult to get new hires. There’s a lot of speculation about why the labor market is so tight, but no one has really identified the reason. (Do you have any ideas?) That’s why I’m reconsidering how I interview a job candidate. Once I get them to meet with me, I want to optimize my chances of actually getting them on board, assuming they’re the right person! The traditional interview just doesn’t do it. Can you offer any tips on how a manager can run the job interview for a better outcome? I can’t afford to keep wasting good applicants! If I can pull this off I’ll be a hero. Thanks.

Nick’s Reply

job candidateI like a manager that realizes it’s time to upend the recruiting, interviewing and hiring process. My compliments. (We covered your question about why it’s so difficult to fill jobs and hire people in last week’s edition.)

I think what motivates a good candidate to want to work for you is the depth of the interview experience. Most interviews are superficial, canned, and uninspiring. If you can make your meeting truly engaging and memorable, I think you increase your chances of an offer being accepted dramatically.

Don’t interview in your office

I’ll offer you a specific tip that may help, and my guess is your HR department has never suggested it. The method is to break the script of the traditional interview entirely. The objective is to relax the job candidate so you can assess them more effectively, and to make it easier for you to get to know one another better in a realistic work context. I think this leads to wiser decisions about working together.

Note: I’m not going to give advice limited to our “virus age.” I know much interviewing during this time is done as remotely as some jobs are. In-person interviewing and hiring will return. These ideas can fit in either case with a bit of bending and twisting. Let’s discuss how in the Comments section below!
The first thing to do once you and the candidate have met is to kick the candidate out of your office! Yup — I’m serious. The worst place to interview anyone is in your office. Why? Because it’s a sterile box that’s removed from the action. It’s not where you’re going to learn whether they can do the job. And it’s not where they’re going to learn what they need to know to take a job with you.

Take the job candidate for a walk

When the candidate arrives for the interview, don’t sit down. Walk out of your office and take the candidate out onto your work floor. Whether it’s a marketing department or a production plant, start by introducing the candidate to your staff and showing them the work. Let them see your department. Show them the tools you use and the products you make. Let them meet your people. Encourage everyone to start talking and asking questions.

Encourage everyone to talk shop.

This way of assessing a candidate will quickly reveal to you why traditional interviews don’t work.

Traditional interviews don’t work

Typical interviews are indirect assessments, where you and the candidate spar over the Top Ten Stupid Interview Questions. What I’m suggesting is a hands-on experience where the focus is on the work of your department — and where you can directly assess the candidate’s personality, skills, attitude, smarts and fit with the job and your team. For example:

  • Show the candidate your products (discuss how the job affects product quality, delivery, etc.)
  • Show the candidate the tools they would use (see what they know about how the work is done)
  • Have the candidate sit in on a “live” work meeting (observe how they participate)
  • If there is a company cafeteria, take them to lunch, where they can meet loads of other employees (do they click?)
  • Introduce the candidate to managers and staff in departments “upstream and downstream” from the job they’d be doing, so they can see how their work would fit into the business (does the candidate understand the business?)

You will learn more about the candidate by exposing them to the rest of your team than you ever could by sitting in your office. You’ll learn how smart and how motivated they are by how they interact with you and your team, by the questions they ask, by the opinions they offer and by the skills they demonstrate. If you’ve really got a gem of a job applicant, they will dig in and show you how they’d do the job. You will also learn very quickly how they fit in with your other employees.

Help the candidate decide

If you’ve got a good job candidate, this approach should give them many data points, in a real, live setting, to help them decide whether to join up. Of course, this requires that you’re offering them a good job working with good people in a healthy company!

I call this Interviewing By Wandering Around™. When the job candidate and the manager are in the middle of the work, everyone relaxes and it’s easier to talk about what matters because there it all is, right in front of you: your business. A bonus is that no candidate can fake it in front of you and your entire team. There are no clever “behavioral interview” questions or answers to memorize.

Of course, if you have standard interview questions you like to ask, you can still ask them during your “cook’s tour.” But I’m betting some of those questions will suddenly seem silly to you. Why ask what a candidate did last year, when you can let them show you how they’d do this job now?

Kick the candidate out of your office if you want to entice them to come work with you. Show them around. I think you’ll both learn a lot about one another and your workplace.

Do traditional job interviews work? How about behavioral interviews? A job candidate often walks away from even a successful interview still unsure whether they want the job. What has a manager done to make you want to join up? How could my suggestions be applied if your interviews are not in-person?

: :

Rescinded job offer: Did you dodge a bullet?

Rescinded job offer: Did you dodge a bullet?

Question

I’d like to bring up an old subject — a rescinded job offer. I’ve been a reader for a while and have been helping my father in an interview process. He has been in the construction industry for 30-35 years and consistently climbed the ranks from laborer to owning his own construction company and hiring and managing project managers. He was recently approached for a president position at a mid-sized company. I spruced up his resume and helped him prepare for the interviews.

rescinded job offerAll went well. They said they wanted to grow the division to 3X its size under his leadership, and that they would make it worth his while. We were shocked when the offer came through without mention of any incentive plan to meet the ambitious growth objectives that were a cornerstone of their discussions. The offer was just a solid salary and a promise of a “review in 6 months.”

He was disappointed but still interested in the job, and he wanted to think it over for a few days. He had some concerns about the leadership team and the way this job would change his life. On day 2 they gave him a deadline to decide: evening of the next day. He replied, asking until the afternoon of day 4. On the afternoon of day 3 they rescinded the offer because they wanted someone who was “all in.”

I believe he dodged a bullet. The sudden rush for a decision, no plan to reward the ambitious growth they want him to commit to, and the sudden withdrawal of the offer —  these are all red flags to me. What are your thoughts? Am I off base?

Nick’s Reply

Last week we discussed how job opportunities go south. This is special case because a tendered job offer went south! Sometimes you cannot see an employer clearly until you witness its behavior after it makes you a job offer. These people sound like jerks, and I’ll explain what I mean in a minute.

What’s behind a rescinded job offer

First let’s look at the facts and at the employer’s behavior. These are signs a job offer might be rescinded.

  1. They came to your father; he didn’t approach them. In such situations, the employer should be extra respectful (they want you to marry them!) and deferential (no rush for intimacy!). This employer demonstrated neither the appropriate respect or deference.
  2. Their pitch was not matched by their offer. I agree – there should be terms in the offer about rewards for meeting the key objectives for the job. It appears that 3X growth is a cornerstone of this job, so where’s the support in the offer?
  3. You don’t woo someone that you really want to hire by giving them ultimatums.
  4. It seems to me this company was not “all in” on hiring your dad, and while there are several indications, it became starkly evident when they ignored his request for an extra day. Granting it would have been a courtesy — and a sign of good faith.

Based on what you’ve shared, I agree your dad dodged a bullet. I think the company rescinded the job offer because your dad’s hesitation signaled that he saw problems — and this employer likes its executives to be a little bit blind. The reason for my conclusion is simple: What you see is what you get. If he accepted the offer under these circumstances, he should expect to be treated exactly this way once he’s in the job.

Pursue dreams, not nightmares

Regular readers know that my mentor taught all his students this rule: “Never work with jerks.” The dismissive behavior of the company reveals jerks. Withholding a simple courtesy that your dad requested, and pulling the offer without any discussion, tells us all we need to know.

I know your dad is stinging a bit. It’s understandable that he was having dreams of running a larger company, growing a business, getting rewarded for doing a heavy lift (3X growth would indeed change his life!), and rising to the level he thinks he deserves. It’s hard when you can see it and taste it, it’s so close. But when we look at the reality of this deal, this company is not part of that dream. He’s got good dreams that he should absolutely pursue, except not with jerks that almost dragged him into a nightmare.

Turn the tables

The only advice I’d offer in retrospect is this. Since your dad had reservations about the management team, he could have bought more time to consider the offer. Rather than ask for more time to think about it, he could have turned the tables and asked for one more round of meetings with the executive team.

How to Say It
“For our mutual benefit, I’d like to make sure we’re all on the same page regarding the company’s ambitious growth plans. Before we finalize our decision to work together, I’d like to suggest we meet to review our objectives and plans for growth. Is your team available tomorrow?”

I could be wrong, but I think that might have bought him more time as well as more data points on which to base this important decision. I’m guessing the employer took more than 3 days to decide to make the offer! However, I don’t think any of this would have changed the outcome, except perhaps that your dad would have been the one to end the discussions.

Rescinded job offer? On to the next!

Please congratulate your dad on getting an offer to run a company. Even jerks recognize a talented manager, even if they don’t know to treat him. I’m sure your dad knows the difference between good people and jerks. In the throes of getting a job offer, we sometimes set aside our good judgment. Having had time to consider the signals this company gave off, I think your dad might see what life probably would have been like working there.

Please tell him I suggest that, now that he knows how to sell himself as a top executive, he should pursue that kind of job with good people at a healthy company that demonstrates respect and appropriate deference.

Some might view your conclusion and mine as “sour grapes.” But I really think the evidence you’ve shared tells us your dad dodged a bullet.

I hope something I’ve said is helpful. On to the next! I wish you both the best.

Is my analysis sour grapes? What could this executive job candidate have done differently? Was the employer to blame for rescinding this job offer? Have you ever dodged a bullet? What happened?

: :

Most job opportunities go south

Most job opportunities go south

Question

I went in for my interview and, as job opportunities go, all went great. I met with the HR manager and the Division Manager. They called me back in on Thursday to meet with the Regional Manager, since he was in town. It also went well. We mainly talked about outside activities and life experiences in a jovial laid-back manner. I went back in today to take a personality test.

I am forcing myself to not get too fired up about all of this. But, I have to think that no company would subject an applicant to all of this without leaning toward the hire. When should I begin to expect something in this process? I figure that there can’t be much more for me to do than meet with three six-figure managers and take a personality test. Is there?

Nick’s Reply

job opportunities“I have to think that no company would subject an applicant to all of this without leaning toward the hire.”

Expectations

Never, ever, ever succumb to this mindset. This is the point in the interview process where people start to set an expectation because they feel they’ve “invested so much.” They start to believe the employer is now “heavily invested,” too. And that sets their expectations.

Far, far worse, such expectations convince job seekers they can suspend further job searching “until this opportunity plays itself out.”

In fact, the best thing you can do next — once the interview process is done and you’re waiting for that offer — is to devote yourself to your next job opportunity. Let this one percolate, but don’t wait for the offer. You know what they say about watching water boil. Move on. Get your next interviews lined up!

Most job opportunities go south

The truth is, you have no idea what this employer’s threshold is for taking action. As a headhunter who has dealt with more interviews than you ever will, I can tell you that most job opportunities go south. Even when you think an offer is imminent, you won’t get the job. You’ll never know why. Don’t bother to guess. If you try, you’ll find nothing at the bottom of your frustration but self-doubt.

Do your best with this particular opportunity. Follow the process through. Ask for feedback and ask for a decision timetable. (That’s legit and important.) Maintain your enthusiasm, but don’t build expectations.

I’m not trying to discourage you. Motivation and a positive attitude are crucial. But never start believing “they’re going to make an offer, I can tell”. Because you can’t.

Don’t let this discourage you. I hope you get a great offer — and you might. But at this juncture it’s up to the employer. They control what they do next. Please use this advice to take control of what you do next. Never wait on the employer’s decision. Always be working on your next alternative — because most deals go south.

Were you convinced a job offer was coming, then it didn’t? What made you think so? Did you waste time waiting? If you’ve had this experience, what did you learn from it?

: :

 

Jobs vacant but managers seem in no rush to hire

Jobs vacant but managers seem in no rush to hire

Question

You’ve no doubt seen all the news items about how difficult it is to fill jobs these days because so many people aren’t interested in working. I’ve been trying to get a key job filled in my department. I’m in a rush to hire. I can tell you the competition is very stiff. Human Resources keeps losing hires to other employers, even though we’re making competitive job offers.

Today I’m really upset because, after 3 weeks of interviews (everyone was very positive about her) we lost a candidate I thought was a definite hire. When I spoke to her about 10 days ago I made it clear that an offer was being processed and I could tell how pleased she was! We just needed to get a final signature. (The finance manager that signs off was on a trip long put off because of the virus.) Finally HR told me they called her with the offer. She went to another company. What’s going on with people now?

Nick’s Reply

rush to hireI’m going to take a stab and read between the lines. You’ve lost lots of candidates you wanted to hire. You interviewed the most recent candidate over a period of three weeks — way too long. Then it seems you took over two weeks to get an offer out to her. My guess is that, in this highly competitive hiring market, you’re way too s-l-o-w… taking way too long to complete a hire.

Probably the single best way for a company to solve problems, boost productivity and be successful is to get the right people on board as quickly as possible. So, why does the hiring process seem to take longer than a presidential election campaign? Is it because we’re hiring presidents every day? Nope.

It’s because responsibility for hiring is broadly distributed. No one is really in charge of being in a rush to hire.

Who’s in a rush to hire?

It’s easy for a manager to think, “I’ve got the right candidate. I’m ready to hire! Now it’s HR’s job to put the offer together and make this happen.”

Or, “My V.P. has to sign off on this. It’s in his court.”

And, “I’m a busy manager. I don’t have time to baby-sit the job offer process.”

In today’s world, managers seem to have more important things to do than hiring the best people to do the work. For too many managers, hiring is not job #1. That’s why companies rely on HR departments and clerks to process employment paperwork — right? If managers like you spent their time just getting new hires on board, there would be no time left to run the business!

That’s the wrong attitude. Hiring is every manager’s #1 priority — or the business doesn’t run at all.

How long does it take to hire?

A search for statistics about how long it takes employers to make a hire turns up scarce recent data, which is revealing by itself. What’s the HR industry hiding? It appears to be such a tender nerve that reports from 2016 and 2017 are heavily cross-referenced even today. The most widely cited is from 2016.

The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) has reported that the average time to fill a position is 42 days. But, according to an OfficeVibe report, “The best candidates are off the market in 10 days.

Of course, time to hire varies by industry and position. We can only wonder how long it’s taking today, in the early post-COVID period when employers complain they can’t find enough good candidates. But common sense tells us that the faster you can hire, the better your chances of your offer being accepted.

My evidence is only anecdotal, but the best job seekers and candidates I’ve worked with say the employer that makes a good offer decisively and quickly scores big points. We don’t really have good, current data about how long it should take to fill a job. But we know that less is better. “We decided we want you now!” seems to count a lot to job applicants.

Managers: Make hiring job #1

Another thing candidates tell me is that they are impressed by can-do managers who take personal responsibility for getting them on board. “That’s the kind of boss I want!”

If you’re in a rush to hire, but you wait for HR to handle your hiring, consider this: You probably can’t fill vacant jobs because another manager in another company (One of your competitors?) is stealing your best candidates. She’s hand-walking a job offer through the system, pushing aside the obstacles, riding herd on her boss until the documents are signed, riding herd on the HR department to do its job, and getting everything processed the same day. The return on this manager’s time investment is huge. She’s got a new employee on the job, getting the work done.

Meanwhile, you’ve got vacant jobs. Your investment in this last candidate just got lost on the way through “the approval process.” Your top candidate went to work for your competitor. Impressed with the other manager’s can-do attitude, “your” candidate took the other offer. (See Why HR should get out of the hiring business.)

If you’re a manager, next time don’t be so busy. Replace the wait-for-HR-to-do-it attitude with your own initiative and expedited process. Make sure you’re interviewing only the best candidates. Interview faster. Eliminate delays. Make faster decisions. Hand-walk the job offer through the approval process the same day. Or, prepare to spend your valuable time interviewing more candidates while your competitor is busy hiring them.

Are job offers flying out fast? Are managers showing any rush to fill jobs? Whether you’re a job seeker or a hiring manager, what do you think hampers efficient hiring? What obstacles have you encountered? What could employers do to speed up the process?

: :

Salary Negotiation: How much to ask for

Salary Negotiation: How much to ask for

Question

salary negotiationWe’re told that whoever mentions a number first in a salary negotiation loses. When employers also demand to know our current salary, that just makes matters worse. So what are we supposed to do in a job interview when this comes up? How do we know how much to ask for and when to do it?

Nick’s Reply

This question came up in a Zoom workshop I did today for about 50 job seekers in a professional group in New Jersey. It triggered a wild discussion. It was great! And I think it’s worth having our own discussion about this important topic here.

I’ll start!

The silly salary negotiation myth

The myth that “whoever says a number first in a salary negotiation loses” has become penny-ante advice served by self-anointed negotiation experts and career coaches who feel safe telling you “it’s best not to say or do anything!”

That’s bunk. Researchers in behavioral economics give us clear guidance from their work on the anchor effect. To wit:

“A well-known cognitive bias in negotiation, anchoring is the tendency to give too much weight to the first number put on the table and then inadequately adjust from that starting point…”

What this essentially tells us is that whoever puts the first number out there can effectively control the final number agreed upon. That Harvard Law School reference isn’t much fun to read. If you’re serious about negotiating, please study William Poundstone’s excellent (and very readable) Priceless: The Myth of Fair Value (and How to Take Advantage of It).

Then read Predictably Irrational by the brilliant behavioral economist Dan Ariely. Don’t fall victim to old wives’ (or husbands’) tales about who goes first. Who wins is who knows what they want and takes control of the negotiation immediately.

Why salary is called compensation

In the rush to negotiate the best deal possible, job hunters every day forget what they’re negotiating for. You’re not negotiating money. You’re negotiating the price of freedom to do the job without distraction.

The money and benefits a company bestows on you in exchange for your services should completely free you from worry about the demands of your personal life so that you can devote your time to, and focus your energy on, the work the employer needs you to do.

Literally speaking, a good job offer should “relieve, equalize or neutralize… pressure or stress” associated with any aspect of your life that might distract you from the job. That’s what compensation means.

It matters that you’re earning what you’re worth and that you’re earning all you can. But, a good job offer starts with a company taking care of your needs so you can take care of its needs. It ensures that the employer has a healthy worker. That’s the foundation of a good deal. And that’s why it’s called compensation. (A living wage is fundamental to commerce. It’s why I take the position that a healthy national minimum wage is so important.)

How to decide how much you want

So, how much salary, or pay, or compensation do you tell an employer you want?

Once we understand the anchor effect, we want to make our stated desired salary as high as possible — without jeopardizing a job offer altogether, if we can help it. We want to make our number the anchor for negotiating.

It’s important to have an idea of how much money you’re worth when considering a particular job. But, it’s also important to know how much you want. This is a very personal decision.

Few things are more painful than accepting an offer only to realize that you were wrong about what you really wanted. I have a simple method to help a job candidate understand what they want with regard to pay.

Consider the specific job at hand and ask yourself three questions, so that you’ll have three ascending figures to work with:

  1. What is the least amount of money I would accept to take this job?
  2. What kind of an offer would put a smile on my face and make me happy to take the job?
  3. How much money would make me jump up and down with glee, and make me want to start work tomorrow? (Caution: this last figure must be reasonable.)

Don’t take the job unless you can negotiate the offer to somewhere between (2) and (3). If an offer isn’t going to at least make you happy (2), it’s not worth accepting. If it doesn’t come close to making you jump with glee (3), the job probably won’t, either.

Express this number as a range so you’ll have wiggle room. You might even note to the employer that if you learn during your interviews that the actual job turns out to be materially more involved or demanding than what they expressed, then your range may change, too.

Finally, ask them whether that’s in their range, and whether they want to proceed with serious discussions about working together —- that is, a complete job interview. It’s actually best to point out that since you’ve disclosed what you want, you’d like to know what their salary range is for the job. But most employers won’t tell you.

Who wears the negotiating pants?

Employers could save themselves a lot of time and trouble by setting a realistic anchor when they post a job. They should post the salary range with it! Why is it a secret anyway? In my experience, most of them are surprisingly naïve. They believe they really might get a bargain because they’re such good negotiators! They’d do better to invest time with candidates that know the salary range in advance. That’s right: A smart employer will set the anchor point first!

Now for the put-on-your-big-boy-or-girl-pants. Two things.

First, if you’re afraid that naming a salary range will put you at risk of getting a lower offer than the employer is willing to pay, let me put your mind at ease. It is highly unlikely that the employer will hear your range and smirk to themselves, “Wow! What a fool! We were going to offer double that! We’ll save a ton!”

It doesn’t happen. At worst you might leave a few dollars on the table. Chump change compared to the salary. If  you want to wear the pants in a negotiation, take control of the terms immediately.

Second, the far greater risk is letting them set the anchor. That is, you state no range at all and then the employer makes a low offer after you have invested hours and hours talking with them. Now you’re forced to negotiate from a lower number.

Salary Negotiation: Know what you want and say it

If you don’t establish that anchor before the interviews start, don’t be surprised when the employer sets the anchor with the job offer. Oh, you can negotiate. But unless you are a truly stellar candidate, the final offer is not likely to be much higher.

Know what you want. Don’t be afraid to set the anchor. And be ready to hitch up your pants and walk away if the offer is not what you want — or more.

How do you negotiate compensation? At what point do you make clear what you want? What makes you walk away from an interview or a job offer? Has anyone ever told you it’s crass or unprofessional to bring money up “too soon?” Has an employer ever told you that “your concern about money reveals that you care more about money than about the job and our company?”

: :

Negotiate salary but leave something on the table

Negotiate salary but leave something on the table

A reader wants to negotiate salary without being greedy, in the December 8, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter.

Question

negotiate salaryEmployers never make their best offer. You have to negotiate for a few rounds. I’ve read books and articles that give you tactics to improve an offer. I definitely want to get the most money I can, but I don’t want to press so hard that I talk them out of an offer altogether or come off like a jerk. What do you advise?

Nick’s Reply

Negotiate salary to get all you can, of course. But don’t be greedy.

Too often, people get battered by stingy employers in salary negotiations. This creates a climate in which job candidates feel there’s no choice but to turn up the heat to get every buck they can. I expect we’ll hear some ire about my advice: When you negotiate compensation, leave something on the table. Be assertive, but don’t be greedy.

I’d like to caution you that some employers do make their best offer off the bat. If you have reason to believe otherwise, go for it. But only a naïve job seeker automatically asks for more. Take stock of the specific employer. Use your judgment.

So, what am I talking about?

Leave something on the table

In America we are taught to eat heartily but not to take the last portion from the serving plate, out of respect for the generosity of our host. This is a good lesson in salary negotiations, too. Get all you need, but leave something on the table as a show of respect to your new employer.

Does this mean you should decline more money? Of course not. But remember that a job offer can have several components. Smart job hunters know how to negotiate for more than salary.

Negotiate more than salary

For example, a cornucopia of compensation components may be on the table: salary, bonus, performance incentives, relocation costs, vacation, company stock, job title, first review, tools to be used on the job, and so on. The more components you negotiate, the more you might be able to win — and the more opportunity you have to make some concessions as a show of respect and reciprocation.

For more about the many levers you can pull to negotiate compensation, check out Fearless Job Hunting, Book 9: Be The Master of Job Offers.

For a limited time, you can save 50% on this and any other Ask The Headhunter PDF book! Use discount code HOLLY50 at checkout. Order now!holly50

A negotiation should never be adversarial and it should never include only demands. A good negotiation is a friendly acknowledgment and frank discussion of each party’s needs and limits.

For example, a candidate may not be able to accept less than a certain base salary because of fixed family expenses. A company may not be able to pay a higher salary due to budgetary constraints. As a solution to these issues, the candidate might forgo a higher salary if the company agrees to a guaranteed bonus to be paid every six months for two years until the new employee has a chance to get promoted and earn raises. (Part of the secret behind this is that bonuses are not fixed costs on the employer’s ledger, like salaries are.) The only way to get creative is to talk it through together.

Respect

Respect is paramount in a successful negotiation. (If you feel an employer is not negotiating in good faith, then nothing you consent to is going to make this a good place to work! Walk away.) That’s why such discussions are handled better on the phone than in e-mail, and better in person than on the phone. That is, make it as personal as circumstances permit — but face to face is best.

If both parties are to understand one another, a job interview requires a personal, nuanced exchange. So does negotiating the terms of employment. This promotes personal responsibility and a higher regard for one another’s needs. And that’s where concessions are important.

Negotiate a relationship

When you’re dealing with a good employer that demonstrates a high regard for you and your needs, don’t automatically apply tactics to get every dollar you think you can. Consider the long-term value of demonstrating your ability to let the other guy win, too. The end of your negotiations marks the beginning of a business relationship. What do you want that to look and feel like to you and to your new employer?

Take what you need, but leave something on the table as a sign of respect for the other party’s willingness to negotiate with you. If the employer is worth working for, this can pay off after you start your job, because you will be regarded as a worker who is concerned not only for their own well-being, but also for the employer’s.

Get 50% off on all Ask The Headhunter PDF books! Limited time. Use discount code HOLLY50 at checkout.

Is it worth a few bucks to signal your belief in a win-win deal? Did you ever fight for every last dollar in a salary negotiation only to regret it? What happened? On the other hand, did you win big and still make everybody happy? Tell us about it!

: :

Is this employer a Mickey Mouse operation?

Is this employer a Mickey Mouse operation?

How can you figure out whether a company is a Mickey Mouse operation before you start working there? A reader wants to know, in the November 17, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter.

Question

Mickey Mouse operationOnce I determine that I can “do the work” for the prospective employer, and that I really do want the job, how do I find out if it is a Mickey Mouse operation? In my experience, it requires being an insider and six months’ time to determine that. Are there any ways to figure it out in advance? Thanks.

Nick’s Reply

Perhaps you’ve heard the old saying, “Be careful what you wish for. You might get it!” So it is with job offers — you might get one without knowing the truth about the company until it’s too late.

What is a Mickey Mouse operation?

“Mickey Mouse” means different things to different people. To me, it describes any poorly organized and managed company. To you, it might mean something very specific. For example, a company that’s successful but makes mediocre products, or one that has high employee turnover.

Whatever the problem is, it’s not unusual for job hunters to suddenly find themselves with an offer in hand, wondering why the heck they went after a questionable company. We sometimes pursue opportunities for no other reason than because they’re there, or because we are invited and we are too flattered to refuse.

Judge first, then apply

This is why I advise doing all the tough research before you apply to a company. This is why — contrary to conventional wisdom — it’s imprudent to pursue dozens of companies at a time. It’s also why I advise pursuing companies, not jobs. You need to know in advance whether the company is worth working for, and exactly why you’re talking to them about a particular job. That takes considerable effort and it requires making prudent choices about where to invest your time.

Don’t wait until an offer is made. Judge a company before you even apply for a job. I think you will find that a surprising number of employers will not withstand simple scrutiny. If they do, keep judging through the interview process.

Use the interview to vet the company

For more tips on how to judge an employer before and after a job interview, please see “How to pick worthy companies” in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 5: Get The Right Employer’s Attention. This PDF guide includes an expanded version of this Q&A column.

Can’t find information about a company because it’s not public? The guide also includes “Scuttlebutt: Get the truth about private companies.”

Of course, you can’t learn all you need to know through advance research. You must continue to ask the tough questions during the interview. Make sure the answers sit comfortably with you. While I agree that there are things you will learn only after months on the job, there’s a lot you can do to vet a company in advance.

Before the interview, cover these bases:

  • Start at the top. Research the industry the company is in. Is it sound? Are its prospects good?
  • Study the industry press and watchdog organizations. Do they demonstrate respect for this company? How do they portray the company’s status in the industry?

In the interview, don’t miss these points:

  • What does the company need to do to meet its goals? How does your job fit?
  • Who are the people in other departments who will affect your ability to do your job successfully? Meet them. Look for facilitators and debilitators.

After you have an offer, schedule a follow-up meeting before you accept:

  • Confirm the authority you’ll have in your job. People often confuse authority and responsibility. Some companies demand results without giving employees enough control and discretion over their work.
  • Get a close look at the entire written benefits package, company policies and employee handbook. Some companies are funny about divulging these critical documents, but you have a right to see them before you accept a job. The quality of a company is usually revealed in how it treats employees.

Avoid Mickey Mouse operations

Good companies comprise good people. The managers and employees you meet should be above board, honest and willing to candidly discuss issues that are important to a new recruit. Don’t be unreasonable or rude, but don’t settle for less than full disclosure.

If anyone is put off by your diplomatic inquiries about the company, the people, and the job, then look elsewhere because you probably won’t be happy working for Mickey Mouse.

What does “Mickey Mouse operation” mean to you? What do you look for when judging an employer? If you’ve made a mistake about a company you joined, what do you wish you had asked or looked for before you accepted the job?

: :

How can I negotiate for this job?

How can I negotiate for this job?

A reader doesn’t know how much is too much to negotiate for, in the September 29, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter.

Question

negotiateI’m on the cusp of getting a job offer for a position in another city, doing accounting for a large law firm. It’s not a high-level professional job by any means, but it is something that could lead to it.

The supervisor of the department said to me “tell us what we need to do to get you here” or something to that effect. My question is, what do I ask for? I’ve never really negotiated anything except salary before, so I don’t know what is “too much” to ask for, as far as moving costs, or an advance for an apartment deposit. I know companies pull out all the stops for higher-up folks (management, lawyers, etc.), but I’m not sure what is common for the level I’m at now (mid $50K, I hope).

Would I be out of line to negotiate for help on a deposit for an apartment? This opportunity is very sudden and unfortunately I don’t have the funds saved up for getting a new apartment right away. However, I don’t want them laughing at me if I ask for too much. However, they do seem like they want me pretty badly. Any thoughts are appreciated!

Nick’s Reply

Congrats on impressing this firm. It seems what you’re trying to negotiate is salary, of course, but also your relocation, in a way that keeps you whole in a new city.

First, check moving.com, a useful site about relocation. Second, sit down and figure out the answer to the question you were asked: What do they need to do to get you? It seems clear you’re not looking for the moon, so I’m worried less that you’ll ask for too much and more that you won’t negotiate for what you really would like.

Before you negotiate

Break this into a short list for yourself. What are the realistic costs of:

  • Moving your stuff: moving company, truck rental, gas, storage, etc.
  • Travel including two round trips later if necessary
  • Getting a new apartment, including the deposit
  • Cost of living difference
  • Leaving your current job (lost bonus, vacation time, etc.)

I would not share this in detail with the employer unless they ask for a break-out (I don’t think they will). The point is to understand what you need and want. If your total number is reasonable, that may be all that’s required.

Make it easy for the employer

Here’s a little accounting secret about how to negotiate everything other than salary: Employers hate to grant recurring payments, like a higher salary, but they’re often willing to incur a one-time cost, like a signing bonus or a relocation expense. Many companies see that as reasonable. Be flexible and make it easy for the employer to satisfy your needs.

For example, consider whether you need a loan or a “signing bonus.” A loan payable via payroll deduction may be sufficient to get you moved. But I’m not saying you should not ask for an outright payment.

Be careful about any relocation agreement: Is there a claw-back, where if you quit in less than, say, a year, you’d have to give the money back? There are all kinds of ways to structure this.

Negotiate for more by asking for less

Smart negotiating keeps things simple and brief. You can actually ask for more by enumerating fewer line items. Most employers don’t care about the specifics. They just want to know “how much?”

For example, you need not break out the apartment deposit as a line item; just bundle it into the “moving cost” figure. You can also include the costs of a trip or two back home to wrap up personal matters that your sudden move might require. Do the travel on weekends to avoid eating into work time, or don’t do it at all — but it may be reasonable to request the price of those trips.

The key is to not get overly detailed unless they ask for details, and to provide just a few line items that make sense along with figures that aren’t off the wall.

Negotiate by making a commitment and discussing the terms

My suggestion is to negotiate through discussion, not by begging or demanding. It helps to make it clear that you’re ready to accept the job and start work if they can provide for your reasonable needs. So, start with a commitment and a thank-you for their flexibility.

“I want to accept this job with you, and I appreciate that you’re trying to make it attractive to me. Why don’t we discuss what would work for both of us?”

This tells them they’ve won you over and that it’s worth their while now to work out the details with you.

How to Say It

Here’s how you might discuss salary and the cost to “get you there” in one fell swoop. Please use this only as a guideline. Use only what you’re comfortable with and put it in your own words. Raise only as many details as you think you must.

“I appreciate your offer to do what’s necessary to help make this happen quickly and painlessly, and I’m open to discussing any of these items. The cost of living difference between your city and mine [check this on moving.com] is +10%, so I’d like to discuss a salary of between $55K and $60K. Since you asked, my actual move will cost $2,500. If you need me to start as soon as possible, I will need to make two weekend trips back in the first month to wrap up some personal matters, and economy airfares would total about $400. If I leave my job before they pay my bonus, which is due in two months, I’ll be leaving between $1,000-$1,500 of bonus behind. If you can do anything to compensate for even half of that I’d be very happy. To answer your question, to bring me on board quickly, in addition to salary I’d ask that you consider helping me cover these transition costs that come to a total of $3,500. I’m ready to start!”

Include only items that you think are justified. The items I’ve enumerated are just examples. Just make sure that, overall, you’re covering your costs, no matter which items you’re actually listing. For example, I’d bury the cost of the apartment deposit. I wouldn’t list it explicitly because it might sound odd that you’re an accountant but can’t swing the deposit on your own.

This firm has already indicated a commitment to hiring you, so treat them like family, and have a friendly, candid discussion about what they have to do to get you.

I hope this helps and I wish you the best.

What would you try to negotiate in this situation? How should this reader tally up and discuss requirements to make this move attractive? Have you ever tried to negotiate for too much… or not enough… and then regretted it?

: :

Employment Contracts: Everyone needs promise protection

Employment Contracts: Everyone needs promise protection

By Bernard C. Dietz, Esq.

You would never think of buying a home without a written contract setting out all of the details of the sale. It would be impossible to buy a new car without signing a contract that sets out the price to be paid and the terms of the deal. And you can’t get a credit card without signing a formal application contract.

So why do people routinely accept job offers without written employment contracts?

employment contractsEmployment contracts aren’t just for CEOs

Your job is the source of the income used to pay for your house, your new car and your credit cards, yet very few people have written contacts with the companies that hire them detailing the terms of their employment. Sure, CEOs and other senior executives have written contracts covering their jobs, but why don’t the rest of us?

The vast majority of the workforce would benefit from a written contract that covers how we’ll be treated, how we’ll be compensated, what we’ll be doing, and more. Otherwise, what governs all of the time we spend away from our families five or more days a week? It is important and prudent to ensure that promises made at hiring time will be respected during the course of employment.

The problems with verbal job offers

In general, at the time of an offer and acceptance of a new job, most new employees are verbally told the details of their new employment, including the rate at which they’ll be paid. But verbal offers are not good for employees for a few reasons:

  1. If the information is not written down and there is a dispute or misunderstanding as to what was said in the past, you will find it very difficult to prove your version of the original agreement.
  2. The manager that made all of the verbal promises may move to another part of the company, or quit, or be fired, leaving no confirmation of your agreement. (See: Gotcha! Get job offer concessions in writing!)
  3. The manager may not have been authorized by the company to make certain promises to you, and the company may refuse to stand behind the manager. The consequences can be profound if you have already resigned your old job and uprooted your family for the new one.

Unless the promises made at hiring time are somehow secured, it can be difficult or impossible — and costly — to enforce them.

An offer letter is not enough

Sometimes, employers provide new hires with an offer letter. This is a good start — a written document that could function as a contract, except that these letters often include statements that negate their contract value.

Problematic statements include:

  • “the terms of the offer letter are subject to change in the future,” and
  • “new employees agree to and are bound by the terms of our employee handbook”.

Too often, the new employee doesn’t get to see the handbook until after the hire is made, and the handbook almost always states that it is subject to change at any time by the company. (See Employers shouldn’t keep secrets from job applicants.)

When the terms of a job offer are subject to change, it isn’t good for the new employee. There are no concrete promises to ensure that the employee is getting (and giving) what was agreed to at the time the job offer was accepted.

At will: The mistake companies make

The number one reason employers are reluctant — or refuse — to provide employment contracts to the vast majority of employees is because:

“We want to be able to fire the employee if we feel they’re not working out, and we don’t want a contract to limit our ability to do this.”

This concern arises from the concept of “at-will employment.”

Simply stated, when a company hires someone at will, it can fire the employee for any or no reason at any time. (Likewise, the employee is free to quit the job.) Most states in the U.S. are considered at-will states, where the legal presumption is that, absent a contract stating otherwise, all employees are at-will employees and employers can fire them for any or no reason at all (other than for reasons of discrimination, of course).

But companies confuse at-will employment with employment contracts. Employers often believe that having a contract with an employee automatically eliminates the freedom of at-will status. This is simply incorrect.

More about employment contracts: Employment At-Will vs. The LeBron James Rule.
A true contract defines a term of time for the employment period, making the arrangement predictable for both parties. It can include an at-will clause. An essential part of the employment contract should be the term, or length of time, of the agreement, which may be six months, a year, or at will, which means “for as long as we both agree to keep it going but either party can end it at any time.” Thus, other important terms can be enforced without limiting the freedom to part company at any time.

The benefits of good employment contracts

When a company misunderstands at-will employment, it misses the clarity and benefits offered by employment contracts. With a well-written employment contract, settling disputes regarding an employment becomes a much simpler and less expensive proposition for both sides.

As with any contract, at the first sign of a dispute the contract can simply be reviewed to confirm the rights and responsibilities of each side. If the contract is not being upheld by the employer or employee and it can’t be resolved by discussion or negotiation, then a lawsuit may be filed. But of course, a central reason for a good contract is to avoid litigation.

When there is a written agreement to refer to, the decision of who is right or who is wrong may be decided quickly as a matter of contract law, rather than as a protracted matter of “he said-she said.”

A good contract protects promises

An employment contract doesn’t have to be a long, difficult document, and it can be tailored for any employee. First and foremost, the contract should protect promises made by both parties at the time of hiring. Both an employee and an employer should look for these simple but very important terms in a contract:

  • The position being offered and accepted
  • The compensation that will be paid
  • Whether the employment is for a set length of time or at will
  • Specifics regarding vacation time and sick leave and whether such time accrues from year to year
  • The responsibilities of both parties with regards to the work to be done and the work environment
  • Terms of separation in the event the employee is terminated or resigns, including guaranteed severance terms and pay, depending on whether separation is “for cause.”

The last item is especially important if there is any post-employment non-compete agreement (NCA) or restrictive covenants. It’s fine to agree to stay out of your employer’s game, as long as you’re being paid to sit on the sidelines.

The contract should be signed by the company and the employee. If you’re the employee, you should store a copy in a safe place, like the safe deposit box where you keep the deed for your house and the title for your car. The contract for your job is at least as important as those documents.

Employment contracts are good for everyone

Having a written contract benefits both the employee and the employer because it makes a clear, definitive record of what everyone is agreeing to at the time of the agreement. These contracts are not just for executives, though an employment contract for an executive will be more complex and detailed than for a staff employee or a middle manager.

Anyone would rest more easy knowing that the details of employment are set down in writing, both to promote success of the working relationship and to avoid controversies. (See: Job offer rescinded after I quit my old job.)

Employment contracts are good for everyone. The main benefit for employers is that they don’t have to worry about potential verbal promises made by a rogue manager that could come back to haunt them. A company can, if it chooses, make it clear that the employment is not promised for any set length of time. The main benefit for employees is that they are protected if their management changes and if memories fade about promises that were made. The contract ensures promises will be kept.

: :


Bernard C. Dietz is a retired attorney.