Goodbye to low-ball salary offers

Question

f-off-2I read that Massachusetts made it illegal for employers to require your salary history when you apply for a job. I always thought this was wrong to begin with. It’s how companies “justify” low-ball salary offers. This seems to back up what you’ve been saying all along — but what about those of us who don’t work in Massachusetts?

Nick’s Reply

I told you so.

Job applicants have been getting screwed by HR departments since time immemorial through intimidation and badgering:

“We can’t proceed with your application until you tell us what you’re getting paid now. It’s the policy!”

This is a popular topic on Ask The Headhunter, and I advise people to just say NO. (See Salary History: Can you afford to say NO? and Keep Your Salary Under Wraps.) When employers demand to know your salary, it’s for just one reason: to low-ball any offer they make you.

And now everybody knows it.

It’s illegal to threaten job applicants

The state of Massachusetts just passed a law: Illegal in Massachusetts: Asking Your Salary in a Job Interview (New York Times). No longer will HR threaten to “end the application process” if you won’t tell your salary.

The dirty little secret is out:

“Companies tend to set salaries for new hires using their previous pay as a base line… which often leaves applicants with the nagging suspicion that they might have been offered more money if the earlier figure had been higher.”

Duh.

The impetus behind this new law is to end pay disparity between men and women. (See Don’t blame women for the gender pay gap!) But the problem is much, much bigger.

Employers are the dummies

When employers make job interviews dependent on disclosing your old salary, everyone gets hurt — men and women. Even dopey employers get hurt, because their silly insistence elicits guffaws and “Screw you!” from the best job seekers, who won’t be intimidated and won’t give away their negotiating edge.

The New York Times points out — duh — that:

“The new law will require hiring managers to state a compensation figure upfront — based on what an applicant’s worth is to the company, rather than on what he or she made in a previous position.”

Read the boldface again. Employers will have to figure out what you’re worth.

Jeez. What a concept for a business! What an indictment of the stupid employment system that HR departments have propped up for decades.

No competitive edge

Employers who base job offers on what another employer paid you are admitting five things:

  1. They really, really believe people (workers) are fungible — interchangeable parts.
  2. They’re incapable of assessing your value to their own business.
  3. They’re willing to judge you based on what one of their business competitors came up with.
  4. They believe your worth to one employer is the same as your worth to any employer.
  5. They have no competitive edge on judging value.

This new law is good for employers because it will force them to hire smarter and to be more competitive. Of course, they may need to fire their HR departments and whip their managers into shape. It’s time for employers to figure out how any new hire will contribute to the bottom line.

Jeez. What a concept.

Kudos to Massachusetts for being the first state to outlaw salary intimidation in job applications and interviews. I think the rest of the nation will soon follow.

noJust say NO

If you don’t live and work in Massachusetts, you still can and should say NO when employers demand your current salary. Smart employers will back off. The rest aren’t worth a job interview, because if they don’t take advantage of you up front, they’ll do it later.

Ask The Headhunter subscribers have been saying NO — politely, firmly and successfully — for a long time:

“The hiring manager more or less offered me the position on the spot and indicated a salary range that is roughly 40-50% more than I make now. Your two biggest lessons (at least for me) at work in the flesh: (1) Never divulge my current salary, and (2) Talk about what I will do, not what I’ve done.” -Rich Mok

“Despite both the headhunter and the company insisting I disclose what I was getting paid at my old job, I stuck to my guns and I was able to double my salary. Plus I got a signing bonus. That would have never happened in a million years if I had caved!” – Bernie Dietz

“I was headhunted for a lucrative job at another company and, following your advice, did not state my current salary, nor did I even hint at its range. Thanks to your book, Keep Your Salary Under Wraps, I ended up with a 40% increase on my previous job and salary! Thanks!” – Daniel Slate

Say goodbye to low-ball salary offers — at least those based on your old salary. Employers can still low-ball you. And the best way to avoid that is to be prepared to show why you’d be the most profitable hire. Don’t be a dummy yourself. See How do I prove I deserve a higher job offer?

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Is my MBA degree hurting me?

Quick Question

How do I overcome, on a resume or in an interview, the fact that my MBA is from the University of Phoenix? I graduated in 2006. UoP has received so much bad press that I’m concerned my education will not be taken seriously, and that it might be a detriment to my career advancement. Thank you for your advice.

Nick’s Quick Advice

What’s happened with UoP is unfortunate, but don’t let it get in your way.

It seems that MBA degrees have the most impact on hiring decisions when they come from big-name schools. Otherwise, they don’t seem to mean a lot “out of the box.” (That is, on your resume.) Of course, if you learned something while getting the MBA (like finance) that’s necessary for a job you want, then it may make a difference. I’m not knocking MBA degrees.

Putting UoP’s reputation aside, I think what matters more than any kind of degree is personal referrals and recommendations. That’s what gets you in the door. There is nothing like a personal, professional endorsement. Employers consistently say that’s the biggest factor, aside from the applicant’s skills and experience.

Likewise, contrary to the marketing hype, your resume is not your “marketing piece,” nor will it get you in the door. Used by itself, all it does is force you into the Resume Grinder where an algorithm will sort you among millions of your competitors.

Personal referrals are a much more powerful alternative.

You can’t change the name of the school on your MBA. But you can do a lot to leverage good referrals. For advice on how to do that, see Please stop networking.

There’s lots more advice on this topic in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 3: Get in The Door (way ahead of your competition). See especially the sections titled:

  • “It’s the people, Stupid” pp. 5-8 (No, you’re not stupid, but this article will show you how people act stupidly when they don’t focus on  personal referrals.)
  • “Drop the ads and pick up the phone” pp. 9-11

Most important, to learn how to turn references into referrals, see:

  • “Don’t provide references — launch them” pp. 23-25

Don’t worry about your MBA. Just get to work on personal referrals. And be careful about where you buy your education!

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HR Managers: Do your job, or get out

In the June 28, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, several readers raise questions about HR that we can’t keep ignoring.

Questions

this-way-outReader 1: Back in the 20th century, employers actually reviewed resumes by reading them rather than scanning them into a computerized ranking system. Keywords have turned hiring into a pass-the-buck game, with HR complaining it can’t find talent! Well, HR isn’t looking for talent. HR isn’t looking for anything. Phony algorithms are keeping the talent unemployed while HR gets paid to do something else! The question is, what is HR doing?

Reader 2: Two weeks after receiving a written offer from this company — and after I quit my old job and moved — HR sends me an e-mail saying there’s no job. That’s right: They hired me and fired me before I started! What am I supposed to do now? I can’t go back to my old job — I quit. The HR person who gave me the offer still has her job. Shouldn’t she be fired?

Reader 3: I was selected for a new, better job paying more money after rounds of interviews. I was all set to start when my HR department called me in to say the job was withdrawn due to budget problems. This was for a promotion at my own company! How did they have the budget a month ago when they posted the job and gave it to me, but not now? What can I do?

Reader 4: My friend attended a business roundtable where multiple employers complained they couldn’t find people. She stood up and said she was a member of several large job-search networking groups, with an aggregate membership of thousands in the Boston area. She offered to put them in touch, help them post positions, and contacted them multiple times afterwards to help facilitate this. Nobody has taken her up on it. Talent shortage my…!

Nick’s Reply

This edition of Ask The Headhunter is dedicated to good Human Resources (HR) managers who work hard to ensure their companies behave with integrity and in a businesslike manner toward job applicants — and who actually recruit.

This is also a challenge to the rest. Do the readers’ complaints above mystify or offend you? You cannot pretend to manage “human resources” while allowing your companies — and your profession — to run amuck in the recruiting and hiring process.

The problems described above are on you — on HR. It’s your job to fix them. Either raise your HR departments’ standards of behavior, or quit your jobs and eliminate the HR role altogether at your companies.

Here are some simple suggestions about very obvious problems in HR:

Stop rescinding offers.

oopsBudget problems may impact hiring and internal promotions, but it’s HR’s job to make sure all the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed before HR makes offers that impact people’s lives. Don’t make job offers if you don’t have the authority to follow through. If your company doesn’t give you that authority, then quit your job because you look like an idiot for having a job you’re not allowed to do. What happens to every job applicant is on you. (See Pop Quiz: Can an employer take back a job offer?)

Stop recruiting people then ignoring them.

In other words, stop soliciting people you have no intention of interviewing or hiring. More is not better. If it’s impossible to handle all job applicants personally and respectfully, then you’re recruiting the wrong people and too many of them. Either treat every applicant with the respect you expect them to show you and your company, or stop recruiting — until you have put a system in place that’s accurate and respectful. Having control over people’s careers isn’t a license to waste anyone’s time. Your company’s rudeness in hiring starts with you. (See How HR optimizes rejection of millions of job applicants.)

Stop recruiting stupidly.

stupidThe job of recruiting is about identifying and enticing the right candidates for jobs at your company. It’s not about soliciting everyone who has an e-mail address, and then complaining your applicants are unqualified or unskilled. You can’t fish with a bucket.

You say you use the same services everyone else uses to recruit? Where’s the edge in that? Paying Indeed or LinkedIn or Monster.com so you can search for needles in their haystacks is not recruiting. It’s stupid. Soliciting too many people who are not good candidates means you’re not doing your job. If you don’t know how to recruit intelligently, get another job. (See Reductionist Recruiting: A short history of why you can’t get hired.)

Stop demanding salary history.

It’s. None. Of. Your. Business. And it makes you look silly.

tell-meI have a standing challenge to anyone in HR: Give me one good reason why you need to know how much money a job applicant is making. No HR worker has ever been able to explain it rationally.

It’s private information. It’s personal. It’s private. It’s shameful to ask for it. Do you tell job applicants how much you make, or how much the manager makes, or how much the last person in the job was paid? If you need to know what another employer paid someone in order to judge what your company should pay them, then you’re worthless in the hiring process. You don’t know how to judge value. HR is all about judging the value of workers. You don’t belong in HR. (See Should I disclose my salary history?)


Get an edge when HR gets in your way!

Ask The Headhunter PDF Books

Fearless Job Hunting

How Can I Change Careers?

Keep Your Salary Under Wraps

How to Work With Headhunters

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Employment Tests: Get The Edge!

Overcome the daunting obstacles that stop other job hunters dead in their tracks!


Stop avoiding hiring decisions.

In a market as competitive as today’s, if it takes you weeks to make a hiring decision after interviewing candidates, then either you’re not managing human resources properly, or you’re not managing the hiring managers in your company. Qualified job applicants deserve answers. Taking too long to make a choice means you have no skin in the game, and that makes you a dangerous business person. After you waste too many applicants’ time, your reputation — and your company’s — is sealed. With a rep like that, good luck trying to get hired yourself.

Stop complaining there’s a talent or skills shortage.

There’s not. With 19.5 million people unemployed, under-employed, and looking for work (even if they’re no longer counted as cry-babypart of the workforce), there’s plenty of talent out there to fill the 5.6 million vacant jobs in America. (See News Flash! HR causes talent shortage!) Recruit is a verb. Get out there and find the talent!

If your idea of recruiting is to sit on your duff and wait for Mr. or Ms. Perfect to come along on your “Applicant Tracking System,” then quit your job. If your idea of recruiting is to pay a headhunter $20,000 to fill an $80,000 job, then you are the talent shortage. Your company should fire you.

“Human Resources Management” doesn’t mean waiting for perfect hires to come along. Ask your HR ancestors: They used to do training and development to improve the skills and talent of their hires — as a way of creating competitive value for their companies.

The good HR professionals know who they are. The rest behave like they don’t know what they’re doing and like they don’t care. We’re giving you a wake-up call. Do your job, or get out.

My challenge to HR professionals: If you aren’t managing the standard of conduct toward job applicants at your company, if you aren’t really recruiting, if you’re not creating a competitive edge for your company by developing and training your hires, then you should quit your own job. If you aren’t promoting high business standards within the HR profession, then there’s no reason for HR to exist. Your company can run amuck without you.

To everyone else: How do these problems in HR affect you?

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Does your company have clean underwear?

In the April 26, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a hiring manager lectures employers about the importance of no-thank-you notes — and about respecting job candidates.

Question

I like your suggestions about thank-you notes. However, I want to talk about no-thank-you notes.

clean-underwearI recently got a very nice thank-you note from an applicant to whom I had sent a no-thank-you — that is, a rejection letter. She seemed surprised to hear from me. As a manager, it has always been my practice to reply to every applicant either by letter or e-mail. I’ve been criticized for the time it takes. However, I believe that if someone takes the time to express interest in your company, the least you can do is tell them “no, thank you” if you don’t want them.

The convenience of job boards and e-mail applications has led us to forget there are real humans with feelings at the other end. Since we are not likely to run into one of them at the check-out counter, we don’t acknowledge that every resume sent out to us carries this person’s real hopes for a job along with it.

I would encourage you to write a bit about etiquette for the hiring manager and about the proper approach regarding the communication to applicants after receiving their resumes.

Nick’s Reply

Hallelujah! I hope everyone who reads your statement tacks it to a couple of doors: the boss’s and the human resources (HR) department’s. But don’t forget the board of directors. It ought to be tacked to their agenda.

Who has time to be nice?

You’ve given me a chance to hold forth on a subject that’s always too easily dismissed. The story today is that companies receive so many resumes and applications that there is simply no way to respond to them all. HR  departments scoff at the suggestion that they’re responsible for such niceties. Who can reply to 5,000 job applicants and still have time to hire anybody? The trouble is, HR sets this standard for all managers in a company.

Somewhere along the way, maybe after getting intoxicated by the millionth resume she downloaded from LinkedIn, an HR manager lost sight of the thousands of job applicants she had lined up outside her door (actually and virtually). She forgot that if you invite them, you have to feed them. She forgot that when you post jobs on websites that encourage thousands of people to send you resumes, you get thousands of resumes. However, you don’t hire thousands of people. So, why solicit them? (See Employment In America: WTF is going on?)

When we create situations that make it impossible for us to respect basic social conventions (like saying “thank you” and “no, thank you”), that should be a signal that we’re doing something fundamentally wrong.

Stop behaving like wild dogs

Why solicit thousands of applicants, when you need just a handful of good ones? When you get sick from overloading your plate at the cheap buffet table, nature is telling you something. When we let the dogs go wild at feeding time — HR rabidly devouring heaps of non-nutritive resumes — it’s time to re-train the dogs. But I’m not lashing out only at HR managers. Nope. I’m lashing out at their trainers: departmental managers, corporate CEO’s, and boards of directors.

Are you on a board? Are you a CEO? Do you have any idea how your HR department and your managers are treating the professional community you so desperately need to recruit from? Make no mistake. Even in today’s “employer’s market,” top-notch workers continue to be few and far between. Finding those few precious souls who can both do the work and bring profit to your bottom line is a daunting, challenging task. To get the attention of the best, the brightest… you’ve got to be nice to everyone.

Your company is under the spotlight every time you recruit to fill a position. The behavior of your HR department, your managers, and your employees reflects your company’s values. And your values affect your success at hiring. Yah, that’s right. Don’t proclaim to your shareholders that “people are our most important asset” while your underlings shove job applicants through keyword algorithms like meat through a grinder. (See Reductionist Recruiting: A short history of why you can’t get hired.)

Be Nice: Say thank you

This is a wake-up call about behavior. Every company’s reputation hinges on it. Ask your mother; she’ll tell you. Always say thank you. Always wear clean underwear. Always take time to be polite to people.

  • If you have no time to write thank-you notes, then you’re soliciting too many resumes.
  • If you have no time to get out of your office and meet the movers and shakers in your professional community, you’re not recruiting; you’re pushing paper. (See Ten Stupid Hiring Mistakes.)
  • If you have no time to be nice, I’ll bet it’s because you spend too much time with resumes and not enough with people.

thank-youIt’s easy to be rude to a resume; but you can’t hire resumes. Top-notch workers in your field will not stand for rudeness. Talk to all the people you pissed off when you ignored their applications, and you will learn what rude is. Rude is awakening to find your company’s professional reputation has been trashed by good applicants who found out you’re not as good as they are. (See Death by Lethal Reputation.)

Learn to be nice. Make it your policy.

If you don’t inspire good people to say nice things about your company, you can’t hire good people. It starts with that thank-you note; even with a no-thank-you note. Where it really starts is with your hand writing a personal note; with that hand attached to an arm attached to a warm body that gives a damn. Because if you don’t give a damn about people who apply to your jobs, pretty soon everybody will know, including your shareholders.

And that, Mr. CEO and Ms. Member of the Board of Directors, is why you need to make sure your HR department and your managers are polite, wear clean underwear, and write thank-you notes.

Does your company respect job applicants? Does it walk the talk — and send thank-you notes? Does your HR department insist on proper behavior from job applicants, and then diss them when the interviews are done?

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How to launch a seemingly impossible career change

In the April 19, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks how to get in the door for a seemingly impossible job change.

Question

leavingI want to make a big career change into medical device sales, but it’s going to be tricky. My experience is in teaching, primarily English as a second language. I don’t expect to get a sales job to start, so I want to start out in sales support. I’ve done tons of research on the company I’ve chosen, its technology and products, and I’ve even talked to some of the company’s customers — doctors and medical centers. I know that their salespeople’s time is worth a little over $1,000 an hour, so good sales support is key to profitability.

Two contacts — an old friend and her friend — work in the company where I want a job, and I’m using LinkedIn to find more contacts. I have read both your How Can I Make a Career Change? (I thoroughly enjoyed my library vacation) and Fearless Job Hunting books, and I am following your advice. But my execution might be a bit rocky. How can I parlay these contacts into more connections that might help me get in front of the right manager to talk about a seemingly impossible job change?

Nick’s Reply

You’re right — that’s a huge, daunting leap. Medical sales is a tough field to get into. Your odds aren’t good, but I don’t believe in odds or in luck. I believe in hard work. If you really want to do this, do all the hard work and don’t let anything deter you until you either get the job or exhaust every avenue.

But you didn’t ask my permission. You asked how to get in the door.

It’s going to require more than one or two contacts, so you need to leverage your two friends to meet more people in the company. I’m both a fan and an antagonist when it comes to LinkedIn. It’s the best online phonebook ever developed. On the other hand, it’s become just another job board after squandering its future as a true networking tool.

Leverage LinkedIn

Here’s how to use LinkedIn to help you with this. Ask your friends for one or two names of people who work in or near the department at the company where you want to work. Then search both LinkedIn and Google to find them, and then more people who are connected to the company’s product areas where you want to work. (I suggest you re-read “A Good Network Is a Circle of Friends,” pp. 27-32 in How Can I Change Careers?)

Search Google for the company name plus the product names and related technologies. Let me caution you here: Google Search and Google News are different. You’ll turn up different results. I prefer News because the results will surface names of specific people and stories about them — and that’s what you want. The more relevant names you can dig up this way, the better. Then look up each person on LinkedIn — and ask your friends if they know them.

When you contact someone you found this way, you don’t have to rely on that tenuous LinkedIn “connection” to get their attention. (I hate it when someone reaches out to me and says, “I found you on LinkedIn!” So what? They might as well have found me in the phone book!) You should refer to the news article you read about them. Talk shop, and mention the two people you know at the company:

How to Say It:
“I was just talking to Mary Smith, who works in the Blah-Blah department at your company, and I also just read this article in the Wall Street Journal about your role in your company’s…”

Talk shop!

You’ve clearly done your homework — Good for you! — so you can actually ask them a couple of intelligent questions about their work. This tells them you’re not some LinkedIn opportunist who ran a keyword search to “find” them. You actually know something about what they do. This puts you on a very different footing from someone who’s calling around for job leads via LinkedIn.

Having started a work-related — if very simple — discussion, you can move on to your objective:

How to Say It:
“I wonder if I could ask you for some advice. My background is… and I’m considering a job in sales support. I don’t just want to send in a resume, because I’d like to learn more about the support function in sales of XYZ devices. I know that a sales person’s time at your company is worth about $1,000 an hour, so sales support is an important lever for profitability. Is there someone you can recommend that I talk with in sales or sales support so I can learn more about the role?”

Isn’t that more powerful than saying, “Hey, do you know of any job leads at your company?” You will leave your competitors in the dust. Here’s another way to break the ice with such a contact:

How to Say It:
“I noticed in the article I read that you work with the Hannenframmis device line. Another company, X, makes a related device they call a Thingamajig. What do you think of their product?”

A question like that tells the person you’ve studied the company, its products and its competition. What LinkedIn query goes into such detail? Your request is out of the ordinary. You’re not asking for a job lead — you’re talking shop. When you ask someone for their opinion or advice about something relating to their work, I find they usually want to share their thoughts.

Once again, having established a bit of credibility, it’s easy to switch to:

“Hey, I wonder if I could ask you for some advice…” and use the How to Say It suggestion above.

Critical Mass: Nobody said it was easy

If they don’t recommend anyone, just say, “Thanks — it was good to meet you. Thanks for your time,” and move on. But my guess is they will offer you some help. One new contact and referral thus leads to another. You learn something new every step of the way, and you will build a critical mass of contacts and insight. Some of them will know one another — and that builds your credibility further as you navigate the company to find the right manager in sales.

One of your new friends will refer you to a manager who will recognize a highly motivated person who wants to work in sales support. Without applying for a job, you’ll be an insider. When you get near that manager, re-read Fearless Job Hunting, Book 3: Get in The Door (way ahead of your competition), “Share Experiences: The path to success,” pp. 12-14, and “Pest, or manager’s dream?” pp. 18-19.

I’ll caution you: This is not easy or quick, nor should it be. While your competition is sending keywords to HR managers, you’ll be talking to insiders — that requires dedication and focus. Managers tend to hire people they know, or people referred by trusted contacts. That’s what this approach gradually turns you into — an insider — if you invest the time to do the homework, to talk with people patiently, and to learn all you can about the company you want to work for so you can demonstrate why you’re the profitable hire.

How do you get in the door when the job you want is a big change from what you’ve been doing? Ever make a big career change? What would you suggest to this earnest reader?

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Don’t blame women for the gender pay gap!

In the April 12, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, the truth about equal pay rears its head.

When women get paid less for doing the same jobs men do, the real reason is obvious to any forthright business person, though it seems to elude the media, the experts, and even some women themselves: Employers pay women less because they can get away with it.

gender-pay-gapThe same pundits tell women that they should change their behavior if they want to be paid fairly for doing the same work as men. But the experts, researchers, advocates and apologists are all wrong. There is no prescription for underpaid women to get paid more, because it isn’t women’s behavior that’s the problem.

There is only one thing a woman should have to do to get paid as much as a man: her job.

When doing the job doesn’t pay, women of all ages should be aware that younger women today have the solution. According to a recent report from the International Consortium for Executive Development Research (ICEDR), some women have figured it out. Millennial women don’t need to change their negotiating, child-rearing, educational or any other behavior to impress errant employers. They know to quit and move on. This is going to change life at work as we know it.

The myths about women causing their own pay problem

Let’s look at what women are supposedly doing to abuse themselves financially.

We can refer to umpteen surveys and studies about gender pay disparity — and to some that suggest there is no disparity. But a recent Time magazine analysis summarizes the data from the U.S. Census and other sources: “Women earn less than men at every age range: 15% less at ages 22 to 25 and a staggering 38% less at ages 51 to 64.

This has become favorite fodder for the media — and for armchair economists and gender researchers and pundits looking to bang out a blog column. But I think most of the explanations about pay disparity, and the prescriptions for how to get equal pay for equal work, are bunk.

Depending on what you read, women get paid less because they:

  • Have kids.
  • Interrupt their careers for their families. (See: A stupid interview question to ask a woman.)
  • Don’t have the right education (e.g., STEM), so they can’t get good jobs.
  • Are nurturing, so they don’t negotiate hard enough for equal pay.
  • Don’t like to argue.
  • Lack confidence.
  • Let their men get away without doing household chores — so those men (if they’re managers) don’t know they should pay women fairly.

These explanations about lower pay are speculation and myth, but the message is always the same: If women would just change some or all of those behaviors, they can shrink the pay gap.

I say bunk. Women don’t cause the pay gap. Employers do. So employers should change their behavior.

The fact

I’ve been a headhunter for a long time. I’ve seen more job offers and observed more salary negotiations than you’ll see in a lifetime. I’ve observed more employers decide what salaries or wages to pay than I can count. And I am convinced the media and the experts are full of baloney about the pay gap between men and women. They are so caught up in producing eye-popping news that they’re doing women a disservice — and confusing speculation with facts.

Here are the facts:

  • Employers pay women less to do the same work as they pay men.

Well, there’s just one fact, and that’s it.

Women don’t make themselves job offers, do their own payroll, or sign their own paychecks. The gender pay disparity is all — all — on employers, because we start with a simple assumption: A job is worth $X to do it right, no matter who does it. It’s all about getting the work done. And the employer decides whom to hire and how much to pay.

Here’s the hard part for economists and experts to understand: Employers decide to pay women less, simply because they can get away with it. The law of parsimony instantly leads us to the obvious motive: Paying less saves companies money. Everything else is speculative claptrap.

A review of the bunk

Let’s look at some of the gratuitous “analysis” about why women are paid less than men. Look closely: It all delivers one absurd message: Women are the problem, so women should change their behavior.

Glassdoor, the oft-reviled “employer review” website, reports that overt discrimination may be part of the cause of gender pay discrepancies (Demystifying the Gender Pay Gap: Evidence from Glassdoor Salary Data). But, claims Glassdoor’s economist, Dr. Andrew Chamberlain, “occupation and industry sorting of men and women into systematically different jobs is the main cause.”

“Sorting?” Armchair apologist Chamberlain is saying women apply for jobs that pay less and men apply for jobs that pay more. While this may sometimes be true, what he fails to note is that when a man and a woman do the same job in the same industry, one is paid less because the employer pays her less. The absurd prescription for women: This will change if only women will change their behavior!

Then there’s the HuffPo, in which Wharton researcher Bobbi Thomason says that to fix the gender pay gap, “We need to have men getting involved at home with childcare and other domestic responsibilities.”

Gimme a break. Women, when you get men to wash dishes, you’ll change how boss men pay female employees. The prescription: It’s all up to you. Change your behavior at home.

The Exponent, reporting on Purdue University’s Equal Pay Day event on April 12, says that the wage gap is “largely based on the fact that, generally, women don’t negotiate their salary once they get into their career field.” Those women. Dopes. They’re doing the wrong thing — that’s why they get paid less! Change your behavior!

Kris Tupas, treasurer of the American Association of University Women chapter at Purdue, explains that employers pay women less “because our culture teaches women to be polite and accept what they’re given.” Again the prescription is for women: Change your behavior!

Linda Babcock, a professor at Carnegie-Mellon, wrote a book that explains women’s fundamental problem: Women Don’t Ask. Says Babcock’s book blurb:

“It turns out that whether they want higher salaries or more help at home, women often find it hard to ask. Sometimes they don’t know that change is possible — they don’t know that they can ask. Sometimes they fear that asking may damage a relationship. And sometimes they don’t ask because they’ve learned that society can react badly to women asserting their own needs and desires.”

Women get paid less because they don’t know they can ask! Gimme another break! And what’s Babcock’s prescription? Women — you have to ask to be paid fairly! Change your behavior!

Fox News’s Star Hughes-Gorup tells women how they can fix the pay gap: “Get educated.” If you want to make as much as the guy in the next cubicle who’s doing the same job, hey, get more schooling after the fact to impress your employer.

Next, says Hughes-Gorup, “Embrace asking for help.” Yep — if you learn how to ask properly, you can “start the conversation” about money. In time, you’ll be worth more. She sums it up: “I believe true progress will be made when we acknowledge that the real issue deterring women from talking about money is not confidence, but self-imposed limitations in our thinking.”

The prescription: Women: If you stop limiting your thinking, you’ll get paid more. So, get with it! Change your behavior and your thinking!

Disclosure: I can’t believe anyone buys any of this crap, much less that anyone else publishes it uncritically.

Millennial women have the solution

Why do all those articles prescribe that women must change their behavior to get paid more, when it’s employers who are making the decision to pay them less? Should women appease employers, or respond to unfair pay some other way?

Surveys over the years show that the top reasons people quit their jobs include (1) dissatisfaction with the boss, and (2) work-life balance. (E.g., Inc. magazine’s 5 Reasons Employees Leave Their Jobs.) Money is not the main reason.

But something has changed — especially for Millennial women. Lauren Noël, co-author of a report from the International Consortium for Executive Development Research (ICEDR), says, “Our research shows that the top reasons why [Millennial] women leave are not due to family issues. The top reasons are due to pay and career advancement.”

The report itself quotes women under thirty saying that the number one reason they quit is, “I have found a job that pays more elsewhere.”

What’s interesting is that the HR executives Noël surveyed don’t get it — HR thinks “that the top reason why women leave is family reasons.” Is it any wonder employers attribute lower pay to the “choices” women supposedly make?

The Millennial answer to lower pay

Millennial women are the generation that has figured out they’re not the problem. Unlike their older peers, they’ve figured out that when they’re not getting paid what they want, the answer is to quit and go work for an employer who will pay them more.

As a headhunter, I know first-hand that quitting is the surest way to take control when you’re underpaid and your employer will not countenance paying you fairly. I also realize that not all women — or men, for that matter — can afford to quit a job that is paying them unfairly. But that doesn’t change the answer that will most enduringly change how employers behave.

Kudos to women who take the initiative, and who don’t blame themselves or alter their own behavior when an employer’s behavior is the problem. I wonder how many employers have taken notice? Do they realize the generation of female workers that’s coming up the ranks isn’t going to tolerate financial abuse — they’re just going to walk?

payDo we need a law?

I’m not a fan of creating laws to dictate what people should be paid. But I’m not averse to regulations about transparency and disclosure. With some simple disclosure regulations, I think more women can start getting paid as much as men do for the same jobs.

Companies want our resumes; let’s have theirs, too — a standard “salary resume” provided to all job applicants, comparing pay for women and men at a company. Employers would be free to pay men twice what they pay women, if they want. And upon checking the salary disclosure, job seekers would be free to walk away and join a competitor who pays fairly for work done by anyone.

Let’s get over it: Women who do the same work as men aren’t the problem. Employers who pay unfairly are, and let’s face what’s obvious: They do it because they can get away with it. (For a story about an employer with integrity, see Smart Hiring: How a savvy manager finds great hires.)

If we’re going to analyze behavior, let’s analyze employers’ underhanded behaviors — not women’s personalities, cognitive styles, or biological characteristics. I’ll say it again — There is only one thing a woman should have to do to get paid as much as a man: her job.

we-pay-menEmployers who don’t pay fairly will stop getting away with it when they’re required to tattoo their salary statistics on their foreheads — so job applicants can run to their competitors. Or, more likely — since new laws aren’t likely — employers will change their errant behavior when a new generation of women just up and quits. That would be quite a news story.

Maybe then the media and the experts will stop blaming women for the gender pay gap — and start challenging employers to raise their standards.

(Considering quitting? See Parting Company: How to leave your job.)

What’s the solution? Do we need a walk-out? Do we need regulations? Do we need a corporate stock and pillory? Does anybody think there’s no gender pay gap?

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Who comes first, my boss or my company?

In the March 29, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader goes up against her boss and wonders how to stay out of trouble.

Question

My boss just told us that it’s mandatory for us to join a closed LinkedIn group, on which she will give us work assignments — for instance, shared reviews of resumes or other documents or topics that she feels will enhance our knowledge by group sharing.

company_secretsI have no problem doing this via work e-mail, but to be forced to join a social media group — where what we post can be mined, according to one of my clients — is tantamount to agreeing to LinkedIn’s terms and conditions, none of which I have been able to see.

Maybe I’m being cynical, but I think that my 30-something boss wants to make a splash for her own career via becoming the leader of a LinkedIn group. I don’t know if she has thought this through.

I am also concerned for my own professional status. Frankly, I don’t know what behaviors the 20-somethings in the group are up to, and I’m not sure I want to be linked publicly to them. My co-workers are spread across the country, and I’ve never met some of them. Those that I’ve met (only virtually) I barely know. 

I just un-joined the group. Who comes first? My boss or my company?

Nick’s Reply

LinkedIn is not an online work collaboration platform, though I know this social networking site has experimented with the idea. There are many good collaboration systems that your boss could use (Microsoft Office 365, Google For Work, Slack) but this isn’t one of them.

I don’t think you’re being too cynical. Your guess about your boss’s motivations for getting you all into a LinkedIn group could be correct – she may be trying to build her network. More important, I think you’re right to worry about your company.

Information you and your co-workers post on a LinkedIn group would likely be mined and sold by LinkedIn. Your boss may not realize that this could have serious privacy implications, including violation of your company’s confidentiality and intellectual property policies.

Check your boss

I don’t know how big your company is, but I’d consider paying an in-person visit to HR. Without mentioning your boss or this project, I’d ask:

“If I wanted to set up an online collaboration area where my co-workers and I and our clients could post and exchange company documents that we can all work on, would company policy permit that? I’ve come to you because I’d never do anything like this without first checking the policy.”

My guess is HR will tell you, No way!

Then you have to find a diplomatic way to tell your boss. Or to tell HR what your boss is up to.

One way to do this might be to explain to your boss that you spoke to HR because you wanted to know the policy about how you should register on LinkedIn for this project since you’d be posting company work. That’s a legit concern that has nothing to do with you thwarting your boss.

Then you’d probably have to explain to your boss: “It turns out HR is worried about something far bigger: confidentiality of company data.” Then your boss can save face, drop the whole idea, and possibly avoid getting fired, too.

Suggest some alternatives

Quickly research some of the mainstream collaboration platforms available to your company, including free ones. Take a look at Microsoft Office 365, Google For Work and Slack. When you talk to your HR department, ask whether any of these are approved for company use. Then mention these to your boss. If her real goal is collaboration, you may save the day.

My guess is that your boss is merely very naïve. Putting your concerns about your own privacy aside, I think your bigger worry should be potential violation of your employer’s policies about proprietary and company confidential information being disseminated on the Internet. That liability would be on you. And that’s not to say your personal information wouldn’t be compromised, too. LinkedIn has been in some serious legal controversies concerning misuse of customer information. (See LinkedIn Users Sucker-Punched by Wrong References and LinkedIn: Busted for U.S. wage law violations, sued for “injury” to users.)

LinkedIn is not a collaboration system, where company and user data is protected, so I don’t know how your boss got this idea. LinkedIn is a public sewer of personal information and misinformation, in addition to being a potentially useful database about people. (Yes, I think it’s both. LinkedIn needs to clean up its act.)

You can see my cynicism. And I understand yours. I think you can help your boss by suggesting that LinkedIn be used the way it’s intended — or in whatever way makes most sense to your company — and by getting your HR department’s blessing before posting company information online.

Have you ever had to buck your boss to protect yourself or your company? How did you do it? Was HR helpful? Where should an employee draw the line when instructed to do something questionable?

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No resume, no job posting, no application, no interview: Microsoft Video Edition

In the March 15, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, we do something completely different. We take a video approach to “the mountain” that stands between you and your next job.

Surviving the new economics of work

Microsoft recently asked me to talk for 20 minutes to thousands of IT (information technology) professionals whose jobs are at risk due to rapid changes in technology and in the economy. What can they do to save their careers? What kind of work should they do next?

Sound familiar?

I tuned my comments for Microsoft’s 3-day TechNet Virtual Conference (March 1-3, 2016) — but what I told the audience applies to any line of work, and it’s from the core Ask The Headhunter ideas we discuss here every week. This video includes about 20 minutes of me talking about the new economics of work, and 15 more of Q&A we did via Skype afterwards. A big thank-you to Microsoft and Channel9 for sharing this video with the Ask The Headhunter community.

Questions & Answers

This video raises in-your-face questions.

But I also show you how to answer them Yes! (I’ve added links to take you to more resources. Most of these are free, but there’s a link or two to my books.)

I talk about the #1 problem job seekers face: They let a mountain of obstacles interfere with their efforts to get a job.

  • They try to beat the online job boards.
  • They struggle to tunnel through Applicant Tracking Systems (ATSes).
  • They play the keyword game with automated job application systems.
  • They keep failing to reach the top of a mountain of competition.

In the video, I talk about why there is no mountain — no resume to write, no job postings to select or decipher, no job applications to file, no interviews to play to. I’m not kidding. I don’t think any of those “tools” help employers hire or job hunters get hired. I think our economy is bogged down by the detritus of phony, automated recruiting — it doesn’t work!

There’s just fearless job hunting.

  • You become part of the circle of friends that naturally leads people to jobs — and that leads to hires.
  • You show up with a clear definition of the problem or challenge that needs to be tackled.
  • You deliver a viable business plan for the job.
  • You show how you’ll do the work. And you create a new, profitable outcome the company never contemplated.
  • You make yourself the job candidate who stands out from all the rest.

Does it matter what kind of work you do?

Virtually every kind of work today is under siege of one kind or another — but for the same reasons. Every industry, every company is increasingly focused on the bottom line. The shift that everyone faces is not just technological. It’s economic — and it’s about accountability. That’s what I talk about in the video. Economic pressures supersede all others — and technology jobs feel the pressure most because that’s where efficiencies that solve economic problems are supposed to come from. But no matter what kind of work you do, the shift must be in your own perspective.

Success is not about chasing hot jobs, because there’s really no such thing. (What’s hot changes by the time you catch it!) It’s about whether you are hot. What makes you hot? You have to make yourself and your work accountable. If you wait for the bean counters to do that, you’ll probably lose your job if you have one.

If you work in IT, the video will get you started on how to advance your career in the face of stunning shifts in technology — changes that probably put your current job at risk.

And if you don’t work in technology, you’ll quickly see how my suggestions will help your career in today’s turbulent economy. As I said, the 20 minutes of this video summarize many of the core ideas we talk about on Ask The Headhunter all the time. Of course, I couldn’t squeeze every Ask The Headhunter method, tip and lesson into a 20 minute video. For more about how to be a fearless job hunter who stands out from the competition by delivering profit, check out the Introduction to Fearless Job Hunting, which also details which of my books address which challenges.

I hope you enjoy the video, and that it inspires you to forget about mountains and obstacles while you plan how to deliver profitable work to a worthy employer — work that’s profitable to you, too.

Many thanks to my good buddies at Microsoft for the opportunity to get in front of the company’s enormous audience — and for their generous hospitality while I was in Seattle and on the Microsoft campuses in Redmond and Bellevue. Mostly, I’m grateful for the freedom to work unscripted — every word in the video is mine. No one told me what to say or what to talk about. (If you’re among the many Ask The Headhunter subscribers who work in IT, don’t miss the other great videos about the future of IT in the TechNet 2016 archive.)

Okay — let’s hear what you liked and didn’t like about what I said in the video. Then hit me with the in-your-face questions — what do you want to know more about? What would you like to see in future Ask The Headhunter videos — because I’m planning to make more. Let’s pound these topics!

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4 You’re-Kidding-Me Questions & Snappy Answers


msft-technetToday (March 1) we’re joined by some special guests! A big welcome to IT professionals from Microsoft’s TechNet Virtual Conference 2016, where I’m doing a presentation titled “Top Tips From A Headhunter” to help IT folks deal with career crises.

For those new to Ask The Headhunter, I invite you to check out Ask The Headhunter In A Nutshell: The short course. For more in-depth methods to handle your own career challenges, please also see 600 Editions: The Best of Ask The Headhunter! Related to what I discussed in the video you just watched on TechNet: Please! Stop Networking! Advance your career by learning to “talk shop” with people!

The ATH portion of the conference is March 1, 11:30am PT with Q&A to follow. If you’re reaching this in time, please join us: enter the event here.

Microsoft Week! Save 25% on any Ask The Headhunter PDF books this week only! Use discount code=MSFT when checking out! This offer is limited-time only! Save now!


In the March 1, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, readers seek wisdom on all manner of things, including how to make big bucks! File under Gimme a break… but we try to cover it all! Is this week’s Q&A tongue-in-cheek? You decide…

Question

I love speaking in public, giving presentations, leading group discussions, and teaching classes. If I were given the challenge of speaking in front of 500 people with 60 minutes notice, I would rub my hands together with glee. Please help me understand how to turn my talents into $100,000 a year.

Nick’s Snappy Reply

snappy-answers

Ask The Headhunter: Where your dreams come true! Ask yourself, What company or organization could make a lot of money and profit by having you do those things you love? That’s who to go to about a job. You need to come up with a mini-business plan for each company you target.

  • What problem or challenge do they face?
  • How can you tackle it to produce profit?
  • What’s the best way to explain it to the company?
  • Who’s the best person to explain it to?
  • How can you track down people that “best person” knows or works with — people who can introduce you?

You’re not going to get hired to do what you love. You’ll get hired to do what you love if you can show how that will pay off to an employer. That’s your real challenge. You must figure it out and communicate it, because no company is going to figure it out for you. For more about this, see The Basics, then rub your hands with glee!

Question 2

I worked in San Francisco and Silicon Valley for 25 years recruiting. I have references from great companies. No one seems to be interested in my valuable experience. In fact, I was told no one would hire me in Silicon Valley. I need someone to check my experience out. I would very much appreciate a referral that could help me track these rumors down.

Nick’s Snappy Reply

Ah, let me get out my little black book… You’d need to hire a private detective. I don’t know any. Just because someone told you that you’d never get hired in Silicon Valley doesn’t mean anyone else feels that way. If you’re concerned about your references, you might ask a hiring manager at any company (someone you’re friendly with) to contact them and ask them what they think of you. You might identify the problem that way, assuming you have one. In the future, Take Care Of Your References.

As for the value of your experience, please see my reply to Question 1.

Question 3

I came across your article, Wanted: HR exec with the guts not to ask for your social security number, after a local recruiter asked me for information I’m not comfortable sharing.

RECRUITER: “I need the last four of your SSN and middle initial to submit you to Company X.”

ME: “Is this absolutely needed at this stage? What is it being used for? Understandably, I’m hesitant to give out that information.”

RECRUITER: “It’s the only way you can be submitted to our client for a job. It’s part of their ATS (Applicant Tracking System) to ensure that candidates are not being double submitted.”

I guess I’m really hoping that you might offer a bit of advice — whether I’m right in thinking this is a red flag, and how I might further respond to her request and comments.

Nick’s Snappy Reply

How to Say It: Up your xiggy with a blowtorch!

Recruiters love applicants who speak the local jargon, so that should go over well. But employers have no legitimate reason to demand your SSN just so you can apply for a job. The recruiter gives away the problem when she admits the employer’s ATS needs your SSN to avoid duplicate submissions of your credentials. They use it as a hash — a unique database key to identify you. That’s how the employer avoids fee battles between recruiters who both claim they submitted you.

Lazy ATS system designers misuse a federal ID number for their own purposes. In the process, the recruiter, the employer and the ATS vendor are intimidating job seekers and putting them at risk of not getting a job over the ATS vendor’s silly database trick. Hence the need for a blowtorch.

Should you play along? That’s up to you. (A related employer trick is demanding your salary history. See Salary History: Can you afford to say NO?) It’s also up to you to hand over any 4 digits you choose, for the time being, to beat the system, and explain later to the employer if the 4 digits don’t match your actual SSN — which will matter only if you’re hired. “Someone obviously made a mistake.”

I don’t like lying. But I also don’t tolerate stupid bureaucratic tricks by employers and ATS vendors — at the expense of job seekers.

What you do is up to you, of course. What I’m suggesting could cause you problems. But what the recruiter and ATS vendor are demanding could cause you problems, too. I’m just telling you what I’d do. Always follow the instructions that come with a blowtorch.

Question 4

Should I disclose in a job interview that I applied to grad school a few weeks ago, and that if I get in I won’t be taking the job? The job interview is in about two weeks.

Nick’s Snappy Reply

First thing I’d do is buy a lottery ticket and put it in your pocket. Would you tell an employer you have that ticket in your pocket, and that if you win, you won’t need the job?

I see no reason to disclose your graduate school application, unless and until you’re faced with a choice about going to grad school. Make sense?

How would you deal with these four situations? Geez, I am on a roll! Post your comments before I slow down!

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The ATH Field Guide: Overcome resume gaps to land a job

In the February 23, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader is ready to chuck it all to save his sanity. Should he?

Question

I’ve been a project manager running million dollar software projects for 15 years. However, I’m sick of the stress, never-ending deadlines, and frantic pace of technology. I’m 41 and I can’t keep this up for another 10 years.

field-guide

I’m trained to recognize classic burn-out syndrome but dealing with it in myself isn’t easy. I find myself wanting to go pound nails for a builder or mow lawns or just to do something mindless. I think I could step out of corporate life for a while and come back later, but I will have lost my contacts. What’s the answer? “Would you like some fries with that, Sir?”

Nick’s Reply

No, no fries… but welcome to burn-out. It happens to many talented people. It’s nature telling you to flip the burger because one side is done. It’s time for the other side.

The conventional obstacles

Before I offer you suggestions about how to overcome the resume gaps you’re about to create, so you can land a new job later, let’s consider the obstacles you’re going to face. I’m sure you’ve read or heard the conventional wisdom about what you’re suggesting. Let’s play it:

  • It’s harder to get a job if you don’t have a job.
  • Employers discriminate against the unemployed.
  • If you stop working, your skills will go stale.
  • When you leave the work world, your network dries up.
  • Gaps in your resume are the kiss of death.
  • And so on…

To one degree or another, all those statements are true, of course. But it’s also true that we’re all gonna die… so what’s the point of living? (Consider the killer quote from Ring Lardner.)

What’s the point of being burned out and miserable?

The conventional wisdom doesn’t matter when you’ve got good reasons to do what you’re talking about: You’re free to get out of the kitchen and go kick the can for a while. Give yourself a break, or you will indeed burn up.

Jobs can be replaced, but you get only one body, one mind. There’s no reason to lose your contacts — it’s not hard to maintain the best ones when you take time off. Your skills need not dry up. You can learn new skills.

Afraid to get off the burner?

I was about 40 when I chucked it all to write a book, start a website, and follow my gut. Yes, it was a risk. But getting off the burner is necessary when you feel burnt. With the relief will come new experiences and new choices you forgot you had.

burn out

If you’re good at what you do now, I can almost assure you that you’ll be good at whatever you decide to do after some time off. And if you stay in touch with your best contacts, you’ll always have the support system you need to succeed again. More important, if you don’t get lazy, during the time you take off you’ll make loads of new contacts that can help you get back to work when the time comes.

Here’s the thing: Conventional wisdom is for the conventional person. It’s for whoever wants to nail themselves to a job the rest of their lives. And there’s nothing wrong with that (even if I apply a derogatory metaphor to it). If you’re going to be unconventional — and take time off — then you can’t let the rules apply to you. You must forge your own rules and methods for getting back to work later.

And that’s what Ask The Headhunter is all about. My test of the value of any method for landing a job is this: Does it make enough fundamental business sense that it can work under any circumstances — including taking a break?

Screw convention

I don’t like tricky job-search methods intended to mollify HR managers and personnel jockeys who scan credentials for excuses to reject someone without meeting them. For example, clever resumes that hide your gaps in employment, “functional resumes” that hide your age, and “consulting gigs” that cover up your unemployment.

There’s only one way to get a job under any circumstances without relying on luck, or faking it:

Get someone that knows the person in charge to introduce you and vouch for you, then don’t waste the employer’s time. Show why hiring you will pay off, so the manager won’t be able to do anything but hire you.

Who cares if you’re not employed?

Because what’s far, far worse is staying in the job that’s burning you out, and then showing up at job interviews shell-shocked and demoralized. Then no one’s going to hire you.

My vote — assuming you’ve got your finances in order — is to go away and come back later. Screw convention.

Here’s the secret: If you’re good at your work, then trust your ability to earn a living and to do useful work again. When you’re done kicking the can, you’ll be able to dust yourself off and figure out again what to do next, after flipping burgers and offering fries with that…

Life is short. Do what comes next now, and I think you’ll be better able to do what comes after that.

The Field Guide

Need help getting back to work after you’ve been away for a while — whatever the reason? Maybe you’ve just got gaps in your resume that raise red flags.

Here’s an Ask The Headhunter Field Guide that I’ve compiled from some of the best ATH resources. It’s more than you probably need, but I hope some of these tips will help you get introduced to the right employer and show why hiring you will pay off — even if you’ve been out of the market a long time. All are free online except where indicated:

Career coaches and pundits tend to avoid the “in-your-face” questions job seekers really need answers to. To explore the daunting obstacles that can stop you dead in your tracks — and to choose the help you need — check out the topic titles in the 9 PDF books that make up Fearless Job Hunting: The Complete Collection ($49.95).

Would you dare to chuck it all to survive burn-out on the job? Is this a risk worth taking? If you’ve done it, how did you get back to work — or did you choose another path?

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