How to Boost Your Salary Quickly and Often

In the May 8, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, we’re covering something different: A wild story…

From The Headhunter Files

People seem to enjoy hearing some of the stranger stories from The Headhunter Files. I usually share these only in my live presentations and workshops, but I think it’s time to go public. Rather than Q&A this week, we’ll do a “Headhunter File,” and if subscribers enjoy it, we’ll do this as a regular feature in upcoming editions.

Fred was an engineer I spoke with while I was checking references on another engineer during a search I was conducting in Silicon Valley. No one had recommended Fred to me (you’ll see why this is pertinent later) — but after my reference call was done, he asked me if I could help him land a better job. I took his resume and filed it, but I wasn’t working on any assignments he’d be a fit for anyway.

But Fred was persistent. He called me again and asked why I wasn’t helping him out. I explained that I didn’t find jobs for engineers — I found engineers for my clients, based on specific requirements. Here’s roughly how the conversation went.

Let’s make money together

Fred: “But if you’ll help me, I’ll make you a lot of money.”
Me: “I’m sure I could earn a good fee placing you, if I had the right assignment.”

Fred: “Just send me to interview with any of your current clients. I’m very good at getting job offers. You’ll earn a fee quickly and it will be good for both of us.”
Me: “Sorry, I don’t work that way. But since you brought it up, what’s your specialization? What do you do, exactly?”

Fred: “I’m an engineer, and I can do almost anything. I got a 15% raise to take this job. If you can get me 10% more, I’ll take it.”
Me: “How long have you been at your current job?”

Fred: “About two months. Before this job, I got almost a 20% raise on the last job.”
Me: “Really? How long were you at that job?”

Fred: “No more than six months. My goal is to get my salary up as high as possible.”
Me: “Don’t you think you’re building a reputation for jumping around?”

Fred: “Employers want the best people they can get, and as long as they pay me and my salary keeps going up, I’ll go wherever I have to.”
Me: “Sorry, but my clients don’t pay me fees for engineers who will pack up and leave every few months. You should be careful.”

Fred: “There’s no need to tell them I changed jobs recently. I’ve only been here two months. Just tell them I’m still at the last company. And that would be true. I’m doing both jobs.”
Me: “You’re working at two companies at once?”

Fred: “Yes. It’s a lot of work, but I don’t mind. I’ll do it as long as I can and make all the money I can.”
Me: “Do both companies know you’re doing this?”

Fred: “Of course not. Look, I could earn you several fees in just one year! We’d be a good team.”
Me: “No, you look — don’t call me again.”

Fred: “If you’re going to tell anyone, let’s just forget it.”
Me: Click.

I could have said something more clever, but I just told Fred to bug off. He never told me where he worked, and I didn’t want to know. Since no one had recommended Fred to me — another engineer used him as a reference — I had no context for a relationship with him, and no one to blame!

Making jobs pay

How was it possible for Fred to keep jumping jobs, getting 10%-20% higher salaries, and not get caught? He told me he worked odd hours, but that’s common for engineers. He’d put in just enough time at each job to keep his head above water, then leave when things got hot. After around three years, he’d boosted his salary by over 50%, and made much more than that by holding two jobs at a time. He made sure to stay employed, so headhunters would call him with interviews — he’d figured that much out. He was “working” headhunters who filled jobs without asking too many questions.

Fred said he was “making jobs pay.” You could say Fred was just playing the market, and beating employers at the salary game. He’d lucked into some employers that didn’t do much background checking — or that trusted “headhunters” to do it for them.

I write a lot in this newsletter about employers that go too far with background checks, and about job hunters who get abused in the recruiting process. But employers sometimes take it between the eyes, too, from unscrupulous “salary hunters.”

What Fred was doing can be done — but not for long. The issue wasn’t the salary boosts he was getting — that’s a matter of negotiating. The problem was that he wasn’t comitting to a job, and that was his routine.

Do you think people can hold down multiple jobs of the same kind, and do it successfully and legitimately?

I didn’t keep up with him, but my guess is Fred didn’t spend many years in the engineering profession. I’m sure he got busted. There are many lessons in stories like this. What do you get from this one?

Got a good, weird tale of job hunting or hiring? Let’s hear it! (Want to hear more true stories from The Headhunter Files? Let me know!)

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Should I disclose my salary history?

In the March 20, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader worries that disclosing salary history to an employer is not a good idea…

What’s the best way to deal with an interviewer who wants to know my salary history and salary requirements? While I know employers always ask this, I feel it takes away from my edge when I divulge that information.

My Advice

You’re absolutely right — to a point. When you show your salary cards at the wrong time, your negotiating edge disappears. When employers ask for salary requirements, they usually follow up quickly with a question about your salary history. Then they use your last salary to limit any offer they make. And that’s why you need to take control of the discussion.

You should avoid disclosing your salary history, while expressing your desired salary as a range you can justify and defend. The best way to negotiate a good salary deal is to demonstrate that you’re worth it.

Salary history is confidential.

In my opinion, discussing salary history is a no-no. It’s no one’s business. Some employers will object, but keeping your past salary confidential is pure common sense because it directly affects your ability to negotiate. Although an employer may suggest that your old salary is a good indicator of your value, the truth is that it’s up to her to make an independent assessment of your value to her business.


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Your salary is nobody’s business. Disclosing it can cost you a big raise.

Learn to say NO firmly and with authority when employers demand your salary history — to make them say YES to the best possible offer.

It’s all in my new PDF book:

Keep Your Salary Under Wraps

BONUS: I’m throwing in a special mp3 download, from my recent workshop at Cornell’s Johnson School of Management.

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ORDER NOW! Get a BONUS mp3 download!

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Don’t cap the job offer.

Employers claim otherwise, but once they know your salary history, they’re likely to use it to limit any job offer they make to you. They offer myriad excuses for why they need to know your salary, but I’ve never heard a legitimate one. (My favorite: “It’s the policy!” Gimme a break.) If they want to make sure you’re “in the right ballpark,” ask them what the salary range on the job is. If they continue to press you, ask yourself whether they’d disclose the boss’s salary — or anyone else’s salary in the department. Makes no sense, does it? Don’t help an employer cap the job offer by retreating to your old salary before you even begin to negotiate.

Talk profit.

Turn any salary question around and ask what exactly the employer wants you to accomplish for her business. Then be ready to show how you will deliver. If this sounds like a lot to prepare in advance, it is. If you can’t do it, then you have no business in the interview.

Know what you want.

It’s legitimate for an employer to ask what you want, as long as it’s couched in a larger discussion about how you will contribute to the bottom line. As we said above, the more value you can contribute to the work, the more you’re worth. There’s no way to provide a desired range until you know what the job entails and what the expectations are — and that requires thoughtful discussion about the manager’s business objectives and how you will fit into them.

Salary negotiations can be challenging. But it’s easier to negotiate the right deal when you’ve demonstrated good faith — and firmness — by keeping your salary history private, by demonstrating your worth, and by sharing your goals with the employer.

How to handle demands for your salary history is such a hot topic on Ask The Headhunter that I wrote a 27-page Answer Kit that teaches how to say NO politely and with authority, so you can prove you’re worth more: Keep Your Salary Under Wraps!

How do you protect your ability to negotiate the best salary? Should employers demand your salary history? Should you disclose it?


Don’t miss these other Ask The Headhunter Answer Kits:

How to Work With Headhunters

How Can I Change Careers

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When should you bring up money?

In the December 13, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a long-time reader asks whether it’s okay to discuss salary range with a headhunter before taking time out of a busy work schedule to interview:

I’m a long-time reader. This is my second-time question — the last one was in 2004! I’ve just been headhunted for a position that would require an hour commute. We’re past the phone-screen stage, and now at a point of coordinating schedules for in-person meetings. This is the busiest time of year for my current employer, so to leave for a half day would be very difficult. Is it acceptable to discuss salary range before I invest time in interviewing? Or does that automatically mark me as a problem child?

Here’s the short version of my advice: (For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)

My Advice

Nice to hear from you again! “The money question” troubles many people. We all know there’s no hire until money is discussed, so why is it such an awkward topic? Why do employers and applicants alike prefer to “wait until later” to bring it up?

An employer has a budget for a position. It might stretch the compensation to hire a particularly good candidate. But that depends on the quality of the interviews, not on whether the salary range has been discussed in advance.

I think it’s key to get the money question on the table early — especially if you have to invest travel and time to interview.

I like the off-the-cuff approach. Call the headhunter, express your interest in the job, and then say the following.

How to Say It

“By the way, what’s the compensation like for this position?”

That’s not aggressive and it’s not the last word. It leaves room for further discussion. Then stay silent and let the headhunter speak. If she won’t answer you candidly, then don’t feel guilty pressing her.

How to Say It

“We should make sure we’re in the right range…” or “I’d like to make sure I’m on the same page as the employer before we all invest our time…”

If the headhunter deflects by asking what you’re making or what you want, you should turn the tables to test the headhunter. Yes, I said test the headhunter. Make her work to recruit you, or she’s not really worth talking to.

How to Say It

…(This last How to Say It suggestion is only in the newsletter… Don’t miss next week’s edition. Sign up now! It’s free!)

This makes the headhunter work for it. If she’s not able to engage with you now on the subject of money, then negotiations are likely to be difficult later, after you’ve invested a lot of time. (This is why both headhunters and employers often avoid talking money: The more time they get you to invest, the less likely you will be to walk away from a low offer.) For more about negotiating with headhunters, please see How To Work With Headhunters.

Could the headhunter conclude you’re a problem child and drop you? Sure — but you’ve hardly been “dropped.” Rescued is more like it. If you don’t know what the compensation range is, there’s really nothing more to talk about. Exploring new opportunities is a good thing, but not every recruiting call is an opportunity. Test the recruiter quickly. Find out how much she knows about the employer and the position, and make sure there’s a suitable payoff if you invest your time. If the headhunter thinks you’re a problem child because you want to talk about money, then the call itself is a problem.

Do you ask about money before you interview? I’ve heard lots of justifications for putting it off, but I don’t really buy any of them. Am I wrong? How far do you go before talking money?

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Salary History: Can you afford to say NO?

In the July 12, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter questions whether it’s prudent — or even possible, when forced to use an online form — to say NO to an employer that demands your salary history.

Question

I read your article “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps.” While I found it to be an excellent article overall, I couldn’t help but wonder when it was written. Within the last several years, many employers have moved their application process to the web. Current salary (along with desired salary) is a required field in the online application, and there is no option to quote a salary range.

In this economic downturn, with so many people still without employment, the competition is beyond fierce. It’s definitely an employer’s market these days. Unless you are a highly sought-after executive or the best of the best in your field, the company has plenty of other applicants to move onto if you don’t provide the information they are seeking. 

As an HR professional, I don’t mind giving them my desired salary range, because I keep up with the market and I have done my homework. However, I despise the question, “What are you making currently?”, or, in my case, “What were you making in your last position?” As you state in your article, I don’t believe it’s anyone’s business, and it definitely has no bearing on what the job is worth. Yet, can I (or anyone else who is unemployed due to the recession) afford to be “contrary?”

Nick’s Reply

Here’s the short version of my advice: (For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)

I wrote that article several years ago. But it’s still valid. I know the pressure is on, and employers don’t make it any easier with their cattle-call job applications. It’s up to you to protect your integrity.

salary history

Say NO to demands for salary history

I think good candidates must be contrary. They must stand out. Withholding salary history is not indicative of an uncooperative candidate. Demanding it reveals a company that’s not going to negotiate based on the candidate’s value. This is fundamentally wrong. I think you’re letting an employer’s poor management practices seduce you into complicity.

Don’t let application forms intimidate you

If an online application requires salary history, ignore the application. Find a better way in the door. As you point out, if you don’t cooperate, the company has plenty of other applicants who will do what they’re told, and destroy their ability to negotiate. Let the company have them. It wants cows, not people who think and act outside the box. Join a company like that, by playing along, and soon you’ll be looking for yet another job. The herd mentality hurts employers that rely on it, too—especially in difficult economic times.

Read what a successful job hunter has to say about this. He attended a presentation that I gave at Cornell University recently, then he interviewed for a top job.

“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: Never divulge my current salary, and Talk about what I will do, not what I’ve done. They oughta make you a Cornell professor! I can already see that the one hour you spent with us will have as much impact on my MBA ROI as any class that I have taken in the program, if not more so.” — Rich Mok

That presentation was based on How to Work With Headhunters. The audience was a group of corporate executives in Cornell’s Johnson School of Management Executive MBA program. You don’t have to be an executive to stand your ground, but you do have to be the right candidate. (Otherwise, you have no business applying for the job!) Rich Mok reveals how to redirect an employer’s attention: Show what you’ll do to make the company more successful. Your salary history (and your resume) won’t matter so much. I’ve seen this work at every level of compensation.

Don’t compromise yourself to appease an employer

You clearly agree that salary history is no one’s business. Then why capitulate and compromise yourself? You need not forego an opportunity if the application requires salary history. You just have to demonstrate your mettle and find a better way in the door. Being contrary when the world behaves foolishly doesn’t mean you’ll be rejected. It makes you stand out. It’s what makes you worth hiring — and worth interviewing.

Do employers force you to disclose your salary history? It’s a perennial argument. You feel you can’t afford to say NO when an employer demands your salary history. I say you can’t afford to disclose private information.

So, what do you do? Can you protect your integrity and still apply for the job?

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Readers’ Forum: The ethics of juggling job offers

In the September 21, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks how to deal with two job offers, when you accept one then a better one arrives a few days later.

Question

I am in this dilemma and read your article about Juggling Job Offers. Yours is the only one that says to accept the first job offer, and when the second job (which would be a better offer and more suitable) presents itself, then retract acceptance of the first job offer.

However, the other articles and guidance suggests not doing this at all as it is unethical and can damage one’s reputation in a given industry. I have gone back to the first company and gotten a decision window of one week to decide. The timing is off as I need one more week for the second job’s response and possible offer.

Do I ask for yet another extension? Any thoughts?

Nick’s Reply

Here’s the short version of my reply. (You’ve got to subscribe to the weekly newsletter to get the whole story!)

Sorry, but I don’t buy the ethics angle on this. As I point out in the article, if a company lays you off six months after hiring you, is it behaving unethically? No. It’s a business decision. What if it lays you off a week after you start, due to unexpected financial setbacks? What’s the real difference?

How many job offers do you really have?

The fact is, in a situation like this, you are not making a choice between two job offers. You are making a binary choice: Yes or No to one job. While I hope the other offer comes through, I can tell you that in many years of headhunting I’ve seen most “sure thing” offers go south. Either they are delayed indefinitely, or they never come through.

Is this about ethics or business?

I agree that accepting then rescinding your acceptance can have an effect on your reputation. But likewise, a layoff has an effect on an employer’s reputation. Still, sometimes it happens out of necessity. It doesn’t make the company (or you) unethical. It’s a business decision.

I’m not trying to downplay the seriousness of rescinding an acceptance. But to behave as though the second offer is a sure thing is to put the first offer at risk. Is it unethical to continue to ask the first company — which has stuck out its neck and and made a commitment to you — to keep extending the decision deadline?

How many times will the second company need “one more week” to produce the offer, if it produces one at all?

Sorry, but a bird in the hand is the only bird you’ve got! Decide about that, and then deal with the future later.

For more about this thorny topic — and how to deal with job offer challenges — see Fearless Job Hunting, Book 9: Be The Master Of Job Offers.

Am I being unethical? Is it wrong to accept an offer then change your mind because a new offer is better?

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Military transition & discipline

My office is nice and cozy. I have a big cherry-wood desk and a great chair. Views of woods and grass through lots of big windows. It’s a peaceful habitat.  No one bothers me. I know I’m safe, and in a few hours I’m gonna see my wife and kids. So now I’m going to try and show my gratitude to one guy who foregoes everything I just described, every day and every hour, to ensure that I can enjoy what I have all day long, every day. That, and my thanks, won’t make him one bit safer where he is, but I hope maybe it’ll help him through his military transition into a good job when he returns home.

military transitionQuestion

Nick,

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog in my free time over the past week. I’m a Captain in the US Army, currently stationed in Iraq and making the transition to civilian life in the next 6 months. I was wondering if you had any tips for someone in this unique situation that could smooth the transition from a mid-level military officer to a managerial or leadership position in the business world?

I’m currently serving in the Logistics branch, so I believe my skill set will translate well, but I need some pointers on how to sell it. As officers, we are bombarded with spam from headhunting firms and database job mills (often to our professional email addresses). The majority of my peers have used these services with mixed results. Perhaps you could give some guidance in one of your upcoming posts?

Thanks for your time,

Kevin W. Ryan
CPT, LG
ISF Logistician

Nick’s Reply

Hi, Captain Ryan,

Thanks for what you and all our military do for us — I’m glad to offer any advice I can, hoping it might be useful.

Here’s the best initial suggestion I can make to you:

  • Don’t go looking for open jobs.
  • Avoid the job postings and ads.

If it’s open and posted, the competition is already so huge that your odds of success have dropped like a rock. The quality of your credentials and skills is almost irrelevant because the systems (human and otherwise) used to sort through applicants is not good at separating signal from noise.

Your best bet is to figure out what you’d like to do, and who you’d like to work for. Start with industry — which one? It helps to start with good targets. Don’t waste time with second-tier companies. Start with the best, the shining lights, whether they’re big or small. Research their operations, figure out what job functions might match your skills and interests. (Don’t get too specific. Like the guy said, most of what we know we learned in Kindergarten. The rest is about riding a fast learning curve without falling off.) The key is that it’s up to you to map your skills onto the work, as best you can.

That’s how you pick the job(s) in the company — not from ads.

Once you’ve selected a handful of companies, and identified some functions and jobs, you need to make new friends. Something like 40-70% of jobs are found and filled through personal contacts. So don’t waste time with other channels. The next task is to work backwards from contacts you already have, and ones you can develop quickly, to meet and talk with insiders — people connected to each target company. They need not be employees. They might be vendors, customers, attorneys, accountants, landlords, bankers, etc. Find them any way you can — one good way is business articles about the company. Look for names of such folks. Google them, email them, call them. Be brief and respectful. Explain you’re considering working for company X, and you know they do business with X, and you’d like their insight and advice. Have a few good, friendly questions to ask about the company.

You score when the person personally refers you to someone in the company for more information. That’s when the real fun starts.

Use these introductions (you need only a handful, and you may have to talk to lots of folks to get them) to more closely map yourself to the work and function in the company. The best way to tackle this is to ask:

“What problems and challenges is your company facing in [logistics, purchasing, marketing, whatever]? Can you give me a little insight? I’m interested in working for your company, but I haven’t yet identified where I can contribute the most to the bottom line.”

It takes only one savvy manager to hear the words bottom line, and you’re in.

This is actually a lot of fun, because you’re meeting new people, learning new things, and getting into the circle you want to be part of. If you’ve got six months, I encourage you to start now. It takes time. But it’s the only reliable way to get in the door and find the job right for you.

Employers are lousy at figuring out what to do with job applicants. Most of the time, they realize people are just looking for a job, any job. If you start by picking an industry, a handful of companies, and then focus on mapping yourself onto a company’s challenges — that’s how you use your brain to create your own job opening. More likely, you’ll identify something that’s about to come open, and you’ll be the first candidate to interview. No competition. And due to the research you’ve already done, your motivation will translate into very effective dialogue in interviews. While your competition is answering questions like, “What’s your greatest weakness? If you could be any animal, what animal would you be?”, you’ll be busy explaining how you think you could add 10% to the department’s bottom line. Big difference!

Do me a favor and stay in touch. I’m glad to help. You’re ahead of the pack already because you took time to make contact in the business world. Keep doing that. Reach out to insiders in your target industry and companies. Forget the job applications and resumes. Do this right, and you won’t need a resume. The conversations you have will evolve straight into interviews.

You might have noticed that I didn’t mention military transition once except in the title of this post. That’s because the same methods that work for everyone else will work for you, because this is all about delivering profitable work, no matter where you’re coming from.

The edge you have is discipline. The military has given you that in spades. It’s something every job hunter in the civilian world needs, because roaming the job boards isn’t a task. Identifying your objective, focusing on it, pursuing it, and not stopping until you attain it requires… well, you get it. You don’t need to transition. Just apply your discipline to the task at hand and don’t abandon what you learned in the Army about getting the job done. Not to be rude, but civilians won’t be much competition.

Start with The Basics: Pick your targets. You know the old saying, you can’t get there if you don’t know where there is.

Be safe. I’ll be thinking about you.

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