When to stop negotiating a job offer

In the January 22, 2019 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader asks whether negotiating a good job offer would be crazy.

Question

I’m a Senior Data Scientist and I just got a job offer, but the salary is about $1,000 lower than I expected. It’s a management position with less than a dozen staff reporting to me. They also offered a very generous signing bonus of about $50,000.

I think the salary offer is so low because in the interview I was bad at white boarding, and they told me that. But I explained that other skills like machine learning are far more important in this position, and they agreed that’s one of my key strengths. Obviously they agreed enough to want to hire me.

I understand they’re using the signing bonus to hedge their risk, but I still want to negotiate the salary. What do you think? In this situation, how crazy is this idea? Thanks!

Nick’s Reply

Harvard Business Review has called Data Scientist The Sexiest Job Of The 21st Century. Forbes reports it’s the best job in America. Does that make you worth a lot? Probably.

Don’t negotiate out of greed

Does that mean you should be greedy? Absolutely not. Don’t let your market value go to your head, and do not discount the judgment they made about your white boarding skills.

The value of data science depends on the kind of business in which its practiced — something I don’t know in your case. (Is it marketing? Is it financial services, or consulting?) Apparently the value of white boarding is higher than you think, or this employer would not have made a point about it.

Would you turn down the offer?

I think you should ask yourself this question: If you tried to negotiate and they were not to budge on the salary, would you still accept the job?

If you would, then I would not bother negotiating for a $1,000 increase. Given the size of the starting bonus, I’m guessing the salary offer is way over $100,000. That means the $1,000 is a bone of contention of less than 1%. This is what I refer to as One big negotiating no-no. In a moment, I’ll tell you why it’s risky to be greedy.

How to judge the offer

But let’s put the $1,000 aside for a moment, because it’s still important to consider two of the key issues in any job-offer negotiation.

  1. Is this a good place to work, and are they demonstrating that they really want you?
  2. Is the compensation enough for you?

First, what I really mean is, Do you really want this job? Do you want to work with these people? If you don’t, then don’t do it for any amount of money. If you do, then calculate the future value of the job and the cohort you’ll join. (See It’s the people, Stupid.) Then ask, What does $1,000 mean in this context?

Second, what I’m telling you is, If the salary offered is not going to make you happy, then negotiate the offer or reject it.

That’s how I’d judge the offer.

Focus on key decision criteria

Now let’s focus on your particular case. It doesn’t seem the offer is inadequate — not if the difference is less than 1%. While that $1,000 may mean a lot to you — and I don’t mean to disparage your concerns –, I also have to be blunt: I think you’re being greedy. It seems to me you’re discounting the quality of the company and the people you’ll be working with. I’d focus my energy on how good a working environment this would be for you. That’s one key.

I agree the signing bonus is generous. Of course they’re hedging their bet — but it still indicates how much they want you. You’re wise to consider that a signing bonus is a one-time payment that will not affect future raises, your 401(k) basis, or other salary-based perks. But you’d have to work 50 years at a $1,000 higher salary to match that one-time bonus. And as my accountant would point out, if you invest that lump sum for the next 50 years, you’re effectively getting a raise every year on it. So the compensation package is another key — and it sounds quite good or you would be looking for far more than $1,000.

Risks of negotiating

If you would not accept the salary unless it’s $1,000 higher, then by all means negotiate and be ready to reject the total offer. It’s not my place to tell you what this job is worth.

Now here’s the risk I referred to: If you press for an extra $1,000, I would not be surprised if this employer rescinded the offer altogether. (Other risks include a delayed offer and unexpected competitors surfacing.)

If the hiring manager asked my advice, here’s what I’d say: After you showed this candidate good faith worth $50,000, the candidate is demonstrating a preoccupation with $1,000. That’s not good faith on the candidate’s part!

I usually side with candidates who believe they’re worth more money. But in this case $1,000 doesn’t constitute a meaningful negotiation. It’s chump change. I don’t think it’s worth jeopardizing this offer. If you invest that signing bonus at 2%, you’ll get the grand without negotiating anything.

Know when to stop

Knowing how to negotiate effectively includes knowing when to stop. So let’s return to the key question: If they were not to budge on the salary after negotiations, would you still accept the job?

If no, then negotiate. (Here are some tips to help you: Negotiate a better job offer by saying YES.)

If yes, then I think risking the job for a grand is indeed crazy. If other key aspects of the job are satisfactory and you want it, thank them for their offer and generous signing bonus, smile, and tell them you plan to demonstrate so much value to their business that next year they’ll want to give you a substantial raise.

I wish you the best.

How much more is worth negotiating for? Where do you draw the line? What’s your biggest negotiating win? Did you ever negotiate yourself right out of a job offer?

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13 lies employers tell about job offers

In the October 30, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader recounts her experience with a small-business owner and how he plays games with job offers.

Question

job offersI just came across some of your articles when trying to research my job offer being rescinded (Behind the scenes of a rescinded job offer, Job offer rescinded after I quit my job). A lot of what you wrote resonated with me and made me feel much better about my experience today.

I interviewed for a high level position at a smaller company, so I was talking to the owner directly. Here are the key facts about the compensation:

  1. The offer was at the bottom of the salary range discussed during my interview process.
  2. The owner said I could make it up with a large bonus, but that they didn’t have a structure for how bonuses worked. If the company was doing well I’d get all or part of the bonus, but it was at his discretion.
  3. I asked if he was flexible on the base pay at all, and I brought up the industry average (which was a lot higher) and my experience level and what I could bring to the table.
  4. He first said he was flexible on the base pay and even said that what he was paying me didn’t matter to him, but he didn’t actually budge and said this was a good offer he was making me.
  5. He said I needed to trust that I would be getting the bonus and at the end of the day my pay would be much higher.


I said I was still very interested and excited about the role. I explained that I would really like to review the details of the whole package, including the benefits, in case I had any questions. It’s a small company and there were some non-standard things they were doing with benefits, like providing some kind of stipend for your cell phone and other things, but no 401(k).

Here’s how that discussion went:

  1. I asked if he could send the complete offer in writing so that I go over all of it to make sure I understood everything, and then confirm my positive response.
  2. He asked how long I needed to review it.
  3. I asked if I could get it to him before Friday (this was on a Tuesday).
  4. He sounded disappointed. He said that wasn’t the response he was expecting but he would still send over the offer in writing.
  5. He said he had other candidates that he needed to inform who weren’t getting the job and it was not fair to them to make them wait 2-3 days until he got a confirmation from me.
  6. I asked him if he had a timeline in mind that would work better for him, so he said Thursday morning.
  7. I said okay.


That evening, I got an e-mail saying he was rescinding the offer. He said he wanted someone who was so excited about joining his company that they are prepared and anxious to accept the offer when it’s made verbally.

He said that he felt I lacked passion for his company and that he didn’t want anyone there who was not passionate about his brand.

I wrote him back a professional response thanking him for everything.

I felt very validated when I found your articles because you explain that employers often make verbal offers because they are merely fishing for a reaction, not actually making a bona fide offer. That’s exactly what this was.

The job is an analytical one, so I was surprised that they would expect an instant, seat-of-the-pants response when they were looking for a detail-oriented, analytical person!

When I told my friends what happened, they fell into two camps. All my friends who work at various levels in corporate environments (including HR) thought I did nothing wrong. Two of my friends who both own small companies agreed with the owner and said they, too, would have rescinded the offer because they felt it was insulting to not immediately accept the verbal offer. They said that asking for the offer in writing showed I lacked trust. This of course goes against everything I know and believe.

I see what happened as a red flag for how I may be treated in the future. I’m at a bad job now but I don’t want to go to another bad job. I’m interested in this divide between large companies and small business owners, and I thought you would be, too.

Are the negotiating rules really different for small companies versus larger ones? Or are the small business owners I’ve described just outliers? Thanks for your comments.

Nick’s Reply

I think you dodged a bullet. Your story is important because it highlights a raft of games employers play with job offers.

Are these problems particular to small companies? While I can’t offer data to support this, my experience suggests small business owners are far more likely to play these games than managers in larger companies. I think business owners tend to be far more autocratic than their peers in companies that have many owners or investors.

Strike One

Let’s look at the facts you presented above — #6 through #9. This business owner decided to extend an offer after you satisfactorily negotiated a more-than-reasonable decision deadline. He made a verbal agreement with you about the deadline. Then he reneged on what he agreed to.

That’s strike one against him. It tells us he can’t be trusted.

Strike Two

You prudently asked for details of the offer in writing. He hedged, then agreed. Then he reneged and never provided anything in writing. I think he never had any intention of giving you a written offer.

This is different from merely agreeing to a decision timeline. This is about reneging on putting terms in writing. Do you think he does business deals on a simple handshake, without anything in writing? That’s a rhetorical question but, of course, he may in fact do deals with nothing in writing.

Either way, that’s strike two.

Strike Three

After tactful questions from you about the salary and bonus structure (#1 – #5), he refused to commit to anything concrete. He wants you to trust him, but he doesn’t trust you. He uses a double standard.

The old rule about “trust but verify” is why we put agreements in writing. I’ll repeat: This guy had no intention of putting anything in writing. “Trust me” means “No.”

Strike three.

Strike Four

The egregious management error this employer committed was to judge you unworthy because you failed to instantly display passion and a sucker’s excitement for an incomplete, dishonest job offer. He lost a potentially great hire.

If a strike four could be counted, that’s it.

If he wants to hire a foolish employee, he’s talking to the wrong person. If he’s looking for a thoughtless worker whose decision-making process is marked by a lack of prudence and due diligence, he should absolutely move on to another candidate he can lie to and hire on the spot.

The lessons from this game

It’s a good sign when an employer engages in a negotiation with a job applicant on compensation, on the terms of the job, and even on when a decision is due. It suggests you’ll be working for a boss who values your input and your circumspection, and who wants to make working together a win-win experience.

It’s a bad sign when an employer plays games.

You’ve taken the trouble to share your experience in very useful detail, revealing the many games employers play with job offers. This guy is bold enough to play them all at once — then to blame you for catching him.

Lies employers tell you about job offers

These are some of the lies employers tell, presented as a sort of “dictionary.” Here’s what unworthy employers will do in the hiring process:

  1. Salary Range. Establish a salary range to set ground rules for proceeding with interviews, then they pretend the low end is going to impress you.
  2. Good Offer. Tell you it’s a good offer without showing you exactly what the offer is.
  3. Competitive. Refer to “competitive” pay and benefits but never to precise sums or specific benefits.
  4. Bonus Structure. Refer to contingent forms of pay — like bonuses and commissions — but do not define objective, measurable, agreed-upon criteria that you must meet to earn those bonuses.
  5. Flexible. Say they are flexible on pay, but make no explicit compromises or concessions about pay.
  6. Industry Standard. Talk about industry-standard or average pay, but don’t define what that is or cite the sources of those numbers.
  7. Opportunity. Suggest that what this deal is really all about is a great opportunity for you, and that pay isn’t really the issue to them, when it clearly is because they won’t negotiate pay with you candidly.
  8. Trust. Tell you to trust them to pay you fairly, but will not define the compensation deal objectively in writing — or trust you to review their offer.
  9. Terms. Want you to agree to accept a job offer immediately based only on a few points — and “don’t worry about the rest of the details,” or what lawyers refer to as “terms.”
  10. Job Offer. Want you to commit to a deal verbally, while they balk about putting it in writing with their signature on it.
  11. Decision. Agree to give you two days to review a written offer they haven’t given you yet, then renege because you insulted them by not deciding instantly.
  12. Qualified. Judge how qualified you are for the job by whether you’re “excited” and “passionate” enough to accept on the spot.
  13. Commitment. Negotiate terms and make commitments then violate them.

These are all lies unworthy employers tell job applicants they try to take advantage of. The words in the little “dictionary” above actually mean something to good employers — and you’ll see that instantly in a good employer’s behavior.

Never work with jerks

You should never go to work for employers who play these job-offer games. You’d regret it because they’d behave the same way day-to-day. They’re jerks.

I think you’ve identified at least three people you should never work with — including your friends who said you insulted the employer and displayed a lack of trust. Don’t doubt your judgement – it has certainly served you well here.

Whether you’re talking to a big or small company, the approach and questions you relied on here will tell you all you need to know about an employer.

From the details you shared, I see a prudent, honest, forthright, responsible professional who treats others the way she wishes to be treated. I see no fault in anything you said or did during the hiring process. In fact, I compliment you for doing everything right – it all combined to help you dodge a bullet.

On to the next! Find a company that deserves a good hire.

My only suggestion is to carefully check a company’s and manager’s references before you invest your time interviewing there. You might find this useful: 5 rules to test for the best job opportunities.

What lies have you heard employers tell job applicants? What would you add to the dictionary above? What else should job seekers look out for in the throes of getting a job offer? What details do you insist on having in a written job offer?

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How should I ask for an overdue raise?

In the July 24, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a high-performing reader is looking for a raise.

Question

raiseNext month I’ll have my three-year performance evaluation, and I feel that I am worth more than my current salary. How do I convey the message that my job is worth more and ask for more money?

As my company has grown, so have my responsibilities. I’ve really stepped up to the plate. I’ve earned recognition, but it’s not reflected in my pay. Through discussion with peers in the industry, I have learned that the average salary is much higher. Could you please advise me how to approach my boss during the evaluation, so I can convince him my request is justified? What should I say and not say? Thank you kindly in advance.

Nick’s Reply

There are entire books written about this topic, and compensation experts will offer negotiating strategies galore. But I’m going to refrain from a long lecture, because I think you can figure this out yourself if you keep some basic ideas in mind.

No more boring performance reviews

What you should not do is walk into a review meeting, show some salary surveys, and expect your employer to cough up more money “because that’s what other people who do my job are being paid.” You must justify what you’re asking for.

Perhaps more important, performance evaluations and reviews are the bastard children of Human Resources. They are increasingly ignored in most companies. This is actually good news for you. If you’re going to have an evaluation at all, it will likely be very canned and scripted — and the manager doing it will be bored and in a rush to get it over with.

That’s your chance to take control and turn it into a useful, meaningful and engaging planning session. No more boring reviews! Stand out by showing your boss that you are 100% focused on doing your job — to make him and the company more successful.

Earn a raise with a business plan

A salary renegotiation is pretty simple conceptually: It’s best done with a business plan. In other words, do an analysis of your role as though your job constitutes an independent business. Don’t talk about your qualities or about what others are being paid. Talk about your company’s business and what you add to the bottom line — and what you will add in the future.

  • How do you contribute to revenue?
  • What does it cost to have you do what you do? (This includes not only your compensation and benefits, but the cost of your tools, the cost of your team and support personnel who help you, and so on.)
  • What’s your history in terms of the profitability you bring to the company? (That’s right: Your contribution to revenue matters, but how you impact profits matters more. Even if you can’t calculate a specific number, you need to outline a defensible case that goes into the profit factors you influence.)
  • What are your profit projections for the next two to three years? That is, make some projections of how you will contribute to profit. You’ll need solid evidence to back these estimates up.

Every job is a business

A job is a business. Managers forget that — so explain it to yours. That’s the key to thinking about this in terms your management will understand and respect. As in any business plan, your goal is to demonstrate how an added investment will pay off. You must show a rising return on the company’s investment in you.

To learn more about how to approach any employer with a business plan, check these 3 books in the Fearless Job Hunting collection:

Book 6: The Interview – Be The Profitable Hire

Book 7: Win The Salary Games (long before you negotiate an offer)

Book 9: Be The Master of Job Offers

See especially the sections “How can I demonstrate my value?” and “The Pool Man Strategy: How to ask for more money.”

The longer you’re working for the company, the more profit you should yield. A lot of this is number crunching, of course, and there’s seat-of-the-pants estimating involved.

Please read that last part again: There’s seat-of-the-pants estimating involved.

Negotiation is a dialogue

This will scare a lot of people off for fear their employer will challenge the estimates. That’s exactly what you want! A dialogue. A debate. A roll-up-your-sleeves talk about your job! That’s what your evaluation should be.

If your boss is worth working for, then your boss will see that you are worth a good raise because you’re thinking about the company’s bottom line and that you are prepared to discuss the future of your work intelligently.

It will help enormously for you to interview people in the company who factor into this plan — before you meet with your boss. In the process, you will not only build your case, you will also influence (and remind) other key players in the company about your worth. Then ask them to join the dialogue by putting in a good word for you with your boss!

How do you ask for a raise? Have you had a performance evaluation in the past year?

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Glassdoor Salary Data: Worse than useless

In the June 5, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter we shake up salary negotiations and take down the Glassdoor myth.

Question

glassdoorI know you don’t like Glassdoor’s salary survey data and employer reviews, but what are we supposed to use to base our salary negotiations on? I’m talking about job seekers.

Nick’s Reply

If you’ve ever used Glassdoor salary data to help you negotiate a job offer, did you wonder whether you might have under-sold yourself? According to a report in the June 2018 Wired magazine by Rachel Nuwer, Silicon Valley’s Exclusive Salary Database, you might have left an additional 69% on the table.

Wired tested samplings of self-reported Glassdoor salaries against Option Impact — a robust database of salaries reported directly by employers — and found glaring discrepancies. Option Impact is published by Advanced-HR for “elite users” — primarily venture capital firms and the tech companies they fund. These startups (and the investors behind them) can’t afford to make mistakes when competing for top talent, so they consent to share up-to-date salary information that Advanced-HR checks regularly.

In other words, unlike Glassdoor, which makes money off its data whether it’s accurate or not, Advanced-HR has a reputation to protect among VCs and the startups they run, and among the consultants and lawyers who serve them.

QA Engineer with 1 to 3 years’ experience

Option Impact: $101,955 (+43%)
Glassdoor: $71,004

Nuwer cites the example of a software engineer who got access to the database with his previous employer’s login. “Steve” turned down a handsome job offer of $180,000 that he says he would have gladly accepted — had he not learned from Option Impact that the reported market salary for that job was a lot higher. “His eventual starting salary: $205,000.”

The Glassdoor myth

I’m forever astonished at how easily people rationalize irrational behavior. Job seekers generally acknowledge that salary data and employer reviews on the popular Glassdoor website are biased and often phony. (See Can I trust Glassdoor reviews?) The salaries are questionable at best because they are self-reported. The web is rife with stories about HR managers and employers posting fake reviews to “balance” spiteful reviews from disgruntled employees.

Data Scientist with 4 to 6 years’ experience

Option Impact: $132,536 (+3%)
Glassdoor: $129,118

Yet I hear this all the time: “Well, I know all that, but you can still get a good idea about a company and what it pays by looking through all the information.”

No, you can’t.

Glassdoor admits it publishes, uh, crap

If you know some of the data are invalid but don’t know which, then it’s imprudent to trust any of it. Yet job seekers and employers peg their salary negotiations to anonymous Glassdoor “salary data” as if it’s a gold standard.

Glassdoor itself is clear in its Terms of Use that it doesn’t stand by anything posted by users or employers — that is, all its salary and company reviews:

“Because we do not control such Content, you understand and agree that: (1) we are not responsible for, and do not endorse, any such Content, including advertising and information about third-party products and services, job ads, or the employer, interview and salary-related information provided by other users; (2) we make no guarantees about the accuracy, currency, suitability, reliability or quality of the information in such Content; and (3) we assume no responsibility for unintended, objectionable, inaccurate, misleading, or unlawful Content made available by users, advertisers, and third parties.”

Sheesh. “Information” on Glassdoor is a myth. “Information” on Glassdoor is crap. What’s stupefying is that the company manages to survive and prosper by selling disclaimed “content” to suckers.

Glassdoor Salary Data: Worse than useless

The Wired report provides evidence suggesting Glassdoor’s salary data are worse than useless. The data are dangerous because they can actually cost you salary dollars when you decide how much to ask for. The job you’re negotiating for might be worth much more than the salary Glassdoor is “not responsible” for telling you it is.

Project Manager with 4 to 6 years’ experience

Option Impact: $137,000 (+66%)
Glassdoor: $82,403

Wired reports that the company behind Option Impact, Advanced-HR, doesn’t compile its salary data from employees who report it themselves — possibly fudging it. Advanced-HR gets it from the employers themselves.

“Companies share their employees’ anonymized salaries in exchange for access to the vault, which is searchable by job title, location, company size, revenue, and funding stage.”

Why would a company tell the truth about what it pays? Probably because Option Impact is an exclusive club and because these companies know venture capital (VC) firms rely on the data.

(Of course, not every job and industry is going to be in any salary database, including Option Impact, and all the general criticisms of survey data apply, including, Are we talking about the exact same jobs? I’m not suggesting Option Impact is the answer — just that it’s a fatal counter-example to Glassdoor’s swill pot of whatever anyone wants to pour into it. Advanced-HR demonstrates that there are other ways to do this.)

How can you get access to Option Impact?

Unless you’ve got access to some venture investment firm’s login, you’re not going to have access to the data that enabled Steve to get a 23% higher salary than he might have without Option Impact data at his finger tips.

Designer with 4 to 6 years’ experience

Option Impact: $126,125 (+69%)
Glassdoor: $74,591

So what’s my point, if you can’t get this data? It’s that if you trust your salary negotiations to salary data that you know is self-reported, unverified, untrusted, disclaimed and admittedly inaccurate (Thanks for the full disclosure, Glassdoor), you may be hurting yourself.

How can you get access to higher job offers?

Forget about getting your hands on valid salary data. It’s probably not going to happen. You’re not a VC or the CEO of a tech startup, and you probably can’t afford such exclusive insider data.

Instead, focus on the red meat of any job interview — be ready to show a hiring manager how you’re going to help drop additional profit to the bottom line if you get hired. Then you can ask for more money.

That’s a tall order, and there’s no short-cut. It’s why we’ve been talking about how to do it across hundreds of these Q&A columns. For example:

When a salary data vendor tells you it does not control the inaccurate, misleading information that it denies responsibility for, listen.

How do you know how much a job is worth? Does it really matter if you know how much you want? Do you use Glassdoor? How much would you pay for access to accurate salary data? What’s the secret to cracking the code of getting paid what a job is worth?

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We need to know your salary because —

In the April 24, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader cites the law about employers demanding job applicants’ salary history.

Question

The job application I had to fill out required I provide my current salary info. I just read that a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided that employers can’t use my old salary to decide my job offer, so why do they keep asking? (Court Ruling: There’s Never a Reason to Use Salary History When Calculating Pay.) I’ve started asking HR why they need that information and, Man, have I heard some real doozies. Seriously, HR thinks we believe that stuff? You and your readers have probably heard bigger whoppers than I have — can you share a few?

Nick’s Reply

salaryThanks for asking. My purpose behind this week’s column is revealed in the title. When we get to the end of it, I’m going to ask everyone to complete that sentence: “We need to know your salary because — .”

But first, please bear with me while we briefly discuss that new court decision.

What’s the value?

I’ve been warning job seekers not to disclose their salary to employers since I before I started writing Ask The Headhunter, because I’ve routinely refused to tell my clients (employers) how much money my job candidates were making. (See Keep Your Salary Under Wraps.)

“I will help you assess what the candidate is actually worth to your company so that you can make a competitive job offer,” is my counter-offer to the employer’s demand for salary history information.

I’ll admit, I’ve lost a few clients over this, but I also fired a few over it. Most employers realize it’s a healthy exercise to figure out a particular job candidate’s value independent of what any other company paid them.

If they’re not willing or able to figure this out for themselves, then I think they’re not worth working with (or for) because relying on some other employer’s judgement of a worker is both stupid and a revelation that a company has no competitive edge on judging value.

You can just say NO to demands for salary information

I’ll never forget the guy who called to thank me for his 75% salary increase when he landed a new job with one of my clients: “You just helped me buy my first house!” His old salary was $44,000. The job offer he accepted was for $77,000. “Thanks for instructing me not to disclose my current salary even when they insisted, because they backed off!”

While not all HR departments will back off if you politely but firmly decline to disclose (“My salary information is private and confidential.”), readers report that HR usually lets it go and proceeds with the job interview. You must judge for yourself how to respond, but you must also realize that if you do disclose, you’ve probably destroyed your ability to negotiate the best job offer. An employer may have the right to ask for your salary, and it may be legally free to terminate your application, but you also have the right to say NO.

Gender-mandering the salary issue

The article you refer to was written by my good buddy Suzanne Lucas (a.k.a. The Evil HR Lady), and she correctly points out that while the issue in Rizo v. Yovino was gender pay disparity, the decision is not about the gender issue per se. While the gender pay gap is a big concern to me (see Don’t blame women for the gender pay gap!), for now (just for now) I’ll leave that angle to Suzanne.

My bigger concern is that in the battle over equal pay for women the courts keep missing the fact that once an employer learns anyone’s salary history, everyone gets screwed when job offers are issued. Knowing your old salary enables an employer to easily cap your new job offer. That’s actually the defense offered by the Fresno County Schools: They freely admit that they’ve stuck it to more than 3,000 employees over 17 years — men and women — it’s the policy!

[Fresno County Schools attorney Michael] Woods said in an email Monday, “FCSS’ policy, applied to more than 3,000 employees over 17 years, was similar to policies used by many other employers…”
Fresno Bee

While some employers don’t play that game, in my experience most do. It’s never smart to disclose your salary. (See Should I disclose my salary history? and Salary History: Can you afford to say NO?)

The Court issues a general rule about prior salary

Certainly, any legal win that protects women’s right to equal pay is a good thing. But now the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has finally articulated the law in broader terms that seem to apply to everyone (emphasis added):

Prior salary, whether considered alone or with other factors, is not job related and thus does not fall within an exception to the Act that allows employers to pay disparate wages.” – Rizo v. Yovino

It doesn’t say “between genders.” This interpretation of the Equal Pay Act, a federal law passed more than 50 years ago, seems to prohibit any general use of anyone’s salary history to determine a job offer. Maybe I’m reading this too broadly, but I expect the debate has just begun.

HR’s salary game

Now let’s get to the purpose of this article: to discuss the games HR departments play regarding your salary history.

“We need to know your salary because…”

You’ve been there. You’ve applied for a job. Maybe HR called or e-mailed you and asked for your current (or most recent, if you’re unemployed) salary. Maybe you didn’t fill in that box on the job application form, and HR called to reprimand you.

You’ve heard the lines:

  • “We need to know your salary because… without it, we cannot continue to process your application.”
  • “We need to know your salary because… it’s the policy.”
  • “We need to know your salary because… we need to know whether you’re in our salary range.”
  • “Just tell us, because we SAID SO!”

What excuses have you heard?

The explanations for why HR “needs to know” your personal, private, confidential salary information are legion. But in all my years in business, I’ve never heard one good justification for why an employer needs to know how much money you make so it can consider you for a job.

The “reasons” are all so disingenuous and such tautologies that I have a standing challenge to all who work in HR: Give me one sound reason why you need to know how much anybody makes?

I’d like us to compile as extensive a list as we can.

What excuses for this salary demand have you heard? Let’s rack ’em up, expose them, look at them closely and discuss what it all means.

I’d also like to know what responses you’ve offered to HR — whether serious or snarky!

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The Cardinal Rules of Worth

In the March 27, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks us to focus on the big questions of value and worth.

Question

worthI’ve read your many columns about how to negotiate salary, how much to ask for when applying for a new job, what not to say about my salary history, and about why salary surveys (and websites) aren’t to be relied on. Now I’m doing some introspecting, trying to look at the big picture of my value and what I’m worth in the world. I wish I had started thinking about this 15 years ago.

Do you have any big-picture suggestions about figuring out what I’m worth and about how to increase my value in the world? Know what I mean? Not just salary and money, but value. Thanks.

Nick’s Reply

Anyone can use the search box at the upper right of this page to find articles about “salary,” “pay,” “negotiate,” and other such topics. We’ve discussed all that a lot. I think there’s good advice in the articles that will turn up — and even better advice from readers in the comments of each one.

For example:

Worth: The big picture

But I like your big-picture question. It does indeed demand some introspection and even some chewing of the philosophical fat. It really is a big question: What am I worth?

Maybe even more important, How can I be worth more?

And you’re right — this is something to think about again and again, not just when considering a job offer or negotiating salary. I typed “worth” and “value” in the search box and realized I’ve never tackled those tough topics directly — though I’ve wanted to.

Value: Who says?

I think the big mistake people make is that they try to view their worth, or value, in absolute terms. That is, they think there’s a number — a certain amount of money, or a money range — that they deserve based on their experience, credentials, knowledge, skills and so on. (See Too rich to land a job?) I suppose there’s an argument to be made that we each have some kind of inherent value that employers should pay us for.

But I’ve never bought into that. I think value and worth are in the eye of the beholder. It’s why sales people exist! Their job is to make something they’re selling seem more valuable to you so that you’ll pay more to get it.

When it comes to jobs, it seems employers, the job market, government labor and economic data and — of course — job boards and job-related websites, all want to tell you what you’re worth. They think they can figure it out by interviewing you — then they expect (demand?) that you accept their judgement.

Is your head spinning?

Maybe worse, employers define the value of a job by… defining the job. Then they limit themselves to hiring only someone who fits the job definition rather than someone who can do other, unexpected stuff to make their business more successful! This begs the question, are employers advertising for a bag o’ keywords, or for desired outcomes?

All this can make your head spin. Each issue I brought up above is probably worth (ha-ha) an article and a long discussion (and loads of comments!).

The Cardinal Rules of Worth

So now I’m going to try to do what you asked. To introspect. To focus on the big picture.

Here’s my stab at what worth is and how we can increase it, and maybe it’s too ambitious. But I’m worth more when I’m ambitious…

The Cardinal Rules of Worth

  1. Know who you are and be that. Don’t try to be someone else.
  2. Increase what you are good at. Don’t envy what others can do.
  3. Produce something. Don’t just consume what others make.
  4. Learn the market value of what you have to offer. Don’t settle for less.
  5. Assess your assets regularly. Know your trading power.
  6. Trade some of your assets for what others produce. Always exchange for equal value.
  7. Seek value, not availability. Don’t take what comes along.
  8. Create desires in others. Give others a reason to trade with you.
  9. Invest in the abilities of others. They will make your life bigger.
  10. Earn respect. It will increase your worth.
(c) Nick Corcodilos 2018 | asktheheadhunter.com

I think when we consider big ideas, there really aren’t any answers — just big stuff to think and talk about. And we all know the purpose of this forum is for us all to think and discuss. So I expect everyone will have something to add and something to say.

What is worth? Value? How do we judge and grow our worth in the world? How do we benefit from the worth of others? In what ways can we express our worth (rather than our desired salary!) that will make it relevant to others (and worth paying for)?

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The Zen Of Job Hunting: How to get past HR obstacles

In the January 30, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks how to overcome a mountain of job hunting obstacles controlled by HR.

Question

job huntingJob hunting has become incredibly frustrating. I have always said HR should never screen candidates, but it is reality and I have to face it. I am looking for a job and can’t get past the initial screening. People hiring for jobs I have done won’t talk to me. I just started using Jobscan to try to get through the initial screening. The word-match is ridiculous, but again it is reality.

Why do companies still rely on HR to scan resumes? It has never been a good idea and now with software to do word matches, it is even worse. Any great ideas on how to change the corporate mentality so top management will tell hiring managers they need to screen the resumes themselves?

If the hiring managers say they are too busy, that tells me they are not good at their jobs or don’t know what they want and are unable to produce good job descriptions. I find they also screen for academic background and professional licenses when those are not needed. For example, I am not a CPA, but have an MBA. Unless I am signing off an audit, it should not matter. I have cleaned up many messes from CPAs who could not function in an operating company.

Any ideas on how to change hiring mindsets?

Nick’s Reply

Why do people persist in trying to change other people’s mindsets? Change your own mindset. That in turn will allow you to change your behavior. Only your own behavior is going to enable you to change the outcome of your job hunting efforts.

I agree with everything you say, except that you “have to face it.” (See Why HR should get out of the hiring business and The manager’s #1 job.) You don’t have to face the obstacles HR throws up at you.

“You have to face it” is a great fallacy that the HR profession and the employment industry (Indeed, LinkedIn, etc.) market and sell to us every day. It’s bunk, yet some of the smartest people still accept it.

There is no mountain when you’re job hunting.

There is no way to beat a system that is designed to make managers avoid talking to the people they need to hire. But don’t let that stop you.

There’s an old Zen koan: A novice goes to the master and says, “Master, I have tried to climb the mountain. It is too big. I have tried to go around the mountain. It is too wide. What shall I do?”

The master says, “Grasshopper (it’s always Grasshopper, right?), there is no mountain.”

Understanding this is the start of changing yourself.

Reject what you know is wrong.

When you cannot change the job hunting system, reject the system. Realize that the silly methods employers use to isolate managers from you is nothing more than a consensus of HR people who are wrong.

The system hurts you only if you accept and acknowledge it. You don’t have to accept the system. The stunning truth is that this silly system hurts employers, too. It results in enormous, unacceptable rejection rates in recruiting and hiring. When HR rejects so many people, somebody’s doing it wrong!

Stop expending energy on HR, screenings and obstacles. Invest all your time in finding, getting introduced to, and talking with managers. Don’t be intimidated by this. It’s a challenge like any other challenge you’ve faced in your work.

Focus on the right objective.

Remember that HR doesn’t hire anyone. It processes applicants. Only managers hire. So, focus on the correct objective — the hiring manager — even if HR warns you not to. This means you must change your objective, which means changing your mindset.

Throw out your old job hunting playbook. (And forget about using Jobscan to diddle your resume!) If you have to get to the manager (and you do), what are the steps? Work it out. It’s no bigger a challenge than anything else you’ve faced in your work. The nice thing is, you’ll encounter virtually no competition because everyone else is standing in line at HR’s door!

This article may help you develop your own methods: Skip The Resume: Triangulate to get in the door.

This extreme example may help you change your mindset: 71 Years Old: Got in the door at 63 and just got a raise! (Let Stephanie Hunter be your guide!)

Don’t worry about the job hunting mountain.

People in power depend on us to believe they control everything and that we cannot control anything. I think such brainwashing is the real source of your job hunting frustration.

Please: Accept the fact that all your other observations are correct. Don’t fight your own good judgment. Instead, act on it. Don’t worry about “changing hiring mindsets.” Don’t let HR screen you. Approach managers from directions that do not involve “the mountain.”

Don’t worry about HR. Let HR worry about you.

What obstacles keep you from talking directly to hiring managers? How do you get to the hiring manager?

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The Job Monopoly: How companies keep pay low

In the January 23, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, we take a look at the job monopoly that keeps a lid on pay.

Question

job monopolyYou’ve probably already read this on Slate. Three economists conducted a study that asks, Why Is It So Hard for Americans to Get a Decent Raise? (The paper is only in draft form so Slate includes no link to it.) I think your readers might have some interesting things to say about whether there’s a job monopoly that controls their pay.

Here are the key points:

  • “Workers’ pay may be lagging because the U.S. is suffering from a shortage of employers.”
  • “A lack of competition among employers gives businesses outsize power over workers, including the ability to tamp down on pay.”

In other words, in areas where there are only one or two companies posting a certain kind of job (e.g., delivery van drivers in Selma, Alabama), pay for those jobs has stagnated or declined. They call this monopsony. Like a monopolist that controls prices because it controls supply of a product or service, a monopsonist company controls pay unfairly because it controls the supply of certain jobs.

But I think it’s far worse. (You’ve already touched on this before in your article Consulting: Welcome to the cluster-f*ck economy.) I wonder if those economists are taking into account all those “consulting firms” — middlemen who provide, say, most of the computer programmers to several employers in an area — that create further aggregation of hiring entities who would otherwise be competitive.

What do you say about this? What does everyone on Ask The Headhunter think about it?

Nick’s Reply

Wow, that’s one cool new word for our vocabulary: Monopsonist. It opens up a whole new world of worry!

Consulting firms and the job monopoly

I don’t think there’s any question that a handful of “consulting firms” that funnel workers to lots of companies in a particular industry, field or discipline constitute a job monopoly that kills competitive pay. I suspect your insightful guess is correct: The consulting industry is aggregating jobs and labor, thereby controlling — and depressing — pay. It wouldn’t surprise me if those economists totally miss the consulting-firm factor. (See Will a consulting firm pay me what I’m worth?)

The economists should ask workers who get their jobs via these aggregators, what is the difference between what a consulting firms pays them, and what the firm charges an employer for them. That’s never disclosed, and that’s the dirty little secret of the corporate world — and our economy. (We’ve looked at another topic that economists seem to view with blinders on: What the Federal Reserve doesn’t know about recruiters.)

But there are other issues and questions, too.

While I could ruminate for pages about what this means to workers and job seekers, and to our economy, I’m going to respect your request and roll this out to our community, in the form of a bunch of questions the article raises for me. Let’s see how everyone views this — and what questions and answers they’ve got.

I strongly suggest that everyone reading this column stop right here, and please read the Slate article before proceeding. It’s a worthy read — and I think it’ll get up your ire after it raises your eyebrows!

Are the data legit?

The Slate article by Jordan Weissmann raises a lot of questions, and not least of them is one about methodology.

  • The economists’ data set comes from CareerBuilder, “which publishes about one-third of all online job ads in the country.” Talk about an aggregator! What assumptions are those economists making about the validity and reliability of a major job board’s data, which comprises job listings that we all know are corrupt in more ways than we can count? (E.g., duplicate jobs, out of date jobs, fake jobs, composite jobs, inaccurate job descriptions, and so on.)

Questions about monopolistic pay practices

Nonetheless, the study raises provocative questions whether or not the data are legit.

  • In what other ways do employers monopolize a job market?
  • How do employers that are rolling in new-found profits explain this quote from the article?

“Since 1979, inflation-adjusted hourly pay is up just 3.41 percent for the middle 20 percent of Americans while labor’s overall share of national income has declined sharply since the early 2000s.”

  • What other employment practices “[cut] into labor’s share of the economy?”

Questions about anti-trust

  • Should the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission investigate monopsony like it routinely investigates monopoly?

“Then there’s antitrust… This paper’s findings suggest that Washington needs to think more carefully about how mergers can impact the job market.”

Questions about minimum wage policy

  • Does the following assertion turn our entire political debate about wages on its ear?

“Take the minimum wage. The classic argument against increasing the pay floor is that it will kill jobs by making hiring more costly than it’s worth. But in a monopsony-afflicted world where companies can artificially depress wages, a higher minimum shouldn’t hurt employment, because it will just force employers to pay workers more in line with the value they produce.”

Is hiring no longer competitive?

Weissmann closes on this point:

“We’re living in an era of industry consolidation. That’s not going away in the foreseeable future. And workers can’t ask for fair pay if there aren’t enough businesses out there competing to hire.”

I’ll bring it back around to the insight (offered by the reader who kindly brought all this to our attention) about “consulting firms.” (I put that in quotation marks because most of these firms don’t consult at all — they merely rent workers for profit.)

  • To what extent does consolidation of hiring by a relatively small number of body shops (I think body shops is the more accurate moniker) result in manipulation of pay?

And who’s going to do anything about it?

Okay, folks: Have at it! Is there a growing monopoly on jobs that affects pay? How does it work? What do you think about all this? What questions do you have that we can all try to tackle?

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How To Say It: I don’t do phone screens with HR

In the January 16, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader gets tired of recruiters and HR reps who want to do phone screens, then do nothing.

Question

phone screensSeveral companies and recruiters in the past year have reached out to me on LinkedIn regarding job opportunities. They do phone screens, tell me how great my experience is, love my ideas … then radio silence.

I believe some HR reps and recruiters are using LinkedIn as part of their due diligence process. They already have a final candidate in mind, but they want to be able to tell their employer or client that they have chosen the person from a selection of prospects — and I’m one of their fibs.

It’s impossible to tell which of these recruiters are for real until I either get the interview or get dissed. How can I figure it out faster and avoid wasting time with phony phone screens?

Nick’s Reply

Recruiters and HR reps don’t just do this as cover, to pretend they’ve got more candidates so they can fib to their bosses or clients. (But doesn’t that give the lie to claims that Linked and other online sources make it possible to interview more good candidates?)

LinkedIn also makes it instantly easy for recruiters and HR to check off Equal Opportunity boxes fraudulently. “Look, we recruited three women and three people of color!”

The technology is abused in more ways than we know. But I think your real question is, how can you instantly separate the tire-kickers from someone who might really have a job for you?

If an employer gushes and expresses the sentiment that you’re so great, why not test them on the spot?

How to Say It: Are you serious?

“If you’re serious, then schedule a face-to-face meeting and I’ll come in to talk.”

If they defer, then really test them. Take a more aggressive approach, since the odds now are that they’re tire-kickers:

How to Follow Up
“Thanks, I’m flattered, but please don’t waste my time if you’re not ready to act to fill the job.”

This sort of approach terrifies most people. What if the recruiter is offended and this costs you an opportunity? Well, what of it? If a recruiter or HR rep isn’t taking action, they’re being offensive. Leading someone on is not a skill. It’s a revelation of ineptitude that job seekers see almost every day. (See Job Spam: 6 tip-offs save you hundreds of hours!)

If the recruiter presses you for a phone screen, test them some more. Just say you don’t do phone screens.

How to Say It: No phone screens

“No offense, but if a recruiter doesn’t see a clear match, I don’t have time for phone screens. I would be glad, however, to invest as much time as a hiring manager needs to talk face-to-face about how I can do the job profitably.”

Any recruiter who won’t do that is not serious, and your experience (that’s why you wrote to me) already confirms you know that. Telling you how great you are and how much they love your ideas without taking the next step is frankly puerile. They should be fired for wasting valuable time blowing smoke. Their job is to schedule interviews so jobs can get filled. (Even if you advance from an HR phone screen to a phone screen with an actual hiring manager, you’ve at least moved the ball down the field. Use these tips to decide How and when to reject a job interview.)

I think we all know that most HR reps and recruiters lack confidence, judgement and skill. (To those who are better than that, stand up and be counted!) Pretending that a tire-kicker is going to give you a ride is not a reasonable way to spend your own time. The best thing you can do is test the recruiter so you can move on quickly — or get an interview if they’re legit.

Some insight from my book

Here’s a tip from the “Talking to Headhunters” section of How to Work With Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you, p. 66. When a recruiter or HR rep reaches out to you:

Your challenge is to learn all you can before you commit hours and hours of time to delivering a resume, attending interviews, filling out forms, calling for updates and agonizing over whether you’ll be chosen.

Don’t be afraid: A legitimate headhunter [or recruiter or HR rep] will not hang up on you because you behave like a prudent business person. A good headhunter wants to know that you are enthusiastic, but also smart and careful. If a headhunter [or HR rep] gets testy, end the call, because his objective is to control you, not to recruit you.

The serious headhunter will have already qualified you — or he wouldn’t be calling. Please remember that. You should detect that the headhunter already recognizes you when you begin your conversation. [That is, the recruiter has done a level of homework to vet you in advance, otherwise, why are they contacting you?]

I think there’s nothing to lose in this approach but aggravation! And at least it puts you in control, which will make you a more potent (and serious) job seeker.

This is indeed an assertive approach — it’s not for everyone, so please use your judgement. Perhaps it will give you some courage and ideas of your own that you can try comfortably.

So here’s my question to you. Do you use a recruiter’s first contact to test them? How do you judge whether an “opportunity” is real? How do you say it? Let’s have some provocative suggestions and tips that might help others move the ball — and avoid wasting their time!

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Want the job? Tell the manager you want to get married!

In the January 9, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader who is “killing the interviews” still can’t get a job offer. What’s the secret? 

Question

Interviews I had for the last three jobs I applied for all went great. I got compliments from the hiring managers, all the team members who interviewed me, and even from HR. Especially from HR! On two of the jobs the HR managers told me they were going to recommend I be hired. So what’s the problem? I’ve gotten no offers from any of these employers!

I know I’m killing the interviews. I follow all your main tips. I show how I’ll do the work. I talk about how I’ll add to profitability. I ask for live problems to show how I’d handle them. But nada. I walk out of those meetings all pumped, but no offers! What am I missing?

jobNick’s Reply

This is easy. You’ve already done the hard parts.

Make it clear you want the job.

I’m going to explain this straight from my book, Ask The Headhunter: Reinventing the interview to win the job. (The book is out of print, but I’m working on a new edition. Many of the concepts and methods in that book can be found in the Fearless Job Hunting books.)

All too often, a candidate for a job leaves the interview convinced he (or she, of course) did well. He wants the job and thinks the interviewer knows it. But he has not explicitly expressed his commitment. This can be a fatal mistake.

The interviewer knows you want the job only if you say you want the job.

It doesn’t matter what comments you successfully “slipped into the conversation” to make him think you want the job. You have to tell him.

Tell the manager you want to get married.

Let me try to explain this another way. My wife would never have accepted my marriage proposal if I hadn’t come out and explicitly told her, “I love you.” Similarly, I would never hire someone who didn’t specifically come out and tell me he wanted to work with me. That they love me. We all need to hear a commitment.

Make the commitment.

The manager needs to hear it.

Keep in mind that until a company makes you an offer, the ball is not in your court. You have no real decision to make until an offer is presented to you. Completing an interview without letting the interviewer know you want an offer is like playing basketball without ever taking a shot at the basket. You can’t just dribble and pass. You have to shoot.

If you would consider an offer from the company, you must say so.

The manager doesn’t expect you’ll accept an offer on the spot. But she would like to know how motivated you are to do the work and to work together. Most interviewers will never ask you. They want you to take the initiative and tell them.

If you want to hear a job offer, make a commitment at the end of the interview. If you want the job (assuming the offer is right), say so — because other good candidates won’t bother.

How to Say It

Look the manager directly in the eye and maintain eye contact as you say this:

“I want this job. I hope I have convinced you that I can do it, and do it well. I want to work on your team. I would seriously consider an offer from you.”

Remember, this doesn’t mean that you have to accept an offer if it’s made. The offer must be as attractive as the job. (See Job Offer Too Low? Here’s how to ask for more.) This is a crucial distinction. The commitment you have made is to the work, the manager and the job, not to any particular salary or other employment terms. Everything else still needs to be discussed. (See Negotiate a better job offer by saying YES.)

It is perfectly legitimate to turn down an offer for a job you really want, if the offer isn’t acceptable and you can’t negotiate a mutually acceptable deal.

Stand Out: Say the words.

If you’re killing the interviews like you say you are, you’re way ahead of the game. But if then the employer doesn’t make you an offer, something’s missing: You failed to offer the commitment that distinguishes a capable candidate from a motivated one. (If you’re a job seeker who doesn’t stand out, learn how to Get In The Door (way ahead of your competition)).

Should you win that offer by telling the employer you want to get married? Of course not. Just say you want to work together — that you want the job!

At the end of the job interview, what do you say to close the deal? Does it work? Is it as good as a marriage proposal?

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