How can I negotiate an NCA or NDA?

Filed under: Q&A

In the June 21, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader doesn’t like giving up future opportunities by signing restrictive agreements.

Question

First of all, thanks for writing your columns and educating us folks out here. If we ever form a union, you’ll get my vote for union leader! Anyway, I was wondering about non-competes and NDAs. I know you’re not a lawyer, but I’d like to hear your thoughts on the subject.

valueI can understand why companies want and need non-competes and NDAs, but I feel signing such contracts limits my future job opportunities; at least the ones that would pay me the most. So, I could refuse to sign, and they can refuse to hire me. If I want the job, it seems I’ve gotta bite the bullet. Perhaps I could sign the contract as “Darth Vader” and they won’t notice.

Is there a fair, balanced deal that I could make here? Thanks for your thoughts.

Nick’s Reply

Ouch, you’re hitting a nerve. Non-compete and non-disclosure agreements (NCAs and NDAs) are a sore spot with me because I believe they’re over-used, misused and too often signed. Nonetheless, both documents are becoming more common. Heck, they’re such boilerplate that you might be right — you could sign as Darth Vader and they might never notice! Some companies might just file the darned thing without looking at it any more carefully than they expect you to. But, don’t bet your future on that.

What’s an NDA or NCA?

For those who don’t know what we’re talking about, an NDA is an agreement you sign as an employee prohibiting you from divulging sensitive company information while you work at the company and often after you leave. When you sign an NCA you agree not to compete with your employer (now and when you leave) by soliciting its customers, going to work for a competitor, or through other actions. Sometimes, an NCA and an NDA are rolled into one document. (For more, please read Signing non-compete agreements for fun and profit.)

I think companies often use NCAs and NDAs for no other reason than because “everyone else does it.” The fact is, these agreements are very controversial. In some states NCAs are illegal because they restrict a person’s right to earn a living. Nevertheless, when you take a job, it’s up to you to protect your rights.

There are some legitimate reasons for a company to ask you to sign such agreements; for example, when you’ve worked on a sensitive trade secret that, if leaked, could cost the company a lot of money. It’s up to you to decide what’s reasonable, or to discuss it with an attorney who represents you, not the company.

Negotiate the terms

There’s no reason to get into an argument with a prospective employer about an NCA or NDA. The best thing to do is negotiate it. Because these agreements are often legal boilerplate, a company that really wants to hire you may be willing to negotiate specific terms that you object to. You may be able to get both the compensation deal you want and a comfortable agreement.

Your goal with an NCA or NDA is to limit the constraints. Here are some terms to negotiate:

  • Geography: A 100-mile radius of non-competition may be reasonable, but a blanket “all of the U.S.” or “all the world” is just nuts.
  • Term: One year may be acceptable, but a five-year restriction is not.
  • Competitors: Prohibiting you from working for any company in an entire industry is extreme. Try to get them to list specific companies by name. Make sure the list is short and realistic.

In light of the limit that an NCA or NDA might place on your future job opportunities, I recommend getting quid pro quo. That is, get fair value for anything you relinquish — and work this out before you accept a job, not after you’re on board. An employer has no incentive to re-negotiate an overly restrictive NCA or NDA after you’ve already joined up.

Trade fair value

When a company wants an NDA or NCA to protect its interests, then you should get something to protect yours. Always trade fair value. If a company is going to restrict your ability to earn a living, it should compensate you reasonably.

Get a contract.
If you agree not to go work for a competitor for a year (by signing an NCA), then don’t agree to work “at will,” whereby the company can let you go any time it wants. In exchange for signing an NCA, request an iron-clad employment contract. That way, if the company terminates you, it agrees to keep paying you through the end of your contract. The NCA gives the company protection (perhaps for a year), and the employment contract protects you (for a year also). By asking for a year, you might be able to get six months’ pay, if you consider that sufficient.

Get a severance deal.
Another quid pro quo for an NCA or NDA is a significant guaranteed severance deal. Ask for it, since your choice of next employers will be limited. Negotiate a severance package as a form of compensation for relinquishing your right to compete or to “talk about your work.” (Be careful: A blanket NDA can actually restrict you from talking about work you’ve done that is not even proprietary to the company!)

What might be in a severance package varies. Usually, severance is one week’s pay for each year you worked at a company. But in this case, we’re not talking just about severance; we’re talking about a special deal that compensates you for relinquishing some of your freedom. In my opinion, if you sign a one-year NCA, the company ought to cover you for at least a year after you leave, or until you land a new job that does not violate the agreement. (If that sounds extreme, so is an NCA!)

If the company’s not willing to compensate for protection, then it should not require an NCA or NDA. It should instead keep better control over its proprietary information and avoid divulging to you anything during your employment that might compromise the company when you leave. It’s up to the company to manage its assets — not you.

If any of this perplexes you, it’s smart to consult an attorney. It will cost far more to defend yourself later than it will to protect yourself now. (For some valuable insights from my favorite attorney, Bernie Dietz, see Employment Contracts: Everyone needs promise protection.)

Thanks for your kind words about Ask The Headhunter. But, no thanks — don’t elect me as your union leader!

Have you ever signed an NCA or NDA? Did it come back to bite you? Or, did you negotiate compensation for a fair restriction? How would you advise this reader?

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Banish interview butterflies

Filed under: Q&A

In the June 14, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a seasoned job seeker confesses to blubbering during interviews.

Question

No matter how many interviews I go on, or how successful I am, an old culprit appears in job interviews when I least expect it: the butterflies. You know what I mean. Nervousness. B-b-b-blubbering while I gather my thoughts. The sweats. Clammy palms. This should not happen to someone like me. So what should I do when it does — imagine the interviewer sitting on a toilet with their pants down, like a friend of mine suggests? (It doesn’t work!)

Nick’s Reply

butterfliesThanks for bringing up a subject that many people are embarrassed about.

Whether you’re an engineer, a CEO, or a finance jockey, the proverbial butterflies can start fluttering in your stomach during a job interview. Even the best-prepared job candidate can get nervous and come off like a blubbering rookie, and the meeting can suddenly go south. (I’ve never used the porcelain throne image you mentioned, but I know people who claim it works!)

We’ve discussed interview butterflies here on the blog, in Butterflies in your interviews?

I’ve also written about the frightful critters in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 6, Be The Profitable Hire, “Don’t Compete With Yourself,” pp. 2-4, where I suggest using one of several clever gambits to get the interviewer to talk first, while you calm your nerves, and to gain some insights that might help you later in the interview. (For example, ask the manager, “I’m curious — what brought you to this company? Where did you work before?”)

But some of the best insights about dealing with interview nerves have been suggested by readers:

“Just a guess: If you get butterflies in your interview, you’re thinking of it as an interview. Don’t do that. Think of it as a conversation between two professionals on a subject of mutual interest, which is what it should be anyway.”

If you can program your mind this way as you walk into an interview, you’ll be way ahead of your competition — without stumbling. Think of the meeting as your first day on the job. You’ve been hired, and now you need to get to know your boss and understand the work. Don’t behave like a supplicant begging for a job. Behave like an employee discussing your first assignment.

Another reader likes advance planning:

“Use your network to determine who is going to interview you and what their styles are.”

This gives a new meaning to interview preparation. Don’t just study news articles and other facts about the company: research the interviewer! Look the interviewer up online — think LinkedIn and Google, or relevant industry journals. Study the manager’s style and approach. Learn about their background and about other jobs they’ve held, and be ready to pepper them with relevant questions when you need a cognitive break from the Q&A and when you need time to gather your thoughts. This will help you roll with the punches.

Then there’s this assertive approach one reader takes, using the “presentation method” I recommend in The New Interview Instruction Book. (It’s an oldie but goodie, and yes, you can still get a copy.) Don’t just do the interview — control the meeting:

“It’s harder to be confident in an interview when you see it as you answering a series of questions. You’re always anticipating another question that may be difficult to answer in the ‘best’ way, so you’re always on guard. One of the benefits of the presentation method, where you are telling the interviewee what you can do to solve a business problem, is that you are controlling the conversation for a little while.”

My favorite suggestion is from a reader who believes — like I do — that worst-case planning is the best way to avoid nervousness. Always have a last-ditch trick up your sleeve. (I don’t normally suggest using tricks of any kind, but hey, this is a reader’s idea…) It can make you feel virtually invincible, which can change your entire interview for the better, even if you never need to use it. This reader brings props!

“I am the world’s worst conversationalist. When the conversation in the interview begins to fade, usually fairly soon, I whip out my presentation book and point to pictures, graphs, charts, memos, blueprints, schematics, diagrams, procedures, forms, the actual paper napkin with the original concept scrawled on it — everything done in my career created by me.”

In other words, when you get stuck, distract the interviewer while you pull yourself together. Of course, if the props are really good, all the better! Conquer the butterflies before they land.

What do you do to conquer interview butterflies? Post your tricks… er, methods… and let’s debate what works best!

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When job interviews are bad for you

Filed under: Q&A, Uncategorized

In the June 7, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job seeker expects more from employers.

Question

Push Back!When a company wants to interview me, I apply your advice and try to exert some control by asking that the hiring manager be present at my first interview. I think it’s inappropriate for an employer to ask me to invest hours of my time without that manager present. It worked recently with a small advertising company, and it actually helped the two-way respect, and I felt more confident talking about the role and compensation.

But, what to do when it’s a large conglomerate, like an Apple or GE? I’m in the hiring process with two large companies (not those) and the process has been difficult and very drawn out. While I’m sure these companies have their reasons for doing it this way, it seems to be a waste of time. I guess you always have to be prepared to walk away. Any advice?

Nick’s Reply

Good for you for pressing to have the hiring manager in the interview when you can! I’m glad you’ve seen it will work to your advantage.

Even if the outcome is that the manager rejects you, at least it’ll be early in the process and you won’t have to waste more time, and at least the rejection will come from the person in charge of the job — not some personnel jockey who doesn’t understand you or the work.

At larger companies, the problem (as you note) is that the hiring process is more rigidly structured. It’s hard to get them to do anything different — like let you meet the manager immediately. While a company may have its reasons, it’s still disrespectful and a waste of time for the applicant to get assessed by someone other than the hiring manager.

And again, you’re right – you must decide whether to walk away.

Finesse the encounter

This is where judgment and finesse come into play. If you really want to work at a company, and there’s no getting around their system, you must decide whether it’s worth the risk you’re taking by complying with a process that isn’t to your advantage. But I don’t think it’s prudent to make a binary decision: Should I comply, or should I walk away? I think it’s a matter of degree:

  • How much control should you concede to the employer?
  • At what point do you draw a line?
  • When do you walk away?

If you keep your wits about you, it’s also a matter of negotiation. It may be worth playing by some of their rules:

  • How flexible are they?
  • What concessions can you get in return for complying with parts of their process?
  • What advantage can you gain?
  • Perhaps most important, what can you learn from this initial give and take?

Collect some data

This is where getting recruited becomes fun. What should you ask for before you enter the lion’s den? You’re not required to attend an interview just because an employer asks. So collect some data points that will help you judge the employer!

  • You’ve already taken one important step: Ask to have the hiring manager present. All they can do is say no.
  • If the first interview will be with HR, ask when will the manager be involved? That is, when will you meet the manager? Get a commitment.
  • What’s the hiring manager’s name? It will be to your advantage to look the manager up on LinkedIn prior to your meeting. (Or, Get the manager’s resume before you interview for the job.)
  • What are the three main objectives of the interview? That is, what’s the employer looking for? (They likely can’t tell you, because hiring is haphazard in most companies.)
  • What are the three key things they want a new hire to accomplish in the first six to twelve months on the job? (Again, they probably don’t know — but it’s worth asking and it’s to your advantage to know.)
  • Get anything that helps you judge the employer and prepare for the first interview.

You might even go this far: Ask this question before you agree to an interview.

Judge the employer

As we’ve said, you’re not going to get all these concessions or information. But this preliminary negotiation is chock full of value. It’s partly to improve your chances in a job interview, but it’s also partly to test the employer. Yes — to test the employer. Some interviews are bad for you. Is this one of them?

  • Do this employer know what it’s doing? (See What’s up with clueless interviewers?)
  • Will they make some concessions to demonstrate respect to you — because they really want to interview you?
  • Or, does it turn out you’re just a piece of meat – and they won’t compromise on anything at all?

Additional Resources

There are many ways to test employers, to push the boundaries, and to gather useful data before you invest time in lengthy interviews:

Fearless Job Hunting, Book 5, Get The Right Employer’s Full Attention:

  • “How to pick worthy companies” — pp. 10-12
  • “Is this a Mickey Mouse operation?” — pp. 13-15
  • “Scuttlebutt: Get the truth about private companies” — pp. 22-24

Fearless Job Hunting, Book 8, Play Hardball With Employers:

  • “Avoid Disaster: Check out the employer” — pp. 11-12
  • “Due Diligence: Don’t take a job without it” — pp. 23-25
  • “Judge the manager” — pp. 26-28

Every concession an employer agrees to or declines early in the process tells you something — it’s a useful data point or signal you can use to your advantage.

Is this “opportunity” really good for you?

When I “go along” because I want a gig (with a new client, for example), I never forget that I’m looking for compromises. If I’m the only one compromising, if I’m the only one who’s agreeable, then I’ll probably be taken advantage of in the end. So, I keep testing, I keep probing, I keep asking, and I keep track of whether and how the other party will bend for my benefit.

Give and take is all part of a good relationship, and you need to know as early as possible what the other guy is willing to do for you. If the employer tells you the application and interview process is “their way or the highway,” then hop the nearest bus.

I think you have it right: Be ready to walk away, but be prudent. Even big companies will sometimes flex when they encounter a candidate they are really interested in. If you haven’t inspired that kind of desire in an employer, then why bother with the process at all? Do you really want to be another beggar at the door?

Make reasonable requests to gain some advantage. And don’t stop too early. For everything they refuse, have another request – and see if they try to meet you somewhere in the middle. That’s the sign of a company that may be worth it, even if their process is clunky.

The reader follows up

Thanks for your response and advice. It’s definitely tough to know when to push boundaries at the biggest companies, but I really liked how you put it: At minimum, test the process a little and collect data points. This is the first time I’ve gone through the hiring process completely solo.

A big thing that I’ve learned is that every step and decision tells you something important about your relationship with that potential employer. It can be hard to understand what’s going on and to capture all the lessons as you move through the process, but your site has been really great in demonstrating how much strategy is involved at almost every step. It has really helped me be mindful of things I would have never considered. Keep it up!

Nick’s Reply

knotLike my old mentor used to say, Use your judgment every step of the way, and do the best you can. And in the end, make choices — don’t let the other guy make them for you.

One of my favorite quotes is from Henri Frederic Amiel:

“To be always ready, a man [or woman] must be able to cut a knot; for everything cannot be untied.”

It’s easy for people to get so caught up with “trying to win” at the interview game that they lose sight of the larger objective: to get a good job, the right job, working with good people in a good company, where future prospects are good. They’re so busy trying to satisfy the employer’s demands that they lose sight of their own needs. Then they get tied up in knots before they realize they’re in a bad situation.

Yes, be ready to walk away, but after you try to get your way, too. I admire your fortitude!

Do you know when to push back on the employment process? Or are you afraid you’ll anger the Interview Gods? What requirements do you make of the employer before you invest your time in interviews? If you just take any interview offered (Hey, I’m not ragging on you) — what problems have you encountered?

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These industries are more likely to screw you on pay

Filed under: Q&A

In the May 24, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, we dispense with the Q&A and explore some bad news about who’s hogging the profits.

Yes, You’re Getting Screwed

  • While the price of fuel has dropped and airlines and their shareholders run to the bank with higher returns, you pay more to sit in smaller airline seats and to arrive at your destination later.
  • Your stock broker gets rich off the higher fees you pay on your investments, while the value of your portfolio stagnates or declines.

The trend is hardly worth debating — you pay more to get less. And now we know for sure that it’s hitting your paycheck, too: As corporate profits soar, you get paid less for your work.

I love capitalism, but this isn’t capitalism — it’s greed, and it’s putting our economy and our society at risk because it’s devaluing the work you do and killing your motivation to be more productive.

greedyA banker’s story

The irony is that a guy at JP Morgan Chase — a big bank making big bucks — has spilled the beans. Bloomberg reports that JPM’s chief economist, Michael Feroli, recently published a research note that reveals — Ta-Da! — “workers’ slice of the economic pie is getting smaller.”

It’s doubly ironic because JP Morgan’s first-quarter profits beat estimates — while the firm slashed bankers’ pay. Even the bankers that are screwing us are getting screwed!

Feroli sharpens the point and explains the connection: As big business gets bigger, there’s a clear link between increasing concentration of ownership and “labor’s declining share… of the value a company creates.”

Which is the long way of saying, you’re getting the shaft while The Man gets richer. The owners of those industries make out while your paycheck gets smaller.

Sheesh — I never thought I’d find myself talking like a workers’ rights nut.

It’s worse than unfair pay

So I’ll make myself clear: While I worry about workers, I worry far more about the gross imbalance between the value of work and what people get paid to do it. Even more than I worry about tired employees’ families going hungry due to stagnant wages and salaries, I worry that American productivity and ingenuity are at risk — because who’s going to be productive and inventive if that behavior is not going to pay off?

It’s worse than you getting paid less. Our entire economic system is at risk because the concentration of ownership and wealth has reached such critical mass that it seems it’s going to destroy itself by ignoring a basic tenet of capitalism — at least according to my definition: Profits spur motivation to do more profitable work when those that create profit enjoy the rewards.

What happens when workers — at any level and in any kind of job — see where the profits are going? I think it spells trouble.

Is Feroli right?

Rather than discussing the regular Ask The Headhunter Q&A column this week, I’d like to ask you to please read Peter Coy’s short article about Feroli’s work in Bloomberg Businessweek: Rising Profits Don’t Lift Workers’ Boats.

And then, if you dare, skim a report written by Jason Furman, chairman of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers: Benefits of Competition and Indicators of Market Power. It’s dense, and one of Furman’s conclusions will seem obvious:

“When firms take action to impede competition, through anticompetitive mergers, exclusionary conduct, collusive agreements with rivals, or rent-seeking regulation to restrict entry, their profitability may increase, but at the cost of even greater reductions in consumer welfare and societal benefits.”

Feroli used this report to map where the value created by various industries goes — and to draw the troubling conclusion that…

“…industries with more concentrated ownership… pay out their extra profits to shareholders, or to the government in taxes, but not to workers.”

He notes that between 1997 and 2012, in transportation and warehousing, the “share of business accounted for by the top 50 companies rose by 11.4 percentage points,” while in health care and social assistance, it fell 1.5%. What’s telling is that between 1999-2014, in transportation and warehousing, the share of profits paid to employees fell 7.6% — the biggest drop of any industry in the study — while in health care and social assistance, employees’ share of profits rose 1. 8 percentage points.

Draw your own conclusions. Then let’s talk about whether you’re getting paid less — and whether it’s because a concentration of ownership and wealth doesn’t reward the people who come up with the ideas, do the work, and create the wealth.

This week’s takeaway

Since this is Ask The Headhunter and my purpose is to give you a takeaway to help you be more successful — here it is, based on the sources I’ve discussed above: It seems you’ll earn better pay working in an industry where there’s more competition and less concentration of ownership. So pick your job targets wisely.

Feroli’s and Furman’s work suggests, for example, that the healthcare industry pays more of its income to employees, while the transportation and warehousing industries (which includes airlines and railroads) pocket more of the profits and leave workers in the lurch.

Here’s how various industries stack up in terms of the revenue share controlled by their 50 biggest players. According to Bloomberg, Feroli’s analysis suggests “the share workers got tended to decline in industries where there’s more consolidation.” That is, when more revenues are controlled by a smaller number of firms (“consolidation”), the less that industry is likely to pay to its workers.

cea-table

Of course, being the smart little community you are, you already know which industries are the problem…


If you need help assessing specific employers, these Fearless Job Hunting books will help you with these specific issues:

FJH-5Book 5: Get The Right Employer’s Full Attention

+ How to pick worthy companies (pp. 10-12)
+ Is this a Mickey Mouse operation? (pp. 13-15)
+ Scuttlebutt: Get the truth about private companies (pp. 22-24)

.

FJH-8Book 8: Play Hardball With Employers

+ Avoid Disaster: Check out the employer (pp. 11-12)
+ Due Diligence: Don’t take a job without it (pp. 23-25)
+ Judge the manager (pp. 26-28)

.


How can you tip the balance back towards making your work more profitable to you — when your work is profitable for your employer? Or has our economy shifted so far that it’s going to tip over? In your experience, which industries share the wealth — and which of them pocket the profits you help produce?

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Why do job applicants insult employers?

Filed under: Q&A

In the May 17, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, an employer is miffed at a good but cocky job applicant.

Question

We received a resume which looked very good. The applicant appeared to have all the skills we are looking for, and would have gone straight to the top of the list, but the resume was submitted with an e-mail that read:

thumb-nose“If you are intelligent enough you will find that I’m everything you’re looking for and more. If you are not, then keep on looking…”

I understand people are trying to get noticed, but this comes across as arrogant and insulting. In the body of the resume, the candidate describes himself as, “Friendly, well-liked individual with a good sense of humor (at least I think so).”

If he was trying to be funny with his e-mail, he missed the mark. If he had omitted the e-mail comments entirely, he would have been called for an interview.

We are a small company and personality is a large part of what we look for in a candidate. Why would a candidate go out of their way to insult a potential employer? What are your thoughts on such bold statements when submitting resumes?

Nick’s Reply

I’ll tell you exactly why the candidate wrote that note: He’s frustrated and exasperated with employers who waste his time again and again. Perhaps not you — but it’s happened so much that he sees no risk in being so bold.

Your company may be different, but the sad story today is that employers in general behave poorly and irresponsibly when hiring. They believe that because millions of resumes are available essentially for free online, they can interview all the candidates they want without recognizing a good hire — and continue interviewing without any obligation to candidates who match requirements. (See Systemic Recruitment Fraud: How employers fund America’s jobs crisis.)

Is your company part of a frustrating employment ecosystem?

Good employers who recruit and hire thoughtfully and treat candidates with respect are rare today. I believe the problem is an over-reliance on automation. LinkedIn and Indeed have sold employers a bill of goods – “We guarantee you the perfect candidate if you submit as many keywords as possible… and if you just keep searching our database… eventually, you’ll find your perfect fit.”

Employers who buy into this nonsense start running through applicants like paper towels. This particular applicant is fed up and probably doesn’t care any more whom he offends. That’s not wise. He should stop sending out random resumes, start relying on personal contacts, and emphasize respect. But so should employers.

(To get an idea of how big this frustration is, please see David Hunt’s excellect expose, “The Perfect Fit, Isn’t.”)

I think the recruiting tools that HR departments rely on are the root of this problem. HR’s systems program job seekers to apply for any job they find. HR has convinced job seekers that it’s a numbers and key-words game.

Then the whole thing blows up. HR complains of a “talent shortage” when we’re in the biggest talent glut America has ever seen. Candidates complain they are treated like commodities. And, finally, you get a note like that. It’s silly for any candidate who doesn’t know you to suggest he’s everything you’re looking for — until you consider that you probably advertised your position using keywords. If the candidate matches all those keywords, then he’s right — he is indeed “everything you’re looking for.”

Clean up your recruiting ecosystem

So the next thing to do is look at how you recruit. Is your method fair and reasonable, or is it contributing to a form of dumbed-down “matching” that encourages job applicants to view you with suspicion?

When reasonable people — like your “top of the list” candidate — start showing their frustration, it’s usually a sign that something is wrong. Your company may not be guilty, but your peer companies may be creating a communal problem. That affects your business — so, what are you doing about it?

I give you credit for trying to understand what’s going on. Otherwise-smart employers and candidates are doing imprudent things — because they’re frustrated. The system has to be changed, and I believe it’s up to employers to take the lead, since they’re the ones who own the jobs and spend the money.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Attend a chamber of commerce meeting. Work with other employers on standards of recruiting behavior. Raise them.
  • Ask your HR team to survey other employers: How do they treat job candidates?
  • Work with other employers: Improve the employment ecosystem for everyone’s benefit.

I don’t think the applicant in question was trying to be funny. If you think he’s a good fit, I’d pick up the phone and shock him with a call — and ask him politely why he seems so frustrated. If he’s rude, hang up. But my guess is you might meet a solid, engaging person who’s just fed up with the system. He might be a gem.

(Consider the other side of this: Job applicants often interview with employers even after they’ve been insulted by ridiculous online application forms. Don’t be so quick to judge people before you actually meet them.)

I wrote so much about this because it’s a huge problem in our employment system. I think job seekers who behave badly sometimes do it because they feel abused and at a disadvantage. I’m tickled to see an employer pausing to think about what’s really going on. I enjoyed your thoughtful note. But I’d like to know, what are you going to do about this problem?

Do you get cocky with employers? If you’re an employer, how do you deal with good candidates who seem to have an attitude? Is everyone on edge because the employment system is so broken?

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New grad gets railroaded out of first job

Filed under: Q&A

In the May 10, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a new grad becomes the fall guy for HR.

Question

I am a new college graduate (male), with only three months’ work experience. This is (was) my very first job. I am working through a temp agency that has me on its payroll. I’ve been given no training. It’s not clear who is actually my boss, though several managers give me work. I put all my heart and my enthusiasm into it. I tried to reach out for help and advice to my temp agency liaison, without any of my calls being returned.

cut-it-outThe big problem is I started to be sexually harassed by a woman co-worker. (I am gay.) This became very uncomfortable. When I finally reached my temp agency, they told me to talk to the woman and tell her (nicely) to take it easy. When I spoke with her, she seemed okay, but then she sent me a very disturbing passive-aggressive e-mail. I forwarded that to my agency and to my on-site manager.

On a Friday, both of us were called in to HR, and HR gave me the option to leave or to stay. I chose to leave as I was really uncomfortable working there anymore. We said our good-byes and I left. Nobody at my agency would return my calls. On Monday, the agency left me a voicemail stating that because of the unprofessional way I behaved and because I resigned without two weeks’ notice, they cannot represent me anymore.

If I feel conflicted about my work environment, unsafe I might say, how can I get back to work there? Shouldn’t my temp agency at least listen to my version of the story? Thank you.

Nick’s Reply

I’m sorry you had such a lousy first-job experience. I think you were railroaded out of your job by the HR department because you complained, and your agency has dumped you because they don’t want to buck their client. Regardless of who was at fault, the process for handling your complaint is clearly faulty.

While you were justified to complain, some companies just don’t like dealing with difficult situations like this. Their “solution” is to get rid of the employee who complains. That’s wrong. They should have initiated a review of what happened, and no matter who was at fault, an ultimatum is not the appropriate solution. At the very least they should have documented what happened and communicated with you in writing. Since they didn’t, they may have a legal problem.

My guess is that because you’re new to work, they figured they could intimidate you out of your job. They succeeded. Don’t feel bad – you’re still learning what your rights are at work.

Most important, what you’ve learned is that this employer and this agency have no integrity. They’re not worth working for. They’re not fair. They took the easy way out of this difficult situation.

I don’t blame you for opting to leave, but I believe you may have a legal case if you choose to pursue it. I’d start by talking with your state’s department of labor. Explain what happened, and ask for their advice about your options. It makes no sense that, after HR pushed you to leave, they consider this a case of resignation without notice!

Or, talk with an attorney who specializes in employment discrimination. I’m not a lawyer and I do not give legal advice. Some lawyers will give you an initial consultation at no charge – check that up front before you meet with one. Just make sure it’s an employment law specialist. Getting legal advice does not mean you’re going to sue – it’s a way to find out what your legal options are. Sometimes the solution is for the lawyer to send a nastygram to the employer — and a settlement is made. Sometimes it gets more complicated. Find out from the lawyer how this can be handled.

It really angers me when an employee – especially someone just starting out – is treated this way by an employer (not to mention the other employee). You must decide whether to move on or to get legal advice.

To answer your specific questions:

  • If you feel conflicted or unsafe in a work environment, stay away from it. Why would you want to go back to work there?
  • Yes, your agency should listen to your story. What they did was wrong.

If you believe you did nothing wrong, then you should decide whether you want to work with people who are doing something wrong. I’m not sure what you think would be different if your job were reinstated — or why you’d want to work with people like this. My advice is, don’t. Find an employer or an agency with integrity. And decide whether to take legal action. This may be helpful: New Grads: How to get in the door without experience.

I wish you the best. There are lots of good employers out there. It’s important to look more carefully at a company before you join up. See How can I find the truth about a company? and Get the manager’s resume before you interview for the job.

There are two big issues in this week’s Q&A — the special challenges new grads face at their first jobs, and discrimination. What did you experience as a new grad at your first job? Have you faced blatant discrimination like this employee did? What advice would you offer?

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The Intimidated Job Applicant: Pay me whatever you like!

Filed under: Changing jobs, Interviewing, Job Search, Negotiating, Q&A, Salary

In the May 3, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a wishful job seeker tries pandering to employers.

Question

I was reading your advice about when to bring up money in a job interview. The advice from outplacement firm Challenger Gray & Christmas here in Chicago is to never bring up compensation until an offer is made.

Puppy beggingWith the job market being more favorable to employers, they suggest that getting into the dialog too early can remove you from consideration quickly. While none of us wants to waste time going through the motions only to discover the salary may be too low, it may be more important to stay in the game as long as you can, getting them to like you. It gives you more of an opportunity to sell yourself, too.

When the salary question comes up too early in the discussion by the employer, they are not focusing on what you can bring to the table. So, when they ask you what you expect to earn, I was told to respond with, “This is a great company/organization, etc. I’m sure you’ll be fair.”

This throws the ball back in their court. If you stay in the game long enough, and they really like you, you could be offered something else or better.

Nick’s Reply

So Challenger Gray & Christmas told you to warily stroke the employer and say, “This is a great company or organization, etc. I’m sure you’ll be fair.” — hoping they’re going to like you and thus not abuse you. Pandering is not a negotiating strategy.

Why am I not surprised at the advice you were given? If your employer paid CG&C to help outplace you, consider that outplacement firms get paid whether you land a job or not. It’s unbelievable that any employer would hire a firm like this to spoon-feed pablum to the people it’s letting go.

The outplacement mistake

Let’s discuss outplacement for a minute. Here’s a cautionary note from Parting Company | How to leave your job, p. 30:

Outplacement might be helpful, but never forget that you are responsible for your next career step. Don’t be lulled into thinking that a high-priced consultant — who works for your former employer — has any real skin in your future. The skin is yours alone…

Outplacement might extend your unemployment, rather than help you land the right new job expeditiously. So, take ownership of your status, and maybe put some extra cash in your pocket. Here’s how.

Some employers will give you cash in lieu of outplacement services, if you ask. (You might have to sign a release to get it. Talk to your lawyer.) This might be the best deal, and it might help you get into high job-hunting gear faster. If you decide to spend that cash on assistance from an outplacement firm that has excellent references, that’s up to you — you’ll get to choose the firm and the counselor. If you use the money to tide you over while you conduct your own job search, that’s also up to you.

It helps to understand how the outplacement industry works. This is from Fearless Job Hunting, Book 3: Get in The Door (way ahead of your competition), pp. 12-13:

Big outplacement firms have a business model. Their objective is not to help you land a good job. The goal is to sell multi-million dollar counseling contracts to big employers that are downsizing. Almost by definition, your individual needs cannot be met by the packaged services these outplacement firms sell. If they really wanted to help you, they’d arrange personal introductions to managers who need you. They don’t do that, because that won’t win them a new gig. To win big contracts, these outplacement firms have to demonstrate a cookie-cutter process for handling thousands of newly-unemployed people. Their clients buy that process, and the more structured it looks, the more it appears to be worth… It’s too generic to work.

The last thing you need is a cookie-cutter approach to job hunting. If you want to stand out, you must make it personal. And that takes time, careful thought, and diligence. Every situation is unique, so these packaged methods you’ve been given aren’t going to work.

Outplacement that someone else chooses for you and pays for could be the biggest mistake you make when trying to land a new job after you get laid off.

Wishful thinking is not business

Let me explain why that lame, over-used response would reveal you to be naive and unsophisticated. It tells the employer that (1) you don’t know what you want or are worth, and that (2) you don’t know how to negotiate.

How businesslike is that?

Let’s say you were applying for a top sales position, and the VP of Sales asked how you’d respond to a prospective customer who asks, “How much do you want me to pay for what you’re selling?” Suppose you gave the CG&C response: “You’re a great company. I’m sure you’ll be fair.”

The VP would never hire you because you’re failing to negotiate by communicating the value of your product. You’re pretending the other guy will figure it out. If you worked for him, he’d fire you — and I’d compliment him.

Wishful thinking is not a sales strategy or a negotiating strategy. It’s childish, naive, and dangerous.

CG&C’s response is canned, silly, thoughtless and nothing but a sign that the applicant has no business in a job interview. Please: Don’t do it.

Negotiating is not a game of appeasement

Many job seekers are intimidated in interviews. And a common, visceral response to intimidation is to appease who frightens or intimidates  you. Trying to be likeable is a childish form of appeasement.

dog bonesIf you think trying to be likeable and saying “I’m sure you’ll be fair” will help you “stay in the game” longer, you’re going to lose because the employer will take advantage of the fact that you invested all that time — and correctly surmise that you’re going to take whatever they offer you. This is one of the oldest psychological tricks used in negotiating — look up cognitive dissonance. People have a tendency to rationalize and accept lousy job offers because they’ve spent so many hours in interviews.

There’s another side to this. If you continue interviewing while knowing an offer is not likely to be in your acceptable ballpark, and then you try to “sell” the employer on a much higher salary, do you really think they’re not going to get upset with you for misleading them?

Don’t play games so you can “stay in the game,” because interviewing and hiring is not a game.

  • Learn how to calculate what you’re worth, so that you’re prepared to ask for a compensation range you can defend. That demonstrates you know what you want. (See How much money should I ask for?)
  • Learn how to ask the salary range of a position before you invest in interviews — that’s how to establish your negotiating position. It also shows the employer you’re not counting on being likeable; you’re prepared to demonstrate your value and to justify what you’re asking for. (See Ask this question before you agree to an interview. Yes, CG&C is so wrong that you should explicitly talk about money even before going to a job interview!)

You’re not a puppy. You don’t need to be meek and likeable so an employer might throw you a bone. I think Challenger Gray & Christmas are wasting your time and that of the employers you’re talking to — not to mention wasting your old employer’s money.

Do employers intimidate you in job interviews? Are you ready to state what you want? Do you ask what the employer is ready to pay? Have you used outplacement services? How did it work out?

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Does your company have clean underwear?

Filed under: For Managers, Hiring, Q&A, Recruiting, Stupid HR Tricks

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

Filed under: Changing jobs, Getting in the door, How to Say It, Job Search, Q&A

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!

Filed under: Making money, Negotiating, Q&A, Quitting, Salary, Stuff I worry about, Stupid HR Tricks, Success at Work

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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