Network, but don’t be a jerk!

Filed under: Fearless Job Hunting, Getting in the door, Job Search, Q&A

In the September 22, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, we try to eliminate the jerk factor from networking.


Everyone talks about networking as the best way to find the right job. There must be a key to this approach beyond just going to networking meetings and signing up with one of the online social networks. What advice can you give me about how to do it right?

Nick’s Reply

Last week (Please! Stop Networking!) I offered some How to Say It tips about starting legiitimate conversations with people you’d like to get to know.

jerkNow let’s talk about how not to be a jerk. What passes as “networking” today can make anyone a jerk. And, if you feel awkward about networking, it’s because you really don’t want to behave like a jerk!

Let’s look at some really stupid ways networking is sold to the public. And make no mistake — it’s sold because someone makes money at this.

Networking meetings

You have no doubt been to networking events where people spend a minute apiece with you, and then expect that you will introduce them to your closest business buddies. Such gatherings have gotten a bad reputation because they can be mercenary and impersonal.

What’s the point of meeting someone if you have no real common ground, and there’s no value in your connection because there are no shared experiences between you?

Online networks

The online social networks are even more problematic. (See LinkedIn: Just another job board.) You sign up, add the names of your co-workers, former employers and friends, and the network links you to other members with similar backgrounds.

But while networks like LinkedIn create lots of connections, there is little emphasis on the quality of those links.

And that’s the key: The quality of relationships. Social networks suggest that having lots of contacts is more important than having good contacts, and they help you highlight your number of links. Why? Because the networks themselves profit mainly from their size. The more members they have clicking on one another, the more ads and digital “services” they can sell. It’s an inherent contradiction and even a conflict.

But the people who benefit from online social networks are the same people who know how to turn a first meeting into a healthy, long term relationship. They know it requires a considerable investment. There’s nothing automated about it.

Phony networking has just one tenet: Behave like a selfish jerk. I think there are three tenets to real networking:

Common ground

First, it requires common ground. People must have something to share that is useful to others. The best place to start is with your work. Identify people who do the work you do (or want to do), then e-mail them, call them, meet them and talk with them about their work and your work. (Not about jobs.)


Second, good networking is sustained by value. Five minutes sharing your elevator speech and business card is worthless.

What can you do to either help or genuinely engage another person? How about a tip that will enable her to be more productive? Or you can ask honest, sincere questions about the work she does. That identifies more common ground. You’ll either find it and build a relationship on it, or you won’t. Don’t fake it.


Third, good networking takes time.This is what networkers have the most difficulty with. Trust grows between people through repeated good experiences. Once I trust you, I’ll draw you into my circle of friends — and that’s where valuable job referrals come from.

The best way to become well-connected is to meet and stay in touch with people who do the work you’re interested and who are good at what they do. Don’t go to them when you’re job hunting. Establish the kinds of relationships — and reputation — that make them want to come to you when they learn about a great job.

How can you put these three tenets of networking to good use to get the job you want?

In Fearless Job Hunting, Book 3: Get In The Door (way ahead of your competition), I discuss “How to make great personal contacts” (pp. 15-17):

“Personal contacts are the foundation of every business. Rather than wait for ‘opportunities’ to come along, learn to participate in your community — go meet people. Learn about their business, get their opinions and advice, and ask for introductions that will help you become a useful member of that community. Personal contacts begin with you reaching out. Start now.”

In Fearless Job Hunting, Book 5: Get The Right Employer’s Full Attention, I tackle the objection many people have: Networking is icky! Only if you behave like a jerk! This is from “Do I have to ‘kiss ass’ to get a job?” (pp. 2-:5):

“When you send a company your resume, you’re not demonstrating anything. All you’re saying is, ‘Here are my credentials, all typed up nicely. Now, you go figure out what the heck to do with me!’ (What’s ickier than that?) A personal contact is a filter that helps a manager find what he’s looking for. A personal contact quickly gives you an opportunity to actually show what you can do — it’s like a voucher that expresses your value and suggests how you will help the company.”

Is your networking based on creating common ground, adding value and investing a lot of time? How does networking work for you?

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Please! Stop Networking!

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

In the September 15, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader just doesn’t get all the fuss that’s called networking.


I’ve been trying to find a mentor who understands networking better than I do. I just don’t get it. We are not expert in everything, and this is one area where I want to get some help. Can you give me some clarity about networking?

Nick’s Reply


So much has been written and said about networking that networking has become a business, an industry, a racket of enormous proportions. Please! Stop doing what’s sold as “networking,” because it’s phony!

I want to barf every time I hear some silly lecture or read a pandering dissertation about how to network. Networking is not complicated. But networking has become over-defined.

Legit networking is simple: Talk shop with people who do work you want to do.

I’ll give you a few examples of what I mean.

You can meet people to talk shop online, in person, anywhere. If you read something about them in advance, just drop a quick note.

How to Say It
“Hey, I read this article about you and I see you’re working on… I’d love to know what you think about X? How’d you do what was described in the article? What are you reading lately that has influenced your work?”

If you’re talking with the person face to face, it’s even simpler.

How to Say It
“Tell me more about what you do… What kinds of challenges or problems did you encounter while working on that?”

The magic is in asking them to talk about themselves and their work. People love that, as long as you’re not being solicitous. And you won’t be if you just talk shop.

It takes time to make meaningful connections through these exchanges. Be patient. Don’t expect much, don’t expect it quickly, and good things will evolve in time. The best part: No matter what benefits you get or don’t get career-wise, you make new friends!

When you get to the point where you want to talk about your career challenges, here’s the magic sauce: Never ask for job leads. Never.

Instead, ask for advice and insight.

How to Say It
“May I ask your advice? If I wanted to shift over to doing XYZ [as your new job], what kind of advice would you give me? I’d love your insight about what it takes to be successful doing what you do.”

See the difference? Never say anything that feels icky or phony. There’s no begging, no asking for jobs or introductions. Results will come naturally — people will eventually suggest someone else that you should talk to. And that’s what to keep track of — people you’re referred to, who they are, where they work, what they do.

Beware, or I’ll never talk to you again
Then there’s the most important thing. If someone recommends a person that you should talk with, or offers an introduction or referral — always make the contact and do it quickly. Never let a personal referral die on the vine.

If I give you a referral, and I find out you didn’t follow up within 3-4 days, I’ll never do anything for you again. Usually, I’ll tip off the third party to expect a call or e-mail. When the person I’m trying to help doesn’t make that contact, I’ve wasted an introduction and I look bad. I can’t emphasize this enough — it’s the single biggest networking mistake people make. If you want good mentors in your life, do not squander the investment they make in you. (See Mentoring & Getting Mentored.)

Networking should be as easy as talking shop with people who do the work you want to do.

Next week, I’ll share my three ingredients for good, healthy networking. But, right now I’d like to know, What’s your way to get close to others professionally?

I’d love to assemble a list of to-dos, not-to-dos, and basic rules for making friends in the work world. Please post your advice and cautions!

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The Job-Offer Sucker Punch

Filed under: Changing jobs, How to Say It, Job scams, Job Search, Negotiating, Q&A, The job offer

In the September 1, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader trusts a recruiter and winds up regretting it.


I was hired as an executive assistant at a very large, global company. The recruiter (who worked for the company) assured me that the benefits were very good, “comparable to any big company,” and insisted that they were on par suckerwith any other organization I’ve worked with.

It turns out they aren’t. I pay half of my health insurance (approximately $750/month), my vacation is mandated in December because of annual office closure, no overtime is offered, I work one scheduled weekend per month unpaid, and my significant other was not covered under benefits (though a same-sex partner would have been) until we are married.

The recruiter quit her job shortly after I was hired. I haven’t brought up these issues with the company, although I’ve been here almost a year. The culture is very much that one should not complain because you should be happy you have a job.

I took a 25% pay cut for this gig. Do I have any legal recourse? I fear that the legal costs would outweigh any benefits. In the meantime, I’m looking for a new job elsewhere but have found that my “new” salary requirements have me in a different bracket.

Nick’s Reply

You got sucker-punched because you didn’t see it coming. I doubt you have any legal recourse, but I’m not a lawyer and this isn’t legal advice. You could start by talking with your state’s department of labor and employment — they may be able to advise you, and they may have other complaints on record about this employer.

It seems the recruiter baited you. See Why do companies hide the benefits? Too often, job applicants trust what is stated orally in an interview without insisting that the commitment be reproduced in writing in the job offer. It amazes me that an applicant will read an offer letter carefully — but never ask for the written benefits. The benefits are part of the offer. I urge you and all of our readers: Get the entire offer in writing and read all components of the offer carefully before you accept!

You must state your position to an employer clearly.

How to Say It

“I’m impressed with your company, and I’m eager to come to work with you. However, I cannot accept this offer without knowing all the terms of employment, including the benefits. I could no more sign an employment agreement without knowing all the terms than your company could sign a business contract without knowing what it was committing to. I’m sure you understand. Could you please provide me with your employee manual, benefits package, and any other documents that would bind me after I start the job? Once I have these, I will promptly respond. I look forward to accepting your offer, and to making a significant contribution to your business. I hope I can count on your help so we can all get to work.”

What a recruiter tells you is akin to what a salesman tells you — it’s intended to close the deal. Good luck collecting on the oral promises later.

I agree that your most important next action is to start a very active job search. The solution to getting stuck applying for jobs with lower salaries is to not disclose your salary — apply for jobs that can pay what you’re worth, and politely but firmly decline to disclose your salary history. Employers have no right to it. You must also be ready to demonstrate why you’re worth more than your current job pays. Two of my PDF books cover these topics: Keep Your Salary Under Wraps and How Can I Change Careers?

Start with your state’s labor office. Get their advice on the details of your situation. But I think that, unfortunately, when you accepted this job you accepted terms you did not understand clearly — because the employer misrepresented them. Please check this article for tips about how to avoid a lower salary at your next job: How do I prove I deserve a higher job offer?

I wish you the best. This kind of slimy behavior by employers is indefensible.

Have you ever accepted a bait-and-switch job offer? What did you do? How would you advise the reader in this week’s Q&A?

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Naive young grad blows it

Filed under: Changing jobs, Job Search, Making money, Parting Company, Q&A, Quitting, Resigning, Salary, Success at Work

In the August 25, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a new grad ignores the line between life and job.


I’ve gotten myself into a bit of a situation and need your advice. I’m taking my boss to a distant, major resort because my parents have a place there and I foolishly offered it up to our small department as a “retreat” — not thinking my boss would actually approve this.

oopsWell, my boss said yes. He’s in his twenties and was thrilled. Now we have plans to go in a few weeks. The dilemma is that I’ve been poached during the past week by two great companies and both want me to come in for an in-person interview lasting several hours. Both jobs would pay about 50% more than I’m making now.

Although I don’t have an offer yet, I want to be prepared in the case one of these companies does extend one. Initially, I was going to use the offer as leverage at my current company. Then it dawned on me that if my boss doesn’t match the offer, or counter it with something close, I will face a very difficult choice: take the new job and put my two weeks in during the retreat, or accept that my current company is not going to pay me what I deserve.

I’m 22 and graduated from college very recently. What should I do?

Nick’s Reply

Sheesh! You are in a bind. New grads almost always blow it when they start work. It’s how we all learn the ropes, so don’t take my reaction as ridicule. I’ve been there, done that. Your problem is that you’re compounding your problems over your naivete.

Forgive me if I lecture. There are a few important lessons here for new grads.

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You’re not in college any more.

Don’t make the mistake of mixing work with your personal life. You can’t negotiate for a job at your parents’ house while your boss is eating your mom’s pancakes and drinking your dad’s beer. Would you take a date to your parent’s vacation house so you could tell her you’re breaking up?

We blow it when we forget there’s a line between fun and work. Of course, in college there’s no such line. Remind yourself regularly that you’re not in college any more. If I were you, I’d probably beg off this trip.

Two job opportunities are not a choice.

I know you’re excited about those two jobs. I don’t even care that you’ve been at your current job for only a short time while you’re entertaining them. Calculate the costs of any choice you make, and do what’s best for you. But keep one thing in mind: You have no choices to make until you have a bona fide offer in hand. (See I’m still waiting for the job offer!)

Don’t jump the gun and risk your job over a fantasy. Take it from a headhunter: Most “great opportunities” go south. Don’t presume anything until it’s real. Risking a real job for an uncertain opportunity is not prudent.

Don’t use an offer to get a raise.

Either take the new job, or keep your mouth shut and keep your old job and salary. The only decision to make is, which deal is best for you? (See The ethics of juggling job offers.) If the new job and offer are to your liking, then go. When you use a job offer to extort a raise, you will likely wind up on the street with no job at all:

To a company, a counter-offer is sometimes a purely pragmatic tactic that enables it to sever a relationship on its own terms and in its own good time. That is, companies use counter-offers defensively. A company would rather have a replacement employee lined up, and a counter-offer buys time. The extra salary offered may be charged against the employee’s next raise, and the work load may increase. The employee is a marked man (or woman).

From Parting Company: How to leave your job, p. 52, “What’s the truth about counter-offers?”

If you dangle a new job offer in front of your boss to get a raise — especially while he’s at your vacation house — you’ll probably blow it.

Your boss is not your friend.

I’ve had bosses that I liked; bosses who cared about me and had my back. But any good boss acts in the interest of the employer when the chips are down. If you want to pretend otherwise, I wish you luck because you’re going to need it. It isn’t your boss’s duty to be your friend. His first duty is to make you a good employee.

For this reason, never tip off your boss that you have alternative job plans. If you disclose your plans, and neither of the two jobs you’re contemplating pans out, you’ll be a marked man. Odds are high that sometime soon you’ll be ushered out the door — if your boss doesn’t fire you instantly right under your own father’s roof.

Choices are often painful.

That’s why it’s important to act quickly, accept the consequences, and move on. You have put yourself in a nasty spot. Assuming an offer (or both) come through, do you tell your boss now that the trip is off — because you don’t want to face him with your resignation after entertaining him? (I don’t think there’s anything wrong with citing “personal reasons” for calling it off.) Or do you want to tell him you’re quitting during — or right after — the retreat?

Both scenarios stink. One stinks less. I wish I could wave a magic wand, but I can’t. You have to choose. It’s going to hurt, no matter which way you go.

Take some time and identify all the issues. Figure out how they’re all interrelated before you act. This is not about accepting a new job or about embarrassing yourself. This is about growing up quickly. I wish you the best.

Can this new grad grow up quickly and get out of this fix? What would you advise?

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Is this the worst job ad ever?

Filed under: Hiring, Interviewing, Job scams, Job Search, Q&A, Recruiting, Salary, Stuff I worry about

In the August 18, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader almost blows it.


A friend of mine is seeking a job as an Event Planner. He did this for IBM for several years. He came upon this job description for an Event Manager — if it is indeed a real job! Check out the “Required Experience” at the end. I’m sure that anyone with that much experience would just jump right into this “purple squirrel” job. What do you think of the “fun” wording that says — between the lines — that one person will be doing the work of three?

Nick’s Reply

Wow. File that under Stuff We Couldn’t Make Up If We Tried. I’m still laffing my A off. I’d love to meet the “passionate” HR wonk that wrote this job description. Of course, it might have been the hiring manager.

[Note: The link above is to a copy of the job posting. The direct URL, which is active at time of this publication, is–American-Chamber-of-Commerce/jobs/Event-Manager-516d0a935ce3bbed.]

over-workedI hate to hold up even the most naïve employer to ridicule… but this is publicly posted on Indeed. Why is this worth talking about? Because employers claim there’s a talent shortage — while they demand decades worth of expertise in a tone that suggests you must sell yourself out to get the job. Since this job has been on Indeed for over a month, I imagine the employer feels it’s hard to find the purple squirrel it’s looking for. (See Roasting the job description.)

But as you point out, the dead giveaway is the closing line on the job posting. How much experience is required to do this “President of Planning” job? One year.

I’m guessing the only thing that’s “one year” about this job is the salary level. (If it’s higher, why not mention the salary range?) But I don’t know the employer and have not contacted it. Like any job seeker, all I know is what’s in that job ad — and that’s the basis on which I judge it.

The trouble with job ads like this — and we’ve all seen enough of them — is that they reveal an employer’s misguided attempt to fill a complex job on a junior salary. (See How to avoid a “bait and switch” job offer.)

They reveal an employer that thinks new hires must “say NEIN to leaving at 5,” and that suggests it’s cool to be the kind of manager who can “persuade volunteers to miss their own wedding.”

The right candidate will have “triple check OCD” and can “single-handedly beat the Red Sox.”

And how about the new standard of motivation the right candidate must demonstrate? “The way you spread your entrepreneurial spirit puts Ebola to shame.”

Is all this cute? It’s so cute that it’s transparent. Beneath the veneer of this job ad is a cynical message that this job may be on a slave ship. Or, what’s the salary for a President of Planning who’s got one year of experience? Some of our over-50 readers might suggest this employer is softening up a very senior, very skilled Events Manager for low pay and lots of abuse. Just how desperate are you for a job?

But that’s not why this is the worst job ad ever. It’s the worst job ad ever because it shrouds cynicism in cool. It markets hard work as something you should be willing to sell yourself out for. And that is why job seekers — from the youngest and most inexperienced to the oldest and most frustrated — are fed up with the behavior of employers that want something for nothing while complaining the right talent isn’t out there.

If employers like this one chafe at criticism, I’d like to see them address the job seekers they really need with candor and respect.

Perhaps this job pays $150,000. What’s your take? Have you seen better examples of the worst job ads? Please share examples and your comments!

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One Big Negotiating No-No

Filed under: Job Search, Making money, Negotiating, Q&A, Salary, The job offer

In the August 11, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader almost blows it.


I live and work on the West Coast. Two days ago I was offered a position back in the New York area. I was so happy to go back home, and with my initial offer (including base salary). Nonetheless, I managed to negotiate a sign-on bonus to cover my relocation expenses — but that’s about it. I verbally accepted, and gave permission to do the background check.

After thinking it over, I am kicking myself for not pushing the envelope to negotiate a higher salary, fearing the risk of losing the offer. Do you have any meaningful advice that can help me? Is it too late to negotiate anything else after verbally accepting the offer? I would really appreciate it. Thank you.

Nick’s Reply

Last week we discussed The ONLY way to ask for a higher job offer. Your question is a nice bookend to this topic. It’s important to know when negotiations are over.

negotiatorImagine you bought a new car. The next day, you arrive at the dealership to pick it up and hand over a check for the agreed-on price. The salesman tells you he hopes you don’t mind, but he wants to charge you a few grand more. Is that okay with you?

That’s what you’re talking about. Forget about whether it would be fair to re-open negotiations. It’s unacceptable, it’s bad practice and it’s unbusinesslike.

If I were the employer, I’d pull the offer instantly. I’d question your integrity and ability to deal with others – especially after I agreed to give you a starting bonus. Negotiations are over when both parties agree to the deal.

Having said that, I’ve got no problem with you changing your mind. If you feel strongly about the compensation being too low, then rescind your acceptance, apologize, and walk away – but it’s really bad business to accept a deal and then try to renegotiate it.

Now for the soft part. I know how you feel. Been there, done that. I think you’re beating yourself up for nothing. The offer was good enough that you accepted it. Enjoy your win! Enjoy your satisfaction. As for “leaving some money on the table,” that’s actually a sophisticated negotiating practice. It leaves the other guy feeling like he (or she) won, too — and it buys you some good will in your new relationship. Not asking for more could be the best thing you ever did.

But the best thing you can do now is either walk away from this immediately – or take the job and do your best to earn a raise in the first year. Heck, once you’ve proved yourself, you can even ask for an early salary raise.

I would not go back to the well for more money at this point. Put yourself in the employer’s shoes. What would it say about you?

I’m sorry you’re not happy with your offer. But once terms are agreed to, the negotiating is done. The lesson here is not to accept a job offer so quickly — no matter how excited you are. Take at least 24 hours to think it through.

Use this to negotiate a better deal next time: How do I prove I deserve a higher job offer?

Have you ever “left money on the table?” Did you ever risk an offer to re-open negotiations? Is there a way to re-open negotiations that I’ve missed?

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The ONLY way to ask for a higher job offer

Filed under: How to Say It, Making money, Negotiating, Q&A, Salary

In the August 4, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader wants more money.


How should I request a better offer than the one that was made? By phone? By e-mail? By regular mail? Do you ask the HR person, since that is who handles the offer letter in the first place? How does the give-and-take take place?

Nick’s Reply

Almost everyone makes one huge mistake when asking for a higher job offer. They fail to justify the extra pay.

Want more? Prove you’re worth it!

want-moreWhy would anyone give you more money just because you asked for it? Yet job seekers try that lame approach all the time.

If you want more money, you must explain why you’re worth more.

(By the way: Don’t waste your time quoting salary surveys. No survey includes the exact job you’re applying for, or your exact constellation of skills and attributes. You will always lose the survey game because any smart employer will respond with yet another survey that “proves” its offer is handsome! See Beat The Salary Surveys: Get a higher job offer.)

When negotiating for a better offer, the goal should be to engage in a discussion rather than to put a stake in the ground, unless you are absolutely sure your asking figure is firm. This allows the company to explore the money issue with you, rather than be forced to respond with a yes or no.

Ask the manager, not HR!

It’s critical to have the discussion with the hiring manager, not with HR. HR might control the hiring process, but it’s the manager’s budget that your compensation will come from. So have this discussion with the manager, in person or by phone. (I would not use e-mail. It’s too impersonal.) Try this:

Make a commitment

“First, I want to thank you for the offer. I want to come work with you.”

That’s a powerful opening statement because it resolves one big question for the manager: Does this candidate want the job? Once you’ve made this commitment, managers know it’s worth their time to work out the terms. Too often, job candidates try to negotiate money without consenting to the job itself. Bear in mind that saying you want the job doesn’t obligate you in any way. If the money can’t be negotiated to your satisfaction, you can ultimately turn the job down.

Now comes the most important part:

“I realize you have carefully considered how much you think this job is worth. As we discussed in our interview, I believe I can do this job [more profitably, more efficiently, more quickly, more effectively] by doing [such and such]. For these reasons, I believe my contribution on this job would be worth between $X-$Y in compensation. Of course, if I can’t show you why I’m worth more, you shouldn’t offer me the job. Are you open to discussing this?”

Deliver more value

The key element here is value: You must show how the added value you will deliver is worth more money. Employers love it when you reveal you have thought carefully about the work and how you would do it profitably. It shows you are motivated to make the deal a “win” for the employer.

But I will warn you: If you cannot explain exactly what you will do to perform the job more profitably, efficiently, quickly — better, in some way, than the employer expected — then you have no business asking for more money. This is not a negotiating game. It’s about exchanging fair value for fair value, and you must be prepared to explain it.

HR cannot have this kind of discussion with you, because HR will never understand the ins and outs of how you will add more value to a certain job. Talk to the hiring manager, and let the manager go explain it to HR.

(Don’t know how much to ask for? See How to decide how much you want. Once you figure this out, lay the groundwork for your salary negotiations early in your interview. See The most important question in an interview.)

Once you’ve said your piece, it’s up to the manager to respond and engage in a discussion. The manager may decline to discuss a higher salary. So, you must know in advance whether you will back off and take the offered package, or politely walk away from the offer.

Be the better candidate

The only way to approach salary negotiations is to grant the manager a concession: Clearly state that you want to work for him or her. Separate your interest in the job from the compensation, and the manager is more likely to negotiate terms with you.

“I’m ready to come to work, if we can work out the terms — the compensation.”

(For more about how to negotiate based on your value, see Fearless Job Hunting, Book 6, The Interview: Be The Profitable Hire and Book 9: Be The Master of Job Offers.)

There’s no guarantee about how this will work out. But, the better prepared you are to discuss how you will do the job better than anyone else, the better your chances of working out a mutually beneficial deal with the manager. The only way to ask for more money is to show the employer the money!

How do you ask for more money? If you’ve been turned down for more, why do you think you were rejected? Can you prove you’re worth what you ask for?

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Should I ask for a raise one more time?

Filed under: Changing jobs, Job Search, Parting Company, Q&A, Quitting, Resigning, Salary

In the July 28, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader has been waiting eight years for a raise while doing loads more work.


I’m a gigantic fan who recommends Ask The Headhunter to everyone I meet. So thank you. I have a question, and if it doesn’t work for the newsletter, then I’d be good with a Talk to Nick session.

shrug-no-raiseI’ve been at my job eight years. With inflation, I make about what I made in 2007. My job responsibilities have grown enormously, and I have delivered tremendous, demonstrable value. My boss and his VP agree that I’m dramatically underpaid, and they “wish” they could do more, but you know, HR is horrible, I’m at the top of the pay band, and so on.

For a few years, I’ve sweated it out because frankly I like the place, and I get to spend more time with my kids than I would at a job where I was paid fairly. The kids are priority #1, so I don’t mind making less.

It’s a small company, and there’s not much room for growth. But I’m doing a job now that is quite different from my job title, and one that doesn’t exist here. I had a very ATH conversation with our CIO (my VP’s boss) in February, and it went quite well. He said he was going to see what he could do with HR. Then he got replaced after 32 years.

The new guy seems really talented, and sharp. But my dilemma is, how do I approach him to deliver the same sort of info I already told my CIO? I’d like to let him know that I’m doing a much more important job, while being paid for a lesser job.

My bosses are not going to advocate for me. That’s just the way it is, and has been since the beginning. So I have to do it myself.

I guess I just don’t know how to approach a guy who has been here for two months, and tell him how awesome I am, and that he needs to recognize my value. It’s like an interview, but not really. Your advice is appreciated. Thanks for all you do.

Nick’s Reply

Thanks for your kind words — I’m glad you enjoy ATH! You might expect I’m going to recommend some magic negotiating method, but I don’t think you should negotiate for a better salary. (If I did, I might suggest something from Fearless Job Hunting, Book 6, The Interview: Be The Profitable Hire.)

I think you should leave.

There’s an old joke: A cynical out-of-towner steps out of New York City’s Penn Station onto 34th Street and asks a passerby, “Can you tell me how to get to Lincoln Center, or should I just go F myself?”

I’m afraid all you’re doing is asking to be told to go F yourself. You’re very close to this because you’ve been there so long. If you step back, you might see this differently and a lot more simply. We tend to make excuses for people — especially our employers. I think the signs are that you need to move on.

Consider the facts you’ve shared:

  1. Your pay has not gone up in 8 years.
  2. You’re doing lots more work that has effectively increased your employer’s “pay.”
  3. Your management acknowledges all this.
  4. Your management has clearly told you they’re not going to pay you more. Worse, they blame it on HR, which after all works for management!
  5. Your bosses are not going to advocate for you. (See 4.)
  6. There’s not much room for growth.

Even if the new CIO is a great guy, he’s not likely to buck the company line. (See 5.) Even if he does, and you pull this off, (6.) tells me you’re just stalling the inevitable — unless you just want to make like a tree and take root for life. (See Should I take a big counter-offer?)

I respect that you put family at #1. That’s got nothing to do with how these people are paying you while you help generate more profits for them. It’s possible to keep doing your current work, keep family at #1, and make more money. But it’s not permitted. It seems they’ve made it clear they’re not going to pay you more.

Do you see what I see? I’m not saying jump to another company where you’ll earn more in exchange for making your family #2. I’m saying start looking for employers who value the kind of work you do and who will pay for it. Nothing is stopping you from conducting a well-paced, savvy job search. Worst case, you won’t find what you want. My guess is, you will.

I think you’re making excuses for managers who aren’t doing right by you. The new guy is not likely to rock the boat or buck your own boss.

If you go talk to the new guy anyway — and start a search at the same time — be careful. If all the managers put their heads together and realize your comp is such an issue, you may become a marked man. My guess, though, is they’re too lazy and complacent to worry about it.

Management like that just waits it out. When under-paid employees finally quit, the company just hires new ones for even less. It’s a sad commentary on how some companies are run.

“My bosses are not going to advocate for me. That’s just the way it is, and has been since the beginning.”

That tells me pretty much everything I need to know. In a healthy company, bosses advocate for their best people. They don’t resort to excuses. But what cinches this in my mind is, they’ve never thrown you a bone in eight years. That’s a bad sign. If there’s some indication that the new guy might be helpful, I just don’t see it. You’d need to explain that.

pc-cover1-211x275In a “talent shortage” like employers complain about today, the best talent gets hired. Why not start looking at yourself that way?

I’d be happy to schedule a Talk to Nick with you, but I’m not sure what more I could tell you — except to flesh out how to handle this new CIO. (You’d spend less learning about Parting Company properly. In fact, I’ll give you 25% OFF if you buy Parting Company this week! Discount code=SAVE25) The real question is, why do you think the new CIO is going to make any difference to you? Just because he’s smart does not mean he’s going to buck the rest of management. In fact, it suggests he won’t.

I believe in negotiating, as long as you’re talking with someone who is negotiable. If they’re not, then don’t beat your head against a wall. If anything I’ve said is helpful, I’m glad. Sorry if it’s such a downer, but I call them like I see them.

Would you keep negotiating with this employer? Is there an opportunity here for a salary increase that I’ve missed? What would you do in this reader’s shoes?

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2 Rules About Working for Start-Ups

Filed under: Heads up, How to Say It, Making money, Negotiating, Q&A, Salary, Success at Work

In the July 21, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader is in a pickle — er, start-up — without a salary, and without protection on the upside or the downside.


Your advice in the newsletters is brilliant. However, I haven’t seen you say much about start-ups. I’m in my 50s and enjoy the chaos of a new company. I have been doing it for nine months, and I love it. I am not getting paid, or receiving any benefits. The company has been getting exposure, and a few small projects, but no investment backing. That means no money. The CEO continues to tell the development team, the editors, and writers that “we are so close.”

bait-and-switchShe also mentioned they are moving to Silicon Valley, but will be using distributed-teams software to push more projects out.

The problem is that my budget and time are expanding. I am worried that my “job” will be lost by their move. I have only a handful of e-mails outlining the stock certificates, with promises of full-time employment when investors come through. However, I have nothing legal or tangible to suggest they are serious.

I’m ready to quit, but need some guidance. How do I approach her about my concerns without questioning her integrity? Should I suggest several options that have some legal teeth that protect me? So far I have all the risk while she continues to pump out projects. Thanks!

Nick’s Reply

There are two good reasons to work at a start-up:

Why work for a start-up?

One, you’re an owner with ironclad shares that cannot be diluted without your approval. If the company takes off, you’ll get your reward. If it doesn’t, you at least had a deal that protected your upside.

Two, you’re an employee being paid a fair (if not good) salary, and you’re expected to work hard over and above anything resembling “reasonable” — because you have some shares and stock options as a reward if the business takes off. Your salary protects your downside.

If you’re working at a start-up under other circumstances, I’m sorry to tell you that you’re probably a chump — unless you’re independently wealthy and love that kind of work.

I’ve got two rules for working at start-up companies.

Rule #1: Don’t get screwed


I love start-ups. Been there, done that, had great experiences… except the time I got screwed because I had nothing in writing. When the founder decided to bring in other investors, my 250,000 shares were instantly diluted down to virtually nothing. (See Start-Up Stock: What’s it “sort of” worth?) The first rule when joining a start-up is don’t get screwed. Invest in legal and accounting advice to protect your up- and downside.

Let’s discuss how to handle your boss. You’re being naively nervous about offending a founder that you’re giving free work to. It’s time to make it legal.

I’d sit her down without any apologies and without hesitation in your voice.

How to Say It
“I’m excited about what we’re doing and I love the work. However, this is a business proposition — I’m working for free for equity and the promise of a full-time job. I think it’s time we put this in writing for our mutual protection.”

If she indicates any problem with that, then I think you’re being taken for a ride, and that you’ll be summarily dumped by the side of the road. She should be apologizing to you and extending every courtesy — you’ve been working for free with no written assurance of any reward!

You might want to talk with other “employees” to see how they feel — and to find out whether they have contracts. You all need them. You may want to speak with her as a group. But in my opinion this has already gone too far. You’d be pretty upset if she took advantage of all of you at this point — so don’t fret about having this discussion.

Rule #2: Don’t get screwed

Before you do that, I’d talk with an attorney. (See Employment Contracts: Everyone needs promise protection.) Equity deals and contracts with start-ups are complicated and fraught with risk. If it’s not worth the legal fee, then how can the promise of this job be worth anything? Please take this seriously.

The other issue is that if and when investors come in, your boss will have very little to say about your equity share. Investors don’t like seeing their shares diluted. You could wind up with very little, if anything, if you don’t have a solid contract now — and the right kind of shares.

I don’t mean to scare you, but I’ve seen this again and again. Even a well-intentioned founder can wind up hurting the team that poured its blood and sweat into the business. Working with no contract is totally imprudent and un-businesslike. I’d get to it asap. Did I caution you not to get screwed?

Don’t forget about IP (Intellectual Property) rights. Have you signed an NDA or NCA? Have you signed over any IP rights to anything you’ve developed? Your boss could be screwed, too, without these. It’s another reason you need a good employment lawyer.

Get compensated

My philosophy is, get value for value. Your work is valuable. Ask for salary, and ask for equity. I don’t think suggesting “several options that have some legal teeth” will help you unless you talk to a lawyer first. This is easy: Just tell her it’s time for a written, signed agreement — and stock certificates. Something tells me that’s when she’ll tell you you’re not part of the move — though I hope I’m wrong.

Before you quit, give your boss a chance to protect your investment in this business by compensating you fairly for the risk you’re taking. Get compensated. That’s not a rule; that’s good business. Do your best to prepare yourself in advance. These Ask The Headhunter PDF books will help you with your “boss”:

Fearless Job Hunting, Book 6: The Interview – Be The Profitable Hire. This works even when discussing salary with your current employer!

Fearless Job Hunting, Book 7: Win The Salary Games (long before you negotiate an offer), especially “The Pool-Man Strategy: How to ask for more money,” pp. 13-15. Sometimes it helps to ask casually!

Fearless Job Hunting, Book 8: Play Hardball With Employers, especially “Due Diligence: Don’t take a job without it,” pp. 23-25. This is a must when considering a job at a start-up, though this section applies to established companies, too.

Fearless Job Hunting, Book 9: Be The Master of Job Offers, especially “Non-Compete: Did I really agree to that?”, pp. 5-7.

There’s a lot more to start-ups, of course. (See Ben Slick’s excellent article, Evaluate a Start-Up Job Opportunity Like a Venture Capitalist.) If something I’ve said is helpful, I’m glad. I’d love to know what you decide to do and what comes of this. Thanks for your kind words about Ask The Headhunter!

For those considering the excitement of working at a start-up, if it’s what you really want to do, don’t be dissuaded by risk. As this reader points out, it can be an exciting experience. Just follow my two simple rules, and make sure you protect yourself on both the upside and the downside. I hope you get rich, but don’t end up losing your shirt.

(If you’re thinking about making the leap to starting your own start-up, learn more about Trading Your Job For Venture Funding.)

Have you ever worked for a start-up? How did it turn out? Did you protect yourself? (Did you get rich?) How would you advise this reader?

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Is this resume too long?

Filed under: Getting in the door, Job Search, Q&A, Resumes

In the July 14, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks an age-old question.


I’ve always abided by the standard advice to have your resume focused at one page. However, due to my eight years of experience, more than a few people (including a headhunter), are saying that a one-page resume doesn’t give enough information. To paraphrase a friend, “Just one page of detail makes me think you’re making crap up.”

What do you think, are one-page resumes for experienced people too short? Thanks for your time.

Nick’s Reply

There’s an old story about a college professor who graded term papers by sailing them down a steep staircase. The ones that made it to the bottom got the highest grades. Weight mattered. (We won’t get into aerodynamics.)

resume-longIn a story attributed to a man who was chided for having legs that were short, he replied, “Short? They both touch the ground!”

Does length of a resume matter? Should you stick to one page? Is it best to avoid multiple pages because no one will read them or because too much information might put someone off? (See The truth about resumes.)

I could answer with several more stories culled from my headhunter’s collection. Here’s one of my favorites. An engineering candidate I worked with had over 20 years’ experience and an extensive academic history. His resume was 12 pages long, and it was dense. It included details about projects he had worked on, articles he had written and research projects he’d done.

Like you, I’d been taught to keep a resume short and to the point. I was (still am) pretty good at editing and chopping, but try as I might, everything in that resume seemed relevant and important.

I sent this candidate to an interview with a client after presenting him only on the phone (no resume). When the meeting was done the client wanted the resume, to fill in the blanks about the engineer’s history. I sent those 12 pages. The client wanted it all. Every page mattered.

My advice: Edit your resume to make it relevant to the employer, and make it as long as it needs to be. Make sure it’s long enough so it reaches where it’s supposed to go.

For more about my view of resumes, please see Resume Blasphemy and Put a Free Sample in Your Resume. (Most of the latter is now in How Can I Change Careers?) If you’re going to use a resume writer to help you, seek out the best — but I suggest you do it yourself. Avoid the popular resume-mill scams.

Is your resume really long? Or do you stick to one or two pages? What works for you? If you’re a hiring manager, do you care?

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