How much money are you worth?

I recently read an article that stated job seekers hate being asked what they made in their last or current job.  It went on to say that the question is “not relevant to the job interview and it’s impolite.”  The writer further throws fuel on the fire by saying “it is none of an interviewer’s business what you are earning now or what you’ve earned at any job.”

My Current Pay is None of Your Business

This style of writing is popular these days.  It fans the flames of dislike until they burn with disgust and hatred.  As was said in Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing “Yo! Hold Up! Time Out! Time Out! Y’all Take a Chill!”  Anytime you are asked a question that you do not like or do not want to answer first chill out and ask yourself “why are they asking the question?”  If you do not want to discuss what you currently make you could always re-frame the question by answering it this way:

My current employer has very strict rules around sharing our compensation.  I am seeking a salary between $x and $y as part of the overall comp package.

As a recruiter I want to ask; why is this an issue?  Some interviewers ask what salary you are seeking rather than asking what you have been making but the fact of the matter is, money is an issue.  Usually, when someone asks about your current or past pay, they want to know if you are within the company’s price range for the position.

Many people talk about equal pay.  Is everyone’s work equal?  What if it takes you 20% longer to produce the same product as the person next to you, is that equal?  Or how about if you have a bad attitude and people do not like being around you?  I think we should re-frame the compensation discussion around what is fair.  I fully admit this is from the perspective of a white male but this will always be an issue when we have a free market.  There is an interesting perspective on the gender pay gap from Freakanomics.

Before you start talking comp with a company you need to be sure you do your research.   You want to research both the industry and your budget.  Both are important for different reasons.  You want to know the pay in the industry so you know where their salary range should be and you need to know your budget to have a minimum you need to make.  Just as a company may be willing to hire someone with a little less experience or skills if they cost less, you may be willing to take a position you are more interested in for less money.  But you still need to pay the bills.

Here are a few sources for compensation research: – You (supposedly) get the information from people who currently or previously worked at the company.  They also review companies. – You can do research on your current position, research another field or evaluate a job offer.

O*NET Your tax dollars at work.  You can see median wages, projected job growth and more.

The One Who Talks Compensation First Loses

I do not believe this statement.  In my interviews I always bring up compensation first and I tell people what our compensation range is before I ask about theirs.  After I tell them ours I do frequently ask what they have been making so I can tell them if that is possible here or how long it would take to get back in that range.  I hire sales people.  It is a real concern for employers if we are offering less money than you made at your last position.  Why?  Mainly, once you make a certain amount it is difficult to go backwards.  I know because I have done this twice personally and once as a family.  It sounds easier than it is.  Also, many people measure their value in dollars and cents.  Making less is possible but it is tough and leads many people to keep looking for more, which can lead to turnover.

As a candidate you need to understand that a company / department has a budget and they usually have a bean counter somewhere that has budgeted a certain amount of money for the position in question.  That means that if they offer at or below budget it is easier, above is more difficult.

I Changed My Mind

What to do if you tell the company a number then you change your mind?  You better have a good reason.  Is is VERY frustrating for a company if you tell me your number, then I offer that number only to have to say that is not enough.  Think of it like dating.  You ask someone out to lunch and ask where they would like to go.  They tell you tacos sound good and you name the local taqueria, they agree.  But when you all get there they say that they changed their mind and they want steak.  Frustrating?  You bet it is.

But it can be done with some tact and discretion.  There are a few guidelines  I suggest you follow:

Don’t ask for too much – If you first told them $50k and now you are asking for $60k that is a 20% jump.  Maybe a 5% – 10% ask is easier.

Why are you asking? – State a reason.  Maybe you are moving for the position and housing is more expensive than you thought or their insurance costs are higher than in your current position, which changed your personal budget.  Maybe the increase would allow you to move out of your parent’s house.

Ask the question – I encourage candidates to start by asking something like “I am excited about the position!  Since we last spoke I started looking at housing in the area and it is more expensive than I expected, is there any flexibility in the offer?”

Know your number – If their offer is below your bottom number and you know it won’t work, just tell them.  Be nice but be direct.  The earlier in the process the better.

Reiterate your interest – When renegotiating terms be sure to remind them why you are the right person and confirm your interest level.  “I really hope this can work.  I found the perfect place twenty minutes away and I am looking forward to starting next week!”

My salary situation at ‘Morning Joe’ wasn’t right. I made five attempts to fix it, then realized I’d made the same mistake every time: I apologized for asking.
Mika Brzezinski

Don’t let your job search become a fantasy

The podcast Hidden Brain had a very interesting episode called WOOP, There It Is.  It seems there is a fine line between positive thinking and positive fantasies.  Positive fantasies come out of having goals (wishes), which are good to have, but they can seduce us into already feeling accomplished, thus taking your energy away.  In her book; Rethinking Positive Thinking, Gabriele Oettingen says that positive fantasies are the beginning of action but they are terrible at helping us put the effort needed to accomplish a goal.

Positive Thinking vs Fantasizing

You have probably heard the old adage “whether you think you can or you can’t, you are correct.”  Visualization is a positive thinking technique where you create a mental image of what it will look like and feel like for you to achieve a goal.  There are a TON of people that promote positive thinking and visualization from Tony Robbins to Tim Ferriss.  I do believe that the more you believe something will happen, the more likely it will come to be.

To me positive thinking turns into fantasizing when you stay in that place and never stop to think…

What will it take for me to achieve my goal?

Gabriele Oettingen says that positive fantasies are helpful if you also ask yourself “what stands in the way?”  But you must be specific… you must ask “What is it in ME that stands in the way of achieving this goal?”  She also mentions that your goal must be attainable, but I will save that for my next post from a different podcast.

Oettingen says that to use these positive fantasies we need to use mental contrasting.  BTW, there is also a WOOP app that works with her strategy and yes, it is free!

Mental Contrasting with Implementation and Intentions

Mental Contrasting with Implementation and Intentions is a fancy way of goal setting.  But it goes beyond just setting the goal, it assists you in taking steps to achieve the goal, specifically four steps:

  1. Identify a goal (wish) that you want to attain within a limited time frame.  Oettingen suggests four weeks or less.
  2. Think about what would be the BEST outcome for that goal.  Imagine the best thing.  This is positively fantasizing, so don’t stop there.
  3. Ask yourself “what stops me from reaching this goal and experiencing this outcome.”  But you have to be more specific than that.  You must ask “what is my inner obstacle that prevents me from reaching this goal.”
  4. Lastly say to yourself “if this obstacle occurs then I will…”  Envision what behavior you will show or thought you will have to overcome that obstacle.

What is it in me that stands in the way

It helps if you have a little humor and a good bit of honesty to answer this question.  Remember, no blaming others.  Look, I know the world is set against you.  It is set against all of us in one way or another so stop making excuses as to why you are not able to do the things you want to do.  You are the only thing standing in the way of your happiness and success.

WOOP there it is

Oettingen renamed this process WOOP.  It is an acronym for WISH, OUTCOME, OBSTACLE, and PLAN.  This is what her app walks you through.

  • Wish – what is the goal you want to achieve and in what time frame?
  • Outcome – what is the best outcome and results of achieving that goal?
  • Obstacle – what is it in YOU that stands in the way of achieving your goal?
  • Plan – what behaviors or thoughts will allow you to overcome those obstacles?

Break it Down

You need to use WOOP to break your goals down.  Remember, we are eating the elephant called a job offer.  You need to eat it one bite at a time.  For instance if you goal is a job offer what do you need to get a job offer?  Interviews.  What do you need to get an interview?  A good resume.  Why don’t you have a good resume?

I realize that it is not that simple but you get the gist of what I am saying.  You may not believe that WOOP can help but that is an obstacle in you 🙂

Blaming is so much easier than taking responsibility, because if you take responsibility … then you might be to blame.
Jennifer O’Neill, The Pursuit of Happiness: 21 Spiritual Rules to Success


Science may help build a better resume

Most people will tell you to leave the personal stuff off you resume; marital status, how many kids you have, religious affiliations, etc…  But it seems there may be instances when you should give a company a peek behind the personal curtain.

No, I do not regularly read Marie Claire (I don’t regularly read any one source for information) but when I saw their article about resumes I had to learn more.

The Totally Counterintuitive Thing Science Says You Should Do to Your Résumé

As a recruiter my first reaction was “No **** Sherlock.”  We often times forget that our world of recruiting is a mystery to people on the outside and what seems like common sense to us sometimes goes against norms.  Two Vanderbilt Law School economists did a study that involved resumes with a 10 year job gap.  Some of the resumes explained the job gap by stating it was due to a divorce or to raise children. The other resumes gave no explanation.  The resumes with the explanations raised their chance of being hired by 30 to 40 percent.

The reason that their chances went up was not WHY they had a gap but rather that they had a reasonable explanation.  I bet they would find the same increase if the applicants said they hiked the seven summits or decided to live with an indigenous tribe in the Amazon.  The reason for the increase is that they answered the question a recruiter always has… “Why the gap?”

How was your time in prison?

My first reaction to a large gap is “hmmm, prison?”  If you don’t explain something most HR people and hiring managers will assume the worst.  I even encourage people to put a reason for job changes on their resume.  Nothing big, just a short explanation under each position, maybe in a smaller font and italics; Laid Off, Recruited to XYZ Company, etc…

Remember, your resume’s job is to get you the interview, the interview gets you the offer.  If I have 100 applicants (not uncommon) for a position I am first looking for ANY reason to kick people out.  Unexplained gap… GOODBYE!  Harsh?  Yes, but do you want to know what really happens to your resume / online application or do you want me to be nice?  As I say “The truth hurts some people but I have learned to live with it.”

Stay at Home Parents

When I was looking for a full time job three years ago I had some gaps myself.  I stayed at home for six years to raise our triplets.  One thing I did that helped was doing some contract work during those six years.  I think it is AWESOME if someone stays at home to focus on their family.  But I always encourage people to begin with the end in mind.  You need to volunteer or work periodically on a contract basis in the profession you want to work in later.  If you don’t you could get left behind.  These days business moves just a bit beyond light-speed.  You must keep up or you will have a large skill gap (perceived or real) when you decide to re-enter the working world.

Volunteering or periodically working on a contract basis can also fill resume gaps.  Let’s say you stay at home for 6 years till your kids get into school.  This is all hypothetical 🙂  You look around and find a mother’s day out program.  I am not going to mention that the name of these programs is sexist 🙂  This is a GREAT opportunity to give the kids some socialization with others and it gives a stay at home parent a chance to volunteer or look for a part time or contract job to keep their head in the game.  That sounds like a win-win to me.

The best way to handle employment gaps is to prevent them.


Being told no is feedback you can use

Once again Question of the Day has provided a great perspective that you can use in life and more specifically, your job search.  Unfortunately, we usually take criticism personally.  There are many reasons that we take it personally:

We are too close to the event – After a public speaking engagement I like to get feedback from people on what I did well and what I can do better.  But I ask them to send me their feedback via email or tell me the next day.  Right after I talk I am still too close to the event to even be reasonably objective.

We are too close to the subject – Being in HR I write a good bit of what becomes “policy” that others need to be able to understand.  That means that there are usually 5 – 10 revisions with a lot of red ink on them.  I quickly learned that what I write is not me.  These people are not saying I am bad.  Although my writing has been aAnd I am sure it will be again 🙂

We think the person is criticizing us – OK, they may also think that they are criticizing us but they are also wrong.  You are NOT a sum of your actions / decisions… you just think you are.  You need to separate yourself from your work.  While your work does reflect on you it is not who you are.  Even if you still think it is, don’t you want to get better?  That takes the courage to be vulnerable and to accept criticism.

Rejection is a form of feedback

Stephen Dubner says that he looks at rejection as a form of feedback.  If you can make this leap to making rejection impersonal, you can learn from rejection and use it to your advantage.  If not, you shut down and it takes much longer to learn from your mistakes.

Rejections can be a positive thing.  Every time you are told no in your job search you then know something didn’t work.

You are the problem

I don’t mean this in a negative way but as my mother always says, “If I (you) are not part of the problem, then you cannot fix it.”  True, sometimes companies have a hiring process that is truly broken.  I even know some companies that are aware of this but sometimes it takes a long time to make changes.

Let’s look at an analogy… If you are like me, you know the rule for turning valves on / off; lefty loosy, righty tighty.  At my kid’s school some plumber either has a wicked sense of humor or they think it is opposite day.  The knobs on some of the sinks are backwards.  So, I could either focus my time and energy on trying to get them fixed or I can just change my behavior and get on with things.  Yes, there is an argument for taking the time to fix it, but let’s fix it after you reach your goal.

Ask for Feedback

When you get turned down for a position ALWAYS ask (politely) for feedback.  Most people will not give you feedback but some will.  Here are a few ways to ask for feedback in a positive way:

Thank you for letting me know you are no longer considering me for the XYZ position.  Are their any other positions at ABC company that you feel I may be a better match for?
Thank you for following up with me about my application.  I am really excited about starting a career in XYZ (marketing) but I realize that it takes experience.  What positions would you suggest I apply for that could lead to a position like the one I applied for?
I appreciate you updating me on my status as a candidate.  Any feedback from the interview process would be much appreciated.

Many people will not reply or will reply with something that says they do not give interview feedback.  If they don’t give feedback don’t get angry, there is usually a good reason.  In my experience I do not give feedback because I have had people get in arguments with me.  Remember, they are not saying YOU are a bad match, they are saying your KSAs, goals, or personality don’t fit.  Those you CAN change, if you want to.  When following up there are a few key things to keep in mind:

  • Be Polite: No one likes a jerk.  Plus you never know when you will need to cross that bridge again or where that recruiter or hiring manager will work next.  Yes, we remember these things and those people.
  • Be Patient: Like most people, recruiters and hiring managers have more hours of work to do than a day will allow.
  • Be Persistent: Don’t just call / email once, but also don’t be a stalker.
  • Be Thankful: Always thank anyone for feedback and even when they tell you no.  At least you know where you stand with them.

Now get out there and get some feedback!

An inability to tolerate feedback is an inability to allow yourself personal growth.

Maybe you are asking the wrong question

A lot of people ask “Where can I find a (insert position) job.  It hit me the other day while listening to Question of the Day.  Maybe the job search is so tough for some people because they are asking the wrong question.

You may have the correct answer, but you asked the wrong question

This happens all the time in business and life.  Look at the gay marriage debate…  rather than asking should it or should it not be legal very few people are asking what I think is the real question “Why is the government in the business of deciding who you can marry?”  or better than that (this one I have not heard anyone talk about) “Why is the government allowed to discriminate on the basis of marital status?”  OK, I am off the libertarian soapbox 🙂

Many people in their job search are asking all the wrong questions.  You need to first realize that this is a sales process.  You are the product.  Your knowledge, skills, abilities (KSAs) and your background are all the attributes of that product.  Your first question is…

What are you selling in your job search?

Take a look at your KSAs and your experience.  Notice I did not just limit it to “work” experience.  Maybe you have done things as a volunteer that could transfer over to your work.  It is helpful if you have the job descriptions and reviews from your past positions.  Many times you don’t realize how great you are.  It is also helpful to look at the job posting for jobs you have had in the past.

Pull out the key words and phrases.  You can use them in your resume and to help in searching for positions.  Keywords are used by applicant tracking systems and recruiters when screening or searching for resumes.  You also want to be sure you use them on your LinkedIn profile.

Who is buying your product?

After you know about your product (you) it is time to identify your target market.  Who are the companies, industries or professions that need your KSAs?  One trick is to look and see who has previously held the same positions you have and find out what they are doing now.  They are also great people to network with and it can give you an idea of where to look for your next job.

Good questions outrank easy answers.
Paul Samuelson

Military Veterans and people with Disabilities can have job search advantages

If you have served in the Military or if you are an Individual With a Disability (IWD) you may have an advantage, that others do not have, in your job search.  But you must know where to look.

Affirmative Action Plans

Generally speaking, Government Contractors with 50 or more employees and over $10,000 in contracts (amounts vary based on minority group) are required to have, implement and audit annually some type of Affirmative Action Plan.  The Affirmative Action Plan may have goals for one or more of the following groups:

  • Military Veterans
  • Individuals With Disabilities
  • Women
  • Racial Groups

Many people think that an Affirmative Action Plan only concerns hiring but it’s effects are long lasting for an employee of a Government Contractor.  They must monitor:

  • Hiring
  • Promotions
  • Transfers
  • Terminations
  • Compensation

I am not going to discuss whether or not companies should have AAPs.  The fact of the matter is that if you want to do business with the Federal Government, you will likely need one.  As I tell the kids in baseball “If the Ump calls it a strike, it is a strike.”

Most AAPs measure their effectiveness against the MSA (Metropolitan Statistical Analysis.)  In other words, they are measured against the surrounding population of qualified individuals.  Not so with two groups: Military Veterans and Individuals With Disabilities.  Want to see what an AAP looks like?  Here is an example.

Individuals With Disabilities or IWDs

Did you know that most Government Contractors have a goal of hiring IWDs?  Yep, they have a goal that 7% of each Job Group be IWDs.  That may not sound like a lot it, but it means that Government Contractors are taking actions to seek out and hire IWDs.  In your job search you need to spend more of your time where you are more likely to be hired.  The fact is that if you are an IWD you are more likely to be hired by a Government Contractor.  There is even an Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP).  If you are an Individual With a Disability you should take advantage of these resources.

Military Veterans

Just Googling “hiring Military Veterans” pulls over 18 million webpages.  The AAP goal for hiring Military Veterans is pegged to the National percentage of veterans in the workforce, currently 8%.  Just like IWDs, Military Veterans have a lot of resources available.

Looking for a job can feel like a battle sometime, you against “The Man.”  I have heard people say “I want to do it on my own, I don’t want help.”  Excuse me, but that is STUPID!  What if a fire was headed towards your house?  You stand there watching creep closer and closer.  It is getting hotter and hotter.  Just then a firetruck pulls up.  You tell them to beat it, you got this.  Next you find fire extinguishers, you decide that would be “cheating.”  Finally you remember you have a shovel that you could use to dig a fire line with and save your house.  Just then you remember that would not be fair because your neighbor does not have a shovel.  So you just throw dirt on the fire.  Nice job knucklehead.  That is what many people do in their job search.  They do not use all of the resources they have available to them.

If you are not aware of all the resources you have that is one thing, but if you know about them and don’t use them then there is no whining.

If you’re offended easily, you’re a bad resource allocator. It’s a waste of energy and attention, which is a greater sin than wasting time.
FB post via Tim Ferriss