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New Salary Disclosure Rules – Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?

The Blogs of Dave Murphy: New Salary Disclosure Rules – Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?

In January 2018 California will join the growing list of states and municipalities in the U.S. that have rules in place preventing employers from asking job candidates about their compensation history (other such jurisdictions currently include Massachusetts, Delaware, Oregon, Philadelphia, New York City and state). Each law provides their own unique directions along with exceptions and “safe harbor” provisions, but the rationale for enacting them is to prevent the exploitation of historically underpaid employees, and in particular to close the “gender gap” in compensation differences between men and women (some of the laws specifically address the gender gap in their preambles). The spirit of the law is to provide equal pay for equal work, so these are positive steps toward ensuring that all employees regardless of gender, race, ethnicity or any other demographic trait are treated fairly and are not exploited.

In addition to demographic traits another segment of the work force that has been subject to potential wage exploitation consists of unemployed or transitioning workers. The thinking is that some employers will take advantage of a candidate who has no current income and offer them a wage that is at the lowest end of the designated pay scale for the job. This is exacerbated by the often-false perception that unemployed candidates are not as productive and high-performing as those who are currently working and not actively seeking a new job. Of course this is patently unfair when employees are caught in a large reduction-in-force or layoff and have no control over their employment status, particularly in the age of skyrocketing mergers and acquisitions.

So these new laws are good for us, right? Most reasonable people would agree with the rationale behind them and envision that they will become the law of the land in the U.S. in the near future. There is a danger, however, for many job-seeking candidates to assume that non-disclosure of compensation history will work to their benefit. One must remember that they are in a competition with other job-seekers for an opening and that the employer might very well select someone else for the position, and that the price tag for the employee is a relatively small part of the overall selection criteria. While there are exceptions, for the majority of candidates it will be advantageous to proactively disclose salary history information at some point in the selection process rather than keeping that information hidden.

From the employer’s perspective they are trying to find the best employee possible for their opening and pay them fairly, so that the new team member will be happy and productive in the job, and stay with the organization long-term. The job market is subject to the same supply and demand forces of other markets; if an employee is unhappy for whatever reason in their current job they can make a job change (just talk to your friendly Executive Recruiter about that . . .) One way to correct an exploitive wage situation is to find an employer who will pay fairly for top talent, and good employers know that. But what is considered “fair” compensation? For the employee it means being paid consistently with what that industry generally pays for that function. The employer follows that same direction too, but also must maintain their own “internal equity” at their organization – making sure that they don’t pay a new person more than an existing employee who has similar qualifications and experience. So there is pressure on the employer to ensure that they are offering a candidate an appropriate wage that is a win-win for both sides.

How does the employer find that appropriate offer?

In addition to monitoring industry wage trends and maintaining internal equity, the hiring manager must make an offer to the candidate that is financially incenting for personal reasons as well. Some candidates are highly motivated by money, others not as much, but all want to believe they are being treated fairly. In the new era of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” candidates will now be asked about their salary expectations at some point in the selection process, possibly more than once. As a candidate you now have an important decision to make. If you share a number that is beyond what the employer believes is reasonable for them to pay you are likely to screen yourself out of the selection process (remember, they have other candidates to consider). And if you share a number that is below what they believe is reasonable then you are leaving money on the table. That’s why I always recommend that a candidate reply to the question about salary expectations by explaining that they are seeking a compensation level that is fair and reasonable based on their qualifications. Now, if an employer already has information about the candidate’s compensation history they typically have an idea of what they would like to offer, and that reply nearly always deflects the difficult question about money that inevitably comes up in the interview process.

In the new era however, the employer (most often an HR manager) will either attempt to “pre-close” a candidate during the money conversation or be faced with a protracted negotiating process after they make an offer, which is something they don’t want. Depending on how gracefully the candidate communicates in that “negotiation” he or she may or may not get the job. I’ve seen many cases where a job offer is rescinded by an employer because of frustration with the candidate’s communication style at the point of offer. The vast majority of employers want to extend an original offer that is the “best they can do,” or very close to it. A candidate may be able to go the well one time to enhance it, but generally not more than once. The rejection of counteroffers will doom the process, and it can all be avoided with better communication earlier in the process about what is incentivizing to the candidate.

So, in responding to that question about salary expectations I will continue to recommend that most candidates disclose some of their compensation history and also provide some direction about what they are seeking for that particular position. For candidate’s who believe they have been exploited in the past for whatever reason they can explain their situation. This will give the employer the opportunity to offer something that is incentivizing and is a win-win for both sides, and avoid the potential for the candidate to create ill will or burn up political capital before they even start working at the company.

As a recruiter and broker of these deals I have observed that the more transparency and candor both sides exhibit in the process the higher the likelihood of a new hire, and of having someone remain with the company long-term. I view the new trend of non-discloser as a potential threat to the process. On the other hand, it’s likely going to be a boon for the recruiter-broker who will be called upon more than ever to optimize communication and facilitate the process.

As always, I welcome your comments or questions. Happy New Year!

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Talk to your recruiter about RBF

The Blogs of Dave Murphy: Talk to your recruiter about RBF

Resting Bitch Face. It’s a real thing – a scourge upon the land that ruins people’s perception of each other. Google it sometime to see some examples. Male or female, all ethnicities and ages – this is a global epidemic that Wikipedia defines as follows:

“Resting bitch face, also known as RBF or bitchy resting face, is a term for a facial expression (or lack thereof) which unintentionally appears angry, annoyed, irritated, or contemptuous. The concept has been studied by psychologists and may have psychological implications related to facial biases, gender stereotypes, human judgment, and decision making. The concept has also been studied by computer experts, utilizing a type of facial recognition system; they found that the condition is as common in males as in females, despite the gendered word “bitch” that is used to name this concept.”

What has this got to do with staffing decisions and career planning? Plenty. All day long I hear things like “not a fit,” “bad chemistry,” “didn’t click with him/her,” “don’t think I’d fit well in their culture.” It’s certainly true that behavioral traits like work ethic, prior performance results, and the words people use to ask or answer interview questions do matter. But there is a reason why we insist on live interviews rather than simply matching job descriptions to resumes, sending emails, or holding phone calls or Skype conferences. We want to see people, shake their hand and – often unknowingly – evaluate body language. And nothing drives body language more than facial expressions, so we must get educated about RBF and it’s ramifications throughout the job market and global economy. Let’s look at this plague in two ways: why candidate’s often don’t get job offers, and why they often don’t want to accept them.

First, on the candidate side of the equation: interviewees know they only have somewhere between 30 minutes and 2 hours of “face time” to make a good impression, and they can’t blow it. Successful candidates understand that the most important thing they need to communicate, in whatever way possible, is trust. “Trust me, Ms. Hiring Manager, that I will get the job done and exceed your expectations. I will view the problems that need solving through your eyes and take accountability to solve them, freeing you up for other things.” It’s very hard for an interviewer to trust someone who, when they are not speaking, has a facial expression that communicates that they are “angry, annoyed, irritated, or contemptuous.” Live interviews typically begin with the interviewer providing some background about the company, the job or themselves, giving the candidate the opportunity to listen and communicate with non-verbal cues. If the message being sent back is coming from a RBF then there’s going to be a problem.

Regarding the interviewer who suffers from RBF – the problem is more insidious. The reality is that many hiring managers WANT to project resting bitch face because their interview style is to screen out “unworthy” candidates. They believe they hold all the cards and that the candidates have to do all the selling in order to prove they deserve the opportunity to take the job, forgetting that the best candidates have many, many great opportunities in front of them to consider. The interrogation-style interviewer rarely gets the A Player on their team, but they generally don’t care because the company culture is fine with that. But what about the sincere manager striving to build and lead a world-class team? The most important thing they need to communicate is that they care about people on a personal level. The old leadership adage is that “nobody cares what you know until they know that you care.” Since the majority of time in a live, face-to-face interview is spent with the candidate answering questions and the interviewer listening, there is ample opportunity for RBF to creep out and cause the candidate to lose the sense that the person sitting there could possibly care about their personal goals, dreams and ambitions.

So what can be done?
Like any good 12-step program the first and most important action is to recognize and accept that there is problem. The first phase after RBF diagnosis is always the toughest. It usually includes shock, anger, denial, introspection, research and grudging acceptance. Then comes the hard work of prescriptive action, including many hours logged in front of the mirror conditioning those facial muscles so they can unconsciously communicate Resting Happy Face. On the other hand, you can simply forget about allowing the face to rest at all in an interview. Experts agree that the easiest technique is eyebrow control – if you want to convey a sense of trust or caring you may want to furrow the brow when you hear a particularly sensitive comment. Of course, high eyebrows along with an easy smile will endear the other person to you, provided it is not overdone. The bottom line is that those who suffer from RBF must work during the interview to keep that face moving!

There are countless remedies and techniques for treating RBF available online. Given the huge market potential I can foresee the day where a new wonder-drug is approved for the condition – perhaps a next-gen Botox or something similar. My own prediction is that RBF will become much more apparent and recognized as the scourge that it is, particularly when our very own President suffers from it. Perhaps Patient Advocacy Groups will be formed. I’m optimistic that the higher profile of the disease will increase research and funding for treatment options, and those of us suffering quietly will no longer live in the shadows. As always I welcome your comments and questions.

The Cost of Bad Writing

The Blogs of Dave Murphy: The Cost of Bad Writing

From the dawn of human commerce the livelihood of marketing professionals has been built on clear communication, and with the growing importance of electronic messaging the need for effective writing skills has never been greater. Technology driven industries, including Biopharma and Medical Device, are particularly reliant on clear, concise writing because of the complex nature of the information being communicated. Yet many industry executives and students of organizational communication lament the reality that writing proficiency is in decline.

In a recent survey published by Harvard Business Review, 81% of business people who spend more than 20 hours per week reading for their job said that poor writing skills cause a significant amount of wasted time for them, and over half said that what they read is frequently ineffective because it is too long, poorly organized, unclear or filled with jargon. Employees get little training in how to write in a brief, clear manner and the result is a profound lack of impact in what they are trying to communicate. And the problem is not just in junior level cubicle dwellers – senior managers struggle to communicate exactly what they want within the subject line / title and first few sentences of what they write. As the HBR story points out, when executives are clear and direct in their business writing they will develop a reputation for candor and truthfulness, and employees will get to work accomplishing the goals that are set out for them.

In the context of the marketing profession, the need for effective writing is not confined to customer engagements or promotional material. The long term planning process, built in part on reporting the “voice of the customer,” is driven by clear, concise communication of strategies that are based on extensive analyses and in some cases massive amounts of data. The magic happens when a marketer can identify patterns in customer’s voices and articulate them clearly in written form. A Vice President of Marketing at a high-growth surgical instrument company told me that one of the most important drivers of their success is the ability of upstream marketing personnel to bring clarity to product development needs. The success of his organization, like most companies operating in a dynamic, fast-paced environment, depends on efficiency in the written word.

So why does this matter in the world of filling jobs and obtaining jobs?

On the employee side of the table it’s more important than ever to be clear and concise when writing a resume, a cover note that describes motivation, and the follow-up correspondence after interviews. Managers place a premium on finding candidates who can write efficiently, communicating the most important points in as few words as possible. Hiring authorities are most impressed by resumes that begin with a maximum of two to three sentences of “overview” statements describing key attributes and qualifications. They want to get to the point about where someone has worked, the kind of problems they were asked to solve, and the results of their efforts.

From the employers’ perspective, it’s time to take a hard look at what’s being written in job descriptions and online job postings. It’s remarkable to me that some of the largest, most prestigious organizations in the world create job descriptions that fail to convey the specifics of what an employee will do on the job. Here is some language from two job descriptions different clients of mine have written for current marketing openings:

“Responsible for the development of specific marketing plans and activities for specific product(s)/project(s)/product line(s) to establish, enhance or distinguish placement within the competitive arena. Activities may include tactics, tools, logistics, campaigns, basic messaging and positioning. Leads cross-functional teams/groups, (i.e., launch teams); to develop new products or enhance existing product(s) or product line(s). Understands business environment and relates extensive knowledge of internal and external activities to trends. Interfaces with a variety of management levels on significant matters, often requiring the coordination of activity across organizational units.”

“Responsible for the design, development, implementation and coordination of marketing plans for specific product, product line or product areas. Design, develop and implement deliverables such as product specifications, branding and launch strategies per New Product Development procedures and Launch Excellence guidelines.
• Core team representation as commercial and customer VOC on internal product development teams, also responsible for launch planning.
• Commercial Integration – partnering cross-regionally to identify best commercial practices to accelerate penetration.
• Executes marketing plans and programs, both short and long range, to ensure profitable growth and expansion of company products and/or services
• Researches, analyzes, and monitors financial, technological, and demographic factors so that market opportunities may be capitalized on and the effects of competitive activity may be minimized”

The problem with this unclear, subjective style of writing is that it not only fails to inspire talented prospects to want to pursue a job opportunity, it also leaves the description wide open for unqualified individuals to assume they can perform various functions because of lack of clarity that they cannot. I can’t complain too much about this problem, however, because candidates rely on me to explain what the job actually entails.

It’s clear that bad writing leads to wasted time and ineffectiveness in the corporate world. It’s possible that texting has led to a dumbing-down of writing skills in all forms, but I think the cause is more complicated than that. It’s incumbent upon senior leadership to insist on improvement in employee and candidate writing, and as a start they should work to enhance their own skills, setting a high bar for others to follow. As always, I welcome any comments or questions.

Responding to Recruiter Bulk Emails


How to Best Respond to Bulk Emails from Recruiters

My colleague Michael Pietrack pointed out that one of the necessary evils of the recruiting business is bulk emailing. We discussed how most recruiters try their very best to pin-point the types of roles that would be of interest to every candidate that is in their niche area. This information is usually based on previous conversations, where each candidate gives the recruiter specific direction on what types of roles would be of interest. If you and I (or the recruiter of your choice) haven’t had a call like that, it would be mutually beneficial to do so.
So, once you get an obvious bulk email from me or from another firm, here are a couple “do” and “don’t” suggestions that Michael developed to help you improve your success rate of getting a reply.
What to Do:
-Respond in a professional way. For example, the one sentence response or a fragment sentence is not a professional email. I get so many email responses that if you read them, you would be embarrassed for the person.
-Demonstrate strong writing skills. With so much of our daily lives done over email, your recruiter is evaluating whether or not you can communicate clearly and with intelligence through email. This will definitely give your recruiter confidence to present you to their client.
-Read the person’s email all the way through. I get many emails where people ask questions that are in the body of the original email. That tells me they didn’t read it, and it’s an immediate red flag (usually followed by a deletion of the message).
-Follow the directions in the email. If the person doesn’t follow the directions, I assume they will do the same when my client sends them action items that must be completed.
-Be self-critical. If you meet 1 of the 5 must haves for the role, then you’re not likely to get the job or even an interview. If the recruiter sent you an email that isn’t appropriate for your skills, help that person course-correct so that future emails will be more effective for them and not annoying to you.
What NOT to Do:
-Don’t ask who the company is. If the recruiter wanted to freely say who the company was, they would have put it in the original email. When you show them that you are a fit for the job, they should be able to tell you over the phone who the company is.
-Don’t ask about salary. Our clients pay us to find people who are interested in the job and who will bring them value. The way to engage a recruiter is to talk about the value you can bring before you find out if you just hit the lottery. Imagine if your friend was setting you up on a date, and your first question was, “Is he rich?”. Get my point?
-Don’t request more information over email. Recruiters run a phone based business, and they want to talk to you about the role. They don’t want an email to do the selling, especially a job description. The amount of information that recruiters want to share over email was certainly in the original email. If you want more information, show the recruiter you’re qualified, and then request a time to talk.
-Don’t send fragmented sentences or one-line sentences. Some of my favorites are: “Am interested, submit me” (This person is confused about what recruiters do for a living); “Could be interested if money is right” (Automatic delete); “Who’s the company?” (Again, the information the recruiter wants out there is in the email); and “I’m a perfect fit!” (In my career, no one who has said this has gotten the job. Again, be able to self-critique.).
Here is an example of what your response should look like:
Hi Dave,
Thanks for contacting me. I think I might be a fit for this role since I have X, Y, Z in my background. Remember though that I’m earning $1,000,000 base, and if you think that wouldn’t deter your client, then I’m open to talking. Can we set up a time to talk further about this position?
Thanks for your time,
Awesome Candidate
I hope these suggestions are helpful. If you have further questions, please respond to me privately via email: dave@alpinesearch.net

Too Many Recruiters?

I got a call from a client of mine at a Medical Device company that needs to fill a key marketing position in a hurry, but not compromise on quality. He gave me the job specs and ideal candidate profile, we discussed the comp plan and relocation policy – and it all looks good. So I asked him what his recruiting plan is, and he told me he is calling me and three other recruiters to have us begin canvassing all the targeted candidates who fit the profile, with the plan to pay only the recruiter who first refers the candidate who is offered and accepts the job. Sounds logical at first doesn’t it? The more salespeople you have out there competing with each other to sell your product the better the chances are that you’ll get what you want.
But consider the situation from the salesperson’s (in this case, the recruiter’s) perspective. Given everyone’s time constraints, the odds are good that by the time I get in contact with three targeted candidates, two of them have already heard about the opportunity. Since I have multiple positions to fill with various companies, some of whom pay me a retainer, and others who have no retainer but exclusivity on the search, how incented am I to perform anything more than a cursory database search for people I know are in an active job search? There is no true recruiting of “passively looking” or “actively listening” candidates for the job because the odds are so low that the time invested in that (which typically amounts to 100+ phone calls) will be worthwhile.
So in the multiple-recruiter scenario the company trying to fill the job will see a blast of resumes of actively-looking candidates in the first week, and then the recruiters will move on to other projects. The recruiters are rewarded for being fast, since they are racing each other, rather than thorough. The frequent result is that the job remains unfilled for a prolonged period, LONGER than the time it takes for one experienced, competent recruiter who is held accountable for results to fill the job. That recruiter knows there is a payoff so will invest the time and deliver results.
From the candidate’s perspective, the best “actively listening” candidates are most interested in openings that are difficult to get, not those that have multiple recruiters calling them begging them to consider it. They respond much more favorably to a recruitment outreach when the recruiter has taken the time to specifically target them, working in a retained or exclusive arrangement. When they are contacted by multiple recruiters they begin to wonder why the job is so difficult to fill.
When a recruiter is working for a client exclusively the recruiter can advise the client better because they have a full view of the whole candidate pool. Over time, the recruiter will get to know the hiring manager’s taste and will become proficient at selling the company. All in all, you win by having one teammate that you count on to be your talent scout in the market.
Conclusion
Whether you chose the Alpine Group or another firm, my professional recommendation is to exchange commitments and hold the recruiting firm accountable. You’ll enjoy the experience more, and you’ll come away from the experience seeing the real value a true professional recruiter can bring to your company. As with any other professional service, if you truly want the recruiting agencies you use to compete for your business, then interview them and check references before the search and choose ONE for best results. As always I encourage your feedback or questions.