In my previous post I mentioned briefly the importance of keeping future increases in mind when you negotiate your starting salary in a new job. Of course, that does not mean you will receive the starting salary you are hoping for. It probably makes sense to aim as high as you can realistically believe is within reach. However, if your goal is “over the moon” or at least not in tune with what is actually going on, you might find the time has come for a reality check on your new job salary expectations.
What’s a “Reasonable” New Job Starting Salary?
You probably realize the answer is different now than it was several years ago. And a lot of people have something to say about this topic–if you Google the phrase “new job salary expectations,” you’ll come up with about 3.9 million hits!
The one at the top of the list when I searched was “Job Interview Answer: What Are Your Salary Expectations?” by Alison Doyle on about.com. However, what got me started on this tack was an article I just finished reading, which I found referenced on SmartBrief on Your Career (listed as “What managers should consider before switching jobs”). The original Fortune/CNN Money article by Anne Fisher deals with starting salary expectations and is titled “Job hunting? What kind of pay hike to expect”.
So what’s “reasonable”? Here’s a quote from Fisher’s article that gives one indication, based on what’s been happening in recent years. “An analysis by Salveson Stetson of compensation data from the past six years found that job-switching senior managers’ starting pay plummeted by 56% during the downturn. It’s edging back up, but on average, managers are getting offers 34% lower than in 2006 and 2007.” Fisher goes on to say that sales and marketing executives are the group probably least impacted by the downturn, whereas general managers are among the harder hit groups.
How do You Determine What Salary to Aim For?
I hate to say this, but the starting-point is research-research-research. Do whatever you realistically and legally can to uncover information that will help you determine your likely value to prospective employers in today’s job market and the leverage you might have in the eyes of those employers. That is, what’s the probable range the companies will be targeting for someone with a background similar to yours and how does that compare to your situation (expectations, current salary, job security or lack thereof, etc.)?
Fisher points out that every job seeker has some basic resources he/she should be checking out. For starters, she says you should “use sites like Salary.com and PayScale.com, as well as job boards with postings that provide salary ranges, to get an idea of what kind of salary you can reasonably negotiate for. And don’t forget that salary isn’t everything. Perks and benefits can sometimes make up for so-so base pay.”
You can probably find formulas of one kind or another all over the Internet for how to figure your new job salary target, so I won’t bother to “go there” in this post. However, I do have one commonsense approach to suggest:
- Figure out what you need to live on without a drastic reduction in your standard-of-living (including your family, if you have one).
- Look at what you’re currently making, including bonuses/perks, if you have those.
- Research to get a rough estimate of what people with similar experience, education and other qualifications are supposedly being paid. Where are you in that range? If toward the higher or lower end, what factors might be causing that placement?
- Identify your drop-dead number (which I’ve previously described as the least you can realistically accept). Then determine a range that starts somewhat higher than that and sets an upper limit you can hope to reach if all goes well.
- Brush up on your negotiation skills! See if you can come up with a win-win proposition that prospective employers can’t afford to turn down.
If you want a definitive direction on resume trends involving ATS (applicant tracking systems), you might find this blog post disappointing–I have yet to find a definitive answer! However, I do have some thoughts to share, which were sparked by an article written by one of my colleagues. Hopefully, that will at least give you something helpful to reflect on.
Resume Trends: ATS
I have conflicting emotions whenever I think or read about the growing use of applicant tracking systems in sorting through (and too often rejecting?) job seekers’ resumes. However, I have somewhat resigned myself to this resume trend as being inescapable and something that just needs to be dealt with. The question then seems to be: How do you deal with it most effectively? One answer that some people have come up with is to load your resume with keywords–also known as keyword packing or keyword stuffing. However, as with many things, this technique can quickly get out of hand and end up creating a negative impact on your ability to be considered by potential employers. Clearly, that isn’t the result you want!
I hasten to point out that I am not recommending the wholesale exclusion of keywords. Far from it. If you don’t include relevant keywords in your resume, whenever and wherever they need to appear, you will be stacking the deck against yourself.
So what is with this ATS/keyword controversy? Partly, it might be a matter of semantics, partly a difference in viewpoints, and partly–who knows? The more impersonal the job search becomes (as the use of ATS technology seems to force itself on you), the more challenging that job search also becomes. Your challenge is to find a way to deal with it or else to circumvent it in reaching company decision-makers.
Keyword Packing is Not the Answer
According to my colleague, “Resumes are not a science; nor do they require mathematical algorithms to land that next great interview. While using language in your resume that mirrors your target company’s needs is imperative, keyword packing is not. In other words, know your audience, be precisely focused in your target job, and let the words bubble up intuitively.” She then lists 5 reasons reasons to expand your focus beyond keywords, including the following:
- Applicant tracking systems (ATS) vary.
- Not every company uses ATS screening.
- Human beings read your resume.
If Not Keyword Packing, Then What?
At the risk of sounding like a broken record (for those of you who remember what records are or were!), I’m afraid one answer lies in making a greater effort than you might have in the past to find your own path, first by developing a resume that contains the essential keywords and then by tracking down people who need to see it, so you can get it into the best hands. From an item I read a while ago, that might not keep your resume from at some point being fed through a system that scans it (such as an ATS), but if you have an interested advocate on the inside, they might be able to help smooth the path for you. That’s a possibility worth pursuing.
I have probably talked about this subject before, but employee engagement (or lack thereof) continues to be a topic-of-interest in the employment world…from the perspective of both employers and employees. If you as an employee are not substantially engaged in or with your job and your company, at some point the situation will begin deteriorating. Eventually, it can lead to your departure–either voluntarily or involuntarily. Fairly recently, I have seen at least two articles touching on various aspects of this topic. The most recent to catch my attention is titled “I Don’t Mean to Be Offensive, But Your Employee Engagement Stinks” by Teresa Hopke.
Is Your Engagement Level in the 37% Minority?
Hopke cites a Towers Watson survey indicating that 63% of workers are not engaged and are struggling to cope with work, which leads to the inescapable conclusion that only 37% of you are reasonably engaged and satisfied. The article is addressed to companies, which Hopke is taking to task for not doing their job in terms of developing strong employee engagement. What I see as important here for you as a job seeker and/or self-career-manager is that you might want to take a serious look at what your current employer is or is not doing to engage you and keep you engaged. If the company is doing a decent job–maybe even a great one, if you’re lucky–you can congratulate yourself on having picked a good place to work! On the other hand, if you’re in that 63% majority who would probably like to be working somewhere else, and soon, you have some work to do to change your situation.
For the moment, though, I want to touch on a big point that Hopke makes in her article. She talks about companies needing to “earn” the engagement of their employees, and she gives as an example her attendance at a Neil Diamond concert. Here’s just part of what she says about it: “He came out on stage, told us that he has been playing that particular venue since 1971, and then proceeded to say ‘We want to earn your loyalty tonight.’ Imagine after 40 years of playing a venue and 20,000 people paying big bucks to see his show, he walked out on stage with the goal of earning his fan’s [fans'] loyalty!
What if your company had the same goal each and every day your employees arrived for ‘the show?’ What would it look like at your company if your main goal was to earn the loyalty of your employees? My guess is that productivity would increase, engagement would skyrocket, customer service would improve, and turnover would plummet.”
Improve Your Work Engagement Situation
Back to the question of what you can and should do if you are among the 63% of not-too-thrilled employees. You might be stuck in a company whose management gives only lip service to employee engagement, if it does anything at all. Or you could work for one that makes stabs at it but doesn’t consistently put enough muscle behind it to make the effort successful. In those situations, you probably don’t pack enough individual clout to change things there and might need to initiate a selective job search (if you haven’t already started one). However, if you see at least a glimmer of hope that you can help improve the situation, figure out the best way–and most likely effective allies–to tackle that challenge. Just bear in mind that in the same way that “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” your effort will probably need to be persistent and sustained over time. Quick fixes only happen in the movies and on TV!
Tip: If you’re considering a change of employers, be sure to do your due diligence before accepting an offer–preferably even before you submit your resume to the company for consideration. Somewhere in the vast ocean of data available, you might be able to dig up some information that gives you a clue as to the kind of company the target employer is–in other words, how it views and values its employees.
If you don’t already have a bachelor’s degree but have been thinking about getting one, this post might be of interest (and possibly useful) to you. It’s based on an article by Lee Lawrence titled “Has the Bachelor’s Lost Its Edge?” published in The Christian Science Monitor Weekly on June 18. A key premise is that the value of a four-year degree is going down at the same time as the cost of a college education is increasing, which is prompting people to seek new ways to make themselves distinctive and marketable to employers.
Does a Bachelor’s Degree Help Your Job Search?
According to the article, studies have indicated that a four-year degree does offer advantages, including enabling people to earn more money, increasing their likelihood of finding jobs and enhancing their chances of being chosen for on-the-job training. That sounds like it ought to be a no-brainer. However, as the article also points out, studies are based on the past and aren’t necessarily good predictors of present and future trends. What has happened is that large numbers of people have rushed to get a degree, and now there’s something of a glut, at least in some respects–and the glut appears to be increasing.
Also, the school you went to or are considering going to can make a big difference in whether or not your degree will help your job search. What’s more, the field in which you earn your degree could significantly influence your job search success. Basically, the decision about obtaining a bachelor’s degree isn’t as clear-cut as you might like.
Alternatives to a Bachelor’s Degree
Professor Richard Vedder of Ohio University refers to a concept he calls “spiraling degree inflation.” His concern is that many Americans will get stuck with huge student loans for degrees that don’t bring them the anticipated benefits. As the article quotes, “‘The fact is that it is not a sure shot you’re going to get the high-paying job’…and the notion that the earnings differential ‘is continuing to grow and expand is somewhat suspect.’”
So what are your alternatives? They include completing a two-year degree program at a community college or a trade-specific certificate program that takes less time to earn, as well as free online education from reputable sources (such as Udacity and Coursers) and company-specific training programs (such as Novell and Microsoft certifications).
A Couple of Troubling Concerns
One potential problem is that fact that companies can, do and might continue to require a degree for jobs that really don’t need them, so they can screen out many applicants. I’ve commented on this before and won’t go into it again here. The other concern is that the two-year college programs might not be as widely available going forward as they have been in the past. The article notes that “just as some manufacturing sectors are reporting worrisome shortages of qualified workers, cuts in state funding are forcing many community colleges to replace occupational classes with cheaper-to-run liberal arts courses.”
If you are considering earning a degree, then, it’s important that you evaluate your options carefully before committing to a program and an educational institution. On the other hand, if you already have a degree, you should at least consider whether it’s helping or not. In cases where it’s not clearly helping, maybe you need to find an alternative to beef-up your perceived value and increase your marketability as a job seeker companies will want to talk to.
Okay, so the title is a somewhat hokey bid to get your attention, but it does point to a situation that everyone really needs to be aware of. As I’ve said before, we all know age discrimination in the workplace is illegal, and we also know it happens–probably more often than you would like to think. Plus, it’s an issue even if you’re still on the sunny side of 40 and think it doesn’t apply to you. Maybe it doesn’t now, but it will eventually and possibly sooner than you expect. If you’re smart, you’re already thinking and planning how you can avoid or at least minimize its impact on your career well-being.
Ageism Alive and Well in the Workplace
I really like the articles I read by Michelle Rafter on SecondAct.com, and her latest, “Study: Workplace Ageism is Rampant,” is no exception. She interviewed Jacquelyn James from Boston College’s Sloan Center on Aging & Work about a study James’ group did that’s going to be published in June in the Journal of Managerial Psychology.
Conclusions from the study include the following: “Workplace bias against older employees is everywhere, even as the population ages and people continue to work later in life. Even if it’s unintentional, age discrimination can make employees of all ages feel less interested and happy in their jobs.” Among other things, this kind of situation includes job seekers’ perceptions about being passed over intentionally or unintentionally for promotions because they’re 55 or older. Remember: If you’re not there yet, you inevitably will be down the road. None of us is getting any younger as time passes!
Unemployment becomes a factor in this battle, too, because “although the jobless rate for younger workers has been higher than for workers 45 and older, older workers who lose a job take longer–an average of 60 weeks [note: that's about 14 months]–to re-enter the work force.”
Job Seeker Age Discrimination a Company Problem
Sure, it’s a problem or possible problem for you as a current or future job seeker, but it’s also a potentially big problem for companies as well. As James points out in the interview with Rafter, “Not having engaged employees means a negative for the bottom line. Employers only worry about age discrimination in terms of being sued. But this is a bigger problem.”
Older Workers Not Getting in Younger Colleagues’ Way
There’s a widespread notion that older workers staying in the workforce longer are preventing younger employees from getting job opportunities. However, the interview contradicts that perception. James says that “the data doesn’t back it up. The problem isn’t that older workers are keeping jobs from younger workers. It’s that there aren’t enough jobs to go around.” Also, I believe from what I’ve read elsewhere that job seekers’ skill sets aren’t always a good match for the jobs that are available, which is a different but related issue.
Job Seeker Discouragement vs. Determination
Whether you’re 50-something or older or not, you could find yourself in an extended job search at some point. Although not necessarily related to ageism, this subject came up in the interview, and James’ response was what I and my professional colleagues basically tell our clients all the time: “Knowing that for most people it does come to an end is reassuring, because people get discouraged and quit trying….you can’t quit trying. No matter how many times you get rejected, you have to keep going.”
I know that’s easy for us to say and maybe tough for you to swallow if you’re the one who’s struggling to find a new job, but think about the alternative: no job and no momentum geared toward landing one. That’s not a great option. Persistence alone might not win the prize, but persistence combined with smart career management and well-planned job search techniques usually does, even if not always as quickly as you might like.
Numerous news-feeds, blogs, etc., provide information on the latest job market statistics and often include predictions about what’s coming down the road–anywhere from short-term periods to years from now. As a current or future job seeker, you should do your best to stay on top of this kind of information, as an aid to your career management activities. However, if you take everything you read as gospel, you could find yourself thoroughly confused!
Job Market Predictions Not Cast in Concrete
One definition of “prediction” is “forecast.” Basically, that means “to estimate or calculate in advance.” That alone tells you something about the nature of predictions. Even the best job market experts are drawing conclusions about the future based on past and present knowledge available to them. They can’t assure you that what they believe will happen will actually happen, much less that it will happen when they predict and in the way they predict. Virtually every job market prediction they make is “subject to change without notice.” Too many variables can pop up to ensure any degree of certainty. Look at what happened when the bottom fell out of the real estate market, for example. The impact hit harder and lasted much longer than predicted, leaving many people scrambling to find jobs and careers outside that field.
Interpretation of Job Market Predictions
Even if statistics included in the predictions are based on reasonably sound assumptions, they can still be open to multiple interpretations. That’s why you’ll often see a particular news item viewed differently by different commentators, bloggers and others. Either intentionally or through unintentional bias, an individual can provide an interpretation of the statistics that fits his or her view but contradicts the view held by other individuals. Politicians aren’t the only ones guilty of this, but they’re definitely a good example. That means you need to take different views of job market statistics with a healthy dose of skepticism. Trying to stay informed about possible outcomes or events in the job market is good; letting yourself get sucked into unquestioning acceptance of a prediction based on something no more solid than Jello is not so good.
Tips for Responding to Job Market Predictions
Tip #1: Consider the source. How strong are the organization’s or individual’s credentials for making job market predictions? What kind of track record has been maintained and over how many years?
Tip #2: Remember that time changes everything–or almost everything. Predictions are moving targets. Even if something seems like a near-certainty now, in 5 years…a year…maybe even less, it could turn out to be anything but certain. It might not come to pass at all or maybe much later than originally predicted.
Tip #3: Build a contingency factor into any decisions you make based on job market predictions, even those that come from the most reliable source you can find.
As Benjamin Franklin once wrote: “…in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”
Whoa! This is not good news for job seekers! The whole situation of references and reference checking has recently started getting a lot more troublesome for you as a job seeker while it’s making life much easier for corporate recruiters and their employers. As you know, I’m inclined to be an optimist, but this development is challenging my inclination because it’s weighted so heavily in favor of employers and against job seekers.
Automated Reference Checking–Too Early
A recent article on Workforce.com talks about Pre-Hire 360, software that enables employers to check your references before they even decide whether to schedule you for a face-to-face interview. The article indicates that more than 50% of companies who use this software do it after the initial phone screen so they can winnow down the number of candidates they need to bring in. That means if your references aren’t stellar from start to finish, you could be forced out of the running early on–much sooner than you might have been before automated reference checking software existed. What’s even worse is that you might never know it had happened.
Bad References Too Easy to Give Now
Companies used to be very careful, as a rule, about how they responded to requests for references, mainly because they were scared about possible lawsuits. Many companies have a policy that basically only allows people to give “name, rank and serial number” on former employees. However, that apparently no longer applies when they’re using automated reference checking software, which allows anonymous responses. Jeffrey Wade, with Anchor Planning Group, an executive recruiting firm, noted that “without the threat of being identified…references tend to be brutally frank about their colleagues, yielding much more useful information.” Useful to whom? The prospective employer, of course–certainly not to you as the would-be employee!
How Many References Do You Need and When?
As if that weren’t enough, you might now be asked/expected to supply more references than in the past. We used to say 3 to 5 (with 5 being preferable if you have them). Now some companies are requiring a minimum of 5 references, which they expect you to provide immediately following the phone screen, and at least 2 of those have to be past or present managers.
Also, we used to recommend not providing your references until after you had a chance to see that the employer was seriously interested (i.e., after you had an in-person interview). That way your references wouldn’t get pestered by a bunch of companies that might have no real intention of hiring you. However, the way the automated reference checking system is described in the Workforce.com article, it enables employers to check all the references you provide and to do it early.
Automated Reference Checking–What are Your Options?
Right now, the only one I see that’s potentially viable is to:
- Make an effort to acquire enough references so you can provide 5 to each employer who asks for them, without necessarily giving your entire list to any employer.
- Warn your references they might be contacted by employers you’re targeting and directed to respond via an automated reference checking system.
- Double-check with your references as to what they’re likely to say about you anonymously. Then try to weed out any that don’t sound as enthusiastic about you as you would like!
[Note: The article mentioned in this post can be found on Workforce.com; however, you have to register (which is free) in order to get access to it.]