Years ago, I’d noted a number of job qualities that I thought were important, specifically focusing on the higher-up candidate perspective. I still find this a useful list, although (1) many of these are unusual, and (2) surely the list is incomplete. But, I thought I’d tidy it up a bit and see if it resonates with the 42Hire.com readers. Your mileage may vary, of course, but my own list looks something like the following.
Sure, it’s great to be well-paid. If you’re not getting what you’re worth and it bothers you, by all means, move on. However, another way people are underpaid is somewhat more sneaky. If you come on board as, say, a Director and six months down the road you find out that all of the other Directors make 20% more than you do, how would that sit with you?
So, how can a candidate mitigate this? My suggestion: During salary negotiations, you have to make it clear that, from your perspective, the salary negotiation process may be somewhat complex. It’s not just a matter of disclosing your current salary and then adding a 10% bump, which HR managers seem to want to do.
While you empathize with HR’s directive to keep salaries as low as possible, you also must be viewed by your peers as a peer. So, your prior salary, respectfully, is irrelevant. If the last person made $100,000 and the others in similar roles at the company make $100,000, then you need to also make $100,000 (regardless of your salary history).
Always keep a straight face when saying something like that, though. Believe it or not, the above points can be made without sounding unreasonable.
For HR professionals, especially in today’s more equality-conscious environment compared to decades past, I’d say this is a fair conversation to have with management as well so that this issue does not arise. At its core, after all, this is a retention issue. And, by “compensation” above, I’m of course referring to all types — not just salary alone.
Negotiating Time Off
Too many professionals who make more or less lateral moves from one company to another simply accept the new company’s vacation policy by default. I’ve seen so many people give up three or four weeks of annual vacation to accept a job that offers just two weeks/year.
This is such an easy negotiation point, though. And, it’s a good litmus test as well. If an employer won’t (or “can’t”) budge on that, perhaps this is indicative of deeper problems and/or an environment you may not want to work within. Never accept a first-offer on the vacation line item! (Well, unless it’s already an order of magnitude more than you’re getting now.)
For HR, this is a more complex issue. Similar to the salaries, above, it might become complicated if you hire someone and grant them four weeks while current employees may not have that much. I don’t pretend to have all the answers here. But, again, it’s something that should be discussed prior to it’s becoming an issue.
Where Are You Going to Sit?
Too many people, when interviewing, are desperate for the position. They make out as though the amenities mean nothing. “Oh, I’m fine on a card table in the corner. Don’t worry about spending money on me.”
This is the wrong approach. Instead, higher-level candidates might say something like, “While I certainly don’t require lavish office space, I do expect to be placed into an office that is commensurate with the level of responsibility I’ll have here. Frankly, I have a great office now, and I’ll admit that I do enjoy having a window.”
Well, you get the point, right? Don’t be unreasonable, but perhaps at least broach the subject to let them know this is important to you. You should have reasonably nice, functional office furniture, and a nice overall space.
Professionals should realize that a corporate job represents roughly 1/3 of your life (at least between the ages of 22 and 65). Or, if you don’t count sleep, it’s 1/2 of your waking life!
From an HR point of view, office atmosphere is of course important. Like the above items, environment affects retention. So, anything you can do to make people want to show up and perform, it’s going to help.
Support of Causes You Believe In
Almost everyone volunteers time for various causes these days. When you interview for a job, you should make a point to note that you volunteer time for things occasionally. Often, this means serving on boards, committees, etc.
You need to make sure that the company will support your needs in this area. This includes things like attending professional trade organization meetings, attending board and committee meetings, and having the company sponsor various events that you may be involved with — all without penalizing you in any way.
In other words, the time and money you spend on these activities should be understood to be in your and the company’s best interest. Rainmakers need to network. Therefore, the time spent doing that should not count against any personal time off, just as dollars used for sponsorships, professional dues, meeting fees, etc. should be happily paid by the company.
The Company Pays Bills On Time
There’s nothing like forging business relationships with vendors and then having your company be slow with accounts payable. Remember: Part of your personal “brand” is how well your company pays your bills. If your company doesn’t settle up promptly, it makes you look bad. This leads to tarnished professional relationships and inhibits your ability to leverage those relationships to your advantage in the future.
So, part of your due diligence when interviewing might be covering this ground. Make it clear that, at least as far as the accounts within your purview go, these bills will be paid on time. I suppose it would also be nice to know if business expenses are reimbursed in a timely fashion. Sure, I love getting 1% cash back on my credit cards for all the company expenses. But, it’s no fun getting slapped with finance charges when they take their sweet time paying me back.
Close to Home
This isn’t always possible. But, don’t overlook the benefits of working close to home. If most workers are commuting 45 minutes each way, per day, and you’re only commuting 10, then you save an hour and ten minutes each day compared with them. You can then use this for personal time or put in a little extra at the office to give the appearance of being a real go-getter without actually costing you much.
Empowerment Coupled with Accountability
It never ceases to amaze me how people always think they’re smarter than everyone else. At one company I worked for, we did an internal HR survey. It had twenty or thirty questions where you rate yourself, the company, and others on how they’re doing.
- On the “How competent are you?” question (which is a slight paraphrase), the average score was an impressive 4/5 (four out of a possible five).
- On the “How competent are your subordinates?” question, the average score was 2.6/5.
That’s funny, isn’t it? We all think we’re great, and we also all think that everyone else is lacking.
The point is, one shouldn’t be a micro-manager or promote such a culture. A company should empower people, train them, groom them, etc. If they ultimately aren’t performing, maybe the company should let them go.
My experience is: Set expectations and then empower employees to get the job done their way, and it’ll usually get done just fine. But, that’s not always how things work in the corporate world.
Work / Life Balance
One thing HR people should be keenly aware of is how well staff are utilized. While it’s great to have some room to assign things to staff who aren’t busy all day, it’s also not great to have staff who are over-burdened. In my view, a full-time job is about 40 hours per week, give or take. If a position routinely requires 60 hours per week to be done effectively, then that’s probably an HR problem.
Employees and management all have a built-in thing called a conscience. This mechanism tells everyone when the scales are tipped too far in either direction. Both sides need to seek balance on this line item. And, going in, letting an employer know that this balance is important to you is probably a good idea — just as HR actively informing candidates about this item is also a good idea.
I’m not sure how to accomplish this one, as you often don’t know the personalities of your superiors prior to joining a new company. But, as an example: I used to ride a bus downtown each morning. The bus would get me to town such that, on average, I’d stroll into the office at about 8:35 a.m. Well, “official work hours” started at 8:30 a.m. So, it was either walk in 5 minutes late, or come in about 25 minutes early by catching the earlier bus.
To me, it wasn’t an issue, of course. I never figured 5 minutes would concern anyone (especially when I’d stay late until past midnight on occasion to finish up projects). But, sure enough, there was the boss one morning, standing next to the door staring at her watch.
“You know,” she actually remarked, “according to Mickey, it’s 8:35.”
So, I guess this relates to the previous item: Candidates need to set those expectations up front (if they feel it’s necessary): “Look, I have children at home and, on occasion, my schedule demands that I come in a few minutes past when you might expect me. This, of course, will have no bearing on my performance, but I need some reasonable amount of flexibility, and of course I’m also reasonably flexible when needed.”
Of course, I’ve long moved away from HR and now head up a web agency, but I’ve always been keen on technology. To be honest, I’ve always had my own tastes — e.g., I like Android over iPhones and PCs over Apple machines.
But, how many jobs have you accepted only to find you have no say whatsoever about what PC you’ll use every day? I find this more annoying than I can put into words. In my fantasy world, IT people should be largely support personnel — not policy makers (at least, not for those who have any technical savvy of their own).
The days are long gone when only the “IT Guy” in an office has “mad tech skillz.” So, in my perfect world, the IT person should say, “Hey, what kind of computer do you want? I have $2,000 to spend on you!” (And then you could say, “Well, I like the laptop with the 17” screen.” And they’d go buy it for you.)
But, more often, they don’t consult you at all. They simply rehash some old PC, perhaps to avoid spending money on a new person’s tech. Not only that, but who knows what kinds of corporate spyware they install before giving you your machine? I’ve heard horror stories about (1) companies that do keystroke-logging, (2) companies that have software that takes a screen shot of your PC every minute or two, (3) companies that routinely review incoming and outgoing email, and (4) the ubiquitous monitoring of web site visitation habits.
I think in the future candidates might want to give some thought into negotiating which, if any, IT policies apply to you. I envision starting by saying something like, “Look, ask any of my references: I’m a very hard worker. I always give 110%. But, like anyone else, I like to communicate with people electronically. My family is spread out around the country. And, I have professional relationships in many cities. So, I need to be able to communicate with these people electronically with some reasonable expectation of privacy. And, if my brother-in-law sends me a link to some web site, I need to be able to click on that link without being in fear of some baseless corporate policy that says I can’t surf the net in my downtime.”
From an HR angle, I’d work to promote policies that allow considerable freedom along these lines by staff. Of course, IP policies are serious, and people should also be expected to excel. But, allowing reasonable allowances for gaming, social media browsing, and other such diversions, could well make for a happier crew.
Well, I know what HR people are thinking by now: “Wow! I’d never hire that so-and-so.” But, I’m just being honest, and it’s always better to be honest up front.
Has this approach ever cost me a job? Definitely. During one interview (way back in my early 20s), a woman asked me, “What would you say if we came to you at 4:30 p.m. on a Friday and said we needed you to stay late?”
I replied, “Well, if it happened rarely, I’d say ‘fine,’ but if it happened routinely, I’d say that you have a management problem.” (Even though that remark cost me the job, it was worth it to watch the shock on her face.)
Thinking about all of this, I have a new theory: Maybe it’s not actually “age discrimination” that prevents the 40+ crowd from landing great jobs. What if it’s more the fact that they’ve been burned so often that they’re wise enough to ask all of the right questions during an interview? In this case, perhaps it’s not “age discrimination”; it’s experience discrimination. Just a thought.
✍🏻 Jim Dee maintains his personal blog, “Hawthorne Crow,” and a web design blog, “Web Designer | Web Developer Magazine.” He also contributes to various Medium.com publications. Find him at JPDbooks.com, his Amazon Author page, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Medium, or via email at Jim [at] ArrayWebDevelopment.com. His latest novel, CHROO, is available on Amazon.com. If you enjoy humorous literary tales, please grab a copy!