Have a question? Send it toThe Headhunter.
Your articles make very convincing arguments for not disclosing salary in
an interview. What about when dealing with headhunters? One I have been
with says he cannot work with me unless I tell him my salary. I feel this
does not help my bargaining position because he is going to tell this
to his client company. He insists he is working for me but I think if he
really was, then I would be paying him. What do you think?
The Headhunter replies:
I'd tell my salary to a headhunter before I'd tell it to an employer. I
know this sounds self-serving because I'm a headhunter, but there's a good
reason for my position and I'll try to explain.
You're absolutely right that if a headhunter worked for you, you'd be paying
him. But understand that a good headhunter has two masters, no matter who
is paying him. First, he is beholden to the client who pays the bill: the
employer. Second, he is responsible to the candidate because the
ability to recruit effectively within a particular professional community
depends on his reputation in that community. If the headhunter goes around
negotiating less-than-good deals for people like you, word gets around and
the headhunter will have trouble attracting good candidates. (The same is
true for an employer, but an employer can survive handing out lots of poor
offers; a headhunter can't.)
Before you divulge your salary to a headhunter, make sure you trust him or
her. Get to know the headhunter. Experiment with one or two positions he refers you
to; see how he does on the negotiations. You're not obliged to accept any
offers you don't like. It will quickly become clear whether he's telling
the employer more than he should. Remember: if the headhunter hadn't brought
you an opportunity, you'd have nothing to debate.
A good headhunter will take your salary information and use it to determine
whether there's even a chance at negotiating a mutually acceptable deal.
Sure, he could do that with your "desired range" too, but knowing your
salary helps him understand the emotional side of the situation. A good
headhunter is like a father confessor who can help you work through the
financial, professional and emotional issues. To do that, he's got to have
all the information. And that's why it's so critical to work with a
you trust. If you don't trust him, don't share confidential information.
But expect that he may not take the discussion any further. Each of you
If your current compensation is unreasonably low, a good headhunter will
fight even harder to keep it out of the negotiations this is something
you might not be able to pull off on your own with an employer. I recently
placed someone whose comp was in the high forties. He was worth much more.
I declined to provide that information to my client, much to the client's
chagrin. Instead, I was able to focus on what the guy was worth. They hired
him for $90k, almost double what he'd been making. Could he have negotiated
that on his own? Never. He's the kind of guy who could have pushed it up
to a point, then it would have become an adversarial negotiation. As an
intermediary, I was able to keep everyone calm while doing what was right.
The company is very happy to have him on board and he's ecstatic about his
compensation. Knowing he was earning less than he should be, I was able to
keep a cap on his emotions, and the knowledge spurred me to fight harder
When you work with a good headhunter, you're not bargaining with him. He's
bargaining with both the employer and you. While he's trying to get the
a good deal, he's not going to alienate you by "pitching you lowballs." He
will try to get you the best offer without jeopardizing an offer (and an
acceptance) altogether. In the end, he will let the company make an offer
and he'll let you decide whether to take it. Throughout, he will use
information he has to make both parties happy. That's what the good
headhunter gets paid for. Making you happy makes it easier for
him to recruit more good engineers.
I would like to know your perspective on non-compete agreements. I work for a leading
telecom company, and like everyone here, signed one when I was hired. I am
a hands-on project lead, most definitely not a manager. One of my colleagues
was just told by a recruiter that none of the recruiter's clients would hire
him because of this.
But in a previous "Ask The Headhunter"
column, you wrote
that a resigning employee has no obligation to tell anything to the
company he's resigning from. Would a company actually spend money on a
investigator to find out what company an individual contributor left them
Here are my questions:
What recourse would my company have over me if I left to join a
From a practical standpoint, and from what you've seen, what would they
likely to do?
If non-competes really can be used against me, what do I do if I want to
change jobs? My market value wouldn't be nearly as high in a different
and neither would my own level of interest.
The Headhunter replies:
I intend this advice to be a cautionary note to both job hunters and
because you bring up some "standard hiring practices" that just make no
It's important to realize that the answers to your questions all hinge on
the employment agreement you signed when you took your current job. That's
what defines what you can and cannot do legally, because it's what you
in writing to do and not do. People would be less confused at
time if they initially paid more attention to the job offer, the employment
contract, the employee handbook/manual (usually incorporated by reference
into the offer) and other documents they sign when they join a company. You
might be surprised to learn just how negotiable some companies are on
contracts if you confront them.
If you signed a non-compete, you have to live with it. More and more, the
courts are upholding non-competes. (If your friends tell you non-competes
are illegal because they prevent you from earning a living, and you believe
well, such legal advice is worth what you're paying for it. Lotsa
luck.) Make sure you understand what your non-compete says and what it
If you have to spend a few bucks on an attorney toward that end, it's money
If your written agreement says you have to divulge the name of your new
then you're stuck. Companies sometimes get a little sneaky about such
terms and conditions. Once you accept an offer and show up for work, HR asks
you to sign all sorts of documents among them non-competes, acceptance
of the employee code or handbook, and other terms of employment. You may
find some surprises in that handbook. Problem is, if you decline to sign
this stuff, you're out in the cold they might walk you to the door and
rescind your offer. Meanwhile, you've already resigned your old job. Can
you fight that legally? Sure. Again, lotsa luck.
(Check your offer letter carefully. Does it include a line that says, "This
offer is contingent on a satisfactory medical examination and your
of our company's standard employee rules and regulations"? Few people take
that seriously. It's serious.)
That's why it's so critical to ask to see all these documents before you
accept an offer. Some companies will decline to provide these documents until
you're aboard. Go figure. If that's the case, reconsider accepting the
offer. As I said, this is a cautionary note to both job hunters and
As job hunters get smarter about this issue, employers will have to come
clean or risk losing good candidates.
End of lecture. Now let's get to your questions.
1. What recourse would my company have over me if I left to join a
They can sue you (and your new employer), and depending on the terms of your
non-compete, they might win. That's why it's smart to have a good employment
contract attorney review your non-compete agreement.
2. From a practical standpoint, and from what you've seen, what would
they be likely to do?
Some companies will ignore the non-compete except in cases where they
very sensitive information might leave the company with the employee. It
depends, among other things, on the company, on the job you have, and on
the company you're going to. Don't guess about this. Talk to others who have
left the company under similar circumstances. Poke around to find out how
the HR department handles such situations. Then talk to an attorney. If the
company has a history of vigorously defending non-compete agreements, you
could be in for a real fight. Your attorney's goal should be to interpret
the agreement and the law, to help you establish a position, and to
an acceptable outcome.
3. If non-competes really can be used against me, what do I do if I want
to change jobs? My market value wouldn't be nearly as high in a different
industry, and neither would my own level of interest.
What you can do is avoid signing non-competes to begin with. If you're going
to sign one, negotiate it with the help of an attorney so it's reasonable
and less restrictive. I'm not a fan of unnecessary legal expenses, but
am I a fan of wishful thinking. This is an issue that too many people gloss
over when accepting a job. It's an issue that can burn you. At this
I'd say you need an attorney to help you interpret what you can and cannot
do. You pay for the legal advice up front, or you pay for it later.
There's an intermediate strategy that I've seen work in some circumstances.
Rather than immediately join a prohibited employer, take a very short-term
job with a company that presents no conflict, wait a bit, then make the move
you really want. This is a way of "laundering your career," and it's a
to discuss with your lawyer. This is also a way of dropping off the original
employer's radar screen. (It helps if you have a friend who runs a business
that can put you on the books for a while.)
I'm not trying to cast a pall over your job search or to suggest it's
Your company may not even notice your departure. What I'm saying is that
this issue is a very important one that's best addressed before you accept
a job, so please learn from your experience.
Up with the P.E.! Your reader
S.S. is correct to be frustrated with the misuse of the title
You missed a perfect opportunity to give a plug and convince S.S. to go the
one extra mile and get his P.E.!
S.S. might be surprised to learn that even he [unless, of course,
S.S. is a she] might run afoul of the law if he were to represent
himself commercially as an "Engineer" unless he is a registered professional
You mentioned that doctors, lawyers, accountants and engineers are
the only members of professions. Doctors, lawyers, and accountants all have
to prove to their state regulatory agencies that they are competent to
their chosen profession before they are legally allowed to do so. If S.S.
wants to be an engineer, and separate himself from those who
call themselves engineers, then he must do what the other
do and become properly registered.
So tell S.S. to get his P.E., and encourage his colleagues to do the same.
That way he can put "P.E." after his name on his resume, separating himself
from his acquaintances that are not true professionals.
-- D.S., P.E.
(You printed my remarks a couple of years ago in your column regarding
my P.E. still hasn't hurt me, and I have had a nice salary curve
since I last wrote you!)
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