Why banning the salary question misses a major point

November 16, 2017

In a remarkably progressive move, not without resistance from the business community, various jurisdictions in the USA are banning interviewers from asking candidates about their salary history.

Few jobseekers will lament this move.  It’s the no win question – either tell the truth and the advantage is with the employer when an offer is made, or risk being found out later for exaggerating when the tax information is passed on, for example.  While there are ways to sidestep the question it’s difficult to do so, and carries the other risk that an unwillingness to share will put the candidate at a disadvantage.

The reason for the ban is right and proper.

Women in the US earn approximately 80% of the salary of men for the equivalent job. By asking for salary history information this discrepancy is perpetuated. Now, it is suggested that by asking instead for salary expectations the problem will persist, and that may be partially true, at least until women gain the confidence to ask for the right amount, nevertheless this ban can only be a good move.


This is the best image I could find when searching on the term “women’s relative salary”

Certainly, many women and men will be relieved not to have to answer the last / current salary question, although most people don’t know how best to deal with the question about salary expectations.

Why? Because they don’t know what number is most likely to secure them the job, and they therefore shoot low.  The mistake is to think that they are required to answer with a number. While the interviewer is almost certainly looking for a number,  if the candidate does not know what they can legitimately expect they can’t answer the question with a figure.

And here’s the thing.  The question is framed in such a way that it assumes the candidate knows how much they should be paid for a job, when they know very little about the role. They don’t know what demands and responsibilities it holds (the job description and person spec are unlikely to be sufficiently accurate sources of data to allow one make such a judgement) and crucially, they don’t know how much other people (read: men) at that level in the organisation are paid.

It’s an inappropriate question to ask a candidate because the employer knows what the correct pay level should be, and the reason they ask the question is because it might provide an opportunity to offer a lower salary than they need to, and all the better if that lower salary is still greater than the candidate quoted as their expectation.

In an ideal world there would be no discussion of salary at the interview stage.  If a person is deemed to be the best candidate they should be offered the job at a fair salary that takes into account the level of difficulty, targets, scarcity of skills and what other colleagues earn. It doesn’t work like that because there’s a zero-sum game that is played out in recruitment that sets up an antagonistic rather than collaborative relationship between employer and employee from the very start.

Of course it’s completely unacceptable that women are offered less than men for the same position, but what is missed is that employers want to play games that might lead to resentment from any employee when they could, if they were honest and fair, increase loyalty through their salary system.


Be Like a Curious Interim

December 14, 2015

One of the qualities that marks out a great interim consultant is their ability to understand the problem their new client is dealing with quickly and without fuss.

They come to the situation without the baggage of history and are therefore free from any emotion or relationship issues that might contaminate their judgement.  That’s not to say they are cold and unfeeling, just that they can be objective.


To do this they challenge the “we’ve always done it this way” attitude.  If they feel the problem has some sort of institutional component they can name it as such.

I wish it wasn’t only interims who did this.  How much more positive would it be if employers invited new starters to look objectively at their business once they are on the inside, and to ask questions about how things are done?

I’m not suggesting that the new recruit looks to criticise, nor that the business should be obliged to act on what is raised.  Neither am I saying that the new employee should come up with solutions or alternatives to whatever it is they have noticed.

I’m saying that a new pair of eyes and a free mind can ask innocent questions that encourage the business to think about what they do and why they do it that way.  If the outcome is to do no more than encourage the business to articulate out loud their reasons for certain behaviours then that is really very healthy.

As a counsellor I spend much of my time asking questions of my clients.  Not because I’m nosy, not because I know the answer and want the client to confirm it for me, and not because I believe there’s something to be fixed.  I ask questions to give my client the space to consider why they do what they do, what the underlying, unexamined narrative of that behaviour is, and how that behaviour serves them.

Companies and other employing organisations would surely benefit from a similar opportunity, but it can’t easily be done from within.  It requires a curious outsider, unaware of and therefore unaffected by the internal dynamics or history of the organisation to notice things that are odd, and to ask the innocent question “Why?”

Are you brave enough to ask permission to do this next time you start a new role?  More than that, are you brave enough, as an employer, to ask your new recruits to do it?

Beware the Linkedin Recruiter Scam

December 7, 2015

The BBC is reporting a scam targeting Linkedin users looking to make connections with recruiters.

Job seekers are especially vulnerable because they are delighted to be invited to connect with recruiters and they rarely check the credentials of the person inviting them to connect.

By joining the target’s contact list the process of building trust and gaining useful information for later exploitation begins.


There’s no evidence that this activity is particularly widespread at the moment but it’s certainly worth taking simple precautions.

  1. As the articles suggests, do a reverse image search on the photo.
  2. Also, use one of the many free plagiarism checking sites to see if the profile or other content have been lifted from elsewhere.
  3. A search for the company may also help, but be aware that some of the more sophisticated scammers will have set up convincing websites so be careful.
  4. Check if the recruiter is a member of one of the professional bodies such as the REC, ARC, APSCo or the IoR.  If they claim to be so then check with that body as well.
  5. Use your common sense.  If it smells funny it probably is.  Don’t let your desire for a job make a fool of you.  That’s exactly how these people operate.

Remember another thing as well: you don’t need to connect with recruiters on Linkedin.  If they think they can help you then they should send you an InMail message.  They often try to avoid this because they have to pay for InMail but the downside for you of accepting a contact request is that you give them access to your full profile. Better, if at all possible, to conduct your relationship with recruiters directly.

Don’t let this put you off using the Linkedin.  As I’m always saying, it’s a great tool for your networking activity. Just remember that networking with fellow professionals is not at all the same as networking with recruiters.  As with any contact request, be very careful who you allow to be in your network. This useful article looks at how scammers exploit Linkedin in other ways.

You’ve probably heard it before but it’s worth repeating:  the internet is like the wild west.  Be cautious.

Why Functional CVs Don’t Work

November 23, 2015

In all the years I’ve been working in the field of careers counselling I have never been convinced that functional CVs help candidates.  People don’t get them, and don’t want to get them.  We are just too used to the reverse chronological CV.

Glossary time:  functional CVs are the ones that are set out in terms of your various skill sets, reverse chronological CVs are the ones that are set out in terms of your career history starting from the most recent job and moving back in time.


Reverse Chronological, Functional or both? Do you have one CV or 2CVs? (See what I did there? Come on, this is a much better picture than a stock photo of a piece of paper with a pen casually placed upon it, isn’t it?)

So what’s to be done for people making career transitions where their career history is irrelevant?

Well, their career history is often not irrelevant.  The vast majority of what an employer is, or should be, looking for is whether the candidate fits in.  The technical stuff of the job can usually be taught, except in obvious situations where long term training and qualifications are required.

The trick, therefore, is to communicate relevance in ways other than through the body of the CV.  The point is that the CV itself is of very little use for people making a career change.  CVs are for recruiters and employers who want to compare candidates for a job, but you are unlikely to be able to compete for a job in a field you have little knowledge of, against people with experience, so don’t try it.  Don’t apply for jobs through the normal channels.

If you want to move industry or function then you need to build relationships with people in those industries or functions, and talk to them about why you want to change and why you think you have what it takes to be successful, even if you don’t have much experience.

This is the proactive approach, and people who are proactive about their careers are impressive, and are often given a chance to prove their worth.

CVs and application based job searching does not work in these circumstances.  You need to establish the relationship and explain the situation. Then you can offer the reverse chronological CV, the format everyone loves, and the fact that it does not look relevant won’t matter so much, because you will already have explained why it doesn’t look relevant.

Disclaimer:  If this makes it sound easy to change careers just remember it isn’t.  It’s hard, but it’s easier if you do it the right way than if you keep failing while doing it the wrong way.


Businesses lack confidence in A levels.

November 2, 2015

I was delighted to read recently that some large firms are beginning to appreciate the depth of unconscious prejudice that goes on during the recruitment process. Not only are people disadvantaged if they have the wrong name, but they are also disadvantaged if they went to the wrong school or university.

Consulting firm Deloitte UK is at the forefront of implementing fairer ways to recruit graduates and school leavers and from next year its selectors will not know the school or university that candidates attended.  This is to help them to recruit for potential rather than results. The risk of recruiting by results is that they miss out on people who may have performed exceptionally well against their peer group, perhaps in a deprived area or poor performing school, but against the entire population cohort they may not have done so well.  An A grade from a school where nobody achieves lower than a B is less impressive than a B where the average is D.  Since this disadvantage carries through to the university a person is likely able to get into, Deloittes are making applications for their graduate scheme university-blind as well.

There’s probably an additional dynamic at play here.  Businesses no longer have confidence in the school exam system. Grade inflation alongside the suspected dumbing-down of curricula as well as an upsurge in middle-class tutoring over the years means that it’s hard to know just how bright a given candidate is. When businesses such as Deloitte UK, PWC and Ernst and Young decide to do away with minimum grades for applicants, you know they do not believe those grades are telling them anything useful.

It is alleged that A levels are so dumbed down that students are now asked to choose the grade they want.

It is alleged that A levels are so dumbed down that students are now asked to choose the grade they want.

This approach also recognises the value of diversity in the workplace. Long have I been frustrated that recruiters and employers recruit in their own image and from similar career backgrounds – in short, from competitor companies – thus the benefits of bringing in people with experience of different sectors are missed.  Yet if a business is to step ahead of the competition it really needs to encourage the recruitment of different perspectives and ideas.

Organisations are living entities.  Darwin tells us that adaptation is the key to long term success, yet most companies recruit to perpetuate rather than to adapt to changing circumstances, and at no time in history has the need to adapt to changing business environments been greater than today.

I have no doubt that this is why firms like Deloitte are changing their recruitment methods.  It’s not simply to avoid racial or educational prejudice, it’s because they also see the commercial benefit of diversity in the workplace.

How Uber is breaking through the barrier to entry

October 5, 2015

In the world of business there are two reasons for barriers to entry.  One is to protect the customer, the other to protect the business or livelihoods of owners, employees or practitioners.

There are very good reasons for the first; protecting the customer. In this situation barriers to entry ensure that our limbs are amputated by properly trained and regulated surgeons, for example.

There are less good reasons for the second; protecting livelihoods. Everyone is entitled to make a living, but not to artificially inhibit others from doing so if they are suitably competent.

In the past licensed London taxi drivers were protected by a very strong barrier to entry. “The Knowledge” was a guarantee that when you stepped into a taxi you would be taken to the place you asked to be taken to.  The test was rigorous and notoriously difficult to pass. This also meant that once acquired, a licence to ply ones trade as taxi driver, able to pick up passengers off the street, was a valuable asset and it was rarely abused for fear that a complaint would lead to the licence being revoked. This in itself protected the customer whose safety, it could be argued, was less secure if they used an unlicensed minicab where the driver might be unknown.

London Taxis forming a barrier to entry.

London Taxis forming a barrier to entry.

Minicabs can only pick up passengers when they have been booked in advance.  They cannot tout for business on the street – a great advantage for taxis when someone needs a ride at short notice.

Then came satnav.

With the introduction of this technology one of the key arguments of the taxi driver became obsolete.”The Knowledge” no longer represented a benefit to the consumer.  Now all that riding around London on mopeds and learning archaic test routes was for one thing only – to enable a qualified taxi driver to be hailed down off the street and, with that, to maintain high prices.

Then came Uber.

Uber offers the knowledge (satnav), safety (rigorous identity checking, a record of the journey, and driver training) and speed of response.  True, it’s unlikely that you will pick up an Uber as quickly as a taxi if you are standing on a busy street corner in central London, but for most other trips an Uber car is more responsive than a conventional minicab or a dial-a-taxi services. What is more, they are considerably cheaper than taxis and because of this the taxi drivers’ power is massively reduced.

Taxi drivers are resisting Uber desperately, and they have some powerful political friends who are helping them but they can’t hold back the tide.  The barrier to entry into the business of immediate response private hire has crumbled.

Whether you are setting up a business, launching a new product or going for job interviews it’s critical that you understand what the barriers to entry are or could be.  Starting a business or launching a new product with low or no barriers to entry is risky because it means anyone can easily enter your space and take your customers.

As a prospective employee the concept differs slightly. In this situation the question is “what do I have that makes me the strongest candidate for this role that other candidates perhaps don’t have?”  That could be to do with skills, personality, experience, or knowledge. Whatever it is, make sure the potential employer knows because this represents the barriers that your competitors for the job will need to overcome.

Most important, remember that things change and one day those capabilities that helped you to secure the job may no longer be relevant, so keep moving with the times by developing you skills and knowledge.  For business owners, the innovation that made your product or service better than the competition when you launched may be replicated in some way so you need keep innovating and developing your service to stay ahead of the competition.

In other words, don’t be the old London taxi driver who has suddenly been wrong footed by technology. Be an Uber, offering yourself to the marketplace with a new, better way of solving an old problem.

It’s not about the money, money, money.

May 16, 2015

At a panel discussion on the banking industry I attended a few months ago, someone asked if it was possible to attract talent to senior positions without the promise of high, guaranteed bonuses.  A senior HR executive from one of the major corporate banks and an academic both answered, quite confidently,  that they thought it was.  Bonuses, they agreed, could be much less than they currently are and banks would still attract top talent.  The academic even said that talented people are not particularly motivated by money, but by the cut and thrust of deal-making.  They want to be in the thick of big M&A activity.  It’s a myth that the banks need to pay big bucks in order to stop top talent from joining other industries.

I asked why the banks didn’t bring their bonuses to a level that the rest of society would find reasonable. The answer was that none of the big players had the guts to try it.  In other words, they were frightened of losing talent not to other sectors but to each other.  If one bank blinks the talent will not be interested in joining and eventually what talent they have will disappear.  If so, then there’s no question that the only way to deal with the matter is at the industry, if not, governmental level.

It has been proved many times that a strategy based around providing the best possible work experience is a more effective way to retain talent than paying the most.  Indeed it was proved just last week by my friends at Goodman Masson, the finance industry recruiters.  Their staff turnover level is well below 20% in an industry where average turnover exceeds 30%. A four point approach won Goodman Masson the coveted Great Place to Work award for Best Workplace in the medium size business category, and those four points are 1) Giving employees the tools and infrastructure to do their job well, 2) Giving them opportunities to develop professionally, 3) Paying them well and correctly, and 4) Giving them an environment they won’t want to leave. (Click here for the full report).

Note that the third point does not talk about excessively high pay, but it does suggest that Goodman Masson aim to be competitive with pay. They recognise that while remuneration is an important factor in staff retention, it’s not sustainable as the only tool in the box, because all it takes is for a competitor to offer more for the strategy to fall flat on its face. It’s the rest of the package that’s really important because that’s what creates the culture required that stops people wanting to leave.  You will never build engagement by throwing money at your staff.  In fact the more you throw at them the more they understand that you don’t care about them, but that you are simply buying them.  People like to feel loved.

Retention comes from engagement and commitment to the company.  It’s about creating an environment with shared values and where people appreciate that the company cares about them.

Now it may well be the case that bankers are somehow different to everyone else and are only interested in money, but that’s not my experience.  In my experience some bankers are perfectly decent and lovely people, and some are something that rhymes with “bankers”.  In other words, they’re pretty much like anyone else.

Can banks change? That’s not looking likely given that they are still a very long way from understanding that a business can stand for something more in the world than profit.  Goodman Masson stands for caring about its people.  Their priority is not about constantly demanding improved results from their staff. As a result of this employee engagement is high and guess what – performance is constantly on the up.