Yesterday I posted an article from ForbesWoman.com on my member forums that came about because of a discussion on their Linked In Group message forum. Good to see there’s dialog going on SOMEWHERE! But I digress. :)

It really got me thinking. This discussion couldn’t have come along at a better time. I have long been an advocate of owning and valuing your worth and setting rates (or commanding a salary) that you are worthy of. As I read the discussions, even though I was comfortable about my decisions in changing my rates, monetizing some aspects of my businesses and restructuring the way I had been monetizing other areas of my businesses, I became more convinced that I did the absolute right thing. As you already know, I have stepped out of the recruiting world and decided to go full speed ahead and turn Empower Me into it’s own real live, sustainable, breathing business entity. I’ve been praised by many, chastized by a few. But in the end all decisions rest with me.

Here’s the deal. I’m going to break this down so that it makes you take a look at not what I’m doing, but how you should be viewing your own life/business/career.  Here are the business tenants I live by:

* When you’re in a business, you’re in it to make money and be profitable. You’re not in it for hobby or to pass the time of day. Once you throw up your shingle, it is your responsibility to generate revenue to sustain the business.

* Nonprofits have their place. But even they have some for profit activities, otherwise how would they survive? On goodwill, faith and prayer? Yes that is a small portion of it.  But rent, utilities etc. have to be paid somehow. Where is this money supposed to come from?

* Nobody is supposed to remain at the same salary level year after year after year. Times change, costs of living change, people change. I’ve never encountered anyone who has refused a raise. As your skills improve and your knowledge base grows, you are worth more. It’s only right that you ASK for it (in some cases demand it). Are you going to stay at the same salary through the life of your career? I should hope not.

* Charge for your VALUE. If you have nothing to offer, or if you offer crap, people will know it. Figure out what you do best and make that your specialty…and charge a premium for it. (Admittedly, I still struggle with this one sometimes). Don’t let people dictate what you can charge. You and you alone know what your worth is and what your financial goal is.

* When people want to complain about what you charge, release them. They’re not your core customer base. Why waste time and energy on trying to change you to fit what they want. People come to or hire you for a specific purpose. When they really want that, they will pay for it. Period.

Some of these may seem a bit harsh, but you know what? We live in a harsh reality. Women are the main culprits who don’t honor themselves by asking for what they are really worth. We let ourselves be used, force to give stuff away for free (through guilt or tug on the heartstrings….”my sista”, “my family” “woman to woman” can you hook me up? You owe me.) Say WHAT!!?? Yes, I’ve heard this. If free stuff was the best stuff, there wouldn’t be paid stuff that’s worth more than free stuff. I don’t think you heard me. Who wants what you can get freely everywhere? Not me. Some things I am willing to pay a premium for. While I’d LOVE free Coach bags, I know that if it came free or cheap, it’s probably a knock off of the original thing. I see myself, my skills and knowledge as a Coach Bag. I’m trying to give that type of service, not knock off service that doesn’t fulfill my clients.

I had a client (maybe she’ll read this, maybe not…I won’t mention names) who was so unsure of her rates. She felt “obligated” to remain low priced to accommodate the needs of the people in the community. But guess what? Upon further exploration, I found out those same people were NOT paying her to begin with! They would bargain her down, guilt her into discounts and make her feel bad about losing business if she raised her rates. I told her cut them off. Raise those rates to what was at least competitive. She has children, and bills to pay. Why should she live in poverty and risk messing up her credit and financial standing just to keep a few customers happy who weren’t paying her to begin with! That is insanity!  I told her to start looking for a better class (yes I said class) of clients.

Let’s look at it from a corporate perspective. Say you’re used to making $80K per year that allows you to comfortably pay your bills, save and invest, and take care of your family. A hot company comes by and they seem to be the right fit for you. You can grow your career with them, you can learn a lot by working with some extraordinary people. So you sit down to negotiate a compensation package. They offer you $40K. Yes, I can imagine the look on your face. Wait that’s not all. They go on to tell you that you should be grateful they are offering you an opportunity to work with a fantastic company AND that you’re capped at $40K per year. No increases, no raises, no bonus. How does that make you feel? Would you work for them?

And that ladies, is it in a nutshell. If you know your value and your worth, you don’t accept anything less, and you especially don’t let other people dictate what you’re supposed to make.  So why in the world would you ask ANYONE to give you anything for free or ask for the “hook up”?  It’s human nature to want to get the maximum for the minimum. I can’t lie. There are times I just don’t want to pay for stuff. But I know I have to, and I do. I don’t want what everyone else has access to. It makes it less valuable to me. I want what’s premium. I prefer Breyers over store brand ice cream…more money, but better quality. I want the Coach bag instead of the off brand look alike. More money, but better quality.  You should be viewing your own business and career in the same vein.

So, stop holding yourself back from earning what you’re worth! That’s an order. And further more, stop trying to hold other people back. Respect their abilities and pay what they’re worth.

Adrienne Graham

cashI know these days the media is reporting the gloom and doom of the market and sending people into a panic because of the break neck speed that the country is losing jobs. With more people entering the job market, opportunities are scarce and pay seems to be cut or stagnant. So what do you do? You’re facing a pink slip and you need to feed your family, right.

Well I recently read an article where they tell readers to accept whatever they can get because it’s only temporary. I disagree. I have only been a person who believed in getting what I’m worth. I have a set of skills and talent that have kept me in demand and that I have worked long and hard at refining over the years. I am not oblivious to the world around me and I realize that we need to do what needs to be done for ourselves and our families. But I also believe that I value myself as a professional and I will not taint that value by accepting lower than I’m worth. There was a time where I would take whatever the pay was just so I would have a contract or client. Those days are no more.  If you start discounting yourself it’ll be hard to recover. Employers will feel that you don’t value your own self so why should they.

I’m here to tell you that there are opportunities out there. Don’t be mislead by the media and the news reports. I did a little experiment the other day. I went into Google and set several alerts to come to my email on a daily basis. I set keywords “job fairs”, “hiring”, “IT jobs”, “executive search” and “finance jobs”. In the past week, I have gotten notices of companies doing some major hiring and job opportunities posted on the web. So there ARE opportunities to speak of. You just have to look for them. Don’t be duped into accepting just anything simply because you think it’s the only thing available. You have to believe in yourself, your value and your skills and understand you are a marketable commodity. Don’t sell yourself short. Don’t diminish your value ever. One you figure out what it is you’re worth, stick to that number. If you come across a job you absolutely want and the salary is lower, find out if there are other things that can be done to offset it. Will they pay for education or certifications? Will you have flex work schedules or be able to work from home? Will you be allowed to progress through the company at a rate you’re comfortable with? Of course money shouldn’t be the primary factor, but it should be a major factor.

At the end of the day, you have to decide what you’re comfortable with. Understand what you bring to the table and what you are worth. Don’t compromise your principals for the sake of a check. If you have a strong enough network and do your research (and due diligence) you will find the right opportunities. Hang in there. You are worth it. You just have to believe it.

Til next time.

Adrienne Graham

Many times, people are torn between moving on to greener pastures and remaining loyal to their employer or team. For people who have had pleasant working experiences with their job, it’s often hard to think about leaving friends and co-workers behind and there is a sense of disloyalty that runs through their head. For people who have had rotten experiences, they can’t get out fast enough and often don’t think things through; which results in a lot of burned bridges.  In either case, there is an unspoken etiquette to moving on.  Leaving a job takes planning, believe it or not.

Always be looking for your next opportunity. Whether or not you’re happy, you always need to keep a contingency plan in the back of your mind.  As proven this year by the investment banking implosion, you never know when your time is up.  Even if you were heavily recruited like a first round draft pick, you still need to be cautious.  Keep up with the industry and what’s going on in other businesses you may wish to work with at some point of your career. This intel will come in handy when you decide (or it’s decided for you) that it’s time to go.

Always re-evaluate your worth. Each year, you need to step back and evaluate whether your total compensation is on par with industry standards for your particular role in your geographical area. Sites like Salary.com and Payscale.com can give you an idea of salary ranges. Also factor in your performance factor. If you are under performing you cannot realistically expect to get a raise.  Compensation is a huge component of changing jobs.  Make sure your reviews bring earned raises and bonuses for your performance.  When you’re seeking your next opportunity, think in terms of base salary because not all companies have the same bonus structures.  That’s something you can discuss when you get into the interview process.  Be realistic and negotiable, but don’t sell yourself short.

Create a plan. Like I mentioned, you can’t just leave.  That’s asking for disaster and it doesn’t look very favorable for you when employers see you are willing to just leave.  If you’ve hung in there as long as you could, and still can’t take it any more or seek more in your career, start with a plan.  Write down your thoughts and desires for your new career or position. Research on the internet and through reading (magazines, journals, newspapers) to get an idea of what appeals to you and what companies you’d like to work with.  Create a time line for when you wish to make your move.  Schedule time for vacation or personal days off, if possible, so you can freely begin to interview and not infringe on your employer’s time.  Create a list of key people you need to connect with or be introduced to that may be able to help you with your strategy.

Get out there and start your ground strategy. Start scheduling some face time (or at least phone time) with some of your network contacts and new acquaintances and have informational sessions.  These should not be full fledged interviews, rather, a chance to get to know their company and industry.  Attend networking events that are inline with your professional goal.  Get to know the key players and start building relationships with them.  After initial meetings, go back home and research them and open a line of communication with them.  Find commonalities and use those as a foundation for building a relationship. The more prepared you are, the better your search should go.

Don’t wait until you’re leaving to tap your network. This is an act I despise most.  It really irks me when people don’t contact me for months, years, decades and then all of a sudden because they need something, they decide to chit chat.  Don’t do that.  It’s rude and selfish.  You’ve heard me say countless times that your network needs to be cultivated and that means building relationships. While I’m not suggesting you email them every week, get into the habit of regular contact.  This could be quarterly, semi-annually or annually.  People like to help or do business with people they know.  And this is especially true when you’re looking for a job.  Don’t take the risk of appearing rude or selfish.  And as always, make sure you give something back in return.

Translate your skills and experience into new areas. Now, as a recruiter, it is my job to find matches based on what the hiring manager needs.  Sometimes these managers are inflexible and have specific requirements of their applicants.  Some times I can talk them into relaxing their requirements and look at comparable skills, but most times I can’t.  That is true for most recruiters.  So it’s up to you to really sell yourself.  Way before you start job hunting, examine your skills and accomplishments.  Read the different postings on various job boards to get an idea of what people are looking for.  Talk to people in different companies and industries who would be considered your counterparts and ask about typical routines and expected accomplishments. Journal your findings and thoughts on your own skills.  Run through scenarios where your skills could translate.  Once you have this down, when you begin interviewing, you can show your true value to potential employers.  Bridge your talents to the job and find the connection.

What will you look back on and be proud of in your career? Keep track of all of your “hits” and document them. Reference them in your resume, but don’t go into deep detail.  Word it in a way that makes the reader interested in learning more. Then in your interview, you can give them full details. Substantiate you hits with written references from supervisors, team mates and/or clients.

Set up a resume for success. Highlight accomplishments and awards. If you write for or own websites or blogs, list them.  Social media is becoming hugely acceptable by recruiters these days.  They want to get a look into your thought process.  Don’t write your resume as a chronological listing of job descriptions.  Anyone can lift verbiage from job ads or descriptions.  Nobody cares about the generic description of what your supposed to do in a job.  They care about what you actually accomplished and how good you were at your job. If you’ve jumped around quite a bit, as in the case of contractors, prepare a functional resume.  Always try to keep your resume at two pages. Anything beyond that is clutter.  As a rule of thumb, go back ten years in detail, and condense the rest.  Always focus on key accomplishments and significant contributions.

Assemble your cheering section and get it in writing. Now is the time to get the people who support and encourage you best to speak on your behalf.  Ask for letters of reference and ask them to honestly give their assessment of you professionally. Do not confuse this with Linked In recommendations.  Those are good if people go to your profile and read them.  But you should have a career portfolio, and part of that portfolio is a section with written recommendations and acknowledgments.  While you’re asking for references, make sure the people you ask are open to you listing them as references.  Be courteous and let them know each time you use them as a reference so they’ll be prepared for phone calls or email.

Sometimes it takes a lot to decide to leave a job.  The bottom line is you have to remain loyal to yourself and make the decisions that are best for your professional success.  There’s a right and a wrong way to do it.  Make sure you always do it the right way.

Til next time.

Adrienne Graham

Let’s face it, these are tough economic times and it doesn’t look like things will be letting up any time soon. Many people on Wall Street lost a lot of jobs this year. I’m not too concerned about the fat cats, because they’ll bounce back on their fat wallets. My concern is the “little” people, the supporting players who got burned in all of this fall out. The ones who had no contingency plan because they assumed that because they worked for legacy companies, that they were safe. Now, I tell everyone they need to have a back up plan. That’s just a given. Even if they recruited you hard as if you were an NFL hopeful, that still doesn’t guarantee anything. Nothing is forever and this last couple of months proves that.

In crisis mode, it’s hard to think clearly because the panic has set in. It’s all about “I need a job NOW” and that’s a normal reaction. But in crisis mode is where we often make the most mistakes and end up cheating ourselves. Sure, it’s easy to just take the first job that comes along because you have bills to pay. Nobody wants to be unemployed, but it is what it is. In times like this, a clear head and logical thinking needs to take presidence. Employers know that this is the best time to undercut and save on salaries so they are going to low ball you every chance they get. Do you really want to work for a company that will willingly pay you less than what you’re worth? I wouldn’t want to work for that company. I know my worth and it is high.

When you find yourself in this situation, step back and breathe. Sit down somewhere (away from home) and start journaling. List all of your professional assets and the major contributions you’ve made in the last 5 years. Then list the minor accomplishments (what may be minor to you could be major to someone else). Then write down the ideal type of jobs you would love to have. Go for broke and just write what’s in your heart. Then write the jobs you are most qualified for. This will give you a beginner’s road map to getting where you want to be. Now if you’re a secretary you can’t expect to be a doctor next week (unless you have an MD). So while I say go for broke, also be realistic. Then I want you to start looking at your skills and accomplishments and determine which can be transferred to a new position and in what capacity. Finally, get on the net and start looking at comparable salaries and job titles on Salary.com orPayscale .com. You can also see who is posting salary ranges on the job boards, which is where I’m sending you next. This gives you something to compare the current going rates, with where you were, and where you want to go. That way you can prepare a compensation package range that is comfortable to you.  Seeing your total picture gives you a better understanding of your options.

Next step is finding the job leads. I won’t go into that because you should already know how to find a job. Let’s instead focus on thepre -screen. If a job doesn’t list a salary or range, don’t be afraid to inquire about it. Many experts will tell you not to talk about salary until the very end. This situation is a bit different. You are in crunch time. You cannot afford to wasteanyone’s time, especially your own. Why waste valuable time interviewing for something clearly out of your range? You could spend that time finding suitable interviews. If they cannot give you a range or set salary, give them yours. They will be able to tell you if that is in their range, and if it’s not and they want you bad enough, they’ll adjust. I’ve seen it happen many times. Now the caveat here is that it doesn’t fiteveryone’s situation. If you made $75K in your last job and this job is comparable, and you’re asking $100K I can pretty much guarantee you won’t get that. Let’s be reasonable and logical about it.

Do your research! The more knowledge you have the better position you have to negotiate. You need to walk in there knowing everything you can about the company, its products and services, the position (or its equivalent) and the going rates. Also, how badly do they want you? Now I’m not saying take advantage of this and come in thinking you are running things. No, no, no. That is the exact way to get yourself booted out of the running. You can still capitalize on the situation, but you have to be savvy about it. You know they want you, they know they want you, just be prepared to show them why you deserve your asking price. Be prepared to show and prove your past accomplishments and contributions to your last company. Make them feel more secure in their choice by showing them why you’re worth it.

Don’t rush to accept the first offer that comes your way. You are not obligated to give an answer right away. As a rule of thumb, ask for at least 48 hours to think it over. On rare occasions, I’ve seen people ask for, and get, a week to think about it. If you have no other offers on the table and none in sight, this is not the time to ask for a long thinking period. I’d ask for 48 hours, then hustle on the follow up with the companies you’ve interviewed with. It’s perfectly fine to call and ask if you are at least in the running. The answers you get will determine your actions. If you have offers on the table, take the time to mull them all over. Don’t just look at the dollars, but the entire picture. How is the commute? Will you enjoy the work? Is it something you really want to do? What is the level of responsibility? What are the additional benefits? Is there room for advancement? What about additional training and continuing education opportunities? Does the company and culture fit with your ethics? See, it’s not always just about the money. You can be offered a job that pays way more than your last, but you might be required to travel constantly and be away from your family. Or you can be offered a job at or a little less than your last job, but can work from home some times, have more professional freedom and tuition reimbursement. So make sure you weigh your options carefully and decide on what’s best for you. Even if you are in crisis mode, you still have some leverage.

Be prepared to walk away.  You’re probably saying “Are you crazy! I need a job NOW!!” and I get that.  But you need to hear something that you should never ever forget.  Everything is negotiable.  I’ll say it again, everything is negotiable.  I’m not advocating walking away after the first offer.  That’s just crazy.  Here is where your negotiating skills need to come into play.  You must be able to negotiate on your own behalf.  I’ve seen too many women (heck, people in general) simply accept the first offer.  I’m a recruiter and I amoligated to make the hiring manager’s offer, even if I think it’s too low.  And I’m telling you, almost all of my managers have said “well let’s start here and see if he/she will accept”.  They are willing to go higher, but for the sake of the budget, they’ll start low.  I try to approach candidates by asking them what range they were looking for just before I make the offer. Sometimes, they’ll ask to negotiate higher, but most times, they’ll accept the first offer.  Never accept the first offer.  If you feel you are worth more, communicate that.  Ask to negotiate a better offer.  If you have other options and they are not willing to negotiate, be ready to walk away.  What good is it to accept an offer that you know won’t support your lifestyle?  Yes, I know it’s about paying your bills.  But do you really want to accept any job at any salary and still be left wondering how you’re going to make up the difference?  Why put yourself through that stress?

So make sure you’re prepared and logical when you find yourself in this unfortunate situation.  Be consistent.  The right opportunity will come along, but you have to work for it….hard.

Til next time.

Adrienne Graham

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