My name is Mark Wayman, and for the last 20 years I have owned an executive recruiting company focused on gaming and high tech. Occasionally I author career articles on LinkedIn. Today’s topic is compensation. What is the market rate for your job? What is the best strategy for negotiating salary at a new job? Recently dealt with several wonderful people that totally screwed the pooch. They were so obsessed with money that they lost out on fantastic career opportunities. So I’m offering you $25,000 of career counsel…pro bono. But first, three disclaimers and the three golden rules of executive recruiting. 

Disclaimer #1: Only Represent Candidates I Know Personally or by Referral – My clients expect me to personally vouch for each and every candidate, and I can’t do that with people I don’t know and have never met. No disrespect intended! 

Disclaimer #2: I’m Not Here to Judge, That’s God’s Job – My only purpose is to provide career guidance based on my many years of experience. Hopefully it helps a few people. 

Disclaimer #3: Why I Love America – We can agree to disagree and still be friends! I welcome all opinions and viewpoints provided they are professional and respectful. Trolls will be deleted and blocked. This is not Twitter. 

Executive Recruiting Rule #1: Executive Recruiters get people for jobs…NOT jobs for people. As the Owner of an executive recruiting firm, I don’t get a salary or vacation or PTO or paid health insurance. If I don’t get people placed…I don’t eat. I’m not a career coach or resume writer, and I can’t represent executives I don’t know, have never met. No disrespect intended.  

Executive Recruiting Rule #2: The wrong time to meet an Executive Recruiter is when you are unemployed. The best time to find a new job is when you are gainfully employed. If you don’t have one or two solid relationships with a top Recruiter, ping your professional network for referrals…while you are gainfully employed. 

Executive Recruiting Rule #3: Executive Recruiters work with people they know personally. The best Executive Recruiters work exclusively with executives they know personally, or that were referred through their professional network. 

The $66,000 Question: Why? – If you are considering a career change, this is THE question. What is your WHY? Money? Title? Career advancement? Need to relocate for family reasons? If your “why” is money, I hear you. Anyone that tells you money doesn’t matter…doesn’t have any! That stated, the best strategy is to lay out a five to ten year career plan. Always start with the end in mind. Each job change should move you closer to your end goal. Slow and steady wins the race. 

Determining Your Market Value – Candidates constantly ask me if they are being compensated fairly. The market rate is determined by your education and experience, along with supply and demand. The Pandemic was not only unprecedented, it created a huge demand in the job market as people retired, quit, or decided to live off the government dole. Salaries escalated 10% to 25% as desperate companies offered well above market value to fill positions. As an example, the “market rate” for a Director (F&B, Technology, Finance) is $125,000. Now a Director goes for $125,000 on the low end and up to $200,000 on the high end. For me, I don’t believe in salary surveys. I believe what the market tells me, and with 20 to 50 searches at any one time I know the going market rate. There are two ways to get this information, your professional network or an Executive Recruiter. If you are a CFO, ping your CFO friends and ask their opinion on compensation rates. Hopefully you know one or two solid Executive Recruiters. They will be happy to share that information with you. 

The Down Side to Being Overpaid – One of the challenges with executive recruiting is candidates that are vastly overpaid. And in most cases these folks believe they are undercompensated. Wynn Resorts and Venetian are prime examples. A VP role at these properties may pay $250,000+ when the going market rate is $200,000. Wynn and Venetian pay REALLY well, and God bless them for that. But when you leave, your compensation is going backward. So I get VPs making $250,000 and asking for $350,000. Again, market rate is $200,000, so you see my issue? That is not going to be a good use of my time. Here is another down side to being overpaid – when the bottom falls out of the economy you have a big target on your back. All those hires that were overpaid due to the Pandemic will be the first executives laid off. 

Ask for the Salary Compendium (Salary Range) UP FRONT – I knew a CIO making $200,000 that spent two months interviewing for a new role. He flew across the country twice, and then the company offered him $150,000. Lesson learned: ALWAYS ask for the salary compendium up front. And if the company won’t tell you the target base salary, don’t interview. We can get more of everything…except time. Don’t waste your valuable time interviewing for a job that does not meet your compensation requirements. I always have the money straight before investing the time of a candidate and client (hiring company). 

Your Bonus and Stock Options Are NOT Relevant (Don’t Do This!) – This is a Pandemic thing as well. Had several candidates totally blow up their chances at great jobs because they are disconnected from the economic realities of 2022. First they told me about their 2021 bonus. But this is not 2021, and the US is heading into a brutal recession. Bonuses this year don’t look like last year. And in 2023 you will get no bonus at all. Then they bring up their stock options. Most of the gaming stock are down 60%. You can paper your laundry room with your stock options. Pigs get fat; hogs get slaughtered. 

Never Change the Goal Line (Don’t Do This!) – If you are first and goal from the five, you can’t change the goal line. Translation: If you agreed to a $100,000 base salary prior to interviewing, asking for $150,000 at offer time is a terrible strategy. Yes I have seen it work two or three times over the last 20 years, but I have seen it fail 50 times. Why? Because it goes to integrity. You agreed up front that the compensation was acceptable, so changing the number at offer time goes to character. Most companies will dump you like a hot rock. In several instances I have seen candidate do this, not get the job, then be terminated shortly thereafter and spend six to twelve months in the unemployment line. Karma is a ruthless gangster. 

Never Fight Over Nickels  – You interviewed well; you love them, they love you. Time to close the deal. Ask yourself this important question, “Do I really want this job?” If the answer is yes, don’t fight over nickels. When the Pandemic his in 2020 I have two big job offers out: CIO and VP, Sales. Both candidates started negotiating the compensation plan, line by line. Two weeks later the Pandemic hit and both job offers were rescinded. The longer this takes…only bad things will happen. A tremendous amount of time and effort was expended by you, the Executive Recruiter and the hiring company. Don’t get greedy. 

Dealing with the Lowball Offer (Negotiating) – Unfortunately, not all companies play fair. Let’s say I represent you for a CFO job at $300,000. You do great, but the hiring company offers your $250,000. What the hell? This happens, and more than I would like to see or admit. In most cases the offer is low because, after the interviews, the company does not feel your market value is $300,000. That is their right. So here is the best way to handle it. I will call the candidate with the verbal offer and give them three options: Accept, Decline, Counter. The first two options are pretty obvious, but let’s discuss “counter.” You can decline the original job offer and come back with a compromise. For example, $300,000 period. If they don’t come up, you are done. Or go back with $275,000 and a few enhanced perks in the overall compensation package. Usually additional stock options. Once placed a General Counsel years ago. They lowballed her, but I doubled her stock options. When the company was acquired two years later she made millions. But keep in mind, the counter is your line in the sand. Once you counter, if the company accepts, you are committed to the job. 

The Answer is YES! – If you accept the offer verbally, the hiring company will send you a written offer and start the onboarding process. There are several mistakes you can make at this point in the process. First, using the offer letter to solicit a counter-offer from their current employer. The biggest career error of all time. See the paragraph below. Second, using the offer to leverage an offer from a second company, playing one off against another. If you have multiple irons in the fire (multiple interviews concurrently), good for you, but be honest and tell the Executive Recruiter and/or hiring company. Pick the job that is right for you, however if you hold off for “something better” you are telling the employer they are not your first choice. If they were, you would have already accepted their offer. Third, if you say anything other than “YES”, you have declined the offer and it is no longer valid. Just like buying a house. Big tip – say YES. Praise Jesus! 

NEVER Accept a Counter Offer (Don’t Do This!) – As George Thorogood once said, “If you heard this story before, settle in, because you are going to hear it again.” As a candidate, COUNTER OFFERS ARE A TERRIBLE STRATEGY. My completely unscientific survey shows nearly 100% of those that accept a counter offer are terminated within twelve months. Why? First, because now your employer knows you are unhappy. They will keep you around just long enough to replace you. Second, do you really think your Boss likes you twisting his arm to get a few more nickels? Third, if you were happy, you would not be interviewing with another company. A small raise won’t change that. From a career standpoint, wasting everyone’s time so you can get a few more shekels goes to character. As Walt Disney so eloquently stated, “It’s a small, small world.” Especially in gaming/casinos. It will come back to haunt you – Karma is real.