Ask the Headhunter: Parents, hands off your Millennials’ career decisions

Cheerful mother and daughter sitting on hammock.  Millennial. living at home

This is your daughter’s decision, not yours. Without taking risks in youth, we never get the chance to achieve our dreams — or to learn anything that matters.

Nick Corcodilos started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979 and has answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community over the past decade.

In this special Making Sense edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards or salary negotiations. No guarantees — just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.

Question: My 20-something daughter has worked here in the U.S. for three years in her first job out of college as a content manager for a website that focuses on business and culture on another continent.

She has the chance to transfer there to further establish the brand. This is her dream assignment, but it comes with a huge price. The CEO has proposed that she take a $12,000 pay cut, citing the lower cost of living in the new location. Her father is furious and I’m torn as I want her to pursue her dream, but not if it means being taken advantage of. Mr. Headhunter, please offer some advice here. Thank you!

Nick Corcodilos: As a parent, I understand your concerns. Here’s what I suggest you consider.

This is your daughter’s decision, not yours. If you suggest that she not take this chance, all you’re telling her is that you don’t support her choice. No matter how valid your message is, all she’ll hear is “no.”

At her age, she’s wired to take risks.
This is a good thing, because it’s in our youth that we can best afford to take risks. We have time to recover if a choice turns out wrong. We don’t have a house, a family and big financial obligations. (By the way: This is not a challenge specific to millennials. I don’t think millennials are really any different from any other new generation.)

Think about it: Without taking risks in youth, we never get the chance to achieve our dreams — or to learn anything that matters.

The CEO isn’t wrong.
I’ve recruited and placed people at lower salaries that were justified because of a lower cost of living at the new job, and because it was a big opportunity. It’s always up to the job candidate. Some are in a position to take the risk, others are not.

A lot rides on the credibility and integrity of the CEO and the company.
Is the CEO trying to take advantage of your daughter, or is the salary trade-off worth it? Only your daughter can decide. If I were her, I’d ask for one more meeting with the CEO to discuss it.

How to say it:

“I’ll be taking on a big new challenge in this new location. I need to talk with you one more time to make sure I understand the risks, rewards and challenges of this job. If I take it on, I want to perform at my best and produce a huge success for our company. What are the milestones? What are the rewards if I achieve them? What do you see as the risks for me?”

In Fearless Job Hunting, Book 7: Win The Salary Games, I discuss how to make a business case about how much you deserve to be paid: (“How can I avoid a salary cut?”, pp. 7-10.) I think your daughter can apply this approach. There’s more than one way to get some leverage:

“Express what you want, and suggest that salary isn’t the only component of an acceptable compensation package.”

Tie what you want to delivering on milestones. That makes for a powerful negotiation.

The job milestones must be set in writing.
And they should be objectively measurable without interpretation. If she achieves X, then the reward is Y. Because this is a big new gig, there should be a timeline of several milestones — deliverables she’s responsible for — and what she will get in return if she makes them.

Without this, I’d never take a job to establish a brand anywhere. This is the crux of any business plan. My biggest concern — whether the job is in Europe, Australia or Kansas City — is the business plan. What is it? If there is no clear plan, then I’d never take the job. Of course, your daughter should be part of developing the plan. If there isn’t one, she should volunteer to help produce it before she takes the job.

This article might be helpful: “They promised a raise but won’t deliver.” It suggests ways to structure milestones in a good job offer.

I’d want to see a third-party report about the cost of living in the new location. What’s the CEO basing the salary cut on? It may be legit — or it may be an indefensible estimate. Practically speaking, your daughter should figure out for herself what it will really cost her to live in the new location. The Internet makes this kind of research pretty easy. Why not help her prepare a budget for living there? Check real estate, rents and cost of groceries. Maybe it’s not as bad as you think. Then you’re helping, not hindering.

Do not try to make your daughter’s choice for her.
Or make her feel you think she’s wrong. My kids and yours must make their own choices — or they learn nothing. If she make the wrong choice, but she’s smart and capable, it will not destroy her life. It will probably make her stronger — and lead her to a better opportunity the next time. She’ll gain wisdom, and you will gain more of her respect.

Even if you conclude from hard data that this is going to cost her money, that’s not justification for telling her not to do it. What you consider a price for a bad decision might be something else altogether for her — the price of growing up. I’m afraid that too many young people today are not willing to pay that price — and they never grow up. I think our nervous-nelly society is too quick to deprive our kids of the chance to learn the price of success.

Then, of course, there’s the distinct possibility that this risk will be the start of a great new part of her life — and she will enjoy the rewards of taking a big risk on her own. Imagine what it would do for her self-confidence and acumen — to take on such a huge challenge.

As a father, I’d be more concerned with her personal safety.
No matter where a son or daughter of mine might go next, the first thing I’d want to look into is, how safe is the place, and what can my kid do to be as safe as possible? I think that except in the worst areas, it’s always possible to take measures to improve personal safety.

Ask what you can do to help her succeed.
My guess is your daughter is pretty smart. Let her know you believe that and that you trust her judgment, and that you respect her aspirations. Then give her a hug and let her go on her way. If you raised her right (yes, give yourself some credit), she will figure it all out.

Then book a flight to go visit her in about six months, so she can show you how she’s pulling it all off on her own.

Now I’m going to tell you what prompted me to answer you as I have. When my first book was published, I wrote an acknowledgments section for it. At the very end, I said this about my own two kids, who were 1 and 3 at the time:

“As for Luke and Emma, well, when you’re old enough to read this, I hope you’ll also just be learning that it’s okay to take risks to do what’s important to you (and I hope your father will be smart enough to know when to get out of the way and let you).”

It’s been hard to take my own advice, and I frankly can’t believe I had the presence of mind so many years ago to write that. Those words have kept me in line, and they’ve freed my kids to make me proud of them.

I wish you, your daughter and your husband the best.

Dear Readers: When your kids are ready to leap tall buildings, do you put away the measuring stick? Do you let them do the calculations and decide whether to leap? What did you teach your kids? What’s the best way to be a helpful parent?

Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth “how to” PDF books are available on his website: “How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you,” “How Can I Change Careers?”, “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps” and “Fearless Job Hunting.”

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