Ask the Headhunter: Are you getting the piece of pie your employer promised?

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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.

Before we get to this week's Q&A, I promised you "the rest of the story" from last week's column.

In "Should I be suspicious of a big counteroffer?" a reader complained that her boss offered her a big raise and a promotion — but only after she announced she was quitting to take a new job elsewhere. While she wanted the extra money, she was miserable at the old job. Should she still leave, or should she stay? When you see what she reveals about her boss, you may hit the ceiling.

Here's what she reported:

The counter-offer was clearly made to keep me here during a transitional time for the company. The first thing he [the boss] said is that I should've told him I was leaving a week earlier — and he would have retained another employee that he fired. He said he could only keep one of us, and it's now my fault he had to fire her. [Sheesh! — Nick]

I have decided to leave and take the new job. At least I'll have a job I really want, even if I do get paid much less. I am constantly bombarded by co-workers who tell me I should stay and that I'm making the wrong decision to leave. My manager has suggested they talk to me. [Double sheesh! This guy is quite a slug! — Nick] The money difference is huge. But I am obviously not respected here and that weighs on my career confidence.

I have four more days left at this job. I hope I made the right decision.

Dear Readers: What do you think? Did she make the right choice?

Question: I work for a grocery store that was purchased by a larger chain. When this new company took over, we were told that we would receive two raises a year, every April and every October. This was also in writing in the handbooks that were given out at this meeting. Our company was purchased in December 2008, so when April 2009 came around we were due for a raise, but this never happened. We have never received a raise in April since the buy-out. Is it legal for a company to get you to take a job by offering you two raises a year and then never give them to you?

Nick Corcodilos: Do you like berries more, or do you like pie more? I'll explain about berries and pie in a minute.

I never give legal advice because I'm not a lawyer. But it seems you have something in writing — the handbook — that you should discuss with a lawyer. If you and your co-workers get together on this, you can share the cost of a legal consultation. (This is why we need to get our legislators to institute employment contracts at every level of work: "They promised a raise but won't deliver.")

Or, you might start with a no-cost approach. Contact your state's department of labor and ask for advice. Sometimes, the best way to get an employer to honor a promise is with a call from the state.

If you work in a state where employment is "at will," this may complicate matters because your employer can terminate you without explanation.

I think the bigger issue here is that your story reflects a troubling trend that is hidden behind reports of job gains in America. The nation may be creating more jobs, but according to CNN, "average weekly wages only rose 2 percent in February compared to a year ago. In a healthy economy, wage gains are between 3.5 percent and 4 percent.

NewsHour recently interviewed U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez ("Job gains continue, so why are wages stubbornly stagnant?"). Perez crowed, "Not only are the quantity of jobs increasing, but the quality of jobs over the last year has been much better."

But correspondent Judy Woodruff pointed out to Perez that "almost two-thirds of American households earn less money today than they did in 2002. How do you explain that to the American people?"

Secretary Perez's response was public relations doubletalk: "We're continuing to work in a number of areas to make sure that when people are helping to bake the pie of prosperity in this country, that they share in that prosperity, and it's not fair that we have record profits on Wall Street, but then workers aren't sharing in that profit."

By not firing you when it acquired your company, it seems your employer contributed to inflated claims of a better employment climate. But it withheld the raises it promised you and kept the profits.

Perez might say that's as American as pie.

You can talk a good line to get people to help you make pie, then you can give the pie to someone else — and still be able to say pie production is up.

I'm reminded of the time my best friend and I, both 10 years old at the time, were picking mulberries in our backyard. The girl next door was picking, too, and she offered us a deal. "If you add your berries to mine, I'll give them to my mom, and she'll bake a pie, and you can have some." We licked our lips, picked berries for the next hour, and dumped them into her bucket. A couple of hours later, we detected the wonderful smell of pie coming from her backdoor. Shortly, a bunch of people arrived at her house. It turns out the pie was for the guests.

My friend and I never got our slices. But Perez reveals the lesson: You can talk a good line to get people to help you make pie, then you can give the pie to someone else — and still be able to say pie production is up.

I don't know how pie production is doing at the grocery chain where you work, but I'd get a good employment lawyer to go find those pies. And, if you decide it's time to find an employer that keeps its promises, avoid further problems by studying "The 6 Gotchas of Goodbye.")

Dear Readers: How's the pie being divided at your place of employment?

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."

Send your questions to Nick, and join him for discussion every week here on Making Sense. Thanks for participating!

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