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Career Advisor by Edgar Saadi

Reader roundup

Singing the praises of small town life,
more on negotiating salary and benefits.

October  1996
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I've been flooded with a lot of excellent reader e-mail in response to my past few articles. Since many of you have made valuable suggestions that I think would benefit all our readers, this month I present "Reader Roundup" -- a collection of some of the best suggestions and follow-up questions that have come across my desk. (1,800 words)

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Dueling cities
In July's article on the state of technology in the Midwest, I focused on two cities where our company has offices and knows the marketplace intimately -- Austin and Chicago. Several readers wrote in to agree that there is indeed high-tech life between New York and California; many also took the time to point out the many places that I missed in my discussion.

I have written about Silicon Valley in California and Silicon Alley in New York City. Dan Putnam wrote about Silicon Prairie:

How could you miss Delco Electronics? It is in the Silicon Prairie. Definitely high-tech. Delco is located in Kokomo, Indiana. It's wonderful small town living. It is also very close to Chicago and Indianapolis.

Dwight D. Tomkins wrote in from Dallas, Texas to tell me that there is more than Austin to that great state.

While Austin is a very special town in Texas, Dallas also has much to offer. It has always been a financial and petroleum town, but has now come into its own in high-tech. It is one of the major centers for the communications industry (NorTel) and the outsourcing industry (EDS). Anderson Consulting has located one of its Advanced Technology groups there. The north to northeast area (Plano, Garland) is booming with new technology companies moving in or expanding. And there is always E-Systems, the highly secretive, but highly successful DOD contractor that has found new life for its leading edge products in the commercial sector.

Lynne Blythe took the time to discuss Tulsa, Oklahoma, which boasts leading edge work, affordable living, and a good quality of life.

Thank you for highlighting Midwest opportunities, I found your report informative and was happy to see the subject has been given attention! I would like to contribute to your collection of information about Midwest technologies. I am currently employed by the professional Web development firm, USWeb, located in Tulsa, Oklahoma. USWeb is a one-stop source for all aspects of the online experience -- we provide complete Internet and intranet solutions for professional businesses.... My happiness, though, comes from being able to work in the Midwest for a fine company. The Midwest is not overcrowded; traffic is still bad, but minor compared to the coasts' traffic. Added benefits are that fuel currently is $1.10 per gallon and long-term parking at the Tulsa Airport is a maximum of $5 per day (which allows your money to be spent on the more important things in life). And you can still find roads just out of the city where you rarely see anyone else. Thank you for your interest in us!

I guess the point here, readers, is that you can have a satisfying job in any location in the US as long as you stay current technologically and manage your career. While the hot tech centers like Silicon Valley, Austin, New York, and Boston make networking a little easier and bring you closer to the largest development hubs, other cities offer not only exciting work, but also good standards of living -- a factor that you should always factor into career and family plans.


Negotiating salaries
Last month I wrote an article on salary negotiation, explaining that usually future employers use your current pay rate as a benchmark for their salary offer. Timothy Garrity added this excellent advice for negotiating a salary significantly higher than your current compensation:

I enjoyed your salary negotiations article tremendously. However, I disagree when you say there is no way of getting around having a salary offer that is based on you current salary level. I too am regularly asked what I am currently making when I interview.

However, I provide a consistent response that I've found quite effective at breaking tie from current pay levels. I simply tell the interviewer, "I hesitate to discuss my present salary level because it is not necessarily relevant to the position we are discussing. I'd rather discuss the pay scale for this particular position."

Deirdre from California wrote asking about divulging your past salary.

I really enjoyed/appreciated your article on negotiating salaries. I have one question, though. You said that "salary figures are always verified." How can this be true? I mean, isn't it unethical or something to divulge employee information?? I would think that a company would get in trouble for sharing/offering "confidential" information.

I've never lied about my salary (trust me, sometimes I wish I did!), but if you would, please address this . . . thanks.

Although it is very possible that you could successfully misrepresent your previous salary, that information is usually not as secret as you may think. A company might not hire detectives to verify what you were making. They might not even inquire. There have been cases where excellent engineers have been fired because of lies they made years earlier. People talk, and an unethical move will mar your entire career.

Here at Pencom, recruiters routinely order Equifax reports and call prior companies to verify salary, employment dates, education, etc. Our motive is to prevent our clients from being surprised. As I've stressed before, lying is neither an ethical, nor intelligent strategy to advance your career. And considering that you could very well get caught, it's simply not worth it.

Tim Garrity also made the excellent point that salary is only one part of the total compensation package. This is a valid distinction and it is indeed important to always keep in mind there are usually many variables that make up this package. When assessing what you're worth always keep in mind the salary, the benefits, and bonus of your previous job. And when negotiating with prospective employers -- though you may not want to divulge what you were making -- it is often useful to bring up the extent of the benefits and the bonus that you enjoyed.

Next month
This proves you just can't beat reader input! I hope others write in regarding cities they perceive as technology centers. It is always interesting to learn more about each area. Next month I will discuss "Doing Your Research Prior to Interviewing." Some of the topics will include informational interviewing, corporate buzz words and principles, strategic direction, gathering Web/401k/other public information, and asking smart questions.

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