Crow. It’s Good for the Ego



I had honed my method and locked down my metrics to the point where I decided to commoditize this skill set and began referring candidates for various companies.

I was good, really good at gauging candidates and getting the percentage that I wanted for each placement.

Circa March, 2009.

I was coaching someone for a job interview with an IT contractor. I started out as I always did learning the metrics of this person. Learning the metrics of a person is key to mapping the metrics of a negotiation.

  1. Skill set.
  2. Average length of time with any one employer.
  3. Salary of current employer.
  4. Salary of previous employer.
  5. Equity needs: medical, 401k matching, paid time off, employee stock, etc.

This particular individual was working at a large corporation making a salary of about $110k with modest benefits. The medical premium was costly. The 401k matching was low. Paid time off was four weeks.

We’ll call this individual ‘Juan’. To find Juan’s target salary for the job interview, I followed my formula.

Break out everything Juan was currently receiving into hourly dollars.

  • Salary: $52 / hour
  • Medical: $10 / hour
  • 401k: $11 / hour based on $800 withheld on a bimonthly pay cycle (current and new company’s pay cycle)
  • Vacation: $5 (40 hours work week * 4 weeks = 160 * $52 for hourly rate = $8,320 / 1840 which is a typical annual bucket of contracting hours = $4.5 / hour. I’ll round up to $5)

I take the breakdown of the hourly rates and add them together. The newly calculated rate came out to be:


Based on my formula, Juan’s hourly rate had increased $26.

Everything was going in the right direction. Juan was attentive and open to my methods and ideas. We settled on a target salary of $150k with benefits as well. The equity side of the house was actually better than Juan’s current employer. Five weeks of vacation. Medical was paid in full the employer. 401k matching at 10%. I advised Juan to seek a salary of $170k, with the intent of not going below $160k, with $150k as a drop-dead minimum. The higher I coached someone on salary, the higher commission I would receive.

Juan seemed all set.

Then, the following day as we were concluding our call (and the day before the interview), Juan asked me a question.

“Do you make more money than what you’re trying to get for me?”

I replied to not focus on that, that we’re building something for him, and that this same method worked for me. Juan became indignant, and said he had spoken to his wife, and that she said if I wasn’t recommending that he make at least what I was, that I was ‘playing’ him, that I was doing him a disservice.

I reminded Juan again that I used this same method to get the salary that I was at. Juan replied that his wife did not trust me, especially since I wasn’t trying to get him a signing bonus (we’ll talk about signing bonuses later). As a gesture, I offered to split my commission for him, with him.

For Juan, not even that was good enough. He wanted my entire commission.

I reminded Juan that I was coaching his salary far above market value, and now he was getting half of my commission, 7.5k for essentially nothing.

Sounding less than convinced, Juan agreed to those terms.

Interview day.

Usually I receive a call from a candidate an hour or so right after the interview. No call came that day. I called Juan’s cell phone. No answer. I called again. After leaving a couple of voicemails, I decided to just let the situation rest.

Juan never called me back. But the hiring manager of the IT company did. He was calling me to see if I had any candidates available for open positions that they had. Just like the hiring manager had done when I initially put him in contact with Juan.

We’ll call the hiring manager Sebastian. After a few minutes of chat, I decided to ask how everything had gone with Juan. Sebastian was quiet for about five seconds, and then breathed heavily. Sebastian said that after about ten minutes into the interview, he had told Juan that the interview was over and to leave.

I was speechless. Sebastian was not.

Sebastian said that upon receiving Juan, everything seemed fine – at first. Juan appeared confident if not slightly cocky, but nothing out of the ordinary. As Sebastian proceeded to engage Juan about his skill set and what he thought about working for a smaller company, Juan interrupted Sebastian.

“Two hundred thousand,” Juan said.

As they both sat in silence, Juan was the next one to speak. “That’s what I’m worth. I won’t go lower. I already know the rate for this position.”

Sebastian stood and told Juan that the interview was over and that he needed to leave.

Listening to this, I felt the sting of it all even as Sebastian continued.

“This isn’t a reflection on you, Dave. You’re solid here. Just send more candidates.”

Sebastian sounded genuine enough. But in his voice, the vague sound of distrust.

The hit to my reputation. The damage was done.

I weathered that incident. Life moved on. There were more candidates. As for Juan, we never spoke again. I wish him well.

Yet, this essay isn’t so much about Juan’s hubris, but more so mine.

If I had taken a step back and not let my success at placing candidates as precisely as I had become accustomed, I would have seen the warning signs.

Despite Juan’s moderate skill set, I should have never referred him to any of the companies that I did placements. The signs were there. The ego. The attitude. Yet, the allure of the percentage and placement head-count had muted my instincts. I had let my own ego get in the way of the point of it all.

Finding qualified candidates and pairing them with like companies.

My method had become formulaic, my metrics a packaged deal of assumptions. So what did I do next? I decided that I needed exercise.

So I went on an interview.

And I bombed.

IT moves at a lightning pace. It turns out that I had not. I had let my skill sets wither, and I lost focus of an ever-changing market. During that interview, my numbers came into question. And this came up more than once, “We can work on the skills and experience. No degree?”

Crow. It’s good for the ego. I choked it down. Then I had some more.




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Be a Taker: An Unapologetic Account of Getting the Salary and Equity That I Want, Essay IV
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