The True Cost of Employees

Dear Anita,

My wife and I have a mom-and-pop shop with a dozen employees. One of my workers acts like I’m being a cheapskate with his salary, hinting he deserves a big year-end bonus. I try to pay a competitive wage, but I have to make a profit, too. How can I communicate the economics of a small business?

Dear, Pops,


Payscale’s Total Compensation Statement shows the employer’s contribution in addition to the wages.

Employees often think that their salary is the only cost to the employer for their services. They often do not realize that taxes, workers’ compensation insurance and even the cost of “Mom” completing the paperwork can cost your business another 30 percent in payroll costs.

I assume that you have done salary comparisons for the job title in your geographic region to ensure that you are, indeed, paying a living wage that rivals your local competitors. If you are, a little education may illuminate the realities of employer-paid contributions to all of your employees.

“Total Compensation Statements” can include line items such as:

  • Base pay
  • Bonuses
  • Vacation/PTO/sick days and other paid leave
  • Payroll taxes (Social Security match, Medicare, state unemployment insurance tax)
  • Employer-paid portions of insurance plan premiums (health, dental, vision, life, disability
  • Employer contributions to employee’s retirement plan, such as a 401(k) or pension
  • Stock options or profit sharing
  • Annual usage value of a company car
  • Value of any other fringe benefits offered, such as:
    • Fitness club membership
    • Cell phone service
    • On-site child care
    • Free or discounted public transportation or parking
    • Tuition assistance/professional development
    • Company discounts

Non-quantifiable perks may include flex time or on-site facilities available for employee use. For new hires, include one-time benefits, such as relocation expenses or signing bonuses. There are handy Total Compensation Calculators online.

While a Total Compensation Statement can illustrate the true cost employers pay for an employee, it has the potential to backfire as a teaching tool. Workers may feel you are fudging the numbers if you “double-count” vacation or PTO and they don’t really receive additional pay. Also, if an employee does not use a perk, such as child care, then the value is moot for them. A pitfall with salaried employees may occur if they feel any overtime is not valued since it won’t be reflected in the compensation.

Employees who may be shocked to learn that their $40K annual salary is actually costing their bosses around $52,000 may be a little more grateful, or at least have a greater understanding of the realities their employers face.

Readers: Have Total Compensation Reports opened your eyes to the true costs your employer faces?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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Salary Negotiation Mistakes
The High Cost of Low Wages

Thanksgiving Joys


Whether you choose to spend the day with family and not darken the door of a single store (see the list of chains closed on Thanksgiving Day) or rush through the traditional turkey dinner to line up outside of the stores opening on T-day for early Black Friday specials, I encourage you to pause to count your many blessings.

Happy ThanksgivingWith a grateful heart for your continued readership,
Anita Clew

Readers: Will you, or won’t you, shop on Thanksgiving Day?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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Mr., Mrs., Ms.? How about Mx.?

Dear Miss/Mrs./Ms. Anita,

I never know which salutation to use on my cover letter. “To whom it may concern” seems so old school. Sometimes when an email is provided for résumé submission, the first name is not given, only an initial. So I don’t know whether to use Dear Mr. X or Dear Ms. X. What’s the best solution?

Avatars of silhouettes with different hairstyles.Dear, How Do You Do… the Greeting?

When responding to a job posting, do a little research. If the email is in a format, search LinkedIn or Google for the surname + company name to sleuth out the first name and hopefully gender of the hiring manager. If no photo is available and the name is a gender-ambiguous – Terry or Riley or some such – “Dear Terry Smith” or “Dear Riley Jones” will keep you from offending your potential employer. If the email is a vague and your research doesn’t let you narrow down the one person to whom you are submitting your application, or if you are uploading your cover letter to an impersonal online application, use “Dear Hiring Manager,” to avoid gender mistakes. just added some new words to its lexicon, among them the gender-neutral prefix Mx.

Mx.: a title of respect prefixed to a person’s surname; unlike Mr., Mrs., or Ms., it does not indicate gender and may be used by a person with any or no specific gender identity.

I haven’t seen this used often yet, so Mx. could be construed as a typo by the reader. You may want to include a hyperlink to the definition to help educate and encourage usage of the new label.

If the Mx. salutation gets you to the interview stage, be sure you are looking fleek (another new slang term meaning “flawlessly styled and groomed”).

Readers: Have you seen or personally used the new Mx. title used in a salutation?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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Covering the Cover Letter
Reverse Snooping on Potential Employers

The Dreaded Salary Requirement Conundrum


Why don’t employers put the pay rate or salary in their job postings? It would sure save everyone on both sides a lot of time. I never know what to put when the ad says to include your salary requirements. I don’t want to ask for way too much and blow my chance to even get an interview. But if they pay more than I am used to, I don’t want to cheat myself either. What do you suggest?

Dear, Waging War,

Many employers choose not to list salary ranges. Candidates will almost always negotiate for the high end of the range and if they don’t get the max, they may end up with lingering resentment. Another consideration for large employers hiring nationwide is the wide discrepancy in costs of living. A yearly salary of $50K in San Francisco won’t provide much buying power, but the same salary in a Detroit suburb may provide a middle class lifestyle.

If salary requirements are requested in a job posting, be sure to comply or risk looking like an applicant who can’t follow instructions or does not pay attention to detail. But, just like you shouldn’t bring up salary at the beginning of the interview process, wait until after you sell yourself in the cover letter. Then, include a salary range instead of just one number. Remember, this is a negotiation, not a demand. If you really won’t accept less than say $40,000, state your salary range is between $41,000-$46,000. (I prefer non-rounded numbers; it sounds like you really figured out what you’re worth and what you need to cover your expenses. And you did research comparable positions on,, or Glassdoor, right?)

You may be able to avoid giving a number with a phrase such as, “My salary requirements are negotiable based on the position and the total compensation offered, including benefits.” Remember when negotiating that perks such as holidays/vacation time/PTO, flex-time, company-paid professional development opportunities or even bringing your dog to work can make a job offer more attractive than salary alone.

The salary discussion is always fraught with tension, but look at it this way: If you really need a certain wage, why waste time interviewing for a position that won’t even pay the bills?

Readers: Do you have a strategy for the salary requirement question on a job application or during an interview?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

Subscribe to receive weekly emails with career tips and advice for job seekers, employed people, and managers and supervisors.

Salary Negotiation Mistakes
Truth about Salary

Exit Strategy


I have finally made the decision to leave my job of 8 years, but have not sent out résumés or contacted any potential employers yet. My decision is not based on anything negative – I love my bosses, co-workers, etc., but want a career change. I work at a fairly small (25 employees), family owned business and lead one of their four departments, though the dept. only consists of myself and a newly hired assistant (who won’t be able to take over). I want to leave on good terms with the company and I know they will have an extremely hard time finding a replacement. I do not want to commit to staying until said replacement is found, but planned on offering 1 month notice and staying until I have completed those clients that have already booked (I am a dog trainer). Additionally, the gal who does the sales for me is leaving in less than a week and I will now be expected to take on these appointments. My question is: knowing that I will be leaving, is it appropriate for me to not give notice to my employer until I have secured a new job and complete my sales appointments as if I AM staying, or should I notify them of my intent to start looking for alternate employment so they are not then having to cancel clients who may book farther out than 1 month and run the risk of them excusing me before I find new employment. Thanks in advance!

Exit_000017488442_smallDear, On Short Notice,

Searching, applying, interviewing, and finally landing the right job may take a while. By the time you are ready to give your standard two weeks notice, it could be months and the salesperson may already be replaced. But since you have worked with this small company eight years, you may wish to inform your bosses of your career goals to allow them the extra time to find a replacement for you and the salesperson.

While you may not harbor ill feelings, when leaving a less than satisfactory job, some people may be tempted to quote country music singer Johnny Paycheck and tell the boss to “Take this job and shove it; I ain’t working here no more.” Here are tips to create an exit strategy that won’t have repercussions down the road.

  1. Update your résumé, including career highlights from your current position. Review my post, “Importance of Annual Résumé Updates.”
  2. Start networking – discreetly and on your own time. Put out feelers to find open positions and companies in which you may be interested.
  3. Stash away an adequate emergency fund. You never know when your boss may catch wind of your plans to leave and fast forward your decision. There may also be a period of time between your old job end date and your new position start date, and bills still need to be paid.
  4. Use Paid Time Off (PTO) or vacation time judiciously to save enough for interviews. Be sure you know your company’s policy for unused sick time or vacation time. You don’t want to lose any time that you’ve worked hard to earn.
  5. Once you have a firm job offer (preferably in writing), tender your letter of resignation. Two weeks’ notice is the professional minimum. However, if you have a management or key position, consider staying a while longer to train your replacement. Some companies don’t like “lame ducks,” however, and may whisk you out the door that very day. See why #3 is important?
  6. During your last weeks on the job, maintain your work ethic. Organize and delegate your projects and workload with adequate instructions and documentation.
  7. If your company does an exit interview, keep your comments positive. There is a better chance that your criticisms will negatively impact you than bring about any lasting changes in your company.

Readers: How many weeks notice did you give your last employer when you quit?


Stay or Quit?
Building, Not Burning, Bridges

Family Leave Options


My dad who lives in Florida just had a massive stroke. I need to help my parents arrange for long-term healthcare and sell their house to pay for it. Is there a way I can assist them temporarily without quitting my job in California and moving across the country?

Dear, Worried Daughter,

I’m sorry your family is going through this difficult time.

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was enacted to assist in situations such as yours. The FMLA allows eligible employees at companies with 50 employees or more to take unpaid leave for certain family and medical reasons without losing their jobs or health coverage. Covered employees who have worked at least one year and have accumulated 1,250 hours within that year are entitled to 12 workweeks of leave in a 12-month period for:

  • a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of his or her job;
  • to care for the employee’s spouse, child, or parent who has a serious health condition;
  • the birth of a child and to care for the newborn child within one year of birth;
  • the placement with the employee of a child for adoption or foster care and to care for the newly placed child within one year of placement;
  • any qualifying exigency arising out of the fact that the employee’s spouse, son, daughter, or parent is a covered military member on “covered active duty” (military caregiver leave allows servicemembers themselves 26 workweeks of leave)

California also has a similar California Family Rights Act. The CFRA would run concurrently with the FMLA, but there are some differences (for instance, pregnancy is not covered as a serious health condition by CFRA, but is under FMLA). View the California Department of Human Resources’ chart for a comparison.

Your employer may require you to use any paid time off (PTO) before taking FMLA leave. And just like the requirement to get out of gym class back in school, you’ll need the customary doctor’s note to be excused from work under FMLA.

Note also that if you make a contribution toward your group health insurance premiums that is normally deducted from your paycheck, you will have to pay for this out of pocket while on leave. In fact, if you don’t have an emergency fund, 12 weeks of unpaid leave may not be feasible. Unemployment is generally not an option, as you voluntarily went on unpaid leave and you must be available to work to qualify. (Tip: Some utilities such as cable providers may allow a “seasonal hold” while you are away from home, which can be less costly than turning off and then having to pay to reconnect when you return from your leave. Mortgage lenders and landlords may or may not be as willing to defer payments.) If your parents are financially able, they may be able to compensate you for your caregiving time with a personal care agreement. For elderly parents with few assets other than their home, Medicaid’s Cash and Counseling program (available in about 30 states) may help them pay for home health care services – including cleaning, meal preparation, or transportation – from whomever they choose.

Four states have approved paid family leave programs – California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Washington (whose program has been deferred due to budget shortfalls). If you are eligible, you may receive a percentage of your base wages for a period of time. Here’s a handy chart showing eligibility and coverage by state.

Readers: When and how has the Family Medical Leave Act benefitted you?


In Case of Family Emergencies
A (Practically) Perfect Parental Leave Policy

Getting Credit for International Experience

I am a 20 year old female who graduated with a high school diploma. After high school, I was planning to further my education, but I had a family emergency 6 days after graduation and I had to leave the country. Two years later, I’m back in the U.S., but I feel like there have been so many changes in the job market. I’m having a really hard time getting hired because they need people with job experience. I had experience in Mexico, but I can’t prove that because they don’t use my social security number there. Any advice? – A

Dear Anita,
In India, you study for 12 years in school and then get a Secondary School Certificate. Then, you complete 3 years in college and becomes a Graduate. I completed my degree in Commerce, which is called a Bachelor of Commerce degree (B.Com.) from the University of Mumbai, India. I also completed my graduation in Law, which is called Bachelor of Law (LL.B.) from K.C. Law College, India. After that, I was eligible to practice law in Mumbai. My wife is a graduate in Arts, from Gujarat University, India. We have now come to the U.S. as immigrants. Please guide us so that we may proceed in the right direction. – B


Dear, Foreign Correspondents,

A, The good news is that you’re young, and many employers won’t expect to see a lot of experience on your application or résumé. Students often take a gap year (or two) before entering college.

It can seem like a vicious cycle – you need experience to get experience! Check out my post about the subject, How to Get Hired if You Don’t Have Experience.

I would certainly include your job experience in Mexico on any applications. Provide an email address in addition to the international phone number for employers to call for a reference. Read Finding Job References for more tips.

B, You certainly want to leverage your past education and experience here in the United States. I did a little research and ran across this article from eLearners on Transferring Credit from Foreign University to U.S. Schools.

In today’s global marketplace, experience with a different culture or fluency in a foreign language can make you more marketable to employers. Tout your multicultural assets! Search job boards for companies who will appreciate you by using keywords such as “international,” “global” or your particular country or first language to find openings.

Readers: I certainly am not an expert in this area, so to my readers who have immigrated, feel free to jump in with your advice!

Earthquake Preparedness


I recently moved from the Midwest to Los Angeles to take a great management job. As part of my initiation, my new team took me to see that movie “San Andreas.”  I have to admit, it made me nervous! Do you have any earthquake safety tips that will soothe my fears?

Dear, Shaking in Your Boots,

Every region has its natural disasters. If you’re from the Midwest, tornadoes were probably your biggest threat. The southeast has hurricanes (the “best” of all natural disasters, in my opinion, because you get plenty of advance notice.) Wherever you live, learn how to prepare for a natural disaster, and then try to stop worrying. As the saying goes, “Most of the stuff people worry about never happens.”

Building_EarthquakeMillions of people worldwide will participate in the Great Shakeout Earthquake Drill on October 15 at 10:15 AM. You can register your company to, as the website says, “have peace of mind that you, your family, your co-workers and millions of others will be better prepared to survive and recover quickly from our next big earthquake.” Go directly to the Resources page to peruse the appropriate manuals, posters and flyers for an earthquake drill.

The most important thing to remember is Drop, Cover, and Hold On if you are indoors during an earthquake.

  • DROP to your hands and knees.
  • COVER your head and neck under a sturdy table or desk.
  • HOLD ON to your shelter (or to your head and neck) until the shaking stops.

In a high-rise building, stay away from windows, and don’t use the elevator. To avoid collapsing windows or building facades, remain inside if you are inside. If you are outdoors, find a safe area clear of buildings, power lines, trees, and signs.

To prepare for any disaster, keep an emergency supply kit on hand. Visit for a list of recommended items.

Readers: Will you be participating in The Great Shakeout?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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Emergency Preparedness in the Workplace
Natural Disaster Preparation for Managers

Hope for the Best, Plan for the Worst

Police officer on radioReaders,

In light of the recent Umpqua Community College shootings in Oregon, I wish to express my heartfelt sympathy for the victims and their families.

Sadly, active shooter incidents are becoming more frequent. Having a preparedness plan for workplace violence could help save lives.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) notes that there is typically no pattern in the selection of victims in an active shooter incident. There are three basics to remember if a coworker or stranger opens fire in your building:

  1. Run: If there is an accessible escape path, attempt to evacuate the premises. Call 911 when you are safe.
  2. Hide: If evacuation is not possible, find a place to hide where the active shooter is less likely to find you. Lock and blockade the door, hide behind or under large items like file cabinets or desks, and remain quiet (mute your cell phone). If possible, call 911 to alert police to the shooter’s location.
  3. Fight: As a last resort, and only when your life is in imminent danger, attempt to disrupt and/or incapacitate the active shooter.

It’s just as important to react appropriately to law enforcement when they arrive, so they know you are not the threat.

This 3.5-minute video, while dated, is a succinct visual reference for an active shooter situation:

For further resources, consult the extensive DHS Active Shooter preparedness list. The U.S. Department of Labor plan covers the broader scope of workplace violence, including early warning signs of violence from an employee.

Readers: Does your company include Active Shooter Response in its Emergency Action Plan?


Emergency Preparedness in the Workplace
Natural Disaster Preparation for Managers

Pop Quiz: What’s Your Job Seeker IQ?

Pop QuizReaders,

With school in session a short while, it’s time for the first pop quiz of the fall season! It’s an “open-book” test; I’ve generously provided links in the answer key below. But try it first without peeking to see your true Job Seeker I.Q. score.

Job Seeker IQ Quiz

1. T      F Using a boilerplate résumé that you find online is the best way not to make a mistake.
2. T      F One version of a well-polished résumé is all you need.
3. T      F You should always include your high school and/or college graduation date on your résumé.
4. T      F To get past the computer screening by the Applicant Tracking System (ATS), your résumé should be in one standard format
5. T      F If you’ve ever been fired, you should never admit it on applications or during job interviews.
6. T      F A cover letter isn’t necessary these days.
7. T      F It’s best not to tell too many people that you’re looking for a job.
8. T      F Never apply to a position unless you meet every criteria listed in the job description.
9. T      F LinkedIn is the only effective social media tool for job seekers.
10. T      F There are lots of ways to find unadvertised positions besides the online job boards.
11. T      F It is prudent to tone down my political rhetoric on my Facebook page during a job search.
12. T      F It’s perfectly okay for my girlfriend to come to the interview with me for moral support.
13. T      F It’s a good idea to cover tattoos for that important interview.
14. T      F If I practice my answers to potential interview questions, it will come off as too rehearsed.
15. T      F Interviewers will understand if I’m nervous and shy and don’t make eye contact.
16. T      F It’s more difficult to get a job long-distance.
17. T      F My so-so credit rating and a misdemeanor from my college days won’t have an effect on my job search.
18. T      F It’s important to send a thank you note after every interview.
19. T      F For every $10,000 in salary, it takes about one month of searching to find a job.
20. T      F Taking a temporary job may lead to full-time employment.

Answer Key:

  1. False. Using a boilerplate résumé format makes you a boring candidate. Sample résumés may not be appropriate for your industry. If you do utilize one, start with a template (search for one specific to the type of position for which you are applying) and customize it to make it your own. Check out my past posts, Creating a Résumé from Scratch.
  2. False. One version of a well-polished résumé is not all you need. Tailor Your Résumé when submitting for a particular opening.
  3. False. Older workers may wish to eliminate high school and/or college graduation dates (and maybe even some irrelevant first jobs) in order to “age-proof” their résumés. See Hiding the “Gray” on Your Résumé (and Beyond). Millennials may wish to hide their graduation dates to not draw attention to their inexperience. For more tips, review How to Get Hired if You Don’t Have Experience.
  4. Mostly True. In Demystifying Applicant Tracking Systems, I explain how to increase the chances that your résumé will obtain a better score from ATS. However, there may be situations when a Functional Format Résumé is the best option.
  5. False. Don’t cover up the fact that you have been fired from a previous job. The truth will find you out! Instead, use my advice for Explaining Away “You’re Fired.”
  6. False. A cover letter is a must in my book. Granted, the “cover letter” may now be a “cover email,” but it is a great opportunity to personalize your résumé and sell yourself for the open position. Read Covering the Cover Letter.
  7. False. It may not be the best idea to tell your current boss that you’re looking for a job, but Help Other People Help You Find a Job.
  8. False. If you never applied to a position unless you meet every criteria listed in the job description, you’ll be unemployed for a long, long time. Here’s my advice on Applying for a Job When Not 100% Qualified.
  9. False. LinkedIn isn’t the only effective social media tool for job seekers. Check out tips for Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Pinterest in Be a Social Seeker, Part 1 and Part 2.
  10. True. There are lots of ways to find unadvertised positions besides the online job boards. Find out where in How to Find Jobs Not Advertised on the Top Job Boards, Part 1 and Part 2.
  11. True. It is prudent to tone down political rhetoric on Facebook during a job search. Facebook: Friend or Foe offers more tips.
  12. False. It’s not a good idea to bring a girlfriend/boyfriend, spouse, or children to an interview. Avoid all Top 10 Interview Fails.
  13. True. While tattoos are becoming more mainstream, it’s still a good idea to cover tattoos during interviews.
  14. False. Practicing answers to common interview questions is a “best practice.” Review Take Stock with a Mock Interview.
  15. False. While taking nerves into consideration, interviewers definitely notice eye contact or lack thereof, so Be Body Language Conscious.
  16. True. Landing a Job Long Distance is more difficult, but not impossible.
  17. False. Bad Credit Can Cost You… Your New Job. Crimes and Misdemeanors from college days may also affect your job search. Finding Jobs for Ex-Felons is even more difficult.
  18. True. Miss Manners and Miss Anita agree: It’s important to say, “Thank You for the Interview.”
  19. False. As our infographic How Long to Find a Job shows, research indicates it takes about one month of searching to find a job for every $20,000 in salary.
  20. True. Taking a temporary job may indeed be a bridge to a full-time position.


90%-100% You’re employed, right?
80%-90% Brush up on your résumé or interview skills.
70%-80% Try harder.
Below 70% It’s a tough world out there. Take corrective measures immediately!

Readers: How did you score on the Job Seeker IQ Quiz?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.
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