Giving (and Receiving) Holiday Client Gifts

Dear, Anita,

I manage our sales department, and since we’ve had a profitable year, we were thinking of sending out gifts to clients this Christmas. I know our company employees like the goodies that roll in during the holiday season. Any suggestions?

GiftDear, UnsELFish,

First, be sure the companies do not have a No Gift Policy in place, or if a gift policy imposes a dollar limit on tokens employees can accept from vendors and suppliers. HRHero conducted a survey on workplace gift policies and got an interesting sampling of employer responses:

  • Gifts from clients that can be shared with others in the office are acceptable.
  • Any gift of a greater value than $10 must be returned or donated to [a charitable] organization.
  • Nothing valued at more than $25 from a customer, vendor, or other third party can be accepted by an employee.
  • Employees are prohibited from receiving gifts from customers or vendors when the gift is valued at more than $50.
  • Any gift over $100 must be reported to HR.
  • Guidelines say no gifts can be solicited, and only gifts of minimal value, such as inexpensive cups or pens, can be accepted.
  • No cash or gift cards can be accepted.
  • Another employer reported that there’s no policy and the subject has never been an issue.

If your customer list is small, a personalized present based on the client’s interests shows you really pay attention and value them and their business. If your client list is larger, you may want to differentiate gift price points for various levels of patronage. Your top tier may get a $100 value gift, $50 for the next level, and $25 for less prolific customers. (Keep tax implications in mind – the maximum IRS business gift deduction is $25 per person per year but check with your accountant for any nuances.) If you have several contacts at one company, give a food gift basket for all to nosh on or a shared experience such as taking them out for a sporting event. You may go the democratic route of purchasing one item for all customers; this is definitely easier to organize and you may get a bulk discount for your purchase.

businessman in santa hatShould the gift do double-duty as a promotional item with your company’s logo? Only if the item isn’t cheesy (cheese is only acceptable with crackers in a food gift basket).

Don’t be a bad Santa. Use your corporate responsibility to make sure not to offend your clients’ social conscience. Some customers may have an aversion to leather, alcohol, tobacco, or even to a box of juicy steaks, if they’re vegan. Many people have nut allergies or gluten intolerance.

With all of these hurdles to being an elf bearing gifts, charitable donations may be the way to go. Employees are not receiving any personal gain, so they won’t (in theory) become biased. If your client base is primarily local, choose a well-respected community nonprofit and donate a certain amount in each client’s name. If your business reach is nationwide or global, choose a national charity or a gift that allows the recipient to choose, such as CharityChoice Gift Cards. Helping those less fortunate at the holidays is way better than unpalatable fruitcake.

Readers: What is the most unusual holiday gift you have received from a supplier, or given as a vendor?

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

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Holiday Parties, Payouts, and Perks
Celebrate the Smart Way

Take Stock with a Mock Interview

Dear, Anita,

I have worked for and run the family business for over 33 years, but due to dwindling sales, I am going to have to close the doors and go to work for someone else. I applied for a promising management position, and have been called in for an interview. I know the questions I used for the specially-skilled positions at my company, but am unsure what will be asked of me. Help – I’ve never been on the other side of the desk! 

Job InterviewDear, First-Time Interviewee,

I’m sure in your tenure as a business owner that you’ve seen your share of faux pas in employment interviews.  Check out Top 10 Interview Fails  and see if any of the mistakes seem familiar.

Now that we’ve broken the tension with a good chuckle, let’s talk turkey.  Don’t wing it; be fully prepared for your interview. Write out your answers to common interview questions, and then rehearse them out loud until they sound conversational rather than scripted. Enlist a trusted friend or colleague to participate in a mock interview to give you valuable feedback. They can let you know if you’re talking too fast or if you answered a question with uncertainty. You may wish to videotape yourself. I know, it’s painful to listen to your own voice, but review the recording and analyze your performance like a pro sports coach. Some career centers and counselors offer mock interviews for an even more realistic experience than pretending with a biased buddy at your kitchen table.

As you probably know, the ice-breaker is usually, “Tell me about yourself.” While some experts maintain that your answer should be 100% work related, I disagree… slightly. The interviewer is not hiring a robot; they are hiring a team member that should fit into the company culture. But do keep the personal bit short (“In my spare time, I’m an avid cyclist”). You shouldn’t rattle on, sounding like an online dating profile.

Pick out a dozen or so of the tough ones in Monster’s list of 100 potential interview questions (don’t be alarmed… you won’t be asked all of them!). For a management position, expect to answer some variation of “Describe your management style” or “What would your direct reports say about you?”  In your situation, the interviewer may ask about the specifics of your business closure. See From Self-Employed to Employed for my advice to entrepreneurs re-entering the workforce.

This mock interview video from health care company Cerner Corporation is geared toward recent graduates, but illustrates some dos as well as don’ts for first-time interviewees:

Readers: Let’s role-play! In the comments below, give your best answer to the opening volley, “Tell me about yourself.”


Interview DO’s and DON’Ts
Interview Tips
Talking too much in an interview

Salary Negotiation Mistakes

Dear, Anita,

I think I may have blown it when asking for a raise. I thought it would be best to email my boss and outline my financial situation (I recently incurred huge medical bills for my son). I was also talking with a friend about what his company pays for my position, which is more than I make, so I mentioned that, too. My boss called me into his office and turned me down. What did I do wrong?

Raising_HandDear, Raising Eyebrows,

Recently, a bank employee emailed his CEO asking for a $10,000 raise and CC’d about 200,000 of his coworkers. See the full story here. I would not recommend this tactic.

Here are 10 salary negotiation mistakes employees make when asking for a raise. Since I don’t know your entire situation, I can only guess that you made a few of these errors.

  1. Bad timing. Don’t make your request after you’ve made a major mistake, such as losing a big client, or bungling a manager’s travel arrangements. Making a raise request during budget cuts won’t get you far. Keep your ear to the ground, and know what’s going on within your company.
  2. Requesting a raise via email. You can request a meeting by email, but it’s best to have delicate salary discussions face-to-face. You can better gauge body language and adapt your presentation to the reactions you experience.
  3. Citing personal reasons. Asking for more money because of medical bills is not a compelling reason for your boss to give you a raise. While he may be sympathetic, your compensation is based on your value to the company, not the stack of bills on your dining room table.
  4. Complaining versus explaining. While your workload may have increased, be sure you are not whining about it when asking for an increase in salary to go along with your additional responsibilities.
  5. Throwing coworkers under the bus. Whether Sandra in the next cubicle told you her salary, or John is not doing his fair share of the work assignments, now is not the time to bring it up.
  6. Money_Steps_iStock_000014098920_SmallUnreliable facts. Water-cooler gossip and cocktail party chats may not be the most dependable source of salary information. Check out average salaries for similar positions in your area at But use this information in a non-confrontational way.
  7. Acting entitled. Years at the company alone, or the fact that you have a family, does not give you claim to a pay raise.
  8. Stating a specific number. If push comes to shove, state a range, preferably in percentages rather than dollars. Give your supervisor some wiggle room.
  9. Threatening.  If you issue ultimatums – “If I don’t get a raise, I’ll walk” – you may find yourself walking to the unemployment office.
  10. Holding a grudge. If you are turned down for a raise, continue to do your best work. Ask your supervisor what steps you can take in the upcoming months or year to warrant a pay increase.

Readers: What are some successful tactics that have earned you a requested raise?

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

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I Resolve… to Get a Raise
Achieving the Annual Raise
Transparent Salaries: From Hourly Employees to the CEO

Job Search is a Marathon, not a Sprint

Dear, Anita,

When I lost my job two months ago, I was all gung-ho, applying to everything and getting out there networking. Now, though, after so much rejection, I’m losing steam. How can I keep myself motivated?

Dear, Jockeying for Position,

Grief often follows losing a job. You’ve just experienced a major loss – certainly a loss of income, position, and security that may even lead to loss of self-esteem. While experts in the grieving process recommend not making major life changes during stressful times, you have to get yourself out there and find a new job! But it can be difficult for a person experiencing grief or stress (or both) to function at full capacity.

Call to mind the moral of “The Tortoise and The Hare” fable – slow and steady wins the race. While I certainly don’t advise that you lollygag in responding to job board postings and follow up with emails at a snail’s pace, I don’t want you to burn yourself out by sprinting. Fatigue is inevitable during high-intensity periods, but running a marathon requires the athlete to leave energy for the end of the race. As the entrants in the Select Staffing Veterans Day Marathon know, there are some tips for maintaining endurance that we can apply to your job search.

    • Diet: Stop eating ice cream straight out of the container and make healthy eating choices to maintain your vitality.
    • Protection: While wise marathon runners apply sunscreen, I hope that you have a safety net of a savings account in addition to unemployment benefits to guard against unexpected expenses that arise during the hopefully short period between jobs.
    • Breathe: Marathon runners have greater lung capacity than sprinters. When stressed, your body goes into fight or flight mode, and breathing becomes shallow. Take some deep breaths – here are a few exercises from integrative medicine physician Dr. Andrew Weil.
    • Join: Find the support group equivalent of a running club. There are online groups of similarly unemployed people, but a local face-to-face clique such as a Meetup Group may be more beneficial. Do a Google search with terms like “job,” “career,” “unemployed,” and “support.”
    • Plan: A physical training plan is crucial if you want to finish a marathon. Similarly, draft out your long-range job search efforts and calendar critical activities, and keep a log of your endeavors.
    • Rehearse: Nobody goes out to run 26.2 miles on their first run. Practice for your important competition with mock interviews. Watch for an upcoming blog about rehearsing for those tough job interview questions.
    • Visualize: Don’t underrate the power of mental preparation. Just as the runner envisions crossing the finish line, create a movie in your mind with you as the star, acing that grueling interview.
    • Fuel up: Long-distance runners take in fuel and hydrate during the race. Likewise, in your job search, refresh yourself. J.T. O’Donnell, CEO of CareerHMO, advises pleasant disruption techniques to change your brain pattern to get over your down days:

When you do land that post, celebrate making it over the finish line! It’s now time to start the real exercise of maintaining a long-running job.

Readers: How do you keep up the pace when you “hit the wall” in your job search?

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.

Job Hunting Blues
No Longer “Enthused”
Understanding Unemployment


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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