In the January 18, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader gets a job offer through a headhunter, and asks how to negotiate for a higher salary:
I got an offer today! The headhunter called me with the offer, and I told him I’d think about it and get back with him. I’d like to ask for $5k more, but I’m not very good at negotiating—and I have no idea how to negotiate with a headhunter who stands between me and the employer. Any suggestions?
Here’s the short version of my advice: (For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free weekly newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)
The key is to know how headhunters think. They want one thing: to close the deal. (While some headhunters may pressure you to accept an offer without negotiation, a good headhunter will go to bat for you, if he thinks that what you want is reasonable.)
What headhunters don’t like is a wishy-washy candidate. They want to know exactly what you want. They may not always be able to get it for you, but if it’s reasonable, they will try to satisfy you (and the employer) to get the deal closed. Too often, a candidate who is facing an offer will balk, but not because the money isn’t right. He may hesitate because he’s not sure he wants the job itself. You must be honest with yourself, and with the headhunter, on this point. If the job itself is the problem, discuss this candidly with the headhunter. Otherwise, you could send him off spinning his wheels trying to get you more money, when you’re not even sure you want the job.
This is a key thing to understand about headhunters. A good one will work hard for you, but only if he’s sure you’re ready to take the job. Otherwise, why bother? If the problem is the job, then negotiate a different position. Give the headhunter clear directions.
If you’re sure you want the job, then make things black and white for this headhunter, and he’ll respect you for it. So here’s what to do:
How to Say It
Tell the headhunter: “This is an offer that I’d have to take some time to think about. I’m not sure I’d accept it. If it were $5k more, however, I’d accept it on the spot. In fact, if you can get the offer raised by $5k, you don’t even need to call me back. You can tell them I accept. So, tell me, what do you think?”
When you arm a headhunter with a firm number that will guarantee your acceptance, you give him great power to close the deal. Make that commitment to him, and you’ll quickly find out whether the extra bucks are possible. Then it’s all up to the headhunter—and his client.
Negotiating with headhunters — and getting them to negotiate for you — is different from negotiating directly with an employer. This edition of the newsletter is actually an edited excerpt from How to Work with Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you.
HTWWHs includes lots of additional insights and tips to give you an insider’s edge on how to negotiate successfully with a good headhunter:
- Split the 2 parts of an offer to your advantage: The job and the terms
- How to negotiate the terms and the job itself
- Additional How to Say It tips to give you an added edge
- The truth about whether the headhunter’s fee affects your offer
- How to ask for higher compensation that costs the employer less
- The one thing that can kill salary negotiations and your credibility
- The headhunter’s secret: What to put on the table to win big
And that’s just one section (7 pages) of the 130-page How to Work with Headhunters…, including 62 myth-busting answers for fearless job hunters. Why stop here?
Are headhunters difficult to negotiate with? Yah, sometimes they are. But, if you find them difficult, odds are good you’re not dealing with a good headhunter. The hacks want a quick buck. The best headhunters want a valuable addition to their network. They will hear you out, and try to help you if they can. Because one happy placement is worth many good referrals in the future… which is what good headhunters really want.
What’s your experience been with headhunters? Not just the worst, but the best? Please share your cautions, advice and stories. Most important — what can others do to negotiate the best deal through a headhunter?