Uh, did I say that?? All I need is a bunch of angry headhunters showing up at my door with torches… Here’s what a reader asks:

Following my interviews with the company, the headhunter called me with the offer and I told him I’d think about it. I’d like to ask for more money but, since I’m not dealing directly with the employer, I don’t know how to handle this negotiation with the headhunter. What’s the best way to do this?

Can you squeeze more out of a job offer delivered to you by a headhunter? Should you negotiate with the headhunter, or go around him and negotiate directly with the employer?

HINT: If you go around, you might tick off the headhunter and the employer. And that won’t do much for your prospects for more money…

So that leaves us with the headhunter. What have you done to get a better offer when working through a headhunter? Is it necessary to squeeze? Can you do the ol’ I’ll-scratch-your-back-if-you-scratch-mine…? (Just how does one scratch a headhunter’s back and get him or her to do something?)

Tell me your story then I’ll tell you mine…

  1. I am sincerely interested in the job position at ACME Job and I’m glad that they have shown their belief that I can do the job. However, I believe that I am worth more to them than their offer suggests, and I can outline why. I will help the company to make/save x dollars a year by doing y and z. Could you tell the hiring manager how I can contribute to company profits and that I believe I deserve $x, which should be more than reasonable if I do the job they’re asking me to do well.

  2. Keep the headhunter on-side and don’t go around them – they’re being paid to manage the process.

    Be sure to research the market and gain a perspective of the role value. The headhunter ought to know this and will be aware if the client is pitching the offer too low.

    If the offer is in the right range, then Paul S’s approach (see first comment) may work. There is always scope for discussion around the package structure too – this could include a 6 month salary review rather than 12 months, bonus guarantees, additional pension contributions, etc. A past winner is to identify “stretch” (but not unrealistic) targets and negotiate an extra uplift if these are achieved – that way the added cost is linked to results.

  3. f anything hits home as a headhunter’s value add it’s as a face saving middle man in offer negotiations. If the headhunter’s set up the right relationships, neither the hiring manager or the candidate should have any problem talking to a headhunter about offer content. His question seems to indicate a problem, in that such discussions should happen BEFORE a formal offer is made, when the hands don’t touch the wrist, in the hazy area where an offer isn’t yet an offer.

    the headhunter should know from the candidate the range between “need” and realistic nice/want. and from the hiring manager the range he/she can pay. Then the headhunter can help both arrive to a point where the offer is a formality.

    Company culture plays a part too, something the headhunter would like to know from the manager. As a hiring manager I worked for a corporation who had a hard/fast rule that they never made a counteroffer, i.e. didn’t negotiate. As a manager as with some of my peers, I had no personal problem negotiating with someone who I believed was a potential asset, but it would have been fruitless. In this environment you need to be equipped to ask the candidate “If they offer you XXX will you take it? if not, what will it take? and so on. The headhunter brokers and guides this conversation and nails it down to an offer that satisfies both parties

    In this particular scenario the candidate has signaled that he’s not satisfied with the offer and potentially will be starting as a disappointed person, a bad 1st step. He can’t/shouldn’t try an end run to the manager as that’s not ethical and any sane hiring manager would immediately recognize the lack of integrity and you’re history. So I see no choice, if you didn’t have this discussion prior to the offer, you need to have it now and be prepared to take the headhunter’s advise as to if it can be negotiated at all and if not, adjust your thinking or walk away.

  4. Nick,

    This is why, in my last conversation with you guys on a post you had regarding salary, I highlighted how important it was for me to know three things:

    a.) What you’re currently making right now
    b.) What you’re targeting for a new position
    c.) What your ABSOLUTE MINIMUM ACCEPTABLE is regardless of any circumstances regarding the role.

    When I have this information, I am on your level. I’m in your playing field, and you don’t have to feel awkward to tell me these things. I work on 100% commission – which means that the more money I can negotiate for you, the more money I will get for myself and my company at the end of the day.

    So therefore, please, please ask me if you want to make more. Tell me what’s really on your mind right in the beginning, because then I can tell you whether that’s realistic for this role, or unrealistic.

    Having this information allows me to have an open-ended, healthy conversation with my candidates about their salary expectations, so that I can get them the highest offer I can negotiate for them.

    With that said, if I got a request from my candidate the way Paul S worded it, I would be delighted to discuss this in detail with them, and I would go out of my way to talk to the client about this if they make a good case to me.

  5. I think Don is absolutely right that it’s strange that this conversation didn’t happen earlier on. But regardless, the headhunter is there to help in these negotiations and the candidate certainly shouldn’t go around him/her.

    I don’t understand why Jesse needs item (a) in his list; it’s just (b) and (c) that are relevant.

  6. You guys are making money off applicants, right? That’s pretty clear from what you write.

    Many job seekers don’t know what their “number” is until they’ve been at the interview. Why? Because they don’t know what the job is! This is an oversimplification, but if I know there’s a particularly annoying aspect to a job, or one what is going to result in my spending more out of pocket (more expensive clothing, more tranportation time, which means I’ll spend more on other conveniences, etc.), then I expect more cash.

    Secondly, we don’t trust you! Whenever I’ve told someone my number, I get offered less. If I don’t tell you, I get a higher number and am in a better bargaining position.

    Headhunters’/recruiters’ fees are paid by the employer. You are working for them. They are much much more likely to be a repeat customer. That’s who you want to please.

  7. @Jade: Many “headhunters” are guilty of what you suggest… but the better ones will get you the best deal they can. It’s not because their fee is tied to the amount. (Getting you a 5% boost doesn’t affect their 20% enough to jeopardize the offer altogether.) It’s because they value their reputation among the community of people they recruit from. They want people to know they get good deals for candidates, so they can attract good candidates next time. Word gets around about who the good ones are.