Last week you taught us how to negotiate. But, how do you do it for your candidates? How do you make sure they get the best offers possible? I realize it’s probably different because you’re “the middle man,” but I just want to see what I can learn from how you do it.
A headhunter is paid by an employer (the client) to find and deliver the best candidates for a job. That creates a fiduciary duty. However, I still have a duty to my job candidates. Lots of headhunters fall prey to the misconception that they’re in the full employ of their clients; that they owe the client all information about the candidates; and that given a choice whether to serve the client’s or candidate’s interests, the client always comes first. I think that’s a mistake. The headhunter’s job is to balance the two and do right by both: get a good candidate for the employer and a good job offer for the candidate.
Where a good job offer comes from
I’ve placed candidates with my clients for enormous salary increases by not disclosing the candidate’s current salary. All that matters is that I know both parties are in the same salary ballpark. Why would I want the candidate’s old salary to be the anchor point for negotiations? While I want my client to get a great employee for a fair price so the client will be happy and give me more assignments, I also want the person I place to be happy — and a good source of more candidate referrals! The key, of course, is that the candidate must be worth it.
Therefore, as a sort of mediator, I do my best to juggle information judiciously for everyone’s benefit. I never lie, but I may withhold information that I believe could unreasonably jeopardize the chances of a good match. In the end, the employer and the candidate always make the choice about a job offer. My job is to help them do it.
My favorite negotiating experience was some time ago, when high five-figure compensation packages were not common. A very talented man — let’s call him Alan — was working for a big financial publisher. Alan was bored and, though he didn’t fully realize it, quite underpaid. I asked how much it would take for him to make a move if he liked a job I presented. He gave me a salary range. I’ll tell you what it was shortly.
Make a great match before the interview
My client, a financial services company, needed someone to manage content for their nascent (at the time) website. The salary range on the job was between $65,000-$70,000 — a lot of money at the time.
I discussed Alan with them and mapped his skills, experience and credentials to the objectives of the job. When they asked his current salary, I said, “Well, you need A, B and C done in this job, right? So, when you interview him, satisfy yourselves that he can do A, B and C. But then, also ask him about D, E and F which, though I know is not part of this job, could be very valuable to you, too.”
Then I set the anchor — the point from which we would negotiate: “I’m not going to disclose what he’s making now. What really matters is that he can do all we’ve discussed. That’s why his desired salary range is between $70,000-$75,000.”
I made certain they would consider going higher than their budget for an exceptional match.
Control the information
Only I knew what both sides wanted. I never play games with the question about the ballpark. I don’t like wasting anyone’s time — especially mine! We were in the ballpark.
They interviewed Alan and he wowed everyone. I let him know their reaction.
“Okay,” I said. “I’m going to discuss an offer with them. Now I need your permission to negotiate for you. If I can get at least as much as you said you want, can I tell them you’ll take the job? This gives me huge negotiating leverage because it eliminates uncertainty. Okay if I do that?”
Alan enthusiastically said that if they made an offer like that, I could tell them he would accept.
My client asked what I thought it would take to get Alan on board. What they were really asking was, how much will get us all to YES without further ado? I suggested $77,000.
“For a bit more than we originally discussed, you’re showing him how impressed you really are, and that you really want him. If you offer $77,000, I can assure you he’ll accept and be very highly motivated to start the job. No need for further discussion.”
Cause for joy
They made the offer at $77,000. When I conveyed it to Alan, he was shocked and overjoyed. He accepted on the spot. A year later he and his wife thanked me for getting them the down payment for a new house. (One of the most satisfying aspects of my job is changing people’s lives for the better.)
The company’s joy was more practical. They were accustomed to protracted salary negotiations that didn’t always go well. They often had to move on to their second-best candidate. They were happy to get their first choice and relieved there were no surprises. They knew from the start, within a few dollars, what it would cost to fill a key job with the right person. And the day Alan reported for work, the hiring manager could plainly see this guy was pleased and highly motivated to start the job.
A good match makes a good job offer
When I first asked Alan what it would take to entice him to move, he said very firmly, “I’d like to get between $50,000-$55,000.” All I told him was that we were in the right ballpark. If I had told him the actual range for the job, it was possible he’d panic and question his abilities and the demands of the position as reflected in the high salary. I don’t think he would have interviewed as confidently.
My client to this day doesn’t know Alan’s prior salary: $44,000. He started the new job enthusiastically with a 75% increase over what he had been making. He immediately demonstrated he was a stellar performer. My client felt they had scored big. And the truth is, they had, because I could have placed him with their competitor for about as much. He was worth it.
I knew I had a good match from the start. I knew what the client needed. I found a candidate who could deliver it and more. I made the match for a salary the employer felt was fair. And I got Alan a very good job offer that reflected his actual value.
What headhunters get paid for
The lesson here is not that yours truly is a brilliant negotiator. What I did was very simple, and it started with the most important factor in any negotiation for a job: You must know what the employer needs and will pay for, and you must know that your candidate can do it.
This is what the headhunter earns a big fee for: arranging a good match before the two parties meet. This is why the best headhunters have a much higher success rate than job hunters and employers do on their own. We get paid to avoid the huge failure rates of job ads, resumes, job boards, applicant tracking systems and HR departments. We make sure all candidates we submit for a position are very likely to be hired.
The next factor is, Control the information.
This doesn’t mean manipulate everyone. It means my goal is to help both parties avoid crashing the deal because they’re distracted by the wrong issues. I want them to focus on whether there’s a good match first — not on money. This is why I settle the question about money in advance. Roughly how much will each side be happy with?
Then I cut money out of the process until we confirm the match. As long as I know everyone’s in the same ballpark, and exactly what it would take for each party to make a deal, they don’t need to know everything. This lets them focus on the match.
The final factor is joy. Yup — joy. I want my candidate and my client to feel joy at making a good match at a price that we already know they’ll be very happy with. If everyone is happy and feels they got a good deal, I get more search assignments from my client and more candidate referrals from the candidate I just placed. That gives me joy!
You’re not a headhunter, but…
What does this mean to you when you negotiate? You’re not a headhunter or intermediary, but you can negotiate a good job offer like a headhunter if you consider these three rules that keep everyone focused on making a good deal:
Interview only for jobs that you know are a great match. This is absolutely key. It means investing the time to understand exactly what an employer needs and being ready to show you can do the job, right there in the interview. Don’t waste your time on lots of jobs just because there are millions on the Internet. More is not better! Interview only for the right jobs and your offer rate will go way up.
Control the information. Don’t disclose your salary history. Do find out what the salary range for the job is before you apply or interview. If it isn’t in your ballpark, walk away. Know what you want and stick to it. Don’t talk yourself into interviews where you think you “might be able to get them to go higher.”
Deliver joy. Yah, I know that sounds like mushy marketing talk. Do you think the object of your affections would agree to marry you if you didn’t create joy between you? You’ll negotiate the best offer if you can show the employer that you’re who they’ve been waiting for. Do what the headhunter does: Make sure there’s a good match before the interview happens. Surprise the employer by being the candidate who’s worth the money!
You can’t really negotiate like a headhunter because, as you point out, you’re not an intermediary. But you’ll be able to negotiate the best offers possible if you can demonstrate you’re the best possible job candidate. This means you cannot apply for loads of jobs just because some high-failure-rate job board lets you. More is not better!
What parts of my method of negotiating a good job offer could you put to good use? Do you have any techniques you’ve used to optimize job offers? Or, how have you blundered during a job offer negotiation? What else would you like to know about making a good match and a good offer?