After more than two decades in the Executive Search
business, I have learned a lot about what goes into a
successful hire. I try to impart my knowledge to both hiring
managers and candidates. Nevertheless, at many job
interviews I find myself listening to questions that make me
cringe and answers that make me want to cry.
Now it's my turn to talk.

Monday, October 31, 2011

A Rolling Stone and a Headhunter Walk Into a Bar…

When it comes to job offer negotiations, the erudite philosopher Mick Jagger may have said (sung) it best.  You can’t always get what you wa-ant!  Of course he was speaking about love, but the Headhunter Files doesn’t go there.

Over my years as an executive recruiter, I have noticed that very few (zero) job offers are considered 100% perfect by their recipients.  Strangely enough, I have noticed that the corollary to that is, very few (zero) candidates are considered 100% perfect to their potential employers.  Hence, job offer negotiations can come to resemble a jigsaw puzzle of wages, bonuses, title adjustments, vacation time, benefits, promotion tracks, etc. which must be pieced together in such a way as to make both the employer and the new employee feel that they have gotten a fair deal.

Today’s tough economic environment complicates matters even further.   Circumstances such as the following may make thorny wage/benefit issues even more problematic.

·       A brilliant CFO was making a substantial base salary in her last position.  But her last position ended 9 months ago.  She has been unemployed since that time.  What is she worth now?
·       A company would like to hire an upper level executive, but its revised compensation plan  makes it virtually impossible to pay the new executive commensurate with the salaries his or her legacy peers in the firm are being paid.  The hiring manager is aware that people talk – thus the new executive may be made aware of the salary disparity.  What to do?
·       A company needs to hire a visionary to turn itself around.  But visionaries are expensive.  Can the struggling company afford the visionary?  Can the company afford not to hire the visionary?
·       A recent college grad has not yet found a job.  Should he accept a salary which does not support a studio apartment and a few groceries in the hopes that his experience will make him more marketable next year?

As you might guess, the answer to each of these questions is:  there is no standard answer.  Or rather, any one person’s answer may be different from another’s.  For instance, if the CFO in the above example has a substantial nest egg or a spouse who can pay the monthly bills, she may be willing to remain unemployed for a while rather than make a move which would be an irreversible step down the career ladder.  Another individual might make another choice.

But here are a few salary negotiating guidelines for both candidates and clients:

·       Both the employer and the candidate should be prepared with a realistic salary range to start the discussion.  This range should be discussed during the first conversation with the candidate to avoid advancing a lost cause.
·       The employer’s designated salary range should be broad enough to accommodate talent levels from the adequate through the excellent.  Research should be done to determine what will be required to win the best candidate.  (If a recruiter is being used, he or she can often be a source of that knowledge.) “You get what you pay for,” is a pretty accurate description of employee compensation.
·       A candidate being recruited to a position should understand that the range sets the absolute boundaries of the negotiations.  If the range is not acceptable, do not proceed to the interview stage, hoping to change the parameters.  If you disqualify yourself based on salary, be forthcoming about your reasons in case the recruitment process itself presents a new reality to the employer who could decide to take a second look at you.
·       A candidate should always think long-term rather than short-term.  A step backward in responsibility may not be advisable, even for an extravagant raise in salary.  On the other hand, a huge expansion of responsibility or a position with a prestigious company may compensate for a perceived come-down in salary.
·       I suggest that a company leave a little room for movement when making its initial offer.  As a headhunter, I know that job candidates are genetically predisposed to ask for more. If there is no room to increase the compensation, consider offering a one-time hiring bonus, a guaranteed end-of-year bonus, or a realistic expectation of upward mobility based on performance.
·       Do not complete a hire which does not feel “right” to both parties.  Starting out on the wrong foot increases the odds of problems as the race goes on.

If all goes well during offer negotiations, both the employer and the new employee can look forward to the employee’s first day with enthusiasm and a positive view of the future.  Realistic expectations, honest communication, and willingness to compromise will go a long way toward helping both parties achieve this outlook.

And, borrowing again from Mick:   But if you try sometimes, well you just might find, you get what you need.

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