Getting what you want (including the job)

In the last few weeks, we’ve had a number of candidates for permanent positions enter the negotiation phase – the client wants the candidate, and now they’re talking about terms. As a recruiting firm, we’re paid by the company; for our long-term success, we have to be helpful to both parties, be able to keep confidences as needed, and help them come to agreement.

We’ve been dealing with roles from $60K IT professionals, to $100K software developers, to two different $200K+ executive positions. In almost every case, we see the same pattern:

  • Client offers the candidate a package: salary, stock, vacation, etc.
  • Candidate wants movement on a range of different terms, and discusses those with the client (either through us or directly).
  • Client goes back and starts seeing what she can do.
  • Lather, rinse, repeat.

Nobody wants to be in this cycle. How do you get out of it?

What most recruiters will tell you here is “pick the most important piece and push for that.” That’s partly right: yes, you should prioritize, but if there is more than one thing that truly matters to you, you shouldn’t ruin your negotiation leverage (which you have!) by picking just one thing.

The more important technique here is to turn an adversarial relationship into a cooperative one. Once you begin negotiating terms, you’re in a battle: I want to make X, client wants me to make X-$50K; I want four weeks vacation, client wants two; etc. These are all arguments, it’s draining, you get less excited about the job, etc.

Instead, I encourage candidates to change their message, and to finish this sentence:

“I will accept the job if…”

As soon as you do that, you’re back on the same team again. You’re telling your partner that if they can make something happen, you’re in: they know what the endgame looks like, and so do you. Everybody’s shoulders perk up – now it’s just a problem to solve.

Of course, to say that sentence, you have to

1 – mean it; you can’t go back after you’ve said it and reject the job, ask for more things, etc. (Well, you can, but you shouldn’t.) So you do this when you’re ready to accept – and if you don’t know that this is the job you want, you shouldn’t be negotiating anyway.

2 – know the answer: look inside, find the thing(s) that really matter(s), and stick to it. In other words, if you know in your heart that you will happily take the job if they can just give you a $20K signing bonus, don’t say you want $40K here: say you want $20K. If they come back at $10K, you can get back to discussing things, but if they hit $20K, you stayed in a cooperative relationship and got what you wanted.