Negotiating Your Salary - and How Your Recruiter can Help
Updated: Feb 9
Author: Erica Poff, CAE, PMP, IOM; VP of Talbott Talent
Getting that offer letter after a long interview process can stir up many emotions—excitement, relief, gratitude. What comes first—the negotiation—probably less so. As one of the final steps in the interview process, agreeing on compensation can be a make-or-break moment for many candidates. While most candidates accept that there will be some degree of negotiation when working with their new employer’s hiring authority – whether the head of HR, the CEO, or even the board chair – this process looks (and feels) very different when a recruiter is involved. Whether you sought out a recruiter to assist with your job search or a recruiter found you for their client organization, a recruiter can be a great asset during the negotiation process.
Understand the recruiter’s role
An executive recruiter is often paid by the hiring organization to lead a job search and guide them through the process. As such, when candidates work with a recruiter they don’t pay for their services. This arrangement, while cost-effective, may concern some candidates that the recruiter will not have their best interests at heart when the negotiations begin. However, a good recruiter will go to bat for the candidate because a successful placement depends on satisfaction from both parties.
“Our client is not going to have an optimal outcome if they don’t have a candidate that is happy to be there” says Leah York, CAE, President of Talbott Talent, a national executive search firm for nonprofit organizations. “Placing a candidate who will be fulfilled in their new position isn’t possible without an understanding of their needs and goals as well. Working to understand both sides leads to what everyone wants: a long-term, successful placement.” The client organization wants the best match possible, and that requires identifying where the candidate’s and organization’s best interests meet.
If you are concerned about receiving fair representation from a recruiter, interview them before agreeing to work with them: what do they see as their obligations to the candidate vs. the (paying) client? How do they define success for their client and the candidate?
Don’t negotiate (at least not with the recruiter!)
When a recruiter is involved in the hiring process, the candidate will express their compensation desires directly to the recruiter, not the organization’s hiring authority. Your recruiter has a unique view of the hiring process; thus, you shouldn’t expect to communicate your interests in the same way you would have with the organization’s hiring authority.
“Candidates don’t need to negotiate with the recruiter because a good recruiter is seeking that ‘win-win’ for both parties” says York.
A skilled recruiter will have asked the candidate about their salary goals early on, likely during their first conversation, and continued that conversation throughout the process. Establishing this information at the beginning sets expectations and reduces the likelihood of surprises (such as a declined offer at the last minute, resulting in a failed search) should the candidate receive an offer from the client organization. A recruiter would also know the client’s ideal pay range before approaching potential candidates, allowing them to put forward only those candidates whose compensation expectations align with the hiring organization.
If a candidate has other priorities, such as opportunities for growth or flexible hours, the recruiter is the best person to determine if that kind of opportunity is realistic given their extensive knowledge of the hiring organization. A recruiter can provide candidates with insight they otherwise wouldn’t obtain on their own, allowing for more informed decision making.
Don’t hold back
It’s never productive to play hard ball with the recruiter; it is essential that you tell the recruiter what you need, without reservation, to get the best result.
“Don’t hold back when it comes to your needs and wants, not only for salary, but other intangible components like commute, culture and potential for growth” advises York. “Know what you want and allow your recruiter to lead you through the process.”
When formulating their wants, many candidates make the mistake of developing a wish list based on what they think the employer can or cannot afford or would likely be willing to give. This what-do-I-think-I-can-get mindset can be counterproductive, as it takes the candidate themselves—their needs, skills, and potential contributions to the organization—out of the compensation equation. The resulting offer is unlikely to reflect the candidate’s value accurately, and probably won’t meet the organization's expectations either.
Instead, think about the value you would bring to the organization and craft your wants accordingly. If you’re not sure about the value you offer, ask the recruiter for feedback. Based on your experience and what you will bring to the client, your recruiter can provide insight on your personal value proposition and help you to better meet your goals.