Talent Leaders: Is Negotiation One of Your Superpowers?

A smart recruiter from a corporate Talent Acquisition team recently asked me if I knew of any good training courses to help her become a better offer negotiator.  The more I thought about it, I admired my friend’s desire to gain negotiation skills.  After all, recruiting is to the “people” component of business what sales is to revenue.  Losing a top candidate in the final stages of recruitment is like losing a sale – and nobody wants that.

So, what do great negotiators know that recruiters may not?  In the iconic book Getting to Yes – Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In, Roger Fisher & William Ury teach readers to 1) separate the people from the problem and 2) focus on interests, not positions, in pursuit of “mutual options for mutual gains”.  In other words, getting to “yes” should always be a win/win – especially in hiring.  Here’s how I interpret Fischer & Ury’s advice into practical steps for TA professionals:

Know the Facts

  • Cash compensation: know what industry comp studies say as well as the company’s salary and bonus range for the position – that’s table stakes. Then ask the candidate – well before an offer is in the works – what their expectations are (not their current comp).  Assuming their wishes are in the ballpark, document it for future reference.  If not, coach them to see if there is some wiggle room.  The negotiation starts now.
  • Long-term Incentives (LTI): ask about any unvested equity they may be leaving on the table, or what LTI they would need to make the leap. This may be of great or of little importance to your candidate, but it’s important to know which.  If it’s an area of flexibility for the company, this knowledge will come in handy later.
  • Benefits: Know what your candidate values most. Flexibility?  Time off?  Doggy Daycare?  Healthcare for her family? Moving assistance?  Knowing what to emphasize in assembling the offer can make a big difference in selling it.
  • Title/reporting relationship: This may all be clear from the beginning, but it can happen that everything else is agreed, and the candidate then wants a different title or is not comfortable with where they fit in the organization structure, and things start to fall apart. A great recruiter will weave this into the discussion well in advance to make sure the candidate is on the same page with the hiring manager regarding hierarchy and titles, avoiding that stumbling block later on.

Preview, then Confirm

  • While the interviews are wrapping up, it’s a best practice to preview a ballpark offer with the candidate. It gets the wheels turning without anything being official and allows them to express some initial reactions.  The feedback will be invaluable in advising the hiring manager on a package the candidate will accept, minimizing the back-and-forth later on.
  • There should be some fanfare around the offer. This is a big deal for most candidates – sort of like a marriage proposal – and a great recruiter will orchestrate it carefully to get the best outcome.  For example,
    • The first call with an enthusiastic congratulations and invitation to join should be from the hiring manager, but with few details. Consider making this a video call to make it more personal.
    • The next call is from the recruiter with all the details where she makes the connection between the candidate’s offer wish list, and where they have been able to meet or exceed those expectations.
    • Where the offer falls short, the recruiter explains why and advises the candidate on where there may be flexibility. Remember, a candidate who feels “heard” will be much more willing to listen – even when an offer isn’t 100% what they hoped for.
    • She then arranges the next conversation to answer questions, positioning herself as an advocate.

Pro-tip: Some hiring managers enjoy handling the specifics of an offer, but in our experience, the recruiter is the better person to talk offer details and gather immediate feedback.  This provides a buffer between the candidate and the hiring manager, removing the awkwardness from direct negotiations with their future boss.

Seal the Deal

  • Fisher & Ury also encourage negotiators to have a “BATNA” – a Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement, or a fallback position. A smart recruiter will discuss the options in advance with her Hiring Manager and know how far they are willing to go before the deal is sealed.  This results in a shorter, more efficient offer process, less drama, and better odds of a successful outcome.
  • After verbal agreements are reached, confirming everything in writing is the final step. 100% accuracy of what was finally decided is critical, continuing to build trust with the future employee and giving them more reasons to believe they have made the right decision by saying “yes!”.
  • It doesn’t hurt to send a little company SWAG to the candidate’s home as well – just to say “Congratulations – you’re IN!”

Great recruiters can follow this win/win model with confidence and empathy: Know the Facts, Preview, then Confirm, and finally, Seal the Deal.  Then, after all that hard work, celebrate your hire!

Erin McDermott Peterson is a Partner with PeopleResults, focusing on Global Talent Acquisition. Follow her on Twitter @ErinMcPeterson, connect via email at epeterson@people-results.com and listen to her Podcast for Talent Leaders: Big Fish in the Talent Pool on iTunes and SoundCloud.

Erin McDermott Peterson