Negotiating Tips From Across the Table

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A recent article by recruiter-trainer Bill Radin gives job-seekers a fresh slant on the ticklish subject of discussing compensation with a recruiter.

While the tips were aimed at his fellow headhunters, there is useful intelligence for candidates in the post in Radin's October newsletter.

By and large, his remarks bear out the adage that candidates should speak more openly about pay with an external recruiter than with a direct employer. That's because current or expected compensation level - often both - is likely to be part of a checklist of items that the recruiter's client will ask to see before agreeing to interview any candidate.

Here are some further takeaways:

Give a Range, Not a Number

Radin encourages recruiters to phrase the salary question in a fuzzy manner, such as: "Can you give me a sense as to what you're earning?" Although intended to put candidates at ease, there is nothing devious about that. Career coaches, who work for job-seekers, actually advise stating both current and expected compensation in the form of a range rather than a single number.

Don't Expect a Similar Disclosure From the Recruiter

On the other hand, he advises recruiters not to reveal the employer's salary range to candidates. That's a piece of information that coaches often advise job-seekers to ask for once they're asked to name a figure themselves. Radin's explanation does support the negotiator's axiom that it's always advantageous to make the other party state their figure first.

"As soon as you commit to a number," he remarks, "you run the risk of either turning the candidate off if the salary is perceived as being too low, or dangling a carrot that's not realistic." That's a mirror image of why candidates speaking with a direct employer are usually advised to duck the compensation question for as long as possible without jeopardizing their rapport.

A Looming Review Can Delay Your Interviews

If your performance review is coming up soon, don't try to use that for leverage unless you're satisfied waiting to be interviewed until after the review. Radin cautions recruiters against setting up interviews for candidates about to be reviewed by their current employer. Waiting until after the review allows use of fresher information about the candidate's "motivation and sense of urgency" to make a move. Thus, he says a patient recruiter can both "minimize the candidate's leverage, (and) update the candidate's salary, if in fact an adjustment has been made."

Can You Justify Higher Pay?

If you assume every headhunter will immediately slam the door on you if your pay expectations appear too high, you might be too pessimistic. Radin rejects that reflex approach. Instead, he tells recruiters to let the candidate explain why her salary needs "would otherwise seem out of whack."

Compensation Requirement Can Shift Late

Finally, he recognizes that candidates can legitimately change their initially stated salary requirements - sometimes by a substantial amount - by the time an offer comes or is imminent. That would reflect additional information the candidate has learned about the job, the employer, benefits, commute and other potentially relevant factors.

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