Abstract collectionAs an agency recruiter or headhunter, you have two clients to sell to and “close”.   You’ve worked hard to get the client, get the candidate, go through the interview process, and now your client comes in with a job offer that you know is going to be too low.  So now what?

An inexperienced recruiter often falls into the trap of just passing through the offer without first negotiating the offer on behalf of your candidate.  After all, it’s a tough job market and the candidate should be grateful they aren’t one of the 9% who are filing for unemployment every week – right?

Wrong – top talent, especially in niche areas, is always in strong demand. An experienced recruiter knows that their job is not even close to being over just because a “match” has been made.  If pre-emptive steps aren’t followed to ensure the offer comes in at an acceptable level, all of their hard work will be out the window.  A highly qualified candidate won’t accept an offer that is below their pay expectations.  Experienced recruiters also know that presenting a sub-par offer risks their relationship with the candidate and any chance of seeking referrals.

Follow these tips for achieving winning offers for your candidates:

  1. Market Research- Know what the market range is for the geography and similar types of positions. Be sure to be a real expert in your specific job market and location – understand the nuances of niche skill sets and educational requirements so that you can be a consultative resource to both your candidate and client.
  2. Set Expectations- Discuss with your client up front the salary range and push back if they are seeking an unrealistic candidate for the range they are paying, make sure that this discussion is documented in an email or job description so you have something to refer back to. New recruiters won’t do the push back initially, and will instead spend a lot of time and then go back to the client. Save yourself the time and talk to the client now.
  3. Working or Unemployed? – Is your client only looking for a candidate who is currently working or working at a competitor?  If so, ensure they know that it will take a higher salary for a qualified, working candidate to leave their job in this environment. Note that the difference isn’t discriminatory, it’s paying for the working candidates risk they are taking by changing jobs in an unstable economy. Make sure that your client understands just how risky it is to change jobs and be “the new guy”. Also, be sure to advice clients that they should always be willing to consider great candidates that are actually unemployed as well – changes in logistics or layoffs happen to everyone.
  4. Candidate Expectations- Discuss early on with your candidates what their pay requirements are and then confirm this in an email with your candidates. Salary should be a question to ask immediately. If candidates give you a range, don’t accept it. Get very specific about their feelings. A quick rule of thumb? No one wants to make less money. If they say they will for the “right” opportunity, approach it with a good deal of skepticism and be sure to explore the issue further.
  5. Tradeoffs- Is your candidate lacking experience in the industry of your client?  Are they trying to make a career change?  Let the candidate know up front what tradeoffs they will make in order to change careers or industries.  Confirm their understanding of a potential salary changes in order to make that change occur. Try to develop a real understanding of the candidate’s feelings and how they will weigh their ultimate decision. Is it job function they want, a different industry, or is it really as simple as a better location?
  6. Communication- If you know you’re client is not paying in the range the candidate is looking for, give the candidate the option of looking at the position.  If the candidate agrees to interview, ensure that the client knows the situation up front. “Client, I have a candidate who I think is very qualified for the job. She currently earns about $20,000/year more than the salary range you quoted.  Is there room to negotiate if you find there is a good fit?” If the client says yes, get a few more details about their salary range – and then ask again. And again. Be sure that the client understands that the candidate will decline an offer of less than X. Employers often attempt to get the candidate in and then negotiate after they have “hooked” the candidate on the role. Make sure they are aware of the limits of that negotiation.
  7. Don’t Promise Anything- Don’t state your opinion as fact, i.e., “I know my client, they’ll pay you what you’re currently making to get someone with your background.”  That puts everyone in an awkward position and you don’t know what limitations the client is working with on their side around salaries. If you yourself aren’t making the decision, you can’t really promise anything to either side.

If you follow these tips and an offer still comes in too low, you should now be armed with documentation to discuss with your client.  You can also fight for your candidate with the market research data that you have.

You can be honest with your client about approaching the candidate with that salary.  See if you can get them to come up a bit before presenting to the candidate.  Don’t strong arm a candidate into taking a lower paying job, also – it’s not your job to be a bully for employers, but rather to be a skilled consultant and broker that works with both parties’ best interests in mind.

Managing the job offer starts the minute you start taking the job order from the client – it’s a constant process of rationalizing expectations and clarifying intention and communication. If you get the process right, you’ll make more placements and ensure the recruitment process is smooth for both your candidates and clients.



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