How to work with job recruiters
If you're searching for a job and seem to be a solid candidate, there's a good chance an executive recruiter may come calling to see if you'll interview with one of his clients.
Raellyn Kovich, an associate partner with Bell Oaks Executive Search in Atlanta, says recruiters are attracted to candidates based on their backgrounds and experience. But if the candidate interviews with a company and is offered a job, the recruiter also would be involved in negotiating the employment package, she says.
This can be a tricky situation if you're a job seeker, because the recruiter is likely working for the employer, not you, she says. The search firm is a third party in the negotiations.
However, recruiters often want to help negotiate high starting salaries for candidates because it earns them more money. "The norm is that executive recruiters are paid a certain percentage of the first year's compensation," Kovich says.
The key for successful negotiation is for candidates to know how to work effectively with third parties, she says. Here are ways Kovich and other job-search professionals say candidates can partner with recruiters to negotiate the best job offers possible.
Negotiate before you receive a job offer
"Long before an offer is even made, a good executive recruiter is going to make sure a candidate is aware of compensation -- base, bonus, equity and perks -- in order to make sure the position is compelling for that person," Kovich says.
But Craig Libis, CEO of Executive Recruiting Consultants in Dell Rapids, S.D., says for the recruiter to know whether an offer is compelling, he or she needs to know the candidate's salary expectations. So the candidate may be asked to reveal his or her recent salary history.
This doesn't mean the candidate has to be the first party to mention bottom-line salary requirements, Libis says. "Initially, it might take one or two conversations for candidates to open up about that," he says. "But I'm not going to submit someone's information to my client until I know that the job might be a fit for him."
And the hiring company may more easily send an offer for employment if it knows the pay meets the job seeker's expectations, Libis says.
Ask for nonsalary benefits
There's more to job perks than base pay and bonus. In fact, base and bonus structures are probably the least flexible items in a negotiation, Kovich says.
Instead, companies usually have more room to negotiate other benefits for a new hire, such as approving flex time, offering employee equity or granting additional vacation days, she says.
Savvy job candidates should try to work with recruiters to negotiate these types of perks during a job search, Kovich says.
In fact, some employees are even able to successfully move up the date of their annual employee evaluation meeting, says Corey Ackerman, a senior partner with Cornerstone Search Group, Parsippany, N.J. "It gives them an earlier opportunity to get reviewed for a raise."
The job perks that companies generally can't negotiate are standard retirement benefits, such as the terms of a matching 401(k) plan, Ackerman says. "Those have to be the same for every employee," he says.
However, it is worth having a conversation with your recruiter about other benefits that may be negotiable because you just might receive them with your job offer, Ackerman says.
Learn to say 'not yet' instead of 'no'
You should have a good idea of the company's compensation package before you receive a formal offer, Kovich says. If it looks like the offer won't meet your needs -- the pay is too low, for example -- work with your recruiter to relay the reasons why you deserve a better proposal.
Instead of saying "no," try a softer response such as, "In order to say 'yes' to this job, this is what I need," Kovich suggests.
The good news is that if the human resources department is close to extending an offer, it likely means you've been selected as one of the best applicants, she says. You may be able to negotiate in your job search from a position of strength.
"Reiterate why you like the role and why you're a good fit for the company," Kovich says. Then, explain your justification for your desired offer, such as your work history and experience, she says.
Show that you're willing to be flexible, and remember that compensation can include a number of incentives beyond base pay, such as a signing bonus or company equity, Kovich says.
Don't go behind the recruiter's back
It's not good form to try to contact the company directly after the recruiter has introduced you, Ackerman says. If you feel the process is taking too long or you're otherwise not satisfied with the headhunter, take your concerns directly to the recruiter to work out a solution.
Circumventing the search firm is a sure way to damage your relationship with the recruiting professional and possibly the hiring company, he says.
"A good recruiter is trying to bring two parties together that want to be together," Ackerman says. If you contact the company outside of that relationship, it can show that you're willing to go behind people's backs to get what you want, and that may cause a lack of trust, he says.
"You're not so much upsetting the recruiter as you are upsetting human resources," Ackerman says.
Know your response before you get an offer
"It's often a fallacy that people think negotiations start after they receive an offer letter. But companies really want negotiations done before the offer letter is issued," Ackerman says. If you're working closely with your recruiter, the fine points should be decided on before an agreement is sent.
The candidate is still responsible for any document she signs, so the future employee should make sure she fully understands the agreement before signing, Ackerman says.
If there is a clause that's confusing, he suggests bringing in an additional party, such as an employment attorney, to help the candidate to better understand the terms.
Ideally, any questions about the job should be answered before an offer is made. Waiting to bring up a negotiating point until after an offer is received can slow down the job search process. "Some offer letters need six, seven or even eight signatures, so you don't really want to go back and rewrite them," Ackerman says.