Salary Negotiation Advice from a Senior Headhunter

This is the second post in a series of three based on my interview with Steve Meyers, a Senior Headhunter with 20+ years of experience in executive search. To see my first post on general Job Search Advice from a Senior Headhunter, click here.

I want to write about salary separately since it’s such a sensitive and important topic in the job search effort.

Q: When company asks for salary history, can you refuse to provide?
Steve: I recommend every one of my candidate to leave it blank in the application and only provide it when the company insists. Many company do not insist on this information.

Q: How should a candidate respond when the company asks “What are your salary expectations?”
Steve: This is always an awkward subject and you want to move the focus off the number as soon as possible. I recommend saying something like the following “Life is expensive, so the right compensation is important but my number one priority is finding the right fit for my career in the long term.” and something like “Starting salary is important, but I am more interested in how the company rewards for above average performers.” And if you are pressed to provide a number, then you can try saying “I hate to overshoot and be disqualified for this position, but if you need to know then the minimum I would accept for an utopia position is … ”

Q: In terms of the final ‘offer’ – what are some of the trade-offs / creative options that were made by either the job candidate or hiring companies? (for example, flexible work arrangements / job share? )

Steve: Sorry I only have bad news here. Companies I have worked with have never offered this. I think you will only hit a wall if you try to negotiate for less hours. Companies expect a dedicated worker. Even 40 hours is no longer the norm. If you are overly concerned about this, it will not send a good message to the company. This is unfortunate but true from my experience.

Q: How to talk a company out of a low-ball offer? One of my friends thinks she will be getting one from a software company.
Steve: High tech companies have been pretty fair in their compensation in this market. I would be surprised if it’s really off. It’s pretty typical to be offered base + bonus in this market. It’s the companies in financial services or retail that are giving low ball offers if they are hiring at all. There are just too many people out of work from those sectors who are desperate for jobs.
Steve: For negotiating an offer, this is where having a headhunter is helpful. I can take a hit for the candidates by negotiating on their behalf. I say I can take a hit because I can position it in a way that if the company refuses, they won’t think anything negative about the candidate. Offer negotiation is very tricky. You want to make sure you do it the right way so they don’t think twice about making you an offer in the first place.

Q: What general advice do you have if the candidate is going to directly negotiate their offer (e.g., they found the job directly and not through a headhunter?)

Steve: I really don’t have a great answer about salary when not using a headhunter because I have not had that experience. My guess is that it is more difficult because the headhunter should know the variables and without a headhunter you may be shooting blind. I would most likely go back again to the concept about how does the firm reward for above average performance and what do you see as a fair starting base.

Thanks again Steve for the great advice. Job seekers, for more tips on how to negotiate your offer, you can also refer to my post called Always Negotiate. I look forward to your comments. Please comment directly on the blog by clicking on the comment link at the bottom of the post. Thanks! Good luck out there!

– Lei

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