July 23, 2012

How to negotiate salary through a headhunter

Filed under: How to work with headhunters, Making money, Q&A, Readers' Forum, Salary, The job offer

In the July 24, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter wants to know how to get the best compensation deal through a headhunter:

What can I expect from a recruiter when I’m negotiating salary and compensation? After all, doesn’t he work for the hiring company?

My Advice

This question is so common that I include an entire section about it in the PDF book, How to How to Work with Headhunters … and how to make headhunters work for you. This advice is from Section 4: Talking Money.

To understand a headhunter’s motivations for negotiating your compensation, you must understand the headhunter’s job.

How to help the headhunter help you

Before there’s any chance to negotiate, the headhunter’s real challenge is to get a company and candidate to agree they want to work together. This has nothing to do with money. It’s all about the people, the company, and the job. That’s why it’s crucial for you to decide whether you actually want the job (as long as the terms can be worked out).

Saying you want the job doesn’t mean you’ve accepted the offer, but it sets the headhunter loose to get you a deal you’ll accept. It helps you win the headhunter’s cooperation, because half the battle is won. There’s nothing for the headhunter to negotiate unless you let him know you want the job.

Once your motivation to take the job is settled, the headhunter can get to work on the financial terms. Even though the headhunter works for the employer, he earns no fee unless he can work out terms that are satisfactory to you.

Be ready to express what you want

This is where many job candidates blow it. They don’t want to express what they want. They believe that if they don’t state what they want, they might magically get more. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Take note: If you have an offer, the employer has already put a number on the table. It’s decision time for you. If you can’t decide what you want, you can’t make the headhunter work for you. You must arm him with specific instructions. At this stage the headhunter will advise you what’s reasonable to negotiate with the employer – but he will do the negotiating on your behalf with his client.

So, be frank, but don’t be ridiculous. Tell the headhunter what offer you would accept. If the headhunter thinks your terms are nuts, he’ll tell you, but don’t hold it against him. He won’t go back to his client with an unreasonable request. But he’s not likely to drop-kick you out of the deal, either. He may try to convince you to take the offer as it stands. Or, if he thinks there’s some wiggle room in the offer, he will try to negotiate with you and with his client for a compromise.

Know where you fit in the negotiations

The headhunter’s position as the middleman makes it easier for you to work out the terms without jeopardizing the offer altogether. He wants to get the deal done as much as you do.

The client pays the headhunter, but the headhunter needs your cooperation, so he’ll work with you to set reasonable terms for your acceptance. The client gets the hire. You get a job you want on favorable terms. The headhunter gets his fee. All three parties must work together.

Of course, this all assumes you’re dealing with a good headhunter, but that’s another question, covered in another section of the book, Section 1: Understanding Headhunters. You’ll also learn more in the book about exactly why this approach to negotiating with a headhunter helps him negotiate a better deal for you. (Needless to say, the headhunter could be a she.)

What’s your experience been with headhunters? Did you get the deal you wanted? How did the headhunter handle the negotiations between you and the employer? How did you protect your interests?

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9 Comments on “How to negotiate salary through a headhunter”
By Eddie
July 24, 2012 at 9:29 am

Does this also apply to benefits as well as dollars? I get these deperate calls from Temp agencies needing to fill a contract position they are willing to pump up the dollar part but absolutely will not budge on offering any benefits (even if I am willing to pay for them with some of those dollars offered). How does a temp agency work vs. a headhunter? Does a headhunter’s fee apply to the total value of the pkg. or does it apply based soley on the salary? What happens in a situation where the candidate is satisfied with the dollar part (or is even willing to take a little cut) in exchange for participation in a group benefit that may not be available to him otherwise?

By How to negotiate salary thru a headhunter
July 24, 2012 at 10:34 am

[...] from Nick’s blog, the following is a discussion about working with a headhunter to negotiate your [...]

By Lee Hamilton
July 24, 2012 at 11:12 am

I have had some nice dollar amount contract discussions with headhunters, but either benefits are nonexistent or they offer some almost worthless health benefit (doesn’t cover much or is limited to just a few visits). I’ve researched getting my own benefits with some value and the results have been either extremely expensive or almost as limited as the agency offers and many are not available if health insurance is offered through the employer. 20+ and 30+ years ago when I had a contract that did not offer insurance I got it through a local Chamber of Commerce from a nearby small town. (It actually cost less than getting it from a CC in the nearby city)

By Bill Gaffney
July 24, 2012 at 12:38 pm

Brief disclosure. I am a headhunter.

One additional reason a good headhunter is a benefit in negotiations. Negotiations many times are an adversarial proceeding. The headhunter takes that away. The candidate starts day 1 with the new company with good feelings and no animosity. If any animosity does exist it will be towards the headhunter and we don’t care because we have just done the best job for the candidate and client.

Also I can’t reemphasize the following two paragraphs from Nick enough:
The headhunter’s position as the middleman makes it easier for you to work out the terms without jeopardizing the offer altogether. He wants to get the deal done as much as you do.

The client pays the headhunter, but the headhunter needs your cooperation, so he’ll work with you to set reasonable terms for your acceptance. The client gets the hire. You get a job you want on favorable terms. The headhunter gets his fee. All three parties must work together.

It is a poor headhunter that lets their fee get in the way.

Understand a temp agency provides contract personnel which is totally different. Though there are many headhunters that do contracting as well. As a contractor you work for the contract firm (temp agency,) not the company. Some temp agencies and contractors make benefits you can pay for available. Others don’t. This is not a measure of how good the temp agency/contract firm is. By the way you typically cannot work one short term gig and buy into the benefits. Typically you have to have at least 90 days of employment through that firm, just to start with.

The basis for headhunter fees can vary greatly. But this should not be the concern of the candidate. Your concern should be is this the job you want and are you getting an appropriate offer. Again it is a poor headhunter that lets their fee get in the way.

Nick, my friend, let’s call it what it is. A headhunter who doesn’t negotiate (there are exceptions of course.) on behalf of the client and the candidate is typically a paper shuffler. They are not a true headhunter.

Thanks for the discussion Nick et al.

Be well,

Bill

By Nick Corcodilos
July 24, 2012 at 10:20 pm

@Eddie: I think you’re talking about contract jobs, not permanent placements. Someone who places you on a contract is not a headhunter, but a recruiter for the contracting company. You’re on their payroll – not on payroll with the company were you actually show up for work. Contract companies vary greatly, and some offer really lousy benefits. If you can, avoid them. Go with the ones that are well-managed, offer solid benefits, and that don’t toss you out between gigs. When a headhunter places you at a company that actually employs you, you’re likely to get decent benefits. Not everyone that calls himself a headhunter is a headhunter. Bill makes the same point. When the “headhunter” works for a contracting company, she’s not independent – she’s working for the interest of her boss. She has no client, only an employer. Big difference.

By Dave
August 1, 2012 at 10:04 am

@Nick –

Thanks for the distinctions. It is important to “follow the money”

By ResumePro | GILBERT GAZETTE July 31, 2012
August 2, 2012 at 12:27 pm

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