A guest blog by Samantha Beach
While the necessary skills for a successful communications career seem to be rapidly evolving and changing with the landscape, there is one business skill that I have to master in the same way that my dad did and his dad before him. Negotiating requires a gravitas, confidence and savvy that can only be learned through time and experience. I talked with our founder, Ted Chaloner, our president, Amy Segelin and senior recruiter, Jenn Saldarelli, to learn how each of them has learned to negotiate over the years.
What is your earliest memory of having to negotiate?
JS: When I was in second grade my parents were seriously considering buying a house that would have placed me in a different school district. I don’t remember the exact negotiation techniques I used, but let’s just say it’s now 25 years later and my parents still live in our original house!
TC: I remember asking my parents: “Can I go to Washington Square after school with my friends? I’ll be back by X time and named whom I’d be with and what we were planning to do.”
AS: When I was 13, my mom wanted me to go to dance camp and I wanted to go to Future Stars tennis camp. I had to prove why tennis was more useful, because I could play in high school and college. I am proud to say I won that battle. Now, as a parent and recruiter, I am negotiating 24 hours a day.
In general, is this a skill that comes easily to you or have you had to learn how to improve at it?
JS: It hasn’t come naturally, at least not in a professional setting. I spent a lot of time observing how my more experienced colleagues handled difficult client/candidate negotiations before I was comfortable doing it myself.
AS: Professionally, it comes easily. I’ve learned it’s not always true that you have to give something to get something. We negotiate to get an offer that will get the candidate to yes. Personally though, I am less successful at negotiating with my kids.
Can you recall a challenging negotiation you facilitated as a recruiter? What is the recruiter’s role in a negotiation between a client and a candidate?
TC: Challenging negotiations are usually a result of not managing expectations or not being clear about the details right from the beginning. Sometimes we’ve found that the two parties are very far apart, but seem to us to be the right match and we have to bring them together. Communication is the key.
AS: The recruiter is the go-between. As we can handle negotiations without emotion, it is an added benefit to both sides to have the recruiter standing in the middle. Especially for tough negotiations that wind up working out, it is helpful to have the recruiter managing communications rather than the candidate, so he/she doesn’t have an awkward first day on the job. And sometimes, the recruiter can propose a creative alternative. One time an offer was extended to a candidate and in the eleventh hour, they weren’t able to make the move. We suggested putting the relocation allowance towards a weekly living allowance that would allow the candidate to work remotely. Had we not been standing in the middle, that idea wouldn’t have been proposed and there wouldn’t have been an accepted offer.
What questions would you encourage candidates to ask as they seek to negotiate a package for themselves?
JS: Candidates should ask them themselves which elements of the offer (title, base, bonus potential, relocation assistance, vacation time, etc) are the most important to them – the top items are where they should focus on negotiating. When you start nit-picking all of the elements, you run the risk of souring your good standing with the company.
Are you likely to accept a counter offer form your current employer? It’s never a good idea to engage in a lengthy negotiation with a prospective employer, have them agree to your terms, and then accept a counter offer from your current employer. That just leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.
Is the salary I’m asking for fair and reasonable? On average, we typically see candidates receive offers 5-15% higher than their current compensation. When a candidate is making $50,000 and expects to receive an offer of $100,000, they run the risk of the prospective employer not giving them serious consideration.
How do you know when to stop? What clues are there that you’ve reached the best offer you’re going to get?
JS: It is helpful to ask the candidate, “Ok, if they agree to X, will you be ready to accept?” If the answer is yes, that’s a great piece of information to share with my client. If the candidate still isn’t confident they will accept, I have more work to do to get to the bottom of what is causing his/her hesitation.
TC: In sales there is a “buying signal” that signifies the end of a negotiation. It comes in many forms and it’s often an instinct that tells you that you’ve hit that point.
According to a LinkedIn survey, 35% of respondents say they are anxious or scared at the thought of negotiating. The skill doesn’t come naturally to all of us (certainly not to me) and some of us don’t know when to stop (my dad still tries to bargain at the Apple store). But the range of experience in our office suggests that practice will improve our ability to negotiate for ourselves and to facilitate healthy negotiations among others.
Chaloner, founded in 1979 as Chaloner Associates, is a national executive search firm that focuses on recruiting mid- to senior-level communications, public relations, marketing and investor relations professionals.