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Salary Negotiation: What to Expect from Top Talent

Salary Negotiation: What to Expect from Top Talent

By: John Rossheim, Monster Senior Contributing Writer

If you think a weak economy means that you’ll have an easy time making a job offer and closing salary negotiations with top candidates, think again.

“When you have a difficult economic climate, there are fewer viable candidates available,” says sales training expert Jeff Hoffman.

In an economic environment where change seems risky, much of the top talent will lay low, waiting for the economy to turn upward before seriously considering a career move. Unfortunately, this scant supply enables high-performing workers to seek rich offers to make that move.

But you have to find a way to land high-performance candidates -- not just warm bodies -- without busting the budget. How can HR and hiring managers get the job done? Here are some strategies to consider.

Attracting Top Candidates in Tough Times

Don’t expect to pass along your company’s sluggish revenues to new hires in the form of less aggressive employee compensation offers. “Some employers think that while we’re in a recession, they should be able to offer less,” says Jeff Heath, a managing partner with MRINetwork’s Landstone Group in New York. “But you need the A-players to hire better employees in a recession, to make that big contribution, and they don’t have to settle for less.” In fact, some job candidates will still be looking for a double-digit increase to leave their current company and join yours.

Get Inside the Heads of Passive Candidates

To make the numbers work, especially when your recruiting strategy is to identify top performers who are passive job seekers, you’ve got to understand what’s important to them.

“The value of a package is determined by the candidate from their own point of view,” says Tom Wilson, president of Wilson Group, a compensation consultancy firm in Concord, MA. “You need to determine what’s in their head. Sometimes unobvious things are important to people.”

To do so, refamiliarize yourself with the full range of employee benefits and perks that may entice candidates. Flex-time may be meaningless to singles but a deal-sealer for workers with small children. Tuition assistance may be worth thousands of dollars to folks in their 20s, and pointless to those happily settled in a career they have mastered. Where you can, put a dollar value on the benefit and sell it to the candidate.

“Hiring managers should research the candidate’s current employer,” says Hoffman. This should also yield information about the candidate’s salary range, “and it gives the candidate confidence that the hiring manager knows the candidate’s world.”

Custom-Tailor the Offer to the Candidate

Employers can get so caught up in their own compensation and benefits rules that they respond irrationally to an unconventional request from a top-notch candidate. “Some companies have policies that make it easier to get someone an extra $20,000 than to give them an extra week of vacation.”

But even when an employer’s policy on benefits is less than progressive, some hiring managers find a way to close the deal. “Hiring managers are very willing to be creative to attract the best people,” says Hoffman. If those managers are also talented bureaucrats, they may be able give that candidate what she’s asking for and save that $20,000 at the same time.

Beware, however, of creativity that borders on hocus-pocus. If you say “we’re offering you a 20 percent overall increase -- a 15 percent increase in long-term growth potential and a 5 percent immediate bump in salary” is to risk alienating the candidate for good.

Ultimately many candidates’ anxieties are more about the career move than the money. Here’s one creative approach that Hoffman has used to address this situation: “You can tell a candidate, ‘I think this is an opportunity that will let you take your game to a new level. I want you to talk with someone here who made a move similar to the one I’m asking you to consider.’ Then you set them up to have a drink together after work. This is both disarming and flattering.”

Anytime you’re successful at changing the subject from bargaining over money to working out a relationship, you’ve got a good shot at closing the deal and emerging with a happy new hire.