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Negotiating with Headhunters.  Part II

Posted by Jason Dowd on Aug 21, 2008 6:18:58 PM

Ok, so from the last post we all understand that when we talk to a headhunter we are talking to a sales person. Sales people work on commission and like all good sales people they want to buy low and sell high. Great! When they are your stock broker. Not Great! When you are the commodity. It's seemingly a good thing that they work on commission because the higher the rate they negotiate for you the more money they make. However understanding that they have no compulsory obligation to pass on that higher rate to you or to even disclose to you what that rate is, they will be more than happy to pocket that higher rate. In fact, if they can undercut you it's even more money they put in their pocket. So it they have an employer willing to pay $100/hr for a position and can get you for $20 instead of a more market competitive $30/hr, it's seemingly good business for them. I say seemingly because this can be a rather short sighted strategy as it can lead to resentment and mistrust when you find out what others are earning. Alot of headhunters try to develop some sort of personal relationship with you. I think building relationships is great however not when it's forced and disingenuous. I think headhunters would do a lot better if they represented themselves and their company in an honest and direct way. That's the a great start to a professional relationship, not with painted on smiles and shaky promises.

 

Here is a typical dialogue when first talking to a headhunter:

 

Headhunter: "So what salary are you looking for?

 

IT Person: "I'd be interested in making between 30 to 40 dollars an hour."

 

Headhunter: "Well if I could get you a really good position would you be willing to take $25/hr?"

 

IT Person: "Well, um, I guess."

 

STOP. You've been on the phone less than 2 minutes and they're already whittling away at your price . Now I would be the first to tell you not to take a job on salary alone. I've taken jobs where I've earned less than I could for reasons like getting good experience or better work environment. However for the sake of negotiating, set a fairly broad range and make your minimum you actual minimum. This is really all foreplay anyway. The real action doesn't begin until the client wants to hire you. Your response should be something like this in a calm tone:

 

 

IT Person: "$30 is the minimum I would consider."

 

Pretty clear huh? Even a headhunter can understand that .

 

When you first call about a position the headhunter will always want to see you before you go over to the client. They want to look you over and make sure you look OK. They don't want to jeopardize their relationship with the client by sending someone over they feel is out of whack. But hey, this is the easy part for you. Look your best, act pleasent, and don't forget to brush your teeth . When you walk in this is how they imagine you will be presenting yourself to the client. My advice, always where a suit. If you don't have one, get one. It's going to pay for itself many times over during the time you will own it. In their eyes a suit is very professional and they love sending nicely dressed and groomed people out for interviews. They might want to go over your resume but there isn't going to be any technical discussion here. Odds are they don't understand your resume but may want to hear you discuss it to see how well you express yourself. Again, just be pleasent and calm. Discuss it with them and don't worry if you think you might be talking above their heads. It's OK, they like that. When they don't understand what your saying when you're talking technical they get the impression you really know what you're talking about . A good headhunter will have information on the company you'll be interviewing with and what to expect. If they don't give you any background ask for it.

 

The interview with the client is next and this is the part that counts. This is the technical part and this is the part where you'll meet you're prospective manager and coworkers. Do some of your own homework on the company. Where that suit, and remember, when you aint' got nothin, you got nothin to lose. There's lots more to get into about this part but that's a topic for another post.

 

After the interview you should here back from the headhunter. If they don't contact you or return your calls don't worry about it. Everything up to this point has been just courting. If the client wants you they will get a hold of you. In fact you won't be able to get rid of them they'll be trying to reach you so much. If it didn't work out with that client you may not hear from them until another opportunity comes up. If you do hear from them and they keep you up to date on what's going on than that's great but don't expect it. Nothing personal, just business. They've got other commission$ to work on.

 

If the client does want you they'll be all over you trying to land you. If that happens you're in the driver seat now. They've got a commission hanging in front of them and all they've got to do is get you to sign on the dotted line. This is when issue of pay returns. Again, way all the variables: learning potential, benefits, work environment, commute, your current position... Pay isn't everything. Always verify any benefits being discussed. I've had more than one friend promised something only to find out after working for the company a month that's not the way it is. That said they'll probably offer you at least 20% less than the pay they'd be willing to settle on. If you gave a low number when you first started talking with them they'll come with that of course. This is all just good negotiating on their part. They are making an offer anticipating you may counter at a higher rate. If you have a number that you've decided on after weighing all the factors stick with it, even if it's 40% more than what they offer initially. You're not going to take a job just because one is offered to you. Remember in a negotiation not comming to terms is a possibility. If that's the case, the job isn't right for you. Thank them and say you look forward to working with them again finding a position that suits your needs. If they have low balled you that number they offered will jump up. It may even take a couple turn downs on your part to get it into a place that's more acceptable to you. But hey, that's OK. Let'em work for it.

 

Please remember that whatever scenarios I've discussed in this post are not the way it works every time. You might actually get an honest straight forward headhunter who is going to work well with you. Their numbers maybe better in your favor and you don't need to work'em so hard to get a higher rate. If you would like to relate your own experience or have another point of view, please post a comment. The more we share the stronger we are. In the end you have to follow your own gut feeling about what is going on. The more you do it, the better you'll get at it. One more thing, it's important to remember that the 'client' is not only the company in need of hiring someone. From the headhunters perspective, you are the client as well. You are half the equation and headhunters need to be concerned about how they conduct themselves with you. I assure you it is a lot easier to find another headhunter than it is good IT talent. You are valuable, don't let anyone persuade you differently.

 

 

Jason Dowd is a Network Architect for a large health system in South Florida and an independent consultant who helps enterprise clients design and implement leading-edge technologies. Mr. Dowd has achieved a number of industry certifications including CCNP, CCDP, CCVP, CCSP, Sniffer Certified Professional and ITIL Foundation Certified in IT Service Management.

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