Help me…Help you. How NOT to Play the Salary Negotiation Game

Kathy Rapp Compensation/Cash Money, Kathy Rapp, Making Offers, Recruiting

Tom Cruise as Jerry Maguire said it best, “Help me…help you.  Help me, help you“.  The context – Jerry is talking to Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding Jr.) about his prima donna attitude at a time Jerry was trying to help him secure a better contract to play football.  Hmmm.  This sounds relevant to compensation conversations I’ve had with candidates, and ties nicely with Kris Dunn’s recent musings at HR Capitalist.

The basic question for a candidate is: Should you reveal compensation history upfront?  There are manyShow me the money opinions on this topic but mine hasn’t changed since I’ve gone from corporate HR to working in retained executive search.  Unlike Jerry Maguire, I’m not an agent for my candidates – clearly, I get paid by my clients; however, my relationships with my top candidates is built on mutual respect, trust, professionalism and knowing expectations upfront.  This helps me…help them.

I’ve recently had a candidate that refused to give me his compensation history out of concern that the company would try and low-ball him when it came to offer time.  I get it – and I understand that lousy experiences in former offer processess have jaded him.  What I explained to him is there are reasons companies work with firms like ours – and one of those is the relationships that we have with our candidates.  Not only do we find the technical, cultural and leadership fit – we also do the vetting around compensation so that once the offer is made, there are no surprises and everyone goes home happy.

It’s not a one-way street either.  I’m not only asking about compensation history, I also want to know what a candidate’s expectations are around an offer.  Think baseball for a moment.  I want to know what a “homerun” offer looks like for my candidate – base, bonus, LTI, relo, PTO…pet insurance, whatever.  This is the offer letter that they will want to sign before the ink is dry.  Then I want to know what their triple and double looks like – and what they’d consider a strike-out.  If it is anything les than a “homerun”, well, there might be some additional coaching, but at least expectations are clear.  My client then knows what it will take to get this top candidate and what they need to do, if they can’t afford the homerun offer.  You can bicker over when exactly to have this conversation, but in my book the sooner the better so no one wastes time or energy.

So, what happened with the candidate above?  Well, he stood his ground which was his choice and that’s ok.  Did it prevent me from presenting him?  Yep…when you have a slate of top candidates and one chooses not to trust in my process, they’ve just elected to move to the middle of the pack.  It isn’t about a “my way or the highway” viewpoint – no, it is the fact that I don’t have a complete picture of you as a candidate and my comfort level in evaluating overall fit for my client is not as strong as with other candidates – all other criteria being equal.

Maybe Jerry’s response to “Show me the money!” should have been, “You’ve got to TELL me about the money first!”