John Borrowman, CPC
Borrowman Baker LLC
The HR Insider returns to let you have a private discussion about how things really work. In previous issues, we’ve explored questions about breaking through to Partner and dealing with dissatisfaction in the workplace.
It’s not the candidates’ market that it was a couple years ago. We thought it was time for an updated perspective on the salary negotiation process. We reached out to an HR professional with a large CPA firm based in Manhattan with a BV and Lit Support practice in NY and NJ.
Q: When you get to the point in the process where you ask a candidate about compensation expectations, what is it that you’re after?
A: I want them to share, first, what their package was at their previous firm. A lot of people seem hesitant to do that. I think it’s valuable information. Not that I need to pay that, or give a certain percentage increase, but it’s a good place to start. The next question that I ask is “What do you think the market bears for somebody with your skills and experience?” That is helpful to align ourselves, to hear what they think about potential comp and to help me arrive at a number that I think is appropriate based on their years and quality of experience.
Q: What signal does it send when a candidate won’t share current compensation?
A: It makes me think they’re making significantly less than they’re asking for. This isn’t necessarily a problem. But, it creates a cloud of mistrust that can make the whole process more difficult. I don’t appreciate when candidates try to hide information from me because they think I’m trying to make a bad deal for them. That’s a mistaken impression that can only hurt the process. I try to make a deal that’s good for them and good for my firm.
Q: Sometimes candidates will resist discussing expectations and say, “I just want them to offer what they think the position is worth.” What’s wrong with that approach?
A: Often this is because the person doesn’t really know what the actual compensation scale should be for the position. Sometimes, the candidate really does know what the right number is – maybe because their recruiter has told them – but they think they can play games in the process. A lot of candidates forget that while the negotiation isn’t the most comfortable area, even after they’ve “won” that negotiation, they still have to work for that employer day-to-day. “Winning” the negotiation can create a negative relationship that continues long after you’ve worked there. You can end up winning the battle but losing the war.
Q: Candidates tend to believe that an offer always comes with room for negotiation. How close is that to reality?
A: It’s completely dependent on the organization and the HR person. The candidate should not assume there’s going to be negotiation. Sometimes I’ve made a “best and final” offer and sometimes I’ve left some room. If the candidate feels that the negotiations have gone very negative and there’s been no change in the offer, they should assume that’s the final offer and be prepared to accept or reject it.
Q: Sometimes a candidate is truly underpaid. What is the risk that this will end up being used against them in that they will receive only a percentage increase, instead of being bumped up within the salary range that the employer has for the position?
A: This can be tricky. Sometimes there are firms that will not budge from a “by-the-book” ten to fifteen percent increase. In that case, you have to decide whether this is an employer who recognizes the value that you bring. It’s just not going to happen that your compensation will fit every employer you interview with. Rather than spend your time battling for the salary you think you should have, it may be better to walk away.
Q: What can candidates do to make a salary negotiation go smoothly and produce the best result?
A: I’m thinking of a recent case where we had very open communication and mutual sharing of data for the position. There was straight talk about the person’s original comp, where they see themselves, where they can expect to be over the next few years. There wasn’t a lot of hardball attitude or back-and-forth on the actual money. We hired the person and paid them well. But, the open process we used led to a mutual sense of comfort with the result.