That icon of etiquette, Emily Post, once said a very well-bred person never speaks of money except during business dealings. Times change, etiquette evolves, but even now people are skittish about the dreaded Compensation Conversation. It becomes the elephant in the room – the monster under the bed – but it doesn’t have to be. In fact, when it comes to retained executive search, it is a two-minute conversation that should be viewed as an opportunity to show not what you make, but what you’re made of.
Senior Client Partner Alison Woodhead and Director, Recruiting Ali Brainard – two of Morgan Samuels' most experienced recruiters – point out that the compensation question is only one data point. It’s analyzed with a whole host of other factors to determine the candidate’s fit. “We want to get an understanding of the candidate’s compensation just to get an idea of their experience and expectations, and to assess opportunities,” Brainard said. “If they’re way over or under the mark we don’t want to waste anyone’s time.”
“Be confident about your value and what you bring to the table.” - Alison Woodhead
That being said, there may be a huge range the client is willing to pay for the best talent, and someone below the mark could reap the benefits. Woodhead has seen up to 75 percent increases in compensation, for example. And Brainard points out that if a candidate is being paid way above or below the market, it can mean any number of things. Someone getting three or four times market rates may be extraordinary, but someone way below the mark may be just as talented. Perhaps there are other variables, like cost of living, staying with one company too long, or working at a start-up where the compensation structure is different. In that case, they just need the right opportunity to take the next step up.
Some people believe that if they share their compensation right off the bat, they lose bargaining power in the negotiation stage. But a candidate for a senior executive position isn’t a dime a dozen. He or she has a very unique set of qualifications, and clients will pay for top talent. In fact, Brainard and Woodhead have found that the strongest candidates, people who have been successful in their career, don't think twice about throwing out that number.
“When you’re exploring an opportunity, your focus as a candidate needs to be on your fit with the opportunity and what you bring to the table,” says Woodhead. “If you’re too focused on compensation, either hiding your compensation or positioning yourself for a good negotiation later on down the road, you’re going to come off as insecure. You also waste time and energy too early in the process. The recruiter or hiring manager doesn’t even know if you’re valuable yet, so why would they spend time thinking about what to pay you?”
What people don’t realize is that a recruiter can be a treasure trove of information and data. They can tell a candidate if they really are undercompensated compared to their peers, and a candidate should feel comfortable asking that question. It’s not only more than acceptable; it shows honesty, transparency, and trust in the recruiter.
So remember, when it comes to negotiation the most critical thing is to come across as capable and confident. Regardless of what you’re making today, have a clear sense of your worth, and trust that the people on the other side of the table will see that value. Companies are willing to pay for that.