Salary “negotiation” doesn’t have to be a bad word – make it a win-win

  • Candidates and hiring managers avoid the word “negotiation,” but it is a normal and healthy part of any hiring process.
  • Caroline Stokes is the founder of a headhunting and executive coaching company and host of The Emotionally Intelligent Recruiter Podcast.
  • The following is an excerpt from his book, “Elephants Before Unicorns: Emotionally Intelligent HR Strategies to Save Your Company”.
  • She writes that there is a right and a wrong way to approach negotiations – and that emotional intelligence is important and can be revealed during the negotiation process.
  • Moreover, money is not everything. People will stay with the employers who support them.
  • Visit the Business Insider homepage for more stories.

People whisper the word “negotiation” as if they are afraid to say it out loud. Candidates and hiring managers are turning away from it. But bargaining isn’t a dirty word – it’s a normal, healthy part of any hiring process. Thus, the negotiation process must take place in public between the recruiter and the candidate. It’s not something to pledge on a recruiter or ignore altogether. Open and frank negotiation during the hiring process – and as needed once the new employee is in place – builds trust between the employee and the organization.

But there is a right and a wrong way to approach negotiation. Let’s say the company hires a CEO and the description only says something about the salary being a “management level”. The problem is that the meaning of “management level” can vary greatly from sector to sector. Maybe an executive sees the ad and thinks the position looks promising. She currently earns $ 600,000 and believes this job will have similar pay. When she finally talks about salary – probably in the third or fourth interview – she is shocked to learn that the maximum salary is $ 250,000. The discussion is over; the two parties lost time on each other. This is the wrong way.

The point is, candidates are getting smarter and smarter. Job postings don’t rank as well in Google if they don’t include a pay scale. Candidates who want to know a range for their industry or a specific company need only visit Glassdoor. Personnel managers and hiring managers should expect any self-respecting candidate to have done their homework and know the approximate pay scale for the position.

Read more: A billionaire has agreed to repay my student loans in full. Here’s what it looked like – and how I plan to pay it forward.

How negotiation can be a win-win

Instead of seeing negotiation as a zero-sum game, try to think of it as a collaborative process. Both parties must assume a good intention. The candidate understands the job required of him and how he could use his talents to best serve the company, while the hiring manager understands the candidate’s needs. Both know the standard market rates for the position because everyone has done their homework. Instead of seeing who comes out ‘on top’, they collaborate and work together to make a deal. Both are clear about their needs and wants throughout the process. If the hiring manager and candidate can come up with a salary that suits their needs, that’s fantastic. Otherwise, the candidate leaves with no hard feelings.

Caroline stokes

Caroline Stokes.

Courtesy of Caroline Stokes


A 2019 survey by recruiting firm Robert Half found that only 68% of men and 45% of women negotiated higher wages when receiving a job offer. What does this tell us?

First, many job seekers do not take advantage of the candidate market. Second, women still negotiate less than men. Numerous studies have shown that women are more likely to advocate for the interests of others than to speak out on their behalf.

Third, it pays off for candidates to overcome their discomfort and negotiate for their full value. Bonuses and increases are calculated from the base salary, so that a candidate who does not negotiate for a higher base salary leaves money on the table more than once. But when it comes to top talent, or the “unicorns” as I call them – the elusive magical individuals who executives say will transform the business – you should expect them to negotiate. Likewise, as a human leader, you should talk about money and pennies as early as possible in the process. This is the only way to have a substantive discussion with a unicorn.

1. Do not ask a third party to conduct a salary negotiation

In my experience, a recruiter discussing salary immediately puts the candidate at ease. A best practice is to involve the hiring manager in the discussion at this point, or even the CEO if the company is small. The point is, the great candidates have some very attractive options. If you’re crazy about a candidate, you have to show it, and it won’t work if you have a third party conducting salary negotiations. For critical hires, you need to involve the key players.

Read more: I am a mom who quit my job, sold my house and invested every dollar I had in starting a business that has grown 2,000% in 5 years

2. Money is not everything

While you may not be able to match the salary on offer, knowing your new hire’s true needs may allow you to counter-offer a package that is more suited to their current situation. I’ve seen a lot of people turn down higher wages and incredible perks for staying with employers they think are really supportive.

3. Emotional intelligence matters

There is an emotional intelligence advantage when hiring managers leave the door open for candidates to openly discuss salary. Salary talks engage a candidate’s stress management skills. A candidate who has some control over their salary is likely to feel more positive about the final number and their employer as a whole. Likewise, a candidate who negotiates his salary engages the self-expression component of EQ, particularly assertiveness. A candidate who will know how to assert herself is an asset for an organization; such an employee will speak up when needed, challenge outdated ideas and articulate new paths forward.

If a candidate doesn’t want to talk about salary until later in the process, that’s not an immediate problem. Depending on his background and motivations, he may not see it as appropriate. Or maybe it’s from the public sector, where exact salaries are searchable online and rarely negotiable.

Likewise, as a human leader, you shouldn’t fall into the trap of thinking that all of your direct reports should be exactly like you. Say that you are incredibly ambitious and stay awake at night dreaming of ways to double, triple or quadruple your salary. It must be recognized that many candidates will not have this same point of view. That doesn’t mean they won’t work hard and perform well – it just means they aren’t as financially ambitious, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Don’t count a potential unicorn just because they don’t share your financial goals.

Extracted with permission from the book Elephants Before Unicorns: Emotionally Smart HR Strategies to Save Your Business by Caroline Stokes. © 2019 by Entrepreneur Media, Inc.

Caroline stokes is the founder of FORWARD, a headhunting and executive coaching company designed for global innovation leaders. She is the host of The Emotionally Intelligent Recruiter Podcast.

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