Recruiter Chronicles: Five Years, Five Mistakes – Part 3

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Aug 11, 2011

To commemorate the fifth anniversary of my career in recruiting which recently passed, I am sharing with you over the coming weeks the five biggest learning lessons I’ve experienced thus far during my time at the Aureus Group. Last week, I shared the story of an email that got me ‘fired’ from a client. This week, I bring you…

#3: Story of the Botched Salary Negotiation

The client was a bank in Nebraska that had multiple branches in a mid-sized Nebraska town, and the position was Market President. The person hired would oversee all Commercial and Agricultural Lending in that Market and surrounding areas. I made a call to the HR Manager of this bank on a referral from someone I knew who worked there. Things started poorly as the job order call proved to be a total disaster. From the beginning, I felt no connection to this HR Manager and she even admitted she had engaged several recruiters on this search hoping to fill it quickly. She paid no attention to questions I was asking that were critical to finding the right person, and went right into asking about fees. Amazingly, she quickly accepted my 30% bid, and started ushering me off the phone immediately. She referred me to the regional banking manager to ask more questions regarding the position.

I called this so-called “hiring manager” an hour or so later, and he had absolutely no idea who I was and would not give me any info at all. He took my info quickly and said he would get back to me after he checked with HR. So far, nothing about this process went how I would have liked. In retrospect, this is the point at which I wish I had run away like I stole something. My stupid pride and low job order pipeline at that time refused to let me leave.

The next morning, the hiring manager called me back and said he had talked to HR and received authorization to talk to me. At that moment I knew who wore the pants in this hiring process! Nevertheless, he and I talked through what he needed and his urgency was ever-apparent. We worked through the criteria he was selecting from and I was convinced we had candidates that would be a great fit. We then talked about why this was a great opportunity for someone, and he was able to sell me on this compelling story. Feeling re-energized on this search I next asked about money. His response to the compensation question brought me back to Earth:

“Our bank does not believe in compensation ranges. We’ll pay what we think the candidate is worth.”

Huh!? What in the world does that mean? I tried to ask the question two or three different ways but he was like Fort Knox with this information. The only thing we arrived at was, “We can’t pay this person more than what I make, because they will report to me.” Okay, that’s something to work with. So naturally I asked the obvious question.

“What do you make?”

“I’m not going to tell you that!” He responded with a tone of condescending annoyance, and quickly ended the call by saying, “You can send your candidates directly to me.” And that was it.

So, this is where we were:

  1. Not sure who the decision maker truly was.
  2. Lack of trust in HR.
  3. An apparent lack of trust in me.
  4. No compensation bands.
  5. No idea how the position is compensated at all.

But, we had urgency! So, of course, I ignored all the blood-red flags and pressed on. All of what transpired to this point was so counter-intuitive that it should surprise nobody that within three days of this disaster job order call, we would have an offer on the table for a candidate we presented.

We talked to about five total individuals that first day of recruiting about the position. Three showed genuine interest in looking at better opportunities. Two of them knew of the opportunity already and had no interest. Just a simple lack of desire to work for the bank in general. The third, however, agreed to interview. On paper, she was perfect! We did our interview, started background checking, and submitted this candidate with resume and complete compensation requirements. The client responded almost right away with an interview request for later that week. We set everything up, prepped both sides, and awaited feedback on the meeting. It was late in the afternoon, following the interview, that the call came in from the HR contact with a desire to offer.

I dutifully took notes on the details of the terms they wanted to offer her. As I scribbled furiously, I realized that what they wanted to offer was nowhere near where our candidate needed to be. I told her point blank, “This offer is not going to get accepted.”

“Why not?”

“Well,” I started my explanation. “First, it’s well below where this candidate needs to be to make this move. Second, she still has more questions about the position and would not be ready to accept any offer.”

“What does she need?”

“If you look at the resume cover letter I sent you will note that her requirements are…” My perceived attitude was not appreciated at all, and she admonished me much the same way I would my 4-year old for talking back to me.

Okay, so I could have handled that better for sure. Even still, she asked me to put together a detail of this person’s full compensation package.

We went back to the candidate and found that she now magically made more money than she did a day ago. Of course she did. Somehow, she remembered she got a raise last month, and a bonus she had forgotten. Now she needed even more money, and she still had questions for the hiring manager. I went back to the HR Manager, tail between legs with the description of her comp package, and her newly defined needs.

I think we all know what happens next.

After the berating, she finally asks me, “Well, how does she earn her bonus?” I had absolutely no idea, as it escaped me to ask my candidate.

Another rookie error.

So, I went back to my candidate and asked her how she earns her bonus, and she had no idea. She could not recite any version of how it might be earned, except that she knew it was dependent on “certain bank and individual factors.”

The next day we re-delivered the compensation picture of this candidate to the best of our ability, and even got the candidate back in front of the hiring manager again. Shortly after, they made the same offer they had before, which represented just a small increase for my candidate’s current pay. She considered it fairly hard, and said that due to the increase in responsibility she simply needed more money than that. We went back to the client and countered, and finally found that invisible ceiling I wish I knew about all along.

“That kind of money violates our internal equity guidelines and just won’t work. Our initial offer is our final offer.” The offer was turned down, and I became the scapegoat for everything. The candidate was upset that we would represent her to an opportunity that would never meet her goals. The client was upset that we would find candidates that were above their range. And I was upset — if they just would have told me their top end, all of this could have been avoided. That was a moot argument to my client though and too late. They decided it was better to not work with me anymore (the feeling was mutual, by the way).

This engagement proved to be a blizzard of failure on all parts. The client was ridiculous in their attempted partnership with me, but my personal mistakes were many. Here is what I learned from this experience;

  • Always, always, always understand your candidate’s current compensation package completely. Inside and out.
  • Never spend any of your precious time on a search without an intimate knowledge of the compensation package.
  • Sometimes, high client urgency is just not enough to justify a search.

Stay tuned next week for #2…

image source: Images of Money

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