When It Comes to Offers, One Size Does Not Fit All

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Aug 16, 2019

At what point will employers realize that making the same job offer to multiple candidates without understanding what’s important to each of them is not going to serve their interests? 

We can’t wait idly for that day to come. It’s on us to educate them. 

When we work with tech talent to help them navigate the stormy hiring process, the first thing we do is discuss what is most important to that individual. While this may sound like it would be a quick step in the process, it’s actually a foundational aspect of negotiating a great deal. 

In negotiating hundreds of contracts over the past 20 years, we’ve been able to identify 24 unique attributes that someone may or may not find valuable in a job offer. People are often surprised to hear there are this many factors, but the list speaks for itself. For those interested, we actually created a tool (The Lifestyle Calculator) which helps you better understand what you find valuable in a job. 

A core truth of the negotiation process is ignored: it’s not just about salary, or equity, or bonuses. A well-thought out contract takes a candidate’s entire life into consideration. That includes location, flex time, vacation time, so on and so forth.

Truth is, a well drafted job offer should dive into the countless specifics and nuances that are too often pushed to the side. Anything from flex time, to physical office space, to title, to x percent of time working from home will have an impact on an employee’s life. As such, these smaller factors should be addressed and adjusted to fit the needs of specific candidates, especially when the position calls for a highly-skilled employee.

Customized offers aren’t just in the best interest of the candidates applying for your jobs. They can and should be in your best interest as an employer too. Extending a standard, one-size-fits-all offer to a candidate in high-demand makes you a much less attractive option than a company that makes an effort to truly understand the needs of its employees—current or potential. Take the time to customize and your close-rate in landing top talent is sure to increase (not to mention retention, too).

You might agree employers should begin considering customized job offers. But here’s another “should”: It should come as no surprise that employers’ main concern always seems to be money. In every hiring negotiation we’ve participated in, the employer starts with, “What are your salary requirements?”– a grossly over-emphasized topic when isolated from the context of a holistic package which will impact an entire life. 

Then, to make matters worse, once the employer has some monetary figure that fits their target range, they hobble together the rest of the offer, which rarely changes from candidate to candidate. 

We often see major companies claim they can’t match a certain amount of vacation time because their standing policy won’t allow it. So a bureaucratic policy can end up dictating whether an interested, qualified candidate will get less vacation time than they previously had?! Does that make sense? Policies certainly have their place, but so too does flexibility.

Some big companies have learned to embrace a level of flexibility, but the vast majority still avoids customizing offers based on an individual’s preferences, or even their previous perks. In fact, they often don’t even bother to ask and may not know how! 

Only once in our experience have we seen a company provide side-by-side offers which had inverse equity and cash amounts in each of the respective offers. This was a small step toward the kind of customization we’re after, but we give that company a huge amount of credit for taking the first step in the right direction. It’s way ahead of most of their peers.

In a Perfect World: Drilling Down on the Details

When we really open up this discussion, the concept of “customization” can and should be taken to the full extent of its meaning. Consider just how detailed we can get when it comes to one singular benefit. Let’s take health insurance, for example.

We often see companies claiming to have “comprehensive medical,” but most prospective hires are forced to wait until after accepting an offer in order to learn more about what that actually means.

For a single person in their early 20s, having to switch doctors might not be an issue. But for someone with two kids and a family, finding a new pediatrician is a big shift, and one they may not anticipate until after an offer is accepted. Once again, different needs for different people suggests the hiring process shouldn’t remain standardized, as it is today.

Our point here is that the norm should begin to change. Drilling down on the details of your job offer should be fair game, and employers should grow receptive to idea that this is the direction of future job offer negotiations. 

And once again, this evolving process is mutually beneficial! Smart companies make a point to highlight their unique attributes. If your company’s equity offering is better than most others in your industry, why wouldn’t you sell that point to a candidate?

In the meantime, until we see real change, employees must deal with the fact that inquiring about details and aiming for a more customized offer might extend the negotiation lifecycle, or even worse, decrease their chances of landing the gig.

We’ve encountered many situations where a simple concession — like allowing remote work or flexible hours — would save a company real money because certain lifestyle attributes were more important to the candidate than cash.

Ultimately, effective negotiation is all about the give and take. And the wider the variety of variables, the more to give and take, the stronger the chance for a win-win.  

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