Negotiating Yourself Out of the Corner You Talked Yourself Into. Part I of II

Life was simple in the Marine Corps, no negotiating. If someone outranked you – you did what he or she said to do. If you outranked them – they did what you told them to do. “Consensus Management” was 12 of us saying “Yes Sir” at the same time. Therefore, when I left the service and started interviewing for the first time in my life, it was a significant change and challenge for me. So, I did what everybody does, I bought a book on interviewing, written by a “noted expert.” So armed, I prepared myself for my first interview. To set the time clock accurately, interview books still discussed, “Smoking during the interview: Pros and Cons.” The “guy in personnel” (Human Resources and VCRs had not yet been invented.) wore a short sleeve, white shirt, with a loose tie and unbuttoned top button. He looked up from the blue smoke of his third cigarette and asked what I was “looking” for in the way of money. Remembering Chapter 12 (The Art of Negotiation), I said with confidence, “I am willing to negotiate.” The personnel representative looked up, laughed and said, “Negotiate. NEGOTIATE! Chrysler Corporation negotiated with Lee Iacoca, everybody else just gets offers!” Would that it were so today. Today’s candidate wakes up in the morning to news articles and TV “spots” on the severe lack of professional talent to support the greatest economic boom in the history of the world. On the way to work, they get six recruiter calls on their cellular phone offering great opportunities, large salary increases, and sign-on bonuses. (“By the way, what color do you want your Lexus?”) At the office they have sixteen voice mails and twenty-seven e-mails from other recruiters, peers at other companies working on a referral bonus, job posting web sites, databases begging for his or her resume, corporate recruiters following up on leads. In their Corporate HR section, next to the Fire Alarm, is a small glass panel with the inscription, “Break Glass for Counter-Offer.” In essence, a legion of seekers, all with the same message, “Pa-lease! We are so desperate!” (We can sound pathetic sometimes.) During the interview with the Headhunter or Corporate Recruiter the candidate hears about how tough the market is, how anxious the managers are to fill their open requisitions, how much business is on the line. The “real clever” recruiters even bring up hiring bonuses in this first meeting, obviously to save the candidate the trouble of thinking of it himself or herself. When the offer is released, if the candidate hesitates, a second offer is out the door in 30 minutes. Get in a conversation with a recruiter today and they will discuss how “greedy,” “demanding,” and “hard to work with” the average candidate is in today’s market. Well, if a child is out of control, we tend to blame the parents. If a candidate is out of control… (In case you are not sure, the correct answer is, “blame the recruiter.” You now only have two “lifelines” left.) Whether working for an agency, or working for a company, the recruiter’s core responsibility remains, “to attract the best possible candidates, at a cost that is mutually beneficial, as quickly as can be done and still done well.” The art of recruiting has several components, none are unimportant. Sourcing, Screening, Interviewing, and Closing combined with the steps in Client Management (external or internal) comprise the process we all make our livings pursuing. The art of negotiation is an essential component to recruiting that can be found in each and every step of the process. Plus, it involves a lot more than asking, “Ah, so what are you looking for anyway?” I stated that there is no single element to recruiting that outweighs all the others. However, the ability to negotiate insures that you close more than “dumb luck” placements. To some, negotiating means talking until the other person gives up and submits (you are not buying a 6 bedroom house on your commissions using that technique). Others see negotiating as a form of mental combat, a force of will, a test of mental steel (a wanton display of single-mindedness between two-spoiled children). However, the truth is that negotiations are – hopefully – the discussions between two persons with mutually supporting goals, separated by far less a degree of disagreement than they share in agreement. In other words, they are ninety percent there, but cannot see how to close the remaining ten. We all have one common experience in negotiating, buying a car, so let us develop the core principle of negotiations using that common experience as our tool. You have decided on a particular make, model, and package of features of a certain car. You have done the math and know the car costs about thirty thousand dollars. Based on your down payment, you feel you can “swing” the payments with little or no strain on a 36-month loan. The dealership has your car, for thirty thousand dollars, has an available 36 month loan program at an interest rate that fits your calculations. So, you obviously go right into the show room and walk up to a salesperson and buy the car. Right? Wrong! You haggle! Probably spend the next two hours bringing the cost down another $500.00. That amount only represents 1/70th of the total transaction. That’s less than $14.00 a month in the 36-month loan – “chump change.” Why bother? Rule #1: The other person will continue to negotiate as long as they feel there is something to be gained, even if that amount is not in proportion to what they risk losing. This is especially true if the “buyer” believes the “seller” has few or no other options and therefore risks nothing. The above is not only “Rule #1,” it is the principle from which all the rules of negations originate (sort of the “Source of The Nile” for Negotiators). When you read the above “car buyers” situation above, if you are thinking like a negotiator, the following questions should pop into your mind:

  1. When did the sales representation first pre-close the buyer on a car?
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  3. Does the sales representative know how much the buyer wants the car?
  4. How busy is the dealership?
  5. What kind of car, and in what kind of condition, is the buyer’s car?
  6. Why does the buyer want a new car?
  7. Did the sales representative “challenge” or “inquire” about the buyer’s offer?
  8. Did the sales representative establish a feeling of openness and honesty?
  9. If the sales representative takes off another $500, will the customer look for more?
  10. How did the buyer arrive at their original 30K number?
  11. Where did the buyer come up with the $500 price reduction?
  12. Did he go for the optional CD player, or take the Bose speakers and stereo cassette player instead?

(Actually, #11 were just to see if you were reading the list.) The successful negotiator is a trained observer of what was not stated. The truly successful negotiator is more focused on the reasons for the demands than they are for the demands themselves. Like a counter-offer, negotiations begin in the first e-mail, the first telephone call, and the first handshake. In any sales situation, the sales representative has to be in control, not in charge, in control. There is a difference between the two. The difference is subtle, but it is there. In sales, if you lack control of the situation, you try to take charge, if you try to take charge, you are not negotiating, and in this market – that means you lose. Because there are a lot more of us trying to sell “cars” than there are “buyers.” In Part II we will “negotiate” a salary in a typical staffing process from the start to finish. We will look at it from both the perspectives of the Agency and Corporate Recruiter. In essence, the process is identical, except when referring to the company the Agency Recruiter says “they” and the Corporate Recruiter says “us.” Maybe a few other minor variances. But, before we go, one more rule: Rule #2: Never indicate that you will not negotiate, if you will. On announcing your willingness to change your mind, you have also admitted defeat and might as well meet the demands of the other person. Have a Great Day Recruiting!

Ken Gaffey ( is currently an employee of CPS Personal Services ( and has been involved in the Department of Homeland Security, Transportation Security Administration project since its inception. Prior to this National Security project Ken was an independent human resources and staffing consultant with an extensive career of diversified human resources and staffing experience in the high-tech, financial services, manufacturing, and pharmaceutical industries. His past clients include Hewlett Packard, First Data Corporation, Fidelity Investments, Fleet Bank, Rational Software, Ericsson, Astra Pharmaceutical, G&D Engineering, and other national and international industry leaders. In addition to contributing articles and book reviews to publications like ERE,, AIRS, HR Today, and the International Recruiters Newsletter, Ken is a speaker at national and international conferences, training seminars, and other staffing industry events. Ken is a Boston native and has lived in the greater Boston area most of his life. Ken attended the University of South Carolina and was an officer in the United States Marine Corps.