The Collision of Pay Negotiation With Recruiter Responsibility and Authority

If you’re in recruiting and have a social media account, you probably read about the recruiter who posted about making a lowball offer to a candidate because the candidate didn’t ask for more. It was a big hullabaloo for a number of reasons:

  • The recruiter at first seemed proud to make a low offer, but then tried to portray it as a “teachable moment” for candidates.
  • The recruiter claimed they didn’t feel empowered to offer a higher salary to the candidate (even though the range was established).
  • And then people decided to attack the recruiter, going so far as to dox them. This is not OK. 

Others have written articles covering the incident itself. What interests me in this whole conversation are two core themes:

What is the recruiter’s responsibility to the candidate when discussing pay?

What is the recruiter’s authority to address pay equity in the hiring process?

Recruiter Responsibility

There is one school of thought that the recruiter should keep the company in mind and that as long as the candidate’s expectations fall within the range of the position, the recruiter should work to keep the offer as low as possible. 

After all, companies want to keep operating costs low, right? And the recruiter works for the company, and ultimately, it’s the hiring manager/compensation/leadership who decides what salaries will be. Even in negotiation, someone other than the recruiter usually has the last say.

The other school of thought — and one that is more progressive — suggests that it’s in everyone’s best interest that the recruiter take an advisor role with the candidate when discussing salary. The recruiter has all the information on hand. They know the range, the need for the organization, the quality of the talent pool, and the market. 

The recruiter also knows that a lowball offer will likely delay an accepted offer because of drawn-out negotiation, if the candidate even gets that far. 

Additionally, the candidate will appreciate the transparency of the process and feel valued by the organization. And the hiring manager gets a motivated, well-compensated new employee who won’t feel like they have to push for a raise as soon as they start and learn what the range actually was.

It’s a win-win-win. 

Recruiter Authority

Here’s where it gets interesting. Different organizations have different perspectives on the role of the recruiter. Some just want the recruiter to be transactional and get butts in seats. Others want the recruiter to be a true talent advisor and bring perspective and expertise to all elements of the employee lifecycle. Let’s consider a situation somewhere in the middle.

Unless the recruiter has explicitly been told that they are not allowed to discuss appropriate compensation with the candidate, there is no reason for the recruiter not to provide guidance. I’m not usually an “act first, get permission later” type of person when it comes to hiring (I suspect experience with civil service has ingrained certain habits). But in this situation, the recruiter should assume they have the authority to make an offer that will ensure the best outcome. 

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And lowballing a candidate is never the best outcome.

What to Do?

This whole situation can be alleviated by putting some good governance in place before the recruiter ever makes an offer to a candidate. 

Establish levels of authority for all roles. Remove any doubt about what recruiters are allowed to do, and explicitly say who can do what and to what extent. That way, recruiters can interact with candidates equitably, rather than relying on a savvy candidate or an ethical recruiter.

Post your salary ranges. I harp on this one all the time, but come on. Your compensation team has ranges identified. The organization should have policies around offers. Candidates are always at a disadvantage in the offer process, which impacts pay equity and drives mistrust right off the bat. More states are moving toward requiring pay disclosure, so get ahead of the curve. You’ll get better candidates, and the process should go more smoothly.

Build a feedback loop. Recruiters are in the thick of it. They hear from candidates about counteroffers. They know how deep the talent pool is. They understand why candidates will or will not accept an offer. To avoid losing that real-time feedback, build an intake process to ensure key stakeholders have the information they need to adjust as necessary.

Be a human being. Recruiting isn’t a war, no matter how many times we try to use that analogy. It’s about ensuring the right person finds the right role at the right time. It isn’t something you “win.” It’s a problem you help solve. Keep in mind that there are real people on both sides of the negotiating table, so bring some grace to the process.

Regarding the opening example, I hope that the candidate who found out on Twitter that they were lowballed still has a good experience and ends up getting the money that they’re worth. I hope the recruiter who lost their job and experienced inappropriate bullying is given a chance to learn from the situation. 

Recruiting isn’t easy. Job-hunting isn’t easy. Let’s not make it any harder than we need to.

Mary is a principal with IA, a boutique consulting firm focused on HR transformation. She is also a talent strategist and business leader with almost 15 years experience in helping organizations achieve their goals. After working on the operations side of start-ups and small companies, Mary landed in HR by way of learning and development, with extensive experience in leadership and organizational development, coaching, key talent planning, talent acquisition, performance management, business partnering, HRIS, process and policy creation, and instructional design.

In addition to her work within companies, Mary authors a leadership development blog called Surviving Leadership to continue the dialogue around the challenges of leadership – both being a leader and being led. 

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