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I'm an executive headhunter and emotional intelligence expert. Here's my 3-pronged solution for making salary negotiations easier.

Caroline Stokes, the founder of an executive headhunting and executive coaching company, says negotiations are mutually beneficial.

© Getty Images

By Caroline Stokes, Business Insider

  • Candidates and hiring managers alike shy away from the word "negotiation," but it's a normal, healthy part of any hiring process.
  • Caroline Stokes is the founder of an executive headhunting and executive coaching company and host of The Emotionally Intelligent Recruiter Podcast.
  • The following is an excerpt from her book, "Elephants Before Unicorns: Emotionally Intelligent HR Strategies to Save Your Company."
  • She writes that there's a right way and a wrong way to approach negotiations - and that emotional intelligence matters, and can be revealed during the negotiation process.
  • Furthermore, money isn't everything. People will stick with employers that support them.

People whisper the word "negotiation" as if they're afraid to speak it aloud. Candidates and hiring managers alike shy away from it. But negotiation is not a dirty word - it's a normal, healthy part of any hiring process. As such, the negotiation process must take place out in the open between the hiring manager and the candidate. It's not something to be pawned off on a recruiter or ignored altogether. Open and frank negotiation during the hiring process - and as needed once the new hire is in place - builds trust between the employee and the organization.

But there's a right way and a wrong way to approach negotiation. Let's say the company is hiring a CEO, and the description only says something about the salary being "executive level." The problem is that the meaning of "executive level" can vary wildly across industries. Perhaps one executive sees the posting and thinks the position looks promising. She is currently making $600,000 and believes this job will have similar compensation. When she finally talks salary - probably in the third or fourth interview - she is shocked to learn that the top compensation is $250,000. The discussion is terminated; both parties have wasted each other's time. This is the wrong way.

The fact is that candidates are becoming savvier. Job postings don't rank as high in Google if they don't include a salary range. Candidates who want to know a range for their industry or a specific company just need to visit Glassdoor. People leaders and hiring managers should expect that any self-respecting candidate has done his homework and knows the approximate salary range for the job.


How negotiation can be a win-win

Instead of viewing negotiation as a zero-sum game, try thinking of it as a collaborative process. Both parties should assume good intent. The candidate understands the job that's being asked 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 craft a deal. Both are clear about their needs and wants throughout the process. If hiring manager and candidate can arrive at a salary that suits both their needs, fantastic. If not, the candidate departs with no hard feelings.

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

First, many job seekers are not taking advantage of the candidates' market. Second, women still negotiate less than men. Many studies have shown that women are more likely to advocate for others than to speak out on behalf of themselves.

Third, it's worth it for candidates to push past their discomfort and negotiate for their full worth. Bonuses and raises are calculated from base salary, so a candidate who does not negotiate for a higher base salary is leaving money on the table more than once. But when it comes to top talent, or "unicorns" as I call them - the elusive magical individuals who leaders believe will turn the company around - you should expect them to negotiate. Likewise, as a people leader, you need to talk dollars and cents as early in the process as possible. It's the only way to have any kind of substantive discussion with a unicorn.


1. Don't have a third party conduct a salary negotiation

In my experience, a recruiter discussing salary immediately puts the candidate on edge. A better practice is to bring the hiring manager into the discussion at this point, or even the CEO if the company is small. The fact is that great candidates have some very attractive options out there. If you're crazy about a candidate, you have to show that, and it will not get through if you have a third-party conducting salary negotiations. For critical hires, you have to get the key players involved.


2. Money isn't everything

Even if you can't match the proposed salary, knowing your new hire's true needs may enable you to counteroffer with a package more suitable to her current situation. I've seen plenty of people turn down higher salaries and awesome perks to stay with employers they feel truly have their backs.


3. Emotional intelligence matters

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

If a candidate doesn't want to talk salary until later in the process, it's not an immediate issue. Depending on his background and motivations, he may not view it as appropriate. Or perhaps he is coming from the public sector, where exact salaries are searchable online and rarely up for negotiation.

Similarly, as a people leader, you shouldn't fall into the trap of thinking that all your direct reports should be exactly like you. Say you're incredibly ambitious and stay awake at night dreaming of ways to double, triple, or quadruple your salary. You should recognize that many candidates will not have this same point of view. That doesn't mean they won't work hard and be high performers - it just means they're not as financially aspirational, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Don't count out a potential unicorn just because she doesn't share your financial goals.

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Career Magazine: I'm an executive headhunter and emotional intelligence expert. Here's my 3-pronged solution for making salary negotiations easier.
I'm an executive headhunter and emotional intelligence expert. Here's my 3-pronged solution for making salary negotiations easier.
Caroline Stokes, the founder of an executive headhunting and executive coaching company, says negotiations are mutually beneficial.
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