Confessions of a Recruiter: Salary Negotiations

Tony Barnes By Tony Barnes, 5th Jan 2012 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Business>Employment

Salary negotiations can be a very nerve wracking part of finding employment. Like a poker game, you have to do as Kenny Rogers sang about in "The Gambler" song..."you've got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, know when to walk away and know when to run."

What a Recruiter Doesn't Want You to Know

Salary negotiations are that point in landing a job where your blood pressure goes up and your hands get sweaty. This is that crisis point where you want to get the very best deal for your talents and abilities. And, it is also the crucial time where you can shortchange yourself. If you are dealing with a recruiter, keep in mind that although they may be a great person, their compensation is likely tied to incentives and normally that method of compensation is not designed in favor of the job candidate.

The following account occurred when I was recruiting for a defense contract job. I have shared this story in plenty of settings to include the military Transitional Assistance Programs that equip military members entering the job force with those skills they need for writing resumes, interviewing, networking and salary negotiations. It is a vivid example of what not to do when discussing job opportunities with recruiters.

I was looking for a network administrator for a defense contractor in Colorado Springs. I found Mike (name changed for privacy) at a northern tier Air Force base. He was married to an Air Force active duty member and was soon to transfer with her to Colorado Springs. He was excited that I had found his resume on Monster and Careerbuilder websites. As a recruiter, I had to go through a checklist of questions to try and find what motivated each candidate. We used the acronym MOLDS to stay on track during our required 65 phone calls per day. The term "MOLDS" is an acronym we used for the following interview points:

M = Money - What salary are they looking for?

O= Opportunity - What is the next job they are really looking for? A lateral position? A step up the ladder?

L= Location - Exactly where are you willing to work? Are you willing to relocate?

D= Duration - Are you looking for permanent employment? Or for a lesser amount of time (common for Middle East jobs)?

S= Spouse - Although we weren't supposed to ask marital status based on federal labor laws…we were to ask if there was someone they would need to discuss a job offer with before taking it. That probe helps the recruiter know how much time to give the candidate before pressing for a decision

When I discovered Mike, I began working my way through the list of questions. At the money expectation question, he made the mistake of telling me he was making $23 an hour. Well, I knew the contract would support up to $35 an hour. But, I also knew that within our recruiting system I would get a large bonus if I could seal the deal with him significantly below that upper limit. I enthusiastically told him that we could pay $27 an hour and made a big deal of how I was giving him a $4 an hour raise. Mike hung up the phone happy and I was thrilled I had landed a new employee for a contract and saved my company about $16,000 per year. I stood to get a $600 bonus on an upcoming paycheck which was equivalent to one week of my base salary.

A few weeks went by and at least once Mike had called me asking if there was any way he could make more money. I hemmed and hawed for a few seconds and asserted that we were locked in at what we had agreed upon earlier. He thanked me and seemed to still be happy that he had a job to come to in Colorado Springs.

The day before Mike was supposed to start working my boss came into my office apologizing to me. He related to me that he had neglected to tell me that the contract Mike was going to be working on was not the typical defense contract. Instead, this was a fixed cost contract where we as a recruiting/staffing company were required to pay him the upper limit salary with no authority for negotiations. My boss told me I needed to call Mike and let him know what the "real deal" is regarding his employment.

I got Mike on the phone and I asked, "Mike, if I were able to get you a $3,000 raise would that be worth you buying me a beer?" He quickly said, "Well, yeah that would be great." I pressed the issue and said, "Well, what if I got you a $6,000 raise, would that be worth a steak dinner?" I could sense the excitement growing in his voice. I finally said, "What would it be worth to you if I got you a $13,000 raise?" It sounded like he was going to jump out of his skin he was so excited. I explained to him what had happened and he was probably the most motivated person I ever helped get a job.

Where did Mike make his mistake? He told me far too quickly how much he was making in North Dakota. In a rare fluke, he didn't actually lose any money because of this mistake. But, it is certainly rare for a recruiter to call you the day before you start a job and give you a $13,000 annual raise. This may happen in one of 100,000 cases. But, the bottom line of this story is that Mike could easily have handcuffed himself into a much smaller salary than what he deserved because I was chasing my bonus as a recruiter.

How should Mike have handled my query about his salary expectations? Seasoned Human Resources Director John Farrell says a candidate should always answer "My salary is negotiable based on my qualifications" and NEVER provide a number prior to the official offer. Farrell compares it to playing poker and relates that you should never show your hand. As you are pressed a number of times with the question "what are your salary requirements?" always deflect it with the mantra "My salary is negotiable based on my qualifications". If they ask the question again, ask, "what salary did you have in mind?" Always FORCE them to provide the number first and then work from there. That should ALWAYS be your modus operandi (MO) when negotiating a salary.

Using that MO may seem a bit awkward, but remember it is in your best interest. While you may not want to appear greedy, you are deserving of the compensation appropriate for the qualifications you bring to the table. Don't be shy about it and rehearsing with a friend before you go into any job interview can be a way to put yourself a little more at ease. Remember the handcuff's Mike allowed me to put on him and resolve that you won't be handcuffed as Mike was during our job interview. Salary negotiations can be stressful. But, if you ingrain your responses into your head as you prepare to interview you will likely be successful and obtain a salary you deserve.


Careerbuilder, Contract, Defense, Monster, Negotiations, Recruiter, Salary, Transition, Wages

Meet the author

author avatar Tony Barnes
I am a native Texan who spent 3 years in the Marine Corps Reserves and 25 years on active duty in the Air Force. I have been a Christian since 1985 and am an ordained minister. I am conservative politically and love to study history. I publish a mont...(more)

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author avatar Mark Gordon Brown
6th Jan 2012 (#)

It is not a pleasant feeling having to ask for a raise...

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author avatar Denise O
6th Jan 2012 (#)

Good information on what to do and not do while negotiating your pay. Thank you for sharing.:)

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author avatar Sheila Newton
6th Jan 2012 (#)

Interesting concept.

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author avatar Jack Wellman
8th Jan 2012 (#)

Well done the acrostic too...its spot on the mark bro.

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