That icon of etiquette, Emily Post, once said that a very well-bred person never speaks of money except during business dealings. Times change, etiquette evolves, but even now people are skittish about the Compensation Conversation. It becomes the elephant in the room – the monster under the bed – but it doesn’t have to be. In fact, when it comes to retained executive searches, it’s a two-minute conversation that should be viewed as an opportunity to show not what you make but what you’re made of.
Remember: the compensation question is only one data point. It’s analyzed with a whole host of other factors to determine the candidate’s fit. But answering this question provides your recruiter with an idea of your experience and expectations and enables them to better identify and assess opportunities.
That being said, there may be a huge range the client is willing to pay for the best talent, and someone below the mark could reap the benefits. We have seen up to 75% increases in compensation, for example. If a candidate is being paid way above or below the market, it can mean any number of things. Someone getting three or four times market rates may be extraordinary, but someone way below the mark may be just as talented. Maybe there are other variables, like cost of living, staying with one company too long, or working at a start-up where the compensation structure is different. In that case, the candidate just needs the right opportunity to take the next step up.
Some people believe that if they share their compensation right off the bat, they lose bargaining power in the negotiation stage. But a candidate for a senior executive position isn’t a dime a dozen. He or she has a very unique set of qualifications, and clients will pay for top talent. In fact, in many cases the strongest candidates, people who have been successful in their career, don’t think twice about throwing out that number.
When you’re exploring an opportunity, your focus as a candidate needs to be on your fit with the opportunity and what you bring to the table. If you’re too focused on compensation, either hiding your compensation or positioning yourself for a good negotiation later on down the road, you’re going to come off as insecure. You also waste time and energy too early in the process. The recruiter or hiring manager doesn’t even know if you’re valuable yet, so why would they spend time thinking about what to pay you?
What people don’t realize is that a recruiter can be a treasure trove of information and data. They can tell a candidate if they really are under-compensated compared to their peers, and a candidate should feel comfortable asking that question. It’s not only more than acceptable; it shows honesty, transparency, and trust in the recruiter.
So remember, when it comes to negotiation the most critical thing is to come across as capable and confident. Regardless of what you’re making today, have a clear sense of your worth, and trust that the people on the other side of the table will see that value. Companies are willing to pay for that.