How to Steer Recruiting Conversations Away from Compensation

February 3, 2016

Imagine a passive candidate says, “Show me the money,” as a precondition to talk about a job opening. Actually, I assume that’s a pretty familiar scenario for most of you.

Now, what will happen if you respond with the paragraph below? What do you think the candidate will say?

Before I get into the compensation, I’d like to ask you a question. First, think about the best job you’ve ever had. One that was extremely satisfying where time just flew by. Why was it the best job and why did you like it so much? (Pause) Was your satisfaction due to the money you were making or something else? If it was the money why was it the money and if it was something else what was it?

Most people will say “something else.” Usually better growth opportunity, more exciting work, a stronger company or something about the people or manager. A few will say it was the money but even then there was something about the work the person found motivating.

Regardless of what they say, ask, “I’m not sure my open position will offer this level of personal satisfaction but wouldn’t it make sense to talk for 5-10 minutes to see if it does? Worst case we can network and stay in touch until something like this comes along.”

Why this tactic works almost without a fail and why it’s important to use it

If you’ve been a recruiter, hiring manager or HR person more than a few months you’ve encountered the problem of not having enough money to hire the best people.

However, if you ask the most satisfied people in your company what motivates them to excel it’s rarely the money. More important, if you ask the best people in your company who were hired in the past year and continue to thoroughly enjoy their work you’ll also discover it’s not due to the money they’re making. It’s likely the work they’re doing, the people they’re doing it with, their hiring manager or the company mission or culture. Or all or some of them.

Many of these people also took the job for less money than they initially wanted. If you find this hard to believe, just ask these same people to rank order the criteria they used to accept your company’s offer. You’ll find compensation is typically in the middle of the list and the factors related to the actual work, the growth opportunity and the people are at the top.

Now ask them and every passive candidate you’ve ever spoken to or any active candidate who wasn’t desperate to get another job what their criteria was to engage in a conversation. Typically it was the money, company, title and location.

Now compare the two lists of the criteria the person used to accept the job and the criteria he/she used to engage in a conversation. The former is about what the person will be doing, learning and becoming and who he/she will be doing it with. The latter is about what he/she will be getting on the start date.

The problem with most recruiters and hiring managers is that they only consider people who pass the “what they get on day 1 filter” before they even discuss the “what they’ll be doing, learning and becoming” acceptance criteria. This narrow-minded approach eliminates everyone from consideration who actually cares less about what they get on day 1 if what they’ll be doing, learning and becoming represents a true career move.

That’s why recruiters and hiring managers need to put compensation in the parking lot as soon as you start the conversation otherwise you’ll never have the conversation.

Other techniques for moving the conversation away from compensation

One way is to use the above questioning technique (“What was the best job you ever had?”) whenever a passive candidate asks, “What’s the compensation?” as a precondition for discussing a job.

Here’s another one I call the “end game” technique:

“Let’s be perfectly frank, if the job doesn’t represent a career move, you wouldn’t or shouldn’t accept an offer from us regardless of the compensation. So let’s first see if the job has the potential to be a career move for you, and, if so, we can schedule another more in-depth conversation.”

Or try the “multi-search” approach:

“I’m leading a search for a number of positions in (mention the function) from mid-level staff to senior management. If one of them represented a career move would you be able to chat for a few minutes?” Since you have multiple positions open, it’s hard for the person to ask about the compensation. If the person does ask, just say, “If you’re the right person for one of these jobs it’s hard to believe we couldn’t offer a very aggressive compensation package. Once we figure out if one of the jobs makes career sense we can discuss the compensation range.”

Final thoughts

The point of all of this is to put compensation in the parking lot at the beginning of the first conversation. This allows you to discuss the factors candidates use to accept an offer rather than be filtered out by factors that are negotiable or are less important if the job is a true career move. Mastering this technique is essential for recruiting passive candidates. It’s also essential for networking with the person if you or the person discovers your job is not a true career move.

* image by Mark Turnauckas

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