Pinnacle Perspectives

Each month The Pinnacle Society asks three random members to respond to one of your thorny questions or issues. Please send them to Here’s this month’s problem . . .

I had introduced a candidate to my client in a contingent fee relationship. The interview process went well, the client was interested in putting together an offer package, and my relationship with both client and candidate had been fine and open to this point. But once I advised my candidate of a potential offer, he started to become the “buyer” rather than the “seller.” He was reluctant to talk about compensation and wanted them to “put the best offer out there.” To add to that, my client wanted to know “what will he take?” and was reluctant to commit to what THEY would offer. What steps would you take to get client and candidate to be forthcoming with their thoughts on compensation, then bring them together in a win-win deal?

Tim Lovett responds:

What is important here is to remember you are the middle man and your job is to be able to put the parties together. It is important that you maintain a trusted relationship with both parties. In the situation where my candidate starts to lose that trust and wants to withhold information important to putting the two together I will take the initial steps to get the candidate back in play again..

First off, I explain to the candidate to keep in mind it is better for you that I negotiate on your behalf in this situation, because you might wind up working for the person on the other end of the negotiation table.

Then, to get the candidate talking again I will start to make a preliminary offer at the bottom of what I believe they are willing to take. I will throw out a salary figure that is low. This figure is normally just a little more than what they are making now. The candidate will normally balk at that point. Then, I will again urge my candidate to give me a figure they are looking for. If they do not, I will move up the dollar ladder very slowly. BUT, at this point, I will pick a dollar amount and will start to take it away by saying, “Just so I understand correctly, if the company comes back and offers you ‘X’ amount of dollars, you want me to tell them NO, YOU WILL NOT CONSIDER, correct? We walk from the deal then and there, correct?” At that point somewhere soon in this dollar ladder conversation I will get to the bottom offer they will consider.

Then I ask them; “Reasonably thinking, what would it take to get you to give 2 weeks notice once you receive the offer?” Keep in mind after you have established a bottom dollar figure, the top dollar figure is usually much, much easier to get. It is important though, once you establish a reasonable top figure, you get a commitment from the candidate by saying “If by some chance that figure does come in to play in the negotiation, I want your word you will really give two weeks notice once you receive that offer, because our negotiating position is much stronger with that commitment from you.” A candidate who is seriously looking will then give you a commitment if that is truly their top figure.

I then will go to the company to give them a high and low figure saying something like “You might get him for the bottom figure but for the top figure the candidate has already given me a start date.” I would continue to urge them to go for the high figure because I have a verbal commitment from the candidate saying they will accept that offer and start in two weeks. An offer somewhere between the high and the low is up to them and is their judgment call based on their budget. If they want the candidate they need to show a commitment to them of a future career by making the very best offer they can up front.

Joe Bierschwal responds:

When in this situation it helps to remember … Never expect anyone to do something that you want them to do without giving them a reason to do so, i.e., the candidate doesn’t understand that it is in his/her best interest to arrive at an offer amount that’s good for both parties!! Several ways to handle this … The one I like the best is to explain to the candidate that my company will not negotiate with several back and forth offers, therefore we need to give them an offer amount that meets their salary range and one you, the candidate, would accept and turn in your two weeks notice without a second thought. I also explain that my company will ask me two questions after the last interview if they want to move forward with an offer .. (1) “Does Stacy want the job ?” (Yes or no are the only answers here) … (2) “What would be a fair offer where Stacy would accept today and turn in her two weeks’ notice, without considering other options?” . . . i.e., counter offers, etc. It’s a great close and tells you where you are now!

Sally Bales responds:

I insist on making the offer, especially if I know the offer is tight. I will try to get my client to his ceiling. When I have an idea of what the offer will be, I go back to the candidate and trial close him on an offer that is a few thousand $ less than what the offer will actually be. We go through the whole list – vacation, car, travel allowance, 401(k), pension, bonus, everything that has any value, etc. I will tell him that the offer is the best they can do and So&so really wants to bring you on board and has been fighting to get you the extra few thousand you are looking for. I go back to the candidate a few hours later and tell the candidate that So&so has put his neck on the line and worked all day to get you an extra $2, 3, 4, 5 thousand. The candidate is happy, feels the client loves him, the client is happy and thinks I am a genius because I was able to get the candidate to accept less than he was originally asking for.

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Hdhuntr adds . . .

These are all great variations on how to handle this situation when it comes up. They’re somewhat similar because successful people practice what works. They’re all too nice to point out (but I’m not) that this rarely happens when you establish a social contract with your candidate and play out this scenario before you make the submittal.

If you send us a problem for the next issue (again to please include what solution you employed, if it is not still an on-going problem. Ideally, we’d like to see complicated, real situations…. i.e., more than generic training examples.

The Pinnacle Society is a consortium of top performing recruiters within the permanent placement and search industry. For more than 15 years, the Pinnacle Society has provided the nation’s top recruiters a forum in which to exchange the business principles and placement techniques that led them to achieve, and allows them to maintain their success. See for information on membership or hosting Pinnacle Panels at your training event.

About the Author

Paul Hawkinson is the editor of The Fordyce Letter, a publication for third-party recruiters that's part of ERE Media. He entered the personnel consulting industry in the late 1950's and began publishing for the industry in the 1970's. During his tenure as a practitioner, he personally billed over $5 million in both contingency and retainer assignments. He formed the Kimberly Organization and purchased The Fordyce Letter in 1980.