Ask the Headhunter: Will a company lowball me because I’m out of work?
In this special Making Sen$e edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards or salary negotiations. No guarantees — just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.
Question: Last week, I was laid off as part of a corporate expense reduction. I dug into my bag of tricks and started calling my network on my way home. My contacts are paying off. I have interviews set up and am in the process of negotiating with one company. My question is this: If they know that I am without a job at the moment, does that ruin my negotiating position?
I feel that I have demonstrated my value and commitment, but I wonder if companies would take advantage of my situation to lowball the salary.
Would I want to work for a company that does this intentionally? Probably not. When it comes to my salary, I'm looking for a fair deal, nothing more. Any thoughts on this?
Nick Corcodilos: Good for you for turning to your network immediately! Personal contacts are always the way to go! (For more about this and other tips for avoiding job search failure, see "Why am I not getting hired?")
A company may very well lowball an offer because it knows you're unemployed. But it might not. A good friend of mine is an HR manager, and her policy is to make the best competitive offer she can, every time, because she wants to maximize the chance of making the hire.
Some HR managers are just looking for a bargain, but that just means they waste a lot of time, because after investing in a candidate they really want, they lose the hire over a few bucks. That's dumb. But some companies are dumb.
Your problem, of course, is that you can't know what kind of employer or HR manager you're dealing with. So what's your smartest position?
Make no assumptions about how a company will treat salary negotiations. Worrying about it will weaken your resolve and ability to negotiate. Assume they will make a fair offer. If they don't, then you deal with it.
The best companies know that the best people, even if they are unemployed, won't be available for long. Those employers will make solid offers. Remember that most candidates a company sees are not the best people it can hire. They're applicants — people looking for a job. They're the ones that "come along." Don't apply for jobs where you're not a strong fit, and I think you will avoid lowball offers.
Of course, perfect is relative. You are a perfect fit to one company, but not to another. So your challenge is to go after jobs where you are a strong fit and after companies that will clearly profit from hiring you. They're less likely to lowball you. The choice you make about where to apply will greatly influence the outcome of the interview and the negotiating process.
The best way to control a company's perception of you is to offer clear value in the interview. Show how, specifically, you're going to impact the company's bottom line. (See "Stand Out: How to be the profitable hire.") Present a brief business plan for doing the job — though not in writing and not detailed enough that they can steal it without hiring you! Then, tell them: "If we can come up with the right deal, I'm ready to hit the ground running."
Some companies will try to take advantage of unemployed applicants. If you worry about it, you'll weaken your presentation. Do your best and position yourself to negotiate strongly. If the company plays games, you must decide whether to walk away.
If you want a compelling offer, be compelling. And pick the right job and company!
Dear Readers: Do you feel you've been lowballed? Did you take the job? How do you avoid lowball job offers?
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