Bill Bennett


Head-hunted? Now negotiate the right deal

A secretive phone call tells you that you have been head-hunted.

You met the head-hunter in a discreet pub or café. You jumped through the hoops, passed the tests and sailed through the interviews.

Now there’s only one step before you make the jump: negotiating the right deal.

Because you’ve been head-hunted, the negotiation is slightly different from when you answer an advertisement or otherwise find your way to a new job.

People asked you to come and work for them. They paid an expensive head-hunter to find you, woo you and tempt you into taking their approach seriously.

Face it, they aren’t going to go to all that trouble and then lose your skills because of a few dollars here and there.

Head-hunted poker

If negotiating a deal is like a game of poker – and there are similarities – then you’ve been dealt a good hand. But as any card player will tell you, the cards you are holding are only part of the game. You still need to keep your wits about you.

Most people understandably reduce an employer’s entire offer to its cash equivalent when evaluating salary offers. This makes a lot of sense and I’m not going to disagree with the general principle.

It is worth paying close attention to working conditions.

For example, if you don’t like overseas travel – maybe you have a young family – make sure there’s written agreement on the amount of required overseas travel.

Likewise this is a good moment to make sure you have adequate support staff, the right working environment, a budget that covers your expected expenses and so on.

Hours and leave

This is the best time to talk about working hours and annual leave entitlement. Once you sign it is too late.

Employers talk vaguely about you technically being paid for a working week of so many hours, but being ready to work as many hours as it takes to complete the various tasks assigned to you. This is fine up to a point, but if your employer is effectively asking you to commit to unlimited hours, it is not unreasonable to put some qualifications. For example you might ask that you never have to work on Sunday because you’re an active member of your local church.

Annual leave is a sticky issue. You’re entitled to a certain amount of leave by law. In practice the amount of leave your employer will let you to take will probably be considerably less than your legal entitlement and will almost certainly be less than the amount nominated in your contract. These days most people get a handsome payout for unclaimed holiday pay when they leave a job. The money is nice, but time to unwind is better.

Leave entitlement

A long time ago I worked with someone who quickly climbed through the ranks of a sizable organisation. After each promotion he negotiated a deal increasing his annual leave – in many cases he traded leave entitlement for pay.

The result was he reached a level where he had 10 weeks leave a year. This might not be possible today, but the principal is good. For most of us cash-rich, time-poor knowledge workers annual leave is a luxury.

In my opinion it is a good idea to specify some leave dates when negotiating initial terms and conditions before joining a new company. Try and get them written into an agreement. If you’ve been head-hunted the employer will almost certainly agree to this as it seems a cheap way to complete a deal. Even if you haven’t been head-hunted, the salary negotiation is your best opportunity to fix this.

Get professional tax advice

It pays to get some professional advice about the salary part of any deal. The big trap people fall into when head-hunted, is to overlook the tax considerations of any extra salary. Unless you’ve been hired by an US company to work in the states, you will almost certainly already be on the highest rate of income tax.

This means that looks like a 20 percent pay rise on paper might be as little as a 10 percent increase in take home pay. In many cases it is possible to negotiate terms that minimise the tax impact.

Head-hunted can be head turning

Finally, there’s twist to negotiating salary when you are head-hunted. Being head-hunted is flattering. Don’t let your head be turned by it – you may laugh, but many head-hunted executives end up with poor deals by being charmed into accepting far less than their new employer would pay.

It doesn’t help that these processes tend to go ahead at a breakneck pace. The usual rule of salary negotiation is to do plenty of homework and benchmark your salary against industry norms – if the employer is in a hurry you may not have time to do this properly.

If possible try to slow the process down. Don’t make it look as if you are dragging your feet, but buy yourself some time to do the research. A few days shouldn’t make any difference to your new employer, but they can make a big difference to you.