Negotiating – Let’s Talk About Winning Partnerships

Being a recruiter, negotiation is a vital skill. Some people have a natural gift for it but, as with most workplace skills, the majority of people will benefit from additional training. With negotiations, how you manage the proceedings is particularly important, as the outcome will directly impact your results, your ability to meet targets, and your relationship with both candidate and client. Getting the process right can make all the difference to your success as a recruiter.


Let’s put negotiating into perspective: in bygone years, recruitment was a less refined industry than it is today. On-boarding and training involved being shown where the toilets and coffee machine were, being allocated a desk, a telephone and a Rolodex (remember those?) full of potential clients. The rest, you figured out as you went along and you either sank or swam. In those days, the whole point was getting that placement fee and it being as high as possible. There was no such thing as Account Management, clients were one-hit wonders, so the emphasis was on making the maximum fee, almost at any cost to the recruiter-client relationship.


Thankfully, times have changed. Recruiting has become a professional industry and its personnel are recognised for the quality of service they provide. These days, recruiters seek to enter into a long-term relationship with clients, returning to fill vacancy after vacancy. As such, negotiations over fees have to be handled accordingly. So, how can you make sure you still get what you want out of the deal whilst retaining the client?


Here’s the secret: Negotiating should be about both parties winning.


1) Before you enter negotiations, decide what you want the outcome to be – are you negotiating terms as well as percentage? Write yourself a list of ‘tradeables’.

2) Determine what you’re willing to concede. Chances are, your client isn’t going to immediately agree with your ideal outcome, so identify the level of flexibility you are prepared to accept and also decide on your bottom line.

3) Talk to your client and find out what they consider important. This will help to develop the relationship and underline you’re position as looking to work with them as a long-term partner. If the client can see you’re not just looking out for yourself, but you’re also looking out for their interests, negotiating suddenly becomes about two people pulling in the same direction.

4) Listen to what your client is indicating, not only with words but also with their tone. Find out if there is an underlying issue they’ve not managed to bring to the surface. If you can diffuse their concerns, you’re winning.

5) Take emotion out of the equation, negotiation is not a personal attack; it’s an effort for two parties to work towards achieving an agreement. Keep your voice calm and steady. It’s incredible how quickly displays of exasperation or anger escalate, then it’s difficult to defuse.

6) Demonstrate respect for the other party’s opinion or requests, even if they’re unreasonable. Explain calmly why you can’t meet their requests and suggest alternatives, highlighting how they present a middle ground.

7) Ensure your client understands what they’re paying for. If clients don’t understand the processes you follow in order to ensure you’re delivering the highest calibre candidates, they won’t be able to reconcile the final bill with the result.

8) Communicate: when trying to find middle ground, it can be helpful to explain why you can’t agree to a certain negotiation point and turn it around to the client. They may have a solution you can both build on.

9) Don’t take it personally – this deal isn’t about you. It may well be you’ve encountered a client who embraces old school bully style tactics which focus on attempts to intimidate you personally, and perhaps too, the agency you work for. Remember this display is simply a ploy to unnerve you. If you’re looking to develop a long-term relationship with this client, not giving in or rising to the bait will set you in good stead for the future. The client doesn’t mean it personally either – they simply don’t understand that negotiating doesn’t have to be an attack!

10) Be flexible, but don’t sell yourself short. There’s a lot of work, planning and time that goes into recruiting the right person for a specific role. The monkey and peanuts analogy may be a cliché but there’s a reason for that!


The ideal result is both parties leaving the negotiation feeling as though they’ve achieved what they set out to achieve. Negotiating is no longer about blood on the carpet; if the final outcome is not considered a win-win, there’s a strong possibility of near-future failure. Negotiating should be a platform for building solid foundations for an on-going relationship. If you client understands you can be flexible, attentive, communicative and understanding of their position, they’re more likely to trust your ability to find them the right talent.