Recruiters Tell All: How to Negotiate Your Rate
Let’s be real. Negotiating your worth for a job position with a recruiter can feel intimidating. From a candidate’s point of view, it’s easy to think that companies just want the lowest rate and the recruiter just wants to maximize their profit.
But honestly, the best recruiters know how unproductive that is – they’re looking to build long-term relationships that make everyone happy. If they’re able to do that successfully, the end result will be more profit for them in the long run. Here’s a sample dialogue from one of our MATRIX recruiters to help you understand how to navigate the money talk.
Candidate: Just so you know, I’m a little wary about recruiters.
Candidate: You make a profit on my rates, and you’re representing a company who wants my rate as low as possible. I don’t know if I can trust your assessment of my market rate.
Recruiter: That’s understandable. However, you can do a lot of independent market research on your own. I can’t argue with hard research if you come to me with a well-reasoned market rate. I find that most contract candidates—even experienced contractors—don’t tend to know their market rate. So, I encourage you to do your research before meeting with me.
Candidate: Okay, where do I find that information?
Recruiter: Staffing and recruiting company websites, job board websites, and other salary guide websites either have that information or can point you to sources of data. And while many factors like skills, job location, and the size and reputation of the company can affect your rate, you can get a good ballpark figure based on well-researched industry standards.
Candidate: But I still feel like I’m at a negotiating disadvantage. What will help me negotiate a good rate? And what will hurt me?
Recruiter: Know yourself. You’re in a strong negotiating position if you know the value of your skills and experience — and if you know what you want. You also need to have your rate history handy – know what you made at your last several positions. Your rate could suffer if you’ve been off the market for a while. But it’s not hopeless. You’ll just need to rebuild your career and accept a lower rate at first to calibrate your expectations to the market.
Candidate: So I need to focus on getting a clear picture of myself, my situation, and my goals?
Recruiter: You bet. First thing you need to do is “build a model”, or in other words, prioritize a list of factors that matter most to you. If rate is #1, that’s where the discussion begins and ends. But if other things are more important (gaining new skills, industry experience, workplace culture, flexibility, etc.), then you need to evaluate the opportunity based on your personal defining factors. You also need to have clarity about your strengths and really review your experience to make sure you know what you bring to the table.
Candidate: If I do that, then what? We negotiate?
Recruiter: Sure, so let me answer you directly. I’m not out to squeeze your rate as low as possible. That doesn’t work for me, you, or my client. If you’re unhappy and earning a wage that doesn’t fit your skills, experience, and lifestyle needs, then no one is happy.
Candidate: Okay, so I’m going to come in with a high rate. That’s what gurus teach about negotiation, right?
Recruiter: Well, that’s why research and market rate data helps so much here. I do recommend that you set a minimum and maximum rate that you want to earn. But it has to be realistic, again, based on the reality of the market and your particular situation. None of us—you, me, or the company—can get around this reality. If you’re too unrealistic, then we won’t be able to work together. You should also ask recruiters if they’ve submitted anyone else to the position – if they have, find out how your skills and experience compare. Also, find out what rate those candidates were submitted at.
Candidate: But I can ask for a higher rate with short-term contracts, right?
Recruiter: Absolutely. Short-term contracts are a bit riskier because of the potential for lost wages - if you aren’t immediately able to find another position. So it’s fine to ask for a rate that’s higher than a long-term contract or salary rate.
Candidate: What if I still feel uncomfortable about a contract rate that you offer me, despite everything we talked about?
Recruiter: If I believe you’re a great fit, I’ll negotiate with the client on your behalf to try to get you a higher rate. But when it comes down to it, if you feel that a deal won’t work for you based on your market rate research, self-analysis, and our conversations along the way, then be prepared to walk away. If you’re not prepared to walk away from an offer, then you haven’t thought through your expectations.
Candidate: I have to say, I’m feeling a little better about working with you.
Recruiter: It’s good to have doubts and skepticism. But remember that the best recruiters aim for happy candidates and long-term relationships with companies. If you feel good about your rate and the work you do, then you will most likely stay in your contract and everyone will benefit.
Still have doubts? Check out some of these other sources for negotiating compensation:
You can also see our latest salary survey here:
Use Payscale’s tool to get specific salary info for your role: