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Employers are from Mars, Candidates are from Venus – the delicate art of job negotiation.

By Julian Smith, Director, The I Am Group


Recently, I saw a LinkedIn post from somebody who turned down an offer of employment which she had been thrilled to receive, when it became clear that her new employers weren’t going to offer her any flexibility in her working hours (the subject of another of my recent blogs). Skimming through the 800+ comments, I was not surprised to learn that they were pretty much all sympathetic of the writer of the post, expressing frustration with a lack of flexibility from employers in general, and unilaterally agreeing that she had made the right decision. Reading the post reminded me of a similar experience, which I’d like to share with you.


Now, I enjoy a challenge in recruitment terms, and nothing phases me. Well, almost. However, a few weeks ago, I had my toughest ever recruitment assignment in almost 16 years. The challenges started from the word go, and the assignment (a senior role) lasted almost 9 weeks from start to finish. When the offer came through, I breathed a sigh of relief. This had been a three-stage interview process, and both parties had met each other on several occasions, so it should have been plain sailing from here onwards, right? Well, it would have been if employers weren’t from Mars and candidates weren’t from Venus…


When John Gray wrote the ever popular “Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus: A Practical Guide for Improving Communication and Getting What You Want in Your Relationships”, he probably didn’t realise that 25 years later, somebody would be tweaking his title to explain the mismatch that you often find at the negotiation stage in recruitment. But the analogy holds up well, and as with John’s initial purpose, I want to try to help improve communication between both parties with this blog.


So, back to my story: the point where the offer came through. Was the candidate happy with the salary? That’s a tick. And the holiday? Another tick. Pension? Bonus? Location? Tick, tick and tick! Core working hours? This is where it got interesting. The candidate was used to a certain working pattern, and didn’t want to give it up for a new role. The client had core hours which everybody was expected to adhere to, with no exceptions, since it was company policy. We’d reached a stalemate, or rather, Mars and Venus had. Enter Mercury, the winged messenger (played by me, of course!).


Without going into any of the confidential information, both parties had their line in the sand, and more importantly, both parties felt that they were already compromising in other areas, so the line in the sand wasn’t particularly flexible. And so began the toing and froing. ‘Mars’ wanted one thing, whilst ‘Venus’ wanted something else. Confident that in all other ways, there was a perfect match between client and candidate, I was determined to keep the dialogue going, and my role of mediator was to assist and guide the parties toward their own resolution. I’m not even sure that Mercury ever worked as hard as I did, to prevent the placement from falling through!


The negotiations lasted 48 hours, but eventually we found a compromise on the issue of flexibility, and the day was saved. In order to get there, however, I had to drill down into the reasoning behind both parties’ stances, relay that information back to the other party in as much detail as possible and remind both parties of the common ground. The compromise was only suggested because both parties could finally understand each other’s point of view.


The moral of the story – if there is one – is that even the most seemingly impossible impasses can be overcome if you remember what unites you, and work together on the differences. I suspect a lack of communication is common to all cases of misunderstanding. Who knows, but had the originator of the blog on LinkedIn entrusted the negotiations to a third party, she might have been enjoying a new role by now, rather than a post with c.16,000 likes, and a tale to tell, of the one that got away.


I am recruiting provides an unrivalled recruitment service for candidates and clients within professional associations, membership organisations and the wider non-profit sector. Please phone us on (020) 7148 6749 or email us for a confidential chat about any recruitment needs.

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