…how to negotiate yourself out of a job

Joseph Is an excellent candidate. He has had 10 years at the same organization, performed very well, has accolades and paychecks to prove he is been successful in sales. His company, however has not been giving him the technical support that his customers have been used to receiving and gradually he’s losing his share of the market. So, he decides he needs to change jobs.

He is been earning in the $200,000-$300,000 range for the past five or six years, so finding him an opportunity much outside the type of business he has been in is fairly unlikely. Obviously, he has some exceptional advantages to competitors and since he has no noncompete agreement (except for a handful of present customers) he is very marketable.

There are five or six major players in the space that he has been in and we contacted all of them. Three told us that they just do not have any need at all right now and don’t see anything coming up in the next two or three quarters. Three people agreed to interview Joseph. One, made it clear that he wasn’t looking to hire anybody probably for another four or five months and that Joseph should not get his hopes up, but he was always interested in interviewing a good candidate (smart guy). The other two that agreed to interview Joseph were actively looking only if the “right person” came along.

We explained to Joseph, to begin with, that we make this process look easy, because we are supposed to. We explained to him that even though he knows he has a good background, he should not let it go to his head and that we happen to catch these people at the right time. When a candidate has been in any one place this long and experienced the kind of success Joseph has, there is often a tendency for it to go to their head. They think they are more marketable and desirable than they really are. Most of the time, this is more an issue of ignorance rather than stupidity. They don’t go out into the market looking for a job very often…hardly at all and when they do, they all of a sudden get two or three interviews, they have a tendency to think that finding a new job is easy.

Of course, we warned Joseph of this and thought It was clear. When we started the interviewing process with these three organizations, (our first clue) Joseph was always very difficult to get on the phone. We would call him…he would never directly answer…we’d leave a message and he would call may be a day or so later. When we went to arrange interviews, even after giving us the times he could do them, he would inevitably asked to change the times (he did this all three times).

The organization that really didn’t need to hire anybody who was interested in speaking with Joseph, interviewed him, but didn’t care for him at all. They thought he was arrogant and full of himself. We had warn  Joseph about this to begin with, but apparently it took a “rejection” for him to catch on. Joseph eliminated the second organization because he really didn’t like the territory that they had in mind for him. But Joseph did aggressively pursue our third client.

He began by telling them after an initial interview, that he was very interested in the opportunity and would definitely like to pursue it. He communicated that it was a better opportunity than where he was and he was “ready to go.” When it came time for Joseph to interview with the next level of management, he had to… for business reasons, according to him…postpone the interviews. This took almost 2 weeks to complete. When he got to the next level of interviews he sold himself really well and made it clear that he would “entertain” an offer. He was telling us that he really liked what he saw and he really wanted to go to work at the organization because it was a better deal than what he had.

Then Joseph got a little more flaky. The company wanted to check references. It took him a whole week to get the references to them. They were beginning to wonder about Joseph’s sincerity, but he convinced them that he traveled so much that it was hard for him to reach out to his references. They asked for a formal application, which they sent to him online and it took him three days to get it back to them.

Even though they had discussed compensation and territory when it came to us asking Joe that, since it looked like they were going to make him an offer, we assumed he was going to do it, he stated that, “well, let’s see the offer in writing.” We then began to tell the hiring authority that we were getting a little nervous about this. Joseph let us all to believe that he had every intention of taking the job but when details started coming along he got squishy.

Our hiring authority explained that her upper management really liked the guy and felt like he could do a lot for the company and they were going to go through with the offer as discussed. Even she was beginning to get negative feelings about the whole thing because when she had to call the candidate, at his request, to discuss a number of things he wanted to talk about, he became real hard to get. As before, he would never pick up the phone when he was called and more often than not called back a day later.

The hiring authority explained very clearly that these offer letters were signed by the CEO and the company did not normally change anything in them. Before Joseph even got the offer letter he started asking me about their flexibility on a number of things. I called the hiring authority about them, reinforcing again that we were getting less and less confident in the candidate.

By this time, the company sent the written offer and Joseph started dissecting it. At this point, he told me that he wanted to do the deal but he wanted a number of things changed. I explained to him that it had come to the point where he was going to have to speak to the hiring authority himself and that the company was getting a little fed up with his negotiation style. His comment was, “well, that’s negotiations.” The hiring authority tried to reach out to Joseph two more times. He didn’t return her calls.

Joseph did call me and implied that if they could change just a couple of things he’d probably do the deal. I told him that he would have to speak to the hiring authority, but all of us were getting very dubious of his intentions. I suggested that they meet face-to-face. Joseph said that he couldn’t meet until a particular day. I passed that along to the hiring authority. He said he could meet at any time that day. I picked the time that was good for the hiring authority and when I passed it along to him…guess what? He writes back and says that he can’t do that particular time.

At this point, the hiring authority is pissed off. Although she said it’s going to be a little embarrassing to explain to her that higher-ups that Joseph won’t be joining, she couldn’t imagine working with someone this way.

The offer was verbally rescinded through me. The candidate called the hiring authority and left a rather weak message that it probably would not have worked out anyhow.

Even if the candidate didn’t want to do this deal and it was pretty apparent that he didn’t, he shouldn’t have “managed” the process this way. He certainly closed the door for this organization for the future.

This is a great lesson of how not to negotiate.

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