Hiring has always been a negotiation process, where both parties are looking to get the greatest value from the employee/employer relationship. However, we're also entering an era of greater hiring transparency, where candidates expect to know more about the companies they might work for before they commit--and, frankly, companies want to know more about their candidates as well. In this sense, I like to think that recruiting is also like dating. It's about wanting a genuinely good relationship. Job seekers today truly want to work for companies that they admire and respect, and companies want candidates who fit the work culture and who like the job.
But this begs the question: Is there such a thing as too much transparency in the hiring process? After all, we're still talking about business.
The short answer is yes, but let me explain.
First of all, information is more available now--so negotiations have changed. In 1994, I walked into a car dealership prepared to get the vehicle I wanted at the best possible price. The dealer, however, was not prepared for the research I had done. See, I was one of the first people to buy a car using public information on the Internet. I printed out the invoice price of every single feature on the car, as well as what the dealer payback rules were, manufacturer rebates, and so on. Up until that point, very few consumers had access to that kind of information. So when I shared what I knew with the car salesman, he made me talk to the manager--and ultimately, I got the best price anyone could get for that car in that market.
My point is simple: Ready access to the Internet has made this kind of knowledge so accessible that people heading into a negotiation--whether it's for car shopping or hiring--are now expected to come to the table with a deeper understanding about the other party's offerings. It's like two people checking each other's online dating profiles to ensure compatibility before they go out. Both job seekers and companies use social networks like LinkedIn and Facebook to study up on each other. And today's applicants are highly accustomed to checking online review sites like Glassdoor and Salary.com before they head into an interview or consider a job. The result is that we get to the heart of the negotiation faster because we don't have to invest as much time in the posturing and game playing of yesteryear. In this sense, transparency is a good thing.
But you have to know your BATNA. In their 1981 book Getting to Yes, Roger Fisher and William Ury came up with the acronym BATNA, which stands for Best Alternative to Negotiated Agreement. Simply put, everyone has a BATNA in a negotiation process. It's the point at which you will either take the offer extended to you, or you'll walk away because the offer isn't good enough. If you're buying a car, it's the highest price you're willing to pay. If you're selling a car, it's the lowest price you'll accept. In dating, it's whatever must-have qualities you expect in a companion.
In the hiring process, it's imperative that both job seekers and companies know their BATNA at the beginning of the negotiation. If you're a job seeker, your BATNA might include the minimum salary you'll accept, the benefits you must have, the location you have to be in, and the perks that are deal-breakers. If you're a recruiter or hiring manager, your BATNA is probably related to the maximum salary you can pay, the minimum experience you'll consider, or the necessary personality traits that make a culture fit possible.
Keep some of your cards close. This is where hiring veers from the dating analogy and becomes straight-up business negotiation. Yes, you want to establish a transparent and authentic relationship between candidate and company--but only to a point. You don't reveal your complete BATNA in a negotiation until it's time to close (or cancel) the deal. Why? Because a candidate who puts her minimum salary criteria out there too early in the process might miss out on a better offer, if the company was willing to pay more. Likewise, a company that leads with its best offer could very well end up paying too much for a candidate who was willing to accept less.
Find common ground before talking compensation. Hiring managers and job candidates need to figure out where they see eye to eye by putting a few cards out on the table at a time. Maybe it's the level of performance expected, or how many hours an employee is required to work in the office, or the level of micromanagement or freedom that is going to be exercised in a specific role. Establish these kinds of agreements early and transparently. Once you've determined this is the job you want and the hiring manager you want to work with, or this is the candidate you like better than others, then you know where you stand with regards to compensation--assuming each side has done its due diligence and has a realistic picture of the current market.
Hiring today involves walking a fine line between transparency and smart negotiating tactics. Both sides need to be intuitive, do their research, and come to a similar understanding of each other's objectives as early in the process as possible. And while businesses must be transparent enough to get skilled applicants attracted and engaged, complete transparency really doesn't benefit anyone. (Mark my words: Your strongest candidates will know this already.)