Recruitment Clinic: How to WIN at Negotiation

In this article, Martin Jones gives us his insight into the art of negotiation. His tips and best practice, honed over a long successful career in the industry.


There’s a lot of talk these days about creating Win/Win scenarios. You know, that elusive deal that has your candidate recommending all their colleagues to call you, your client singing your praises via a LinkedIn testimonial, and your boss handing out the champagne for a job well done.

Sound familiar?

OK, so back in the real world, we have to recognise that whilst it’s always great to aim for that perfect set of outcomes, you’re probably going to have to move someone away from their own idea of perfection. That someone may well be you.

I’ve been given many top tips on negotiation, and while they all have their advantages, we all have different skill sets. So while your colleague might get away with assumptive closing all the time, that might not be your cup of recruitment tea.

To keep it simple, I’ll share with you the two top tips that should be adopted by every single one of us.

1) Manage Expectations

We talk a lot about managing expectations, particularly when it comes to telling your manager when you’re going to get that deal closed. Perhaps often, if you’re going to get that deal closed.

Man playing chess with monkey

However, in a live negotiation when there’s a possible deal on the line, it’s something you have to do well. Whether it’s your client or your candidate asking you for flexibility on something, you need to be totally on top of their expectations.

When they ask for a margin reduction, if you say “I’ll see what I can do”, then they will be expecting you to do something. If you defer to your business and say you’ll ask your Sales Director, they’ll believe that you’re going to bring them good news.

There’s a phrase that you need to learn, and you need to be able to deliver it without flinching, without showing any kind of doubt, and totally without shame…

“There’s nothing we can do for you there.”

It’s going to get you out of trouble, and move the negotiation on to other areas where maybe there is some flexibility.

2) Know the Limits

It’s impossible to conduct a successful negotiation if you haven’t defined any limitations. That starts with you and your business. You need to know exactly how much flex you want to give on a deal before you walk away.

And stick to those limits. Your service is valuable so don’t undersell yourself.

Once you know where you stand, then you need to work with your client and candidate to understand where their limits are. At what point do they walk away?

Your aim isn’t to close a deal that’s pushed right up against the edge of their envelope in every area, but if you don’t know what the boundaries are, your job becomes a guessing game.

Silhouette fencers with sunset

In summary

Be clear and strong, where you need to be. And make sure you know when your candidate or client is going to feel happy. And then look for the overlap where you can all agree things are acceptable.

Winning at negotiation doesn’t often mean you’re getting the very best outcome for all parties. Most of the time, it’s about a well managed compromise, and it’s about avoiding disappointment.

Taking this approach will also mean closing more deals, and I know that’s the result I’m always looking for.


Martin Jones is a Recruiter. From 1999 onwards, he’s worked across multiple sectors and geographies, generating revenue and leading teams. He is a Partner at KnownFour, building a pioneering recruitment business.