I see it all the time – senior executives continue to look at landing their next role the same way they would close the sale of a product.The only problem is, a product doesn’t have the emotional baggage that human beings do. And every individual’s history plays into their current environment, especially when it comes to the hiring and firing of employees. Add to this the Silicon Valley dynamic – fast moving, unforgiving environments with individuals at all levels that are at the top 1% of intellect, and many companies started on personal credit cards. This leads to situations where emotions come into play in ways you cannot predict and often cannot prevent.
As such, I often tell candidates that when they walk down the prospective new job path, they must think of the recruitment process as negotiating not with a hiring manager, but with that specific hiring manager’s history and all of the associated biases and complications.
Here are a few fundamental ways to make sure you are not sending the wrong signals when negotiating your next role in the Valley.
1. Don’t expect a raise each time you move roles.
Early stage companies despise big company behavior and attitudes. In fact, they spend a good portion of the interview process trying to sniff this out. If you go in with the mentality that you deserve a pay increase just because you’re changing companies, they will interpret this as “you don’t understand how start-ups work” and you immediately go into the “risky hire” bucket without even noticing.
2. Don’t try to talk to a company directly about compensation – use the recruiter as a 3rd party.
Particularly when dealing with an early stage company, discussing compensation directly with the hiring manager, especially if a founder, can get (often irrationally) personal very quickly, and generally leads to unnecessary conflict at the 1-yard line after a fruitful and long selection process.
Most entrepreneurs are forced to take out personal loans to fund their businesses at the early stages. When you, as a candidate, come in after years of what they feel is their direct blood, sweat and tears and say you want $10k more than what the hiring manager feels is a generous package, they immediately go back mentally to the early days when, what seems like an insignificant amount to you, was their entire company payroll. You may be thinking that you are taking a risk to join this early stage situation, but put yourself in the entrepreneur’s chair. In his or her mind, this person has been de-risking the company for the past few years, making this now the perfect time for you to join. Remember, you are dealing with the hiring manager’s history, whether you like it or not. The best thing to do is let the recruiter be the bad cop and bring the two sides together at what is a critical moment.
3. And don’t be greedy.
Whether it’s through your recruiter – which I advise – or on your own, you want the hiring company to feel like you are at least attempting to be fair to all parties. You don’t want your hiring manager to feel like they’ve “lost a negotiation” by being too greedy with your salary ask. I often hear, “But if I give in, it shows I’m not a good business guy.” That rule doesn’t apply in the start-up salary world. You are operating within fixed parameters dictated by the investment community, like it or not.
Also, put yourself in the shoes of the company. There are very limited resources to go around – specifically cash and equity. There is only 100% of the pie. If you take a disproportionate amount, you set yourself up for potential failure in two ways.
- First, within weeks of being hired, people will quickly think, “he’s getting this and only producing that.” You’ve very quickly removed the runway we all need to get started in a new role. Is the incremental money or equity you asked for worth that scrutiny?
- Second, by sequestering resources for yourself, you won’t have the ability to use those resources to hire other people, which will prevent you from having the success you had hoped for in your new role.
4. Get in front of the Back Channel
In my experience, people that are cagey about giving references are often the B players. Therefore, be straightforward and go in with a well-rounded list of references.
At the same time, you should assume that the company and investors are activating their networks and reaching out to off list references.Therefore, always be upfront in the interview process with the context of your departure with the hiring manager. You are not bad-mouthing your former employer by stating the challenges to your success that led you to move on. There is a 99% chance that the recruiting firm, future employer and their investor are aware of a “crazy founder” situation anyway, maybe even more intimately than you are. The Valley is notoriously loose-lipped and incestuous.
No one likes surprises, particularly toward the end of a recruiting process. Therefore, don’t oversell a difficult situation, but instead weave the tough conversations into the interview process early on. It will save you and the company a lot of heartache if you become serious about joining the team.
5. Don’t talk about perks such as vacation.
I have to take a deep breath every time this comes up in a senior executive negotiation process. While many companies, particularly start-ups, offer flexible or “open ended” vacations policies and preach work/life balance, in reality, they don’t expect “personal time” to be at the top of your wish list or even something you are concerned about. Be happy with the vacation plan the company offers, because it is not going to change and, really, you are likely not going to to take the maximum time off offered anyway.
6. Don’t keep them waiting for decision.
Finally, if you feel like you’re getting what you need, make the decision and commit to resigning. There is no better way to put a landmine in front of yourself than by waffling on a commitment to your new employer. This means not just saying you are ready to join, but not articulating to your new employee how you will specifically exit your current role along with an associated timeline.