How Power Shifts During the Hiring Process

I was at a recent interview for an opening at Startup Ottawa. I realized I had to hire this guy this instant. He just had that presence. He understood how to handle himself, which got me thinking of how interviewees can gain leverage in any interview.

Power is key in a job search, particularly when it comes time to negotiate an offer. But from the very first contact, the power balance between you and the employer is shifting, evolving, and transforming.

Most job seekers aren’t aware of these subtle power shifts. And that’s not surprising – employers naturally seek to hide these changes in the relationship. They don’t want you to be aware that your power has increased. If you know that you’ve gained power, you could feel emboldened to ask for a big chunk more money before taking the job. Or worse yet for them, you might just turn the job down altogether.

Employers don’t like that sort of thing. But it’s only fair to you. For that reason, great job hunters understand these shifts in power and sense them as intuitively as a panther senses prey. Here’s where the big changes in the power balance typically occur.

Initial contact – part of the herd

Unless you have an inside contact, or you have a recruiter working on your behalf to get you on the fast track, expect to be just one of the herd when you first send your resume in. And in this case, there definitely isn’t strength in numbers. As one of perhaps 250 or more resumes employers typically receive for a job listing, your power at this point is at its lowest. Unless you have something so unique on your resume that employers will be clamoring for you (unlikely), than you’re pretty much at the mercy of what the company sees fit to do with you.

First interview – slight power gain

After you’ve been chosen for the first round, you’ve gained a little more power. But it’s not really enough of an increase to do anything with. At this point, you and the hiring manager are sizing each other up and determining whether you want to continue building the relationship. You’re both free to walk away from it. But you, the lowly job seeker, probably have more to lose by doing so. With or without you, the employer is almost certain to fulfill its objective of hiring someone. Your outcome, on the other hand, is not so assured.

Second interviews – another gain, but still fragile

When an employer calls you in for follow up interviews, it means you’re moving up the list. Some of your rivals for the job aren’t making the cut. If you’ve made it to the final round, you’re probably one of only a few candidates left. And the employer has invested some time in you now. Those facts give you a little more power than before. This is the time to start asking the somewhat tougher questions of the hiring manager, to try to determine the underlying quality of the organization and the position. Granted, your power at this point is still fragile. There are plenty of ways at this point to screw it up by pushing too hard. But you can be assured that you have considerably more leeway than you did in the previous two stages.

Job offer – big gain

Once the employer makes an offer, they’ve laid their entire hand on the table. They’ve chosen you. They’ve decided you’re the best candidate, and they’re coming right out and saying it. And they’re telling you exactly what they think you’re worth. At this point, almost all the power in the relationship goes rushing in the candidate’s direction, flooding you with power like a river abruptly reversing direction. The job is yours to take or turn down. And the employer knows it. Unfortunately, most job seekers don’t realize this vital shift has happened. They still think the employer has most of the power. As a result, such power-ignorant candidates don’t negotiate nearly as aggressively as they could. And their paycheck usually suffers for years because of it.