Negotiating salary can be tricky for employers. Follow these steps so you’re fully prepared to discuss starting pay with creative job candidates.

Locating the talent you need for your team can sometimes feel like a marathon. But you’ve finally found your best job candidate and the finish line is in sight. You can envision the person walking through the door on their first day — and the relief you’ll feel when you’ve wrapped up the hiring process.

But it’s not over yet. In today’s highly competitive hiring environment, talented creative professionals often receive multiple job offers. And given their increased leverage, more job seekers feel empowered to negotiate their starting salary. As such, employers shouldn’t be caught off-guard during compensation discussions if a candidate requests more money.

Another thing to consider is salary transparency: In a recent survey by The Creative Group, 77 percent of creative managers said their firms were transparent about pay. Sharing compensation information with job seekers can demonstrate a culture of fairness that's attractive to potential hires, but it's only one aspect of the hiring process. (See the full salary transparency survey results in the infograph below.)

Successfully negotiating salary with top creative candidates takes preparation, tact and follow-through. A little preparation of your own can help keep compensation discussions in a realm that works for both sides.

Before negotiating salary with job candidates

Do your research. Establish a salary range for the position before you start recruiting. Know the market value of the position you’re hiring for, factoring in years of experience, location and current demand for the skills required. Review resources such as the Robert Half Salary Guide, which features the average starting salary ranges for marketing and creative positions. New data on benefits, incentives and perks are featured as well. (You can also get a quick salary range customized by city.)


During negotiations with your top choice

Ask yourself how badly you need this particular person. If a candidate asks for a higher figure than you’ve offered, consider how difficult and time-consuming it would be to begin your search again? You have three options: agree, make a counteroffer or stand firm. In deciding what to do, consider both the value they would bring to the business and if there are other available candidates with a similar skill set.

Offer non-cash compensation. Don’t get stumped if you can’t match a candidate’s salary request. Consider revisiting other parts of the compensation package, such as flexible scheduling or additional vacation days. Applicants often compromise on base salary if the total compensation package is attractive. A positive company culture, perks and professional development opportunities can be just as compelling as a bump in starting salary.

Know your ceiling. Consider the existing pay levels for similar positions in your company. If you agree to a higher salary to win a stellar candidate, you risk lowering morale or even losing current staff if they find out a new hire is making more money than they are.

Know when to walk away. If your candidate becomes evasive or difficult to reach, they may be waiting for another offer to come in or using your offer as leverage for a different position. Although some HR experts discourage pressing an uninterested candidate, if you still feel strongly about the candidate’s potential benefit to your team, tactfully try to find the reason for the hesitation. That being said, if you feel like the candidate is playing games or if you aren’t getting anywhere, thank the candidate for his or her time and then move on.

Congrats! You’ve successfully made it through the negotiation — now seal the deal

Get it in writing. Once you and the job candidate agree on a salary, benefits and a start date, have the candidate sign an offer letter to confirm that they agree to the terms. If you’re making a job offer contingent upon reference checks or background checks, make sure the offer letter says so.

Build anticipation. The candidate likely needs to give notice at their current job, which means there will likely be two to three weeks between acceptance and start date. A lot can happen in that time. For instance, if the new hire is employed, their current company may make a convincing counteroffer. The more you stay connected through regular communication, the more excited and confident the person will be about working for your organization.