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Building a relationship with the HR gatekeeper while negotiating

2nd round interview for IT business analyst. Job is OK. Met with 2 main guys CFO and projects director.  Same day call from their HR mgr saying I needed to do a second round interview with her as part of 'process'.  My take is they went ahead without her and she is asserting herself.   So I  think  she s a bit annoyed going in.  Seemed a bit impatient on phone.

Her interview so effectively she gets veto.  Complication is I want to negotiate a month wait to come onboard.  They ll want 2 weeks. Interview is tomorrow

Seems std HR attitude.  Combo of power plays and stickler for the rules.

  • Company has all the power plenty of candidates in the sea.
  • Process is important
  • Business is God - delivery is dirty and technical
  • Candidates are criminals - guilty until proven innocent
  • And probably the good old 'techs' don't have people skills

BTW not being derogatory.  All of those attitudes help the company in a vetting task.

I probably won't have to interact with HR much so I happy to say whatever is needed to get the tick..

Any thoughts on how to

  1. Build rapport in my email back to her confirming interview time
  2. Build rapport in interview
  3. Negotiate the one month s start time without breaking rapport

So, hopefully, I'm understanding the situation correctly here.

You have a second-round interview coming up. In this upcoming interview, you want to negotiate for what you want, which is to hold off on coming aboard until a month from around now. In that same interview, you're concerned they're going to negotiate for what they want, which is to have you come aboard within two weeks from now. If I'm missing anything here, let me know.

The Power Plays At Play

  • Company has all the power plenty of candidates in the sea.

Are you sure they have all the power here? You said yourself that you feel the job is only "OK", so it doesn't sound like it's your dream job.

If you check out this forum post I did a while back, you'll notice that you might be able to leverage a few sources of power here, such as the "power of the printed word" (showing them something in writing that backs up why you need a month) or the "power of competition" (letting them know you have other options, which makes you more desirable, likely due to the principle of scarcity).

And, especially if this truly isn't your dream job, that walk-away power within the power of competition would be really great here.

  • Process is important

How does their process make this negotiation harder for you exactly?

  • Business is God - delivery is dirty and technical

Not quite sure what you mean here. It seems like you're saying they talk up a noble company mission and ideals that they don't live up to. Is that right?

  • Candidates are criminals - guilty until proven innocent

This is only the case when you're reporting to HR, right? Outside of HR, you should be neutral. So, there should be more opportunity for rapport-building and recruiting this person to your side outside of HR than when you're being sent to HR which, in this case, might lead them to believe you're already guilty.

In other words, for this second interview, you should be good. But, if I'm misunderstanding, let me know.

  • And probably the good old 'techs' don't have people skills

If it's the case that that's one of the beliefs they hold, the interviewer might be in a "prove yourself to me" judge role position where they'll be watching for how well-developed your social skills are. So, perhaps this is a good opportunity to show them not all techs are the same ;).


  1. Build rapport in my email back to her confirming interview time

Look her up on LinkedIn. Find something you both have in common. Bring that common ground out into the open in that email. (Since you're only confirming the interview time, use low social effort when doing this. One to two sentences max.)

  1. Build rapport in interview

There's a lot that goes into this. One way that I might suggest is Dale Carnegie's line, "To be interesting, be interested." So, before the interview, you can say something along the lines of:

Transitioned: Before we begin, I believe in connecting with the people I might find myself working with, not only for their title, but who they are as people (subtly lets her know your social skills might be above average since you like connecting with others). So, I'd like to begin by telling you a little bit about myself (offers to give value first) and maybe you can share a little about yourself too. (no-oriented question empowers her to say "no" while still getting what you want) Are you against that at all?

Then, share a little bit about yourself and involve her in the conversation with "how" and "what" questions that include her along the way.

Another approach might be to ask questions that get her talking and use her response as a way to share a little bit about yourself. And, then ask her more questions based on what you shared. An example might be:

Transitioned: "What’s your favorite piece of advice to give an IT business analyst?" (subtly flatters her by showing you value her knowledge. Can also spark a new branch of conversation)

If anyone has more advice on this part, please feel free to add to what I have here.

  1. Negotiate the one month start time without breaking rapport

Well, we know that you'd be entering that negotiation with the interviewer in a competitive frame of:

Me & My interests (you showing up in 2 weeks) VS You & Your interests (showing up in one month)

So, the best thing to do would be to reframe for collaboration. And, a good way to do that would be to start by positioning yourself as a high-quality individual by changing the job offerer/seeker power dynamics.

Transitioned: "Actually, I'm happy where I'm staying, I'm fast tracked to take more responsibility, and I think we're going to do great things. But I also love what you guys are doing here, especially the XYZ you've done. So I figured it wouldn't hurt to talk."

Then, reframing for collaboration by letting them know that they can get this high-quality individual on their team if they play fair:

Transitioned: "Look, I have the relevant skills for this position and I can do exactly what you're looking for. Which is great, because I wan to join your team. We only need to find how we can make that work. If you could only move towards this date a little bit more..."

*Note: This is from one of Lucio's articles on frame control for negotiation. Unluckily, I can't seem to find it right now.

And, with that, now we've switched from the competitive frame of:

Me & My interests (you showing up in 2 weeks) VS You & Your interests (showing up in one month)

To the collaborative frame of:

Me & My interests (having a capable, high-quality individual on our team) AND You & Your interests (joining their team)

That would be one point of agreement you might be able to reach where your interests align with the interviewer.

I'm working on dropping an addition to Daniel Pink's Sales & Persuasion Masterclass right now. Hopefully, I'll have that up by tonight, it has some good content and persuasion tactics that he specifically recommends for interviews.

If not, you can check out this Yale review which has some good tactics as well.

Lucio Buffalmano has reacted to this post.
Lucio Buffalmano

Thank you Ali great analysis.  Hope I m never competing against you 😉

I don't know if it's an Australian thing when you gently point out you have options they seem to crack it like your questioning them and go into autoreject mode.  Any ideas on softening it?

Unfortunately her LinkedIn was very bare bones.

I went with this on the email:

Nicely framed PD - thanks for that.   I noticed some of your posts you were in on around the circular economy.  I do a bit of work for friends with the sustainable living foundation.  Great to be applying to a company that's facing the future.

At the least trying new things should lead to new info.

Transitioned: How to Negotiate the one month s start time without breaking rapport

I think a simple yet effective way to go with this is to provide a why.

If you just ask for it, then it feels like entitlement and like you're fielding random requests, putting your needs before theirs without a clear reason.

But the moment you provide a "why", then it turns into a fair request.

The why could be any different thing:

  • Scheduled time off
  • Wanted to visit parents
  • Planned a holiday
  • Need to fix my parquet
  • ...

Or if it's more appropriate for the culture, you can keep it general "I planned a personal project / a family arrangement".

Matthew Whitewood and Transitioned have reacted to this post.
Matthew WhitewoodTransitioned
Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?

Thanks all.  Dynamic was a bit different.  CFO turned up to interview.  I did give them a 'why' and they agreed to the start date.  I'm likely to actually decline the job for other factors - basically I interviewed as an analyst and they want me to take over the project while keeping a good relationship with the guy I'm pushing out.    Given the complex nature of the work that's too much fun on top of for what they're paying.