Paid time off. Really?

Oct 17, 2016

Red umbrella fly out from crowds of black umbrellas

When recruiting big talent, don’t let little details in the benefits package get in the way of making a winning offer.

I’m amazed at the need that exists out there for great talent. Firms in the design industry seem to be ramping up on bigger and better projects all over the country. Every firm that we speak with has a tremendous need for gifted engineers, architects, environmental consultants, and planners. Given the current state of affairs it always surprises me when a client, who desperately needs to hire excellent people, is willing to draw a line in the sand on benefits that could easily be modified to attract and hire top candidates.

I’m reminded of a recent situation with one of our clients. They asked us to find a good project engineer for their growing site development practice. They are in a competitive part of the country when it comes to engineers, and we told them they would probably have to pull out all the stops to bring someone on board. We found a great young woman who works for a competitor in the same local market as our client. She had all the skills required to do the job, and for all intents and purposes would have been an excellent choice.

But there was one problem.

Our client focused on the fact that this candidate received five weeks of PTO, and they only wanted to offer her three weeks of PTO to start because, “That’s just how they did things.” This scenario may sound familiar to some of you reading this. We see this situation all too often. It could be PTO, the employee cost of health care, remote working possibilities, etc.

In the design industry, we deal with a finite number of human resource options. When great candidates are sitting in front of you, work hard to not only sell them on your firm and the opportunities that exist there, but also help them overcome any objections that may come up. Some things can be fixed and some cannot.

Another issue that came up with our client was that they compared this candidate’s situation to a family member of one of the principals who was seeking a job moving from one company to another in a totally different industry where the supply of workers was plentiful. He said, “She was willing to take a cut in vacation time to work at the new firm!” We acknowledged this but had to remind our client that his family member was looking for a job, and this good project engineer was at her firm for more than a decade and was not currently looking for work. Big difference!

At Zweig Group we deal with candidates that are not actively looking, and this raises the bar in the recruitment process because firms have to remember that you can’t just throw any old offer out there and expect it to be accepted because your company is so great. You have to take into consideration any leverage that the candidate may hold based on their current work situation.

Now, if this project engineer came to us and was looking for new opportunities, then this conversation and negotiation and hiring process may be different. But, that’s not the case.

We told our client that if this engineer checks off all of the boxes for them based on the current need they should move forward and make an offer. We didn’t want them getting hung up on the PTO issue. You should always make room for negotiation in every offer you make. And, you should take stock of all benefits the candidate currently has so that you can structure your offer correctly.

Whether it’s an extra week of vacation, student loan payments, health care co-pays, or timing of the first salary review, it should all be up for negotiation. You just have to figure out a way to make it work. It may sound daunting, but it’s not. The more you get creative with your offers, the better chance you have of landing that great talent.

Randy Wilburn is director of executive search at Zweig Group. Contact him at

This article is from issue 1167 of The Zweig Letter. Interested in more management advice every week from Mark Zweig, the Zweig Group team, and a talented list of other guest writers? Click here to subscribe or get a free trial of The Zweig Letter.

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.