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Monday, Nov. 17, 2003

TALKING SHOP

For headhunter in middle, tactful persuasion is art of the deal


Staff writer

For headhunter Toshiaki Komatsu, the most electric moment in his work is when he negotiates a candidate's salary contract -- in English.

Komatsu is often the middleman between a Japanese candidate and a foreign executive client. For him, success is when he both satisfies the client with the candidate he has lined up and the candidate with the salary he has negotiated.

A senior consultant for global recruitment consultancy TMP/Hudson Global Resources, Komatsu has gone through such negotiations "hundreds of times."

Yet every time, he cringes at the thought that his professional skills, or possible shortcomings, could severely impact the fate of the candidate.

"You talk about something that is extremely important, if not a matter of life and death, for the individual concerned," Komatsu, 36, said.

Komatsu is not a native English speaker. He grew up mostly in Japan, except for 4 1/2 years from age 6, when he lived in Penang, Malaysia, where his father was posted. He later took a year off from college to study at Arizona State University.

After college, he worked for a major trading house for three years before setting up his own career/publishing/business training company in Malaysia. Komatsu was "headhunted" back in Japan by TMP/Hudson in April 2002.

He said language proficiency is important, because he must make a persuasive pitch to get both candidate and client to agree on pay.

But he says he can overcome whatever he may lack in language ability with logic, negotiating skill and personal charm.

During salary negotiations, various factors come into play, including a candidate's salary at another job, the market-rate pay for the position offered, the client's budget, the level of expectations the prospective employer has for the candidate, and the salary of the last person who held the position to be filled.

Komatsu's goal of striking an equilibrium between the two parties is as challenging as ever amid today's tight job market.

He tries to negotiate the best package for individuals by "bringing in the personal perspective," while at the same time bargaining in a manner as businesslike as possible.

Komatsu cited the example of a candidate whose wife had just given birth to a second child and thus has a pressing need for higher pay. Komatsu will never tell his client aloud that the candidate needs money.

"If I say, 'The candidate has a second child now,' or 'What if you were in the candidate's place?' the executive would say, 'I don't care,' " he said.

Instead, he tries to let the client relate to the situation.

"I would talk about my own experience," Komatsu said. "I might touch on how I felt when my wife had a baby, and how that affected my feelings toward my pay. I would recall how financially in need I was. Then I would say, only casually, 'Oh, this person's got two kids.' "

Such tact keeps salary talks from going in the tank. But first, the personal relationship between Komatsu and his time-pressed client must be solid.

To earn the trust of his clients, Komatsu said he always tries to be helpful, by constantly asking the question: "What can I do for you?"

"It all comes down to hearing them out," he said. "If you keep saying, "How may I help you?' they will talk. Then you say, 'Let me do this.' "



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The Japan Times

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