It’s the bane of every hiring manager. You’ve spent hundreds of hours reviewing and interviewing candidates, hours when you could have been napping instead of engaging in the elusive task of deciding which of these fine folks is going to make the best addition to your team. You’ve finally selected the right one, the one you just know is going to make the sun shine brighter on your company. But dark clouds gather in the distance. When you call your candidate three days later to confirm your offer, they’ve had second thoughts.
Thunder rolls. Flash flood of dismay. Now you’re stuck. The current employer has the home-court advantage and you’ve already given the candidate your best offer. How can you pull them back without blowing the lid off your budget?
This is a critical moment for everyone involved; the candidate is still questioning the move, you’re waiting to find out if all your work was for naught, and the candidate’s previous employer has precious little time to keep from losing their employee. In emotional situations like this, the one who prevails is the one who planned ahead.
I can’t guarantee a candidate will accept your offer, but I have some techniques that make it less likely a candidate will accept (or even consider) a counter-offer.
Understanding candidate emotions
To understand why you lose candidates to counter-offers, we should start by understanding what’s happening with them at the time. For the majority of people, changing jobs is an exciting and yet stressful time. In fact, anxiety and excitement can feel much the same and they both occur in the same place in the brain. Elation at one moment can feel like terror later on. Nailing an interview and accepting an offer can give a candidate an emotional high that can lead to an equally intense emotional low.
Often this time is incredibly stressful, not just for the candidate but for their family as well. If a move is involved, the stress is amplified a hundredfold. The unfamiliar can be scary, even when there’s nothing much to fear. For a candidate nervous about making a change, the easiest thing might be just to stay put. Candidates should feel challenged, not intimidated, lest they choose the safety of the status quo.
Understanding candidate motivations
After years of recruiting, we’ve come to believe that retention is less about salary and benefits, and more about cultural fit. When an organization’s values match a candidate’s objectives, when people are treated in ways that make them feel valued and contributive, that’s when great teams are built.
Ask the candidate why they’re giving up their current job. Spend time on this question and really probe. This reinforces to the candidate themselves why they’d rather work with you, and it helps you understand what’s most important to them. Money is not the only reason a person changes positions or careers. When you understand the candidate’s motivations beyond just salary, you have the information you need to offer a compelling case for working with you.
The easiest thing is to do nothing. When faced with a new job, new boss, new building, and new coworkers, some candidates might decide that moving up is just too intimidating. You can make it easier and more encouraging by removing as much stress as it is within your power to remove.
Make the offer and follow-up
When we’re recruiting, we use a simple and effective method to keep candidates engaged and excited. First, a verbal offer is made by the hiring manager or your recruiting partner. Next, we send an offer letter along with all the additional information a candidate needs to make their decision. This info often includes details on benefits packages, relocation information, and contact info for the team.
The hiring manager or recruiting partner follows up via phone call when the offer letter and benefits information is emailed. Whenever possible, the hiring manager should handle negotiations with the candidate. This gives you the opportunity to begin a working relationship right away. At this time the hiring manager and candidate set a start date.
The hiring manager or an HR rep should follow-up with the candidate after they’ve given notice (or should have given notice). This call will help you spot any red flags or vulnerabilities.
Prepare the candidate for a counter-offer
Ask if they anticipate a counter-offer and how they’ll respond to it. This gives you the chance to learn if the candidate is serious about moving on or only looking for leverage. Get the candidate thinking about how they’ll react and what they’ll say — they’re more likely to confidently turn down a counter-offer if they’ve practiced. Purple Tree Recruiting does this with all of our candidates and it’s one of the reasons we’ve rarely lost a candidate to a counter-offer.
Onboarding is still recruiting
In our experience, companies often don’t consider onboarding to be a part of the actual recruiting process. Once they’ve sent the offer letter, they kick back and wait for the start date to arrive. But if you think about, that’s leaving the candidate vulnerable to a counter-offer during one of the most crucial periods in the hiring process.
Onboarding begins the moment the candidate accepts your offer. There should be no question or confusion about what happens next. This means that by the time the candidate gives notice and receives the vile counter-offer, you’re already bringing them onboard. Their entire state of mind is one of working with you, rather than waiting to get started.
Stay in touch during the transition
One of the easiest ways to keep candidates excited about joining your team and less-likely to take a counter-offer is to simply be communicative. Don’t let communication slip in the busy days before bringing your new hire on board or the candidate might wonder if they’re employed or not. Assign a member of your hiring team or HR department to contact your new hire at the beginning and end of each week. If there’s nothing pertinent to discuss, simply drop a line to say hello and that you’re looking forward to bringing them onboard. A little bit of nice goes a long way, no matter what position or company.
The hiring manager should be a part of these weekly follow-ups. Start by laying out the candidates first couple of weeks or months. Let them know about upcoming events or the company’s goals for the next quarter.
Get the candidate excited about the new projects they will be working on and book any travel for upcoming trips or training. If they’re going to be joining a team for a new project, send email introductions so they can start getting to know their coworkers.
Get them working
Create a Week 1 agenda for the employee which includes training, briefings, and introductions. Create a plan for onboarding your new employee and assign them an onboarding buddy. The buddy will answer any questions, show the employee around the office and help them acclimate for the first few weeks. The onboarding buddy should reach out and introduce themselves before the start date.
You won’t believe me when I tell you this final step has actually been the deciding factor in more than one candidate’s decision. Just be nice. Show the candidate you’re excited for them to join your team and that you appreciate their interest in turn.
Send a cookie basket or gourmet sampler. Most people like cheese. This small gesture is so effective that it’s almost like cheating. Very few recruiting strategies have worked so well to improve placement rates in executive positions. The candidates love it, the family loves it, and it costs very little in terms of time and money. If you aren’t already doing this for your candidates, start right now. You’ll thank me later.
In a very competitive candidate market, and especially when making executive and senior management placements, counter-offers are very real and they can sweep some of the best talent right out from under you.
Be better than everyone else
Your organization offers the candidate something their current employer doesn’t. It might be opportunities for growth, excellent benefits, a compelling location, or challenging projects. Take every opportunity to remind them of these benefits and make it easy for them to choose you. I can’t say you’ll never lose a candidate to a counter-offer, but I can say that this strategy has been responsible for us achieving a 92% placement rate over 14 years of executive recruiting.