Counter offers are an ever present threat that can derail any recruitment process at the 11th hour and leave both the hiring manager and recruiter with egg on their face if not handled properly. In recruitment they are a form of purgatory as you watch all your hard work to get a candidate to offer unravel. The days you spent sweating to find, interview prep and debrief the chosen one have all been for naught. It’s one of the worst feelings in the world.
In my opinion prevention is always much better than a cure and I invest the time before, during and after any recruitment process to mitigate the risk by addressing the “what if” questions early and often. As part of each prep and debrief, I continue to ask: “Do you have any other questions?, What else do you need to see for this to be a viable offer?” If they cover that to my satisfaction I’ll then ask them what would prevent them from moving forward (if post a first round interview) or accepting an offer. Put simply, I believe that a good recruiter should be able to anticipate how a candidate is likely to respond to a counter offer by always asking the question that you don’t necessarily want to hear the answer to. In short, if you want comfort in the run in to your new candidate starting that new job, prepare to get uncomfortable and ask the awkward questions, because if you don’t you run the risk of falling foul of a counter offer later in the process.
There are many reasons why candidates shouldn’t accept a counter offer from their employer, all of which I’ll deal with in a separate post but I wanted to focus on the “Armageddon scenario” here and what you as an employer can do about it. Many hiring firms may feel that once a counter offer is introduced to the equation, they have already lost the battle for the loyalty of that employee. That’s not necessarily the case but on a human level, one can understand why you’re “star hire” might suddenly become tainted with the stench of disloyalty if he/she turns back to their employer’s open arms.
One effective way of dealing with a counter offer scenario is to remind the chosen candidate of the reasons why they were keen to leave their existing employer in the first place and why your opportunity was addressing the gap between where they are now and where they want to be. This is why appealing to the non-financial motives of any candidate are as important as the financial benefits of moving jobs. The salary hike they were countered with and may be feeling good about now will only temporarily paper over the cracks and the same reasons they originally sought to leave will resurface sooner rather than later. In my experience, it’s rare for any candidate who accepts a counter offer to still be in situ with that employer six to twelve months post the offer, with many simply upping and leaving anyway when the next best thing floats by. Being gently forceful in reminding them of this fact I find to be effective in poking their conscience when the counter offer appears. It may well be too late to change their mind but will still introduce an element of doubt that I have seen effectively turn heads back towards the new employer.
Getting up all self-righteous on a moral high horse at this point will do no one any favours and you’re likely to burn several bridges if you get into “You told me” mode with the candidate when they come back with a counter offer. Despite it being the tempting default position of any hiring manager and recruiter in this situation, I would counsel caution. In making your case to the prospective hire, you can come across as desperate and needy which gives the candidate far more leverage than you’d prefer at this point. Let’s be honest, were you in the candidate’s position, would “desperate and needy” present as attractive attributes in an employer to you?
Instead, I’d use a little bit of reverse psychology to take the heat out of the situation by simply withdrawing your original offer and interest and advising that you’re moving on with your process without them. This may seem counter-intuitive but what I have seen happen many times over the years is that a candidate who has “horse traded” to this point suddenly develops a nosebleed when they realise that the metaphorical safety net has been removed. Pulling your offer away may seem too extreme and last resort but can be an extremely effective way of prodding the candidate’s conscience and promoting the fear of a career misstep.
You can of course minimize the number of fall offs and counter offers by doing really good post interview debriefs and making a candidate give their word of honour on acceptance. I start by asking the candidate to imagine that have just accepted an offer of employment with a new company and have tendered their resignation to their present employer, and have begun making all of the necessary arrangements to start their new job. They’ve told all of their colleagues and friends about the new company they’re going to work for and are looking forward to their start date with eager anticipation.
Then at 5:00 pm, the day before they are supposed to start, they get a call from the manager that offered the job. He informs them that he continued to interview other candidates after they had accepted and has since found someone that he would rather hire. So, at 5:10 pm, the night before they’re supposed to start, the job offer is retracted. They’ve already resigned from their last job, and declined another offer that was almost as attractive as this one. I then ask the candidate how that would make them feel. Most acknowledge that this would be a pretty rotten thing to happen them and I explain that fortunately, companies do not do this to people. Hiring managers realize that a contract has been formed between the new hire and the company. To then continue to interview to find an even better candidate would be wrong, legally and ethically. Anyone reading this article will agree that companies just cannot do this to candidates. It would be wrong, greedy, selfish and probably illegal (in terms of violating a contract, be it verbal or written) but yet some candidates feel it’s perfectly legit to turn and run back toward an employer when they’ve been countered. It’s the ultimate double standard but it can be mitigated by doing the right things in the run up to offer.
For a complimentary evaluation on your offer process, we can improve your ability to land great talent, call us on 01-90651116 or email [email protected] Campbell Rochford – Turning Good To Great!