Mike, I have had two candidates take counteroffers in the past five weeks. What are some steps to minimize these?
~Scott in London.
If you have candidates taking counteroffers and turning down your offers, understand you cannot eliminate this from happening. It is going to happen to the best. But if it happens to you consistently, you need a system or a process for setting and managing expectations with your candidates from the first phone call. Again, these strategies minimize. They do not eliminate because we are dealing with the human element.
To minimize falloffs, to minimize counteroffers, it starts on the very first conversation where you determine if they are a fit for the role. Now, your client has yet to agree to interview them. Still, you have assessed them, you have identified what their career desires are, you have identified viable reasons for them to consider making a change right now, and they are interested in your opportunity. This is when the counteroffer process begins.
Begin with the End
Step 1 is to begin with the end in mind. So, I tell people how I work with them.
Mr. Candidate, Ms. Candidate, I am going to submit your resume. If they agree to interview, here is the process. Let me know if there is anything about this that you are uncomfortable with because I will ask you for your commitment to the process. If you at all uncomfortable, it may be best that we do not work together.
I have never had a candidate, by the way, go, no, I am not comfortable with this. But again, it is setting the expectation early on how you will work together.
I say: You can say no until you say yes. Mike, I do not want to go on the interview. Mike, I do not want to go on the following interview. Mike, I do not want to go on the final interview. Mike, I do not want to take the offer.
You can leave the process at any time until you say, yes, I am going to take the offer, and then you can no longer say no. Our job over the next few weeks, provided this goes well, is to ensure you have enough information to make this a hell no or hell yes. Once it is a hell yes, I am asking for your commitment that you cannot return to hell no.
You told me you needed to know about x, y, and z. You told me you wanted the opportunity to include a, b, c, and d. We will identify that over the next three weeks, and you can validate that in various ways. Does that sound fair?
They will suddenly go, yeah, that sounds fair.
Use Emotion to Elicit Empathy and Understanding of the Process
Then I go – I learned this from Danny Cahill 20-something years ago –I love this technique. Once they commit to only saying no until they say yes, and that sounds reasonable, then say:
Let me run a situation by you. I want you to imagine we have gone through this whole process. You have honored your commitment. You have been like, yes, I want the next step. Yes, yes, yes. The money is right. The opportunity is right. You come down to the end of it, and you say yes. You walk into your company, and you resign. As difficult as it is, you give your notice and pack up your box with the picture of your husband, wife, and kids. You are going to start on Monday. It is Sunday night. You get an email from the company or a voicemail from your new company. It goes, I don’t know how to tell you this, Mr. Candidate, but on Friday, we identified a perfect candidate. While you are really good, this person is excellent, and we are withdrawing the offer. No need to come to work tomorrow. Sorry. Nothing personal. It is just business. What would your reaction be?
They are going to go ballistic! And you let them... They cannot do that. I have a signed offer letter! They made a commitment. I have a contract. I quit a job!
And just let them go on and on and on. You will find something. Your company will take you back. It is a hot economy. You can get another job. Let them talk about how unethical it is until they are done. Even if it goes five to 10 minutes, wait until they finish.
We make decisions intellectually and back them up emotionally. A counteroffer is an emotional experience. When they are done, you say to them, okay, first of all, as your recruiter, I have never had that happen. That is the good news. Two, I ask you because I want you to now answer for me, how would it be any different if you did that to them?
Then just be quiet and wait for the answer.
It is the same thing. They have a signed offer letter, a contract. Sometimes they will say, well, I left my job. Yeah, and they cut the number two candidate. They are going to lose, just like you would lose 60-90 days of employment probably while you look for another job, they cut the backup candidates based on your word. Now business in your territory will stagnate or go backward for another 90 days.
Encourage Any Potential Counteroffer to Surface Prior to the Offer
That is why, Mr. or Ms. Candidate, one, it is so essential for us over the next few weeks - to validate that this is the best opportunity for you. Two, you told me you wanted to leave because of these three things. Have you talked to your manager about that?
No. I don’t think he/she cares.
I understand. Here is what I want you to do. I am going to set up this interview. In parallel, to make sure you are making the right decision, set up a lunch with your manager. Do not tell him you are interviewing. Say, you know, Mr. or Ms. Manager, I have been here a couple of years. I like these things, but I would like to discuss x, y, and z over lunch.
Mr. or Ms. Candidate, you will hear 1 of 2 things.
(1) Look, I do not have time for this. Get back to work. Now you know what your employer thinks about you.
(2) They are going to go; I had no idea you had these concerns, and they go to lunch. If they go to lunch with you, they will either tell you there is nothing they can do about it or they are going to make amends and try to fix it.
Here is why that is important. You are doing all this without the gun to their head of you leaving. You are expressing your concern, and you get to see their response in real-time versus their fake response to prevent having to replace you. That is where you are going to have a sincere reaction.
I have seen this happen, and I did see this in my career several times where a candidate set up that lunch with their boss, and they fixed the situation, and I pulled them out of the process after the first interview. Their current employer will address that all in the counteroffer, and you will lose the candidate anyway. It is less heart ache and more productive for you to pull them from the process sooner than later. You can sell the process to your clients as a system to minimize losing candidates to counteroffers.
Will every candidate that you suggest go to lunch? Most will not. In my experience, most will not, but I will be on them about that.
Mr. or Ms. Candidate, did you set up that lunch?
No, I am too busy.
Well, look, remember, if you hear those answers in a counteroffer, your commitment to me was you would say no, until yes. Do I still have your commitment on that?
Minimizing Counteroffers In Sum
I do not have time to get into all of the other areas where you want to set up the commitment. Still, to sum it up, minimize counteroffers in three steps:
(1) Once they say yes, you get the commitment that they cannot say no.
(2) Reverse the story on them.
(3) Suggest they have lunch with their boss.
It is crucial to do this as the first step in the process where there is absolutely no pressure on them to make a decision. Do not leave it there in the first call. You do little check-ins:
Is this a yes? Do you want to go forward?
Okay. What else do you need to know for the next yes to be a hell yes? I know it has only the first interview, Bob, but what do you need to know? What is missing after that first interview for this to be a hell yes to the opportunity?
So, you are constantly reflecting on that first conversation. It is all congruent. It is all consultative. This is how you will have candidates refer people to you. When you do this, there is no hard close at the end. You are just re-confirming commitment.
Hopefully, Scott, when you implement those strategies, you will cut down your counteroffers by at least half. It is different now, Mike. Candidates are short. When I was recruiting, we had an unemployment rate of 3.67% and earned about $3 million in revenue. I can remember one or two counteroffers that happened each year, and those are the candidates that basically lied, went through all this process, and said, yeah, but I changed my mind. I’m not going to honor that commitment: very few counteroffers and turndowns.