QUESTION: How have you worked with candidates who have agreed to the definition of acceptance but now have cold feet?
ANSWER: The definition of acceptance is one of our processes that I will explain for first-time readers. We teach our clients to have a precise process for closing the deal that begins before an offer is extended as the candidate gets closer to the offer, maybe even between the first and second interview. Often, I will even do this in the first conversation because there is no pressure.
The definition of acceptance is: (1) you agree to accept the offer and show up for work on the day you agreed to at the time you agreed to; (2) you are giving us your commitment that you will cease interviewing anywhere else and not entertain any other offers; (3) no matter what your company does to keep you, it is a hard no because you told us this was a hell yes.
I would say: “Joseph, here is what we need to do in the interview process. We want to ensure that you get all your questions answered, which aligns with the goals you shared with me in the first conversation. I am okay with you saying “no” at any part of the process. No, I do not want to go on the interview. No, I do not want to go on the next interview. No, I do not want to take the offer. Until you say yes, I am going to take the offer. Once you say yes, I will take the offer; I need your word of honor that you will not go back on it. That you are not going to continue interviewing with other companies, that you are not going to make a counteroffer or another company.”
After the second interview, I remind the candidate of this conversation by saying, “One of the things we agreed on was it would be a yes or no. We are not at the point where you have to say yes, but if you had to lean in one direction, is it more of a yes or more of a no based on what you have heard so far?”
If it is more of a yes, you can ask what is missing for it to be a hell yes? You can say, “Remember the commitment you made was when we get to the offer, it is going to be a hell no or hell yes. It is leaning yes, let’s make sure we get your questions answered to give you that clarity. Once we get that clarity, if it becomes a hell yes, I will ask you to answer our question on the definition of acceptance at the point of the offer. The definition of acceptance is you accept the job and show up on the day you agree to.”
There is great importance to having the candidate accept the offer and agree to show up on the first day. I learned this the hard way, I got people’s word of honor that they would accept the offer, and then they took a counteroffer and did not show up for work. They said that they promised to accept the offer. They did, but they did not agree to show up, thus creating a loophole. All my definition of acceptance terms are from the lessons I learned from dealings falling off, not only on my desk but also in my entire company’s offices.
The definition of acceptance works most of the time, but nothing is 100%. There are people out there who act out of integrity. Sometimes they can justify the decision to go back on their promise. I do not let candidates off the hook when this happens. Luckily, those things rarely happen because the definition of acceptance in that process I just walked you all through is kind of ironclad. The only loophole is one’s integrity on the other end. But most recruiters do not take candidates through that type of process that makes them a series of commitments because the recruiter is afraid that if they ask those tough questions, the candidate will not commit, and those are the deals they lose anyway.
The second part of the question is, what do you do when they give you that, and they have cold feet? I say to the candidate that they are committed to the company. Based on that commitment, they let their backup candidates go, which means they now have to start the process all over since two months or more have passed.
One of the things I used to do early in the process with a candidate would share a story I heard from Danny Cahill:
I want you to imagine a scenario where you go through this entire interview process. You fall in love with the company. The company falls in love with you. It is your dream job. They make you an offer. The numbers are right where you want to be. You accept, and you are going to start on the 15th of the month. On the 14th of the month, you get a call, or an email, from them that says, I do not know how to tell you this, Mr. Candidate, but last week a guy who’s better than you came in, and we decided to rescind the offer and give him the job. Nothing personal. It is just business (which is what candidates tell us all the time).
After telling the story, I would ask the candidate for their reaction if that happened to them. They said that would be total BS, that they have a signed offer letter and could sue the company. I just sit back and let them rant, and when they calm down, I ask them to help me explain how, if they did that, how it is any different?
But to the point of if they have cold feet, what I do, in empathy to another human being, is I say, let’s go over this again. When you started interviewing, you said these were the challenges you had. Have any of those improved? No. Usually, you will hear they have gotten worse, number one.
Another tactic I use when I detect cold feet is to have the candidate reiterate the ideal opportunity and company elements they shared at the beginning of the process. I ask them to tell me more and help me understand why, based on those things why this opportunity still is not the best one for you? Essentially, I resell them on what they already said that they wanted.
A lot of times, cold feet happens because they are in fear. Humans naturally hate change. It is born into our subconscious. You can walk them through the fear by reminding them about what they liked and having them say it for themselves. That is how I would deal with a candidate with cold feed.
Thank you for that question, Joe.