6 Great Reasons Not to Lose a Candidate

May 23, 2013

The fastest way to succeed is to look as if you’re playing by somebody else’s rules, while quietly playing by your own. –Michael Korda

Losing a great candidate is a painful and disheartening experience. I for one, beat myself and wonder what I could have done differently as I do a cerebral post mortem. Sadly, it is the occupational hazard with which we live daily and it is a part of the game of recruiting. With that in mind, we all need to learn from our mistakes and do our best not to repeat them.

Losing great candidates will never go away completely. But we can look to some ideas and insights that will help that event to become less frequent. Please consider the following points and know that if you do lose a candidate, you played the game as well as possible.

Unclear Compensation

There is no feeling worse than sailing down the road to offer time when you suddenly realize that you do not fully understand the specific structure of the candidate’s current compensation. Sunny skies disappear quickly and even Iron Man can’t save you. Take the time up front to understand the candidate’s exact compensation structure. Knowing base salary is not enough. We must understand incentive compensation as well seeking out information such as:

  • How is it is paid out?
  • When it is paid out?
  • What parameters must be met to have it paid out?
  • How much incentive comp was paid to you in the last three years?

If you do not understand this information, you will need more luck then skill to close the deal, and that can be a doomsday scenario. One last thing; always ask when your candidate is up for review as this little fact will alter your overall understanding of their compensation in the event the candidate is given a raise.


Counteroffers are the stuff of nightmares. You get that call two days before the candidate is to start and your heart stops. I can write and talk about counteroffers for endless hours, but suffice to say, the conversation about counteroffers needs to begin early on in the process and should be a thread that runs through the entire conversation. The more serious the interviewing dialogue becomes, the more you need to keep counteroffers top of mind. Just a few thoughts:

Candidates who are most prone to counteroffers are:

  • Those who have been with a job for five-plus years
  • Those who have a very easy commute
  • Those who work for very large companies
  • Those who have never given you a compelling reason they want to leave
  • Those who have gone the counteroffer route before.

All of us lose candidates to counteroffers, but if you know you did it by the book, you will spend your nights sleeping instead of lying awake and thinking about what might have been.

Uncertainty About What They Do

The two most important things we need to know about the candidates we ultimately present to those who might hire are:

  1. We must understand what they currently do
  2. We must understand what they want to do next

Understanding what a candidate is currently doing gives you the opportunity to build a bridge, in your mind and theirs, from their current role to the role for which you are qualifying them. This is very hard to do if you are unclear on what they currently do. Second, understanding what a candidate wants to do next is very important because if the job you have is not in alignment with what the candidate wants to do next, the chance of closing the candidate diminishes.

Rule of thumb here:

  • Better to find a candidate who wants to do what your role calls for then try to convince a candidate who has little interest in it to take the job.

Lack of Control of the Offer

The making of an offer is a critical moment in the hiring process. It is delicate and it is subject to the stresses and strains of the candidates conflicting fears and concerns around change. The offer should be made to the candidate by the person with whom the candidate has the strongest relationship. In most cases, that is the recruiter who was there every step of the way to make it to the offer stage. A few things to consider:

  • Try to close the candidate before you make the offer (More on this later…)
  • Do not lowball the candidate for any reason
  • Keep a short window on the offer. Three days maximum for an answer.
  • Remember that an offer letter is a summation of previous conversations, not a time for the candidate to negotiate.

Controlling the offer is a good way to remain close to the candidate at this precarious moment in the hiring process. Think this through and more with caution.

Poor Closing of the Candidate

Offer time is show time for all parties concerned. It is like take off and landing for pilots: the most dangerous part of the flight. With this in mind, if at all possible, close the candidate before you extend the offer. This is pure agency talk but it works. Consider the pre-close by simply asking the candidate the following simple question:

  • “If I get you the offer of $105,000 as a base and a 7 percent bonus as discussed, will you accept the offer? If the candidate says yes, you are on some level done. If the candidate says “no” or “maybe,” dig a bit and find out their hesitation. Can you fix it in order to get to yes? If so, do it, if not, keep talking. Because getting to “yes” is the objective. Remember, a candidate who has been closed before the offer has been made is the perfect situation.

Questions Not Asked

We lose hires not because of the questions we ask but because of the questions we do not ask. When things go well and we have the candidate we seek, we tend to hold back on digging into how the candidate really feels about making the move. We hope that things will move along nicely and we will close the deal.

This is not a great way to do this business. We all need to discuss the things with our candidates that we feel might pop up at the end and kill the deal before they become a reality. Talk to your candidate. Listen to what they are saying as opposed to what you want to hear. Ask them about things such as; money, commute, type of company, new role/old role, title, type of project, benefits, and hiring manger.

The above topics are just the tip of the iceberg, as no topic of conversation is off the table. Want to take it one step further? Want more of the graduate school of recruiting and want to dig deeper? If so, do not just ask the candidate what they think. Ask the candidate how they feel.

  • How does it feel to leave your friends at work after nine years?
  • How does it feel to go to a smaller group?
  • How does it feel to do more QA and less development?
  • How does it feel to not be a manager anymore?
  • How does your wife/husband feel about you making this move?

Ask these questions … the big painful questions. A big move like a job change has far more emotion than logic. Ask these questions because fear of loss is stronger then desire for gain. Ask these questions even if you do not want to know the answer because the decisions made by candidates are based far more upon how they feel then how they think.

One last thought/question. As you get closer to the offer, the best question of them all is a simple one. Can you see yourself working here? If the answer is “yes,” this is a good thing. If the answer is “no,” something is terribly wrong and the time to engage in a meaningful dialogue with your candidate, is right now.

The nature of our business is one of winning and losing. Taking into account the complexities of technology, multiple opportunities, and changing economic conditions, this will not change anytime soon. We will all lose deals if we stay in this business. The purpose of the information above is to see that all of us, myself included, win more and lose less.

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