Aug 11, 2009

Closing — the art of getting a candidate to accept an offer and begin work — is every recruiter’s primary goal. And the strongest closers share several attributes:

They craft powerful employment value propositions that lay out the selling points of the company, group, and position — as well as the present and future opportunities for growth.

They communicate clearly, asking direct and purposeful questions, listening critically to responses (spoken and implied), and remaining nimble enough to respond to unexpected issues as they arise.

They set clear expectations for candidates and hiring managers on process steps, compensation issues, and potential roadblocks such as counteroffers.

They are persistent, consistently reconfirming the primary issues throughout the process with candidate and hiring manager, and continue sourcing efforts even when a good candidate is in play.

They have a keen sense of timing, knowing when to move quickly and — just as important — when to slow the pace to accommodate a candidate’s decision-making.

Unfortunately, too many recruiters view closing as a standalone process that kicks into gear only after the interview team identifies its front-runner. In fact, the opposite is true: successful closing begins before a candidate has even been identified, and it touches every step of the process.

Let’s examine (and I’ll go into more depth at my breakout session this September) some of the ways you can bring a closer’s mindset to each step of recruiting:

Role Definition

Develop a compelling employment value proposition that focuses on your company’s advantages, emphasizing selling points your competitors for talent cannot match.

  • Make the case for your company’s stability by pointing out steps the firm is taking to thrive in today’s economy.
  • Don’t lose sight of intangible advantages which are important to many people, including on-site exercise facilities, proximity to public transit, or continued education programs.

Resume Review

Carefully examine the candidate’s history for potential obstacles — and address them during the interview process.

  • Geography matters. Someone who has spent a lifetime in Little Rock may have a tough time adapting to living in New York City. Be prepared to probe how realistic the candidate is being about their ability to adjust to the move.
  • Organizational culture matters. You may be familiar enough with a candidate’s current organization to know that a move to your company will demand significant adjustments. Don’t shy away from discussing these issues.
  • Resigning is tough. A candidate who has been with one employer for a long time may have difficulty overcoming company loyalty and ending valued working relationships. What’s more, specialized expertise that makes a candidate attractive to you may foreshadow a relentless counteroffer from the current employer, who also values that expertise.
  • Little things matter, too. Even “trivial” changes such as giving up an impressive title or shorter commute can become barriers for a candidate weighing a major career and life change.

Phone Interview

Your phone interview should be comprehensive enough that the rest of the process simply adds footnotes to the candidate’s file. If you later find yourself surprised by the candidate’s motivations, strengths, weaknesses, concerns, compensation expectations, etc., you probably need a more thorough phone interview.

You can guide the process by asking the right questions. For example:

  • Don’t end the call until you have a clear understanding of why the candidate is interested in making a change, and what it will take to secure the move. And be sure to revisit this issue with the candidate throughout the process.
  • If the candidate hasn’t made a compelling case for change, don’t shy away from posing direct questions such as “Your company is the leader in our industry: why would you consider joining us?” or “Why would you leave a firm that has provided you such good career and compensation progression?”
  • On the pivotal topic of compensation, shift the burden to the candidate. Ask: “Do you feel your employer compensates you fairly?” (and follow up with “Why/Why not?”). Play to your company’s strengths with questions such as “Do you feel your company effectively rewards good performance?” or “Does your current firm encourage career advancement in a structured way?”
  • Explore whether the candidate has sought other people’s perspectives. Ask questions such as “What does your family think about relocating to Austin?” or “Have you sought any advice about the prospect of changing jobs?”

Finally, ask if the candidate has been inquiring about “inside” opportunities with the current employer that meet their career objectives. (If not, you have a counteroffer waiting to happen.)


Once the candidate is ready to meet your interview team, take time to prepare the interviewers:

  • Assign each member of the team one or more of the selling points from your employment value proposition. This will give the candidate a rounded view of your company.
  • Tell the interviewers what you’ve discovered about the candidate’s motivation, and encourage them to discuss it further with the candidate.
  • Prompt the interviewers to address potential deal-killers. An in-person reaction to a question such as “What might your current company do to keep you?” is invaluable.

Perspectives and impressions can evolve. Check in often with the candidate throughout the interview process, to make certain the role matches the candidate’s professional, financial, and personal goals.

Offer Development

As you prepare a formal offer, avoid unwanted surprises by thoroughly outlining their current compensation in greater detail than you may have done earlier in the process. Take note of anything the candidate might consider remuneration: pay, benefits, parking, stock, perks, and the like.

Conversely, identify anything the candidate might consider a financial sacrifice or takeaway: additional commuting costs, taxes or distances, waiting periods for benefits, potential “paybacks” for leaving an employer, etc. Even if you don’t make up for everything, the candidate needs to know that your offer is based on a thorough analysis of all available information.

Finally, before you test-close the candidate, check with the hiring manager to get a clear understanding of how far they are willing to stretch the scope of the role, compensation, and any other issues that might matter to this particular individual.


Test-closing offers a final opportunity to eliminate unwanted surprises, while creating a “cushion” between the candidate’s expectations and your offer. Advise the candidate that your firm extends offers only when there are no open issues, and the candidate is fully prepared to make a decision.

Focus the candidate on the non-financial components of your offer. Remind the candidate they already know most of the offer — the company, the job, the opportunity, and co-workers. Take the candidate back to the motivations you discussed during the phone interview, and reaffirm that this role represents the best opportunity for career growth.

Next, talk through the remaining variables — everything except salary. Share details on benefits, time off, relocation, continued education programs — and even target bonus. Find out if the candidate has unanswered questions, additional people to meet, or follow-up with or other concerns.

After you’ve covered everything else, let the candidate know your objective is to make one financial offer — and to do it right. Refer to your earlier conversations about compensation and pose direct questions such as “If the offer is $X or above, are you accepting?” During this critical step, your goals should be to:

  • Eliminate ambiguity: If the candidate tells you “I was hoping for a little more than $X,” respond with “Does that mean you would reject an offer at $X?” or “If we were able to come in at $Y, are you accepting?”
  • Gain the candidate’s permission to accept an offer at a specific dollar amount. That amount should be what the candidate wants, but below what you believe your offer will be. This “cushion” is crucial to maintaining excitement at the point of offer.

Finally, help the candidate anticipate a possible counteroffer. Ask questions such as “What happens when (not “if”) your boss says she will expand your job duties and beat our offer?” Close with the direct but open-ended question “Is there anything that can stop you from joining us?”

Offer Extension

On the heels of your test-close, the offer extension is simply a matter of calling the candidate to congratulate them on landing their new job. The only surprise to either party should be that the compensation is a little higher than the candidate expected.

Of course, there will be times when you won’t have an immediate acceptance. In that case, ask questions such as “What is holding you back from making your decision?” and “Are you planning on speaking with your boss or other companies about our offer?” or “Should we still expect your answer by Friday?”

Too often, at this stage, candidates tell us to “try again” — and we do! Never revise an offer that has been extended without a firm commitment that the candidate will accept without condition. If a candidate asks you to adjust an offer in any way (compensation, start date, title, etc.), your response should be “I’m not saying I can do anything, but if we make this change, do I have your assurance that you are accepting?”


We all know there is a big difference between an acceptance and a hire. Even after a candidate accepts, there is still work to be done before you can call it a “close.” In a sense, the resignation is the most crucial step. This is because if it does not go well, you not only have an unfilled role, but have wasted a lot of your company’s time and effort. There are some things you can do to get past this final step which build on your past conversations about the resignation.

  • Help the candidate control the resignation. The candidate needs to understand and embrace the idea of notifying the boss of a decision, as opposed to starting a dialogue.
  • Role-play with the candidate. Discuss how the boss might respond. Pose questions such as “What happens when (not “if”) your boss asks what she can do to keep you?” and “What will you do when she asks you not to tell anyone until she has a chance to speak with management?” or “What happens when she offers to allow you to work from home two days a week?”
  • Create a sense of accountability. Have the candidate call you immediately after resigning, to let you know how it went.
  • Maintain contact. In addition to your own outreach, schedule “spontaneous” calls for interview-team members to contact the candidate during the important time between resignation and start date.

A Few “Closing” Words

Strengthening your closing skills allows you to directly contribute to the performance of your company by landing their most desired candidates. The best way to improve your technical recruiting abilities in this area is to experiment with new methods. Start by working some of these techniques into your standard approach to each step of the process. The effectiveness and value will show up in your acceptance rate, days-to-fill rate, and best of all, the appreciation from the business you support by contributing to their next outstanding hire.

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