Avoiding Offer Rejection

Jun 7, 2013

Enough years in the recruiting business and enough missed placement opportunities by mishandling the offer scenario has taught me to be patient making job offers.

In a tight market for talent, companies want to move top candidates through the hiring process quickly and try to lock the candidate down before competitors do. But first in this race is often times a losing position, as candidates use a hybrid practical/emotional decision-making process when selecting a new job opportunity.

Psychology plays a major factor when it comes to choosing a job, and we as recruiters need to first be aware of it, understand it, then master it to achieve high closing rates on the most promising candidates. We can start down this path by exploring the different job seeker profiles we as recruiters come across.

Job Seeker Profiles

When a job seeker decides to put themselves out there for new opportunities, it’s for one of a few different reasons. Here are the job seeker profiles we see in the market:

  1. Seeking a promotion/better pay at their current company (leverage)
  2. Layoff/out of work
  3. Unhappily employed and seeking a change (most often due to an extenuating circumstance at their current company, usually caused by their relationship with their manager, lack of interesting work, or company culture.)
  4. Relocation

There are certainly other reasons, but these are the most common. The first thing as a recruiter we must do is identify which type of candidate we are dealing with, as each profile will require a slightly different approach to managing the hiring relationship.

For example, Profile 1 candidates are going to play you. They have no intention of leaving their current company even if they tell you they do, and will work through your process just to get the offer that they can take back to their boss to negotiate the promotion/raise. It’s entrapment/blackmail at its finest.

Fortunately, you likely won’t see much of this, as this profile requires a hint of deviancy that most job seekers just don’t have. But your job is to weed these candidates out early, as they’ll drain your resources and leave you and your hiring managers out to dry.

Profile 2, the active job seekers who don’t have a job, will be anxious to see an offer from you because they really need a job.  Similar to Profile 4, the relo candidates, they’ll communicate well, tell you everything they have going on, and push to lock down an offer as soon as they can.  Be careful though as Profile 4 candidates often morph into Profile 3 candidates, which are the focus of my post.

Profile 3 candidates are common, and dangerous, and most often when you make an offer to a candidate who doesn’t get accepted, you are dealing with a Profile 3 candidate: the one who is ready to leave their current company for the right reasons, but doesn’t need a new job and as such, plays the field. These are a tricky lot, but a little bit of psychology and a lot of patience will help you grab these candidates when you want them.

Understanding the Psychology

The unhappily employed candidate is going to stay at their current job as long as they can until they find the best possible next step for them. They’ll interview as many places as they can, then use each of those companies’ interest to make the other companies more interested.

This is only natural, and the candidates don’t set out to play any kind of game. The game finds them. It’s similar to real estate, when multiple offers start appearing for the same property and realtors compete to win for their clients, and the selling agent works to get the best possible offer for their clients. No realtor wants to have to play the game (though I’m sure many get a small thrill out of the excitement) but it’s part of the job.

Candidates who apply to your jobs (or get referred in) who fit this profile have the best intentions. They are looking for a new place to hang their hat. Money will be a concern but is not the key driving factor for them. They are great candidates to work with and most often will be the ones you make offers to.

But they are also the ones who most often will turn your offers down.

By the time they are talking with your company, they are probably already talking with at least two or three other companies about similar positions. They are getting a sense that they have value in the market, and that is raising the stakes for them a bit. Their mentality shifts from “I need to find a new company to work for” to “I need to command the best possible offer for myself.”

Your goal is to make sure that if you are the first offer, you are the only one.

The Offer Dance

Like a well-choreographed waltz, you must learn the steps and lead the dance with your partner, the candidate.

The steps:

Confirming interest/commitment from hiring manager: While the dance starts on your first call with the candidate (and staying close through the interview process to find out what other jobs they are interviewing for, and how far they are along in those cycles), things really kick into high gear once you hear from your hiring manager that they are ready to make the offer to your candidate.

Pre-closing the Candidate: Ahh, the pre-close. Likely a product of the Robert Half school of thought, the pre-close call is the one when you, as a recruiter, must probe the candidate to get a sense of “where their head is at” as it relates to their job search. If you haven’t built a strong relationship of trust with the candidate from the beginning, you won’t get to dance this step with the candidate. But provided you have, they will give you their attention and you’ll need to ask the big questions:

  • What other opportunities are you looking at that are interesting to you?
  • How does our opportunity compare to the others  What do you like or dislike about the others?
  • When do you want to make your decision?
  • Based on what you know about our opportunity now, what would it take to get you to cut off conversations with the other opportunities?

Pay close attention to the answers your candidate gives.  If you are serious about landing this candidate, this is not just a process exercise — this is the conversation that makes and breaks deals with candidates. Remember too that the candidate does not know they have an offer yet, or one is coming; you hold that info in your back pocket. You can, however, elude to it with phrases like “it sounds like they are really interested in you,” as the candidate will be fishing for this information.

Determining Your Flight Plan: the answers you get to the probing question will help you build your flight plan. If the candidate is not giving you signals that they are ready to accept the position, then you must tell the hiring manager to wait to make an offer. This is not always easy to do, as you are basically telling the manager that they can’t have what they want, but remind them that it is for their own good. My guess is that most offers don’t get accepted because this is the critical mistake made by the recruiter — they don’t push back hard enough on the manager they know the candidate is not ready to accept the offer, and just go ahead and make it anyways.

If you have a stalled situation, your job is to stay close to the candidate, and tease the manager’s interest when appropriate. Most times there is mutual interest, so the candidate will wonder why they aren’t getting an offer yet, which will make them want it more. This is your best tool. If you get a candidate checking in with you every day for an update, you’ve got your fish on the hook. But it might not be time to reel it in just yet. Until you hear from the candidate that they would be willing to accept an offer at “X” terms, you must stay in position and wait them out.

The Green Light

Once the candidate does give you the green light that they are “mentally” ready to accept a position with your company, you must move into closing mode.  The first thing you must do is walk the candidate through the counteroffer scenario.  They may be slightly surprised when you bring this up, but will be glad you did, as they too are thinking about that dreadful conversation they must have with their boss when they tell them that they are leaving the company.

The counteroffer conversation accomplishes a few things: it helps get the candidate mentally ready to commit, and gives you the assurance that they know what they are up against when they go to give notice. In most cases, the best candidates will be assets to their current employers, who will not let them walk out without a fight. You need to arm your candidate with the tools to win this battle.

Remind the candidate why they are looking to leave in the first place, and that the employer will selfishly attempt to lure them to stay for their own selfish reasons, but nothing will change over time. Spend 30 minutes having this conversation, as its a crucial one, and you’ll build trust with your candidate the way few recruiters do.

Once you are out of the weeds on the counteroffer scenario and feel secure that the candidate will not fall into the employer trap to “wait and see what they can come up with to keep them,” check for final assurance that the candidate has their spouse’s blessing on your job. If they don’t, advise them to have that conversation and call you in the morning. Again, patience.

When you have that final clearance, and know the candidate’s floor for salary, you can now move toward making the offer.

Final Thoughts

The overarching theme when making an offer is to be patient and keep your finger closely on the pulse of the candidate. If you make the offer too soon, and the candidate doesn’t feel they have earned it, they’ll use it as leverage for a better offer with one of the other companies they are talking to.

Candidates want to be courted and want to earn a job, not have it just handed to them — after all, if it was that easy for them to get a job at your company, what kind of company are they going to keep there?

Patience and doing the dance steps outlined above will ensure that your offers get accepted. If you can’t get to the green light stage with any candidate, you may want to think twice about making the offer at all. Why  take the time and energy (and disappoint your hiring manager) by making an offer that is used only to better position that candidate for a job with your competitor?

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