Powerful Deal Closers — When You Positively Must Land a Candidate

There are few things more frustrating to a hiring manager or recruiter than having an in-demand top candidate who you have fought hard to sell reject your offer at the last minute. However, if you are willing to go the extra mile, there are some powerful deal closers or sweeteners that you should consider. These deal closers aren’t cheap or easy, but I have seen each of them work amazingly well.

  1. Speed wins most offer competitions — Speed is everything. A “bird in the hand offer” that is made the same day of their final interview (before they leave) is even more impressive. It shows that your manager is decisive and that the candidate is wanted. 
  2. Make them a dream-job offer — for top candidates, ask them to create a list of the characteristics of their ideal or dream job on a blank sheet. Meet their dream-job criteria when you craft their offer.
  3. Influence the influencers — decisions to accept the new job are major decisions, so they are not made alone. Wherever possible, influence those individuals who will influence the candidate’s final decision. Reach out to pre-identified job references, colleagues, mentors, and family members. Provide them with information so that they will proactively go out of their way to encourage the candidate to say yes.  
  4. Hire them both — entice them with a once-in-a-life opportunity to work alongside someone they want to work with. Offer to hire a top colleague, a mentor, their best friend, or a qualified family member as a package deal, and let them initially work together on the same project.
  5. CEO calls — having a passionate and personalized call from your CEO that asks them to say yes, so that “together we can build this company to the next level” is powerful. A handwritten note from the CEO attached to the offer letter is also a nice touch.
  6. Offer an “exploding bonus” — offer them an exploding bonus to put pressure on them to decide quickly. This is where a significant sign-on bonus is offered, but it is contingent on the offer being accepted right away (on the spot or by that evening). After that initial time period, the bonus continually and dramatically decreases until it eventually reaches zero. 
  7. Offer them an automatic salary review — often the major hurdle in accepting a job is their concern about the offered salary being too low. So, if you can’t give them more money initially, agree to reopen the salary discussion three to six months down the road (when both sides know how the new hire has performed). This can alleviate some of their fear that they will be locked into a lower salary for long period of time.
  8. Make the offer face to face — anyone who understands psychology knows that it’s harder to turn a request down in person then it is on the phone. In addition, it’s easier to make arguments that overcome their concerns or to ask for more time when offers are made face-to-face. Select a time and place where they feel comfortable to receive the offer. It can help to make them comfortable during what is almost always a time of trepidation.
  9. Include an “unexpected” surprise in the offer — after several interviews, most know what will be included in their offer. Adding a significant and unexpected “WOW surprise” that hadn’t even been discussed can make all the difference. Unexpected but pleasant surprises (e.g. you can work at home on Friday, or you can pick your own job title) in an offer can often help to seal the deal. Adding something extra (when you don’t need to) reveals that you’re willing to go above and beyond. Often that pleasant surprise sends the message that there may be many other positive surprises coming if they accept the offer. It will also provide them with a “WOW story” that they will likely pass along to their family and colleagues.
  10. Meet each of their job-acceptance criteria — if you know and meet each of the requirements, it’s hard for them to say no. So don’t be subtle. Ask them upfront to list and rank their job-acceptance criteria. Use these criteria to guide your offer. When it’s presented, make sure that they realize that you’ve met each of their stated requirements. 
  11. Offer a no-fault divorce option to minimize fear of failure — some candidates are nervous that the job won’t be a fit. Offer them a non-confrontational way to walk away after six months. Assure them that they’ll get a positive reference and a lump sum payoff if either side feels that it didn’t work out. They can walk away while relatively unharmed. 
  12. Peer contacts can close the deal — if you follow professional sports, you know that the primary reason why many superstars join a team is because another superstar player encouraged them to. Encourage key team members to informally let the person know how much they are needed and that they will be welcomed with open arms. Make sure that you educate the teammates so they know what the candidate cares most about. If the finalist is a referral, also have the referring employee call them and to also try to close the sale.
  13. Offer remote work options — to some, the opportunity to decide to work at home one or more days a week can seal the deal … especially, if your facility is hard to reach without a stressful commute. 
  14. Don’t let them leave the interview without saying yes — it’s not uncommon for candidates to change their mind after they leave their final interview. Consider changing the process so that the offer is made on the spot; encourage them to accept while they are still on your premises. After they go home they have more chances to hear negative feedback from colleagues, friends, and family, as well as receive other job offers or counteroffers from their current boss.
  15. Make the offer letter format more exciting — one reason why offers are rejected is the form and format of the offer letter itself. Letters that are overly legalistic (with a lot of fine print) are turnoffs. Also letters that leave out key “promises” that were verbally discussed during interviews will invariably frustrate the candidate. Make the letter and the process candidate friendly.
  16. Pre-identify “deal breakers” factors — even with the great offer, some candidates will say no because of potential nonnegotiable deal breakers. Be proactive and ask top candidates to list their deal breakers. Throughout the process make sure that any potential deal breaker issue is resolved to the candidate’s satisfaction. 
  17. Be prepared to match other offers — top candidates are likely to get multiple offers. Plan how high you are willing to go in order to “match” or counter their other offers. Refusing to make counteroffers will cause you to lose many top candidates.
  18. Provide them with a status symbol — top candidates often have egos. Be prepared to provide them with some symbols or indicators of status that might seal the deal. This might include a title, an office, an assistant, or a company car. 
  19. Use “peer” interviews as a selling tool — because coworkers “live the job” they are often the most effective at alleviating any fears and in convincing prospects that they would like to join the team. Offer a candidate at least one “peer interview” with the team. 
  20. Have a dedicated “hiring” team — individual managers who don’t hire very often may have rusty candidate selling skills. In some cases it makes sense to use a dedicated “hiring team” which is made up of individuals who are particularly adept at assessing and selling candidates.
  21. Create side-by-side offer comparison “sell” charts — in order to demonstrate to candidates that “what your firm has offered” is superior to any offer from a competitor, provide managers with “side-by-side” offer comparison sheets. This single sheet shows managers (who are typically weak at selling) how the offerings from your firm stack up against the typical offer from each of your major competitor’s. Make it easy for your managers to show each of the areas where your offer is superior. 
  22. Offer a delayed start — occasionally a candidate is reluctant to accept an offer because they don’t feel they will have sufficient time to settle their affairs before making a job move. In those cases, it may be beneficial to offer to delay their start date in order to give them more time. Obviously, this also increases the risk that they may ghost you.
  23. Sell them on the quality of their teammates — reinforce their interest in the job by making them fully aware of the capabilities of their teammates. So compile your own (or LinkedIn) profiles for all key teammates so that the candidate can clearly see that they are joining a winning team that they can learn from. 
  24. Guaranteed money — learn lessons from sports on how to close reluctant candidates. Offering a guaranteed sign-on bonus is one way of providing an even larger incentive to say yes, despite existing doubts. 
  25. Educate them on where they are likely to be in two years — everyone seeking a new position wants to know where he or she will be in a few years. “Show them” by giving them concrete examples of how previous hires have actually progressed. Don’t promise, but do let them know what is possible. 

Do Post-mortems on Offer Successes and Failures 

If you expect to continue to land the most in demand candidates, continually learn from your successes and failures. Start that learning by contacting candidates who reject your offers after a three-month delay, in order to find out what elements in your offer that they didn’t like and what factors cause them to say no. Also, whenever a counteroffer was required to close a deal, revisit your offer process in order to ensure that your firm is not routinely “under offering” with its initial offer.

Final Thoughts

With record low unemployment it’s hard to land even an average candidate. But if you need someone in fields like artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, technology, or data science, you will need extraordinarily powerful tools to close even a single deal. So, if you have the courage and the resources, don’t hesitate to try one or more of the above deal closers. They really work.

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Author’s Note: If this article stimulated your thinking and provided you with actionable tips, follow or connect with me on LinkedIn, subscribe to the ERE Daily, and hear me and others speak at ERE’s Recruiting Conference in October in Washington, D.C.

Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," Staffing.org called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website www.drjohnsullivan.com and on www.ere.net. He lives in Pacifica, California.

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