Thou Shalt Never Extend An Offer Unless Certain It Will Be Accepted

If there is one commandment hiring managers and recruiters must keep sacred, it is this: NO offer will ever go out without the certainty it will be accepted. There is no way to fall from grace faster in the eyes of your client than to have a few candidates turn down fair offers. It may be one of the last recruiting commandments you break with a particular customer.

We are trying to win in a candidate-driven playing field. Current demographic and economic trends mean top talent can choose their teams carefully. Impact players — from salespeople to CEOs — can receive multiple job offers, with plenty of time to think about them. This workforce reality is fraught with potential unpleasant repercussions for our industry. We must work hard to retain control of the hiring process, keeping it out of the hands of candidates, or we’re not doing our jobs. That means pre-closing every candidate all along the hiring process and specifically before the final interview.

I had a longtime client in Chicago retain me to place a hard-to-find Manager of Systems Engineering. After a three-week search, I narrowed the candidate pool to three outstanding people. I pre-closed two of them, but not the third. At the conclusion of the interview process, my client decided to extend an offer to the third candidate. This started a chain reaction I’ve never forgotten: the candidate turned them down flat and my client promptly fired me. I was taken aback, but I understood the frustration of that hiring manager. I had broken an important commandment, and it shattered the trust and control I had worked so hard to establish.

Recruiters are not just highly paid resume pushers. We are professional matchmakers who must manage the entire hiring process from conducting an in-depth needs analysis to a 30-days-on-the-job assessment. Not only do we find, attract, and hire hidden “A” players, we take care of every detail therein. And we must understand and address every need, issue, objection and pre-close along the way.

In my office we keep the commandment. No offer ever goes out without the certainty it will be accepted. This forces us to completely qualify and pre-close candidates and hiring managers before the final interview. Since I’ve instituted this policy, and trained my team to honor it, we have seen many positive benefits.

– We save face. Zero turndowns on written offers.
– We eliminate any last-minute objections or concerns. All are addressed prior to the final interview.
– We save time. Minimal back-and-forth negotiations.
– We close. Because it happens earlier in the sales process.
– We retain control of the process.
– We save trees! No unneeded paperwork goes out if it isn’t a sure thing.
– We are loved by both clients and candidates.

It’s not difficult to adhere to this policy. But it requires a confident and pro-active approach from recruiters and hiring managers. Make sure you set expectations with candidates early and often in the search process. Let them know what the consequences will be for non-compliance. It may sound harsh, but the clearer you are, the less room there is for confusion and deal-breaking behavior.

You and any candidate should agree upon the basics including: communication time frames, the hiring process, a policy of openness and honesty, and the “commit number” — the salary the recruiter can accept on a candidate’s behalf before the final interview. If you wait until the end of the process to obtain a firm commit number, you will encounter the dreaded commit number creep. This phenomenon occurs when a candidate’s commit number continues to rise due to positive feedback received over the course of the hiring process. Prevent this unprofessional, unacceptable and predictable creep from getting into your search. Get the commit number as early as possible in the search process!

Time and again, I’ve benefited from other recruiters’ reluctance to pre-close candidates. I was recently retained for a senior vice-president search by one of the largest super regional banks. When I conducted the needs analysis for the position, I discovered the bank had already offered the position to four individuals, and been turned down four times. They had been working with a recruiter who could find the talent — but who could not pre-close the candidates to save his life. The bank fired him because it simply could no longer afford the frustration, time and expense of one rejection after another.

To set expectations with a candidate:

“Joe Candidate, for us to move forward, we need to set expectations on how we work together on a go-forward basis. What is your preferred means of communication: email, cell phone, or work phone? Cell phone, great. When is the best time to reach you? Mornings before 9:00, lunchtime and after 5:00 p.m. That will work for me. Please understand that when I do call you, it will not be about a trivial issue, it will be very important. Can we agree on a maximum four-hour timeframe for any return calls? Great. I assure you; I am working on your behalf as well as my client’s. If I don’t meet our agreed-upon time frame, you have the right to fire me. However, if you don’t honor that agreement, I will assume you are no longer interested in the opportunity, and I will remove you from the process. Can we agree to proceed in this manner?”

Don’t take it for granted that once you and a candidate have set expectations the hard work is done. Life can change in a moment. Someone gets promoted. A recruiter contacts your top candidate offering a dream job. A wife finds out she’s pregnant — great news for the couple, but not for the recruiter. To do our job well, we must re-qualify the candidate every time we talk — because things change.

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Re-qualifying an in-process candidate is not hard to do. Questions like, “Last time we talked, you were at a 9 on a scale of 1-10? Are you still at a 9 or 10?” or “Can you see yourself working for this company in the next two weeks?” I also find more general inquiries can be instructive: “Has anything changed since the last time we talked?” or “How is your spouse handling all this excitement? What does your spouse think about the new opportunity?” If you sense hesitation, it’s your job to go further. Find out why the interest level is dropping: identify and address objections. Be ready to take the candidate out of the process if you feel it is going in the wrong direction.

A take-away close — letting a candidate know they have been taken out of an opportunity — is one of the strongest closes in the recruiting business. People generally want what they can’t have. When they see something slipping away, they often regain waning interest. That’s why this technique works well in recruiting, buying a new car, or in relationships. If you or the hiring authority overinflates a candidate’s ego, you run the risk of relinquishing the power in the process. Reasonable offers are refused. The candidate is in control, and that can artificially raise commit numbers.

Good recruiters pre-close and pre-qualify. Great recruiters go another step in continually re-qualifying. The most important conversation you will ever have with a candidate is setting the initial expectations. The second most important conversation is the one just prior to the final interview. This is your chance to get a spoken commitment from the candidate. That she will take the job — if all goes well — at the agreed-upon commit number.

This conversation should be thorough and leave nothing open to interpretation. Go over interview time/place, verify interest level, and the agreed-upon commit number (including permission to negotiate appropriate salary, bonus, vacation time, or benefits). If at any time in this conversation you hear or feel the interest level has dropped, go in-depth. Probe to find out what the objection is and handle it immediately. Don’t be timid; if the candidate is wavering, consider the take-away close.

Fickle candidates are not top candidates. If you’ve addressed every objection, and a candidate won’t commit, stop. You are about to break our commandment. There is a very real possibility an offer will be made, and it will be declined. Save everyone time, money, and frustration and get rid of the candidate.

Recruiters and hiring managers are, in some sense, their brothers’ keepers. They must be tough enough to eliminate even excellent candidates when there is a lack of commitment in any stage of the hiring process. When we honor the commandment — Thou shall never extend an offer unless certain it will be accepted — we prove to our clients that we are worthy of their trust and their continued business. You lose candidates who would have wasted your time . . . and gain candidate control, client appreciation, and more and more placements.

Jon Bartos is a premier speaker and consultant on all aspects of human capital. As CEO of Jonathan Scott Inter-national in Mason, Ohio, he has achieved industry-leading success. He is one of an elite group of executive recruiters who bill over $1 million annually. Jon has established JSI as a top executive search and contract-staffing firm. The office has won over 13 international awards in the MRI franchise system, including International Billing Manager of the Year and Top 10 SC Office. Jon runs an executive-coaching firm, The Magnum Program. He also hosts a career-focused talk show on Fox radio, Talent Wins with Jon Bartos, Your Personal Career Coach. Jon can be reached at (513) 701-5910 or

Jon Bartos is a premier writer, speaker, and consultant on all aspects of human capital and achievement. As president and CEO of Jonathan Scott International, he has achieved industry-leading success. He is one of an elite group of executive recruiters who have billed over $1 million annually. In a 10-year period from 1999 to 2009, he cashed in over $10 million in personal production. He has established Jonathan Scott International as a top 10% executive search and contract staffing firm. The office has won over 17 international awards in the MRI Network, including International Billing Manager of the Year and Top 10 SC Office. He also competes nationally in Masters Track and Field and is a four-time national champion in the Pole Vault. To help recruiters reach their potential, he developed the RPM Dashboard, a total revenue performance management system for the recruiting industry that allows offices and individuals to set goals, get a series of weekly dashboard views of performance metrics and receive specific suggestions for immediate improvement of critical areas. Contact Jon at 513-701-5910 or