Using Incentives to Attract Interviewees — Don’t Miss This Trend

If you are having difficulty getting prospects to interview, join the trend of offering qualified candidates incentives for interviewing or job acceptance. This might initially sound like a crazy idea until you realize that using incentives to attract customers is a proven practice with a high ROI. So learn from marketing and offer small incentives (usually a gift card) for showing up for an interview or for interview transportation costs if they are hired (High Flying Foods in San Francisco for example now offers a $50 Visa card, as well as a $500 sign-on bonus).

Grow a Pair — 12+ Ways to Reduce Candidate Resistance

Recruiting leaders and hiring managers should realize that the power has shifted and top candidates now have the largest share of leverage in the hiring process. So, to overcome any significant resistance to interviewing or accepting an offer, to consider a variety of actions to get your candidates over the hump. In addition, if you’re the first to offer incentives in your recruiting marketplace, your firm can gain a significant competitive advantage. A list of the recruiting incentives and resistance reducing actions that you should consider are below.

Increasing interview participation

There are numerous proven ways that corporations can use to increase the number of applicants that are willing to accept an interview. They include:

  • Interview participation gift card — Offer an incentive to prequalified candidates for successfully completing an offered interview. Call it transportation reimbursement and provide it in the form of a $25-$75 Visa cash card or Starbucks card.
  • Offer product discount or samples — where it is feasible. Provide those who complete an offered interview a one-time product discount card. Or alternatively, offer them a gift (swag) bag of your firm’s products.
  • Offer a meal — The offer of a free meal can be an effective incentive, and it may also make the scheduled interview appear to be a more relaxing exchange. So, either interview them over a meal or offer to pay for one after the interview. Offering a follow-up meal “for two” can also be useful in getting the spouse also interested in your firm.
  • Make attending interviews much easier — You can increase interview participation if you make interviews more convenient. Consider offering remote live video interviews that employees can complete during breaks or lunch, or hold interviews outside of work hours. Also, consider placing a sign inside your retail locations that offer “instant interviews” to those who meet all your qualifications.
  • Let them know upfront that they meet the qualifications — Many candidates are reluctant to interview because they don’t like being rejected. So, letting a candidate know upfront that they are qualified can alleviate a great deal of that fear because they know that they have already overcome this critical initial hurdle.
  • Change who makes the offer of an interview — Rather than having a recruiter offer the interview, consider having a manager make the offer. Candidates are much more likely to accept an interview if they know that a senior manager is interested in them and if they will be present during the interview.
  • Pay for their work time — When almost every candidate is fully employed, taking off work can be an expensive disincentive. For top hourly candidates, agree to make up any lost wages because they interviewed during work time. 

Increasing offer acceptance rates

If you’re also having difficulty getting top candidates to accept your offers, here are some incentives and action steps that you should consider.

  • Offer a sign-on bonus — Even when a new job is exciting, there is a natural tendency for employed people to stay where they are. Consider overcoming some of that resistance by offering from $500 to 50 percent of their monthly pay as an incentive to say yes. Being willing to put cash up front also sends a clear message to the candidate that the firm considers them to be a valuable hire. And if you’re nervous about new hires taking advantage of you, this offer acceptance bonus can even be put in the form of a loan that doesn’t have to be repaid if the new hire stays with the firm for a designated number of months. Incidentally, you can make any sign-on bonus even more powerful by converting them to an “exploding bonus” (the bonus amount decreases significantly if the finalist delays their decision to say yes).
  • Include an “unexpected surprise” — if you really want to impress and overcome any concerns, consider adding a significant and unexpected “WOW surprise” that hasn’t even been discussed because it can make all the difference in closing the deal. Adding something extra (when you didn’t need to) reveals to the finalist that you’re willing to go “above and beyond.” Often, that pleasant surprise also sends the message that there may be many other positive surprises coming if they accept the offer.
  • Offer them a development budget — Most top candidates are extremely interested in continuing their professional development. You can excite them to say yes by offering them a designated first-year development budget of between $1,500 and $3,000. Make that incentive even more powerful by allowing the new hire to control how it is spent.
  • Add a salary reopener clause — Some candidates are reluctant to accept an offer because they feel that they deserve more initial compensation. In the cases where you can’t offer enough money up front to satisfy them or because you are still unsure of their value, consider offering an automatic salary reopener clause. For example, you can guarantee a salary review after six months on the job, because at that point both sides will know the real value of the new hire.
  • Offer peer interviews — Coworkers, because they “live the job,” have proven to be among the most effective salespeople. Let top candidates know that they will be interviewing with their peers and future coworkers, where they can get straight talk. Provide top candidates with short profiles of team members.
  • Show that you meet their job acceptance criteria — Because top candidates have multiple choices, ask them to identify the criteria that they will use to choose between multiple offers. Craft your offer process so that it reinforces the fact that this job meets each of their job acceptance criteria.

And Finally, Make Changes in How You Measure And Incent Internal Recruiters

Even though third-party and executive recruiters are always incented for making hires, it is inexplicably rare for corporate recruiters to receive quality-of-hire incentives. If you begin measuring the quality of hire for each recruiter and then offer performance incentives, you will encourage your recruiters to move out of transactional mode and to adapt data-driven best practices that produce superior results.

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Final Thoughts

View recruiting as a process that requires data-driven marketing and sales approaches. Take a minute and view your prospects and candidates as “customers.” And to maximize customer participation, you must scientifically identify and then find a way to minimize each of the barriers that reduce their willingness to apply, to show up for an interview, and to accept an offer. With a systematic way of reducing barriers, you will likely find that most of your talent shortages will be dramatically reduced.


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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," 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 and on He lives in Pacifica, California.