Counter Offers – Losing candidates in the final Stage

by Veronica Blatt

In the last year we have seen ever increasing competition for executive talent. What was once the finish line has now been moved. The “offer” and “acceptance” were once the focus of recruiters’ and search professionals’ attention. The acceptance now just marks the point where danger of candidate loss begins. The period between offer and start date represents a new challenge for future employer and search team as counteroffers are frequently made.

I can report that what we call “falloffs” used to be a rare occurrence. One or two falloffs in 500 placements was the norm, where professional executive search teams were responsible for the placement. The demand for top talent is at an all-time high and these metrics are on the move. The resulting no shows, falloffs, ghosting on first day or after offer, competing offers and counteroffers are an everyday occurrence. One in twenty-five is a more typical metric in today’s high demand environment. Former employers are not giving in or giving up. The time around the offer, acceptance, or resignation are now times that the former employer and competing employers start to dig in and fight for your ideal candidate.

What was once a time for celebration and communication about the arrival of a new player, the talent you scored, is now a time to hold on a fight. When you bring top talent onto the team, search teams and hiring managers must work diligently to keep the talent they consider “won.” It is time to reduce risks and change your mindset about how secure and effective your hiring process is.

To eliminate or reduce risk, you must first consider where you may be exposed.

The Candidate: Your new hire is quite likely to leverage your offer with their current employer. Make sure you are making your best offer first, not when forced to respond to counteroffers. Spell out all the unique benefits. The candidate started looking for a reason. If you identified pain points at the former employer, make sure to note how and why your offer mitigates those pain points. Work to reinforce that those pain points are not likely to change if they return to the nest.

The candidate will also use your offer to move other interested parties from the sidelines to the competition or to move interested parties timelines to coincide with your timeline. Be willing to set hard deadlines and move on. You are asking for competition if the timeline is not well defined. Take care that deadlines do not become points of undo pressure. It is a balancing act for sure, but as is often said, “time kills all deals.”

Be realistic. Know that what you offer will be made visible and make the offer a thing of beauty and perfection as best you are able. If it is not a clearly compelling offer as you see it, others will find ways to knock it off. Make it a winner.

References as Competition: Pre-hiring reference checks and due diligence are a signal to current employers, past employers and competitive employers that top talent is on the move. Be deliberate and cautious as to when and how this step is taken. Note than in times like these, referees might also be in search of top talent for their own organizations. Old friends can sometimes be coerced into joining their reference’s venture. References also know the point of connection in an industry and can knowingly or inadvertently make the network aware of a pending change. This creates unwanted risk. The work of background checking needs to be done, but increase your discretion and sensitivity in times like these.

Victory Lap Communications: It is exciting and fun, but a “victory lap” with your new hire in the passenger seat is a bad idea. Communication signaling top talent is on the move poses a risk. Social media updates, press releases, or email announcements might draw the wrong type of attention for your pending success. Think it through and have a simple, maybe even understated, communication plan. Celebrate a 60-day anniversary if you need something bigger to make a splash. Boomerang offers (attempts to woo former employees back) are delayed counteroffers.

Resignation: The resignation process will undoubtedly drive a competitive conversation. Until you are able to get the candidate beyond the point of leaving the position and company they know so well, you do not have a new employee. This is an emotional and difficult intersection for almost any candidate. Reinforce why the candidate was considering a change, again, and again, and again! They need to remember why they were not happy. Who they did not feel supported by, and all the things that drove them to consider the change they agreed to when accepting your offer. What we know is easier to hold on to than it is to leave behind. Fight!

In summary, the time between offer and start date can be risky. Do not let down your guard at this point in the hiring process. Stay the course, be deliberate and cautious as you have been throughout the other phases of the process. Mitigate the risk of counteroffers, but be prepared to fight. Good things are worth a fight!

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