Let’s take a hypothetical situation where you’re the CFO of a thriving micro-brewing company (since we’re being hypothetical, we might as well have some fun). Your controller resigned a couple of months ago, giving you two weeks’ notice and you’ve been busy trying to fill their chair ever since. And now, finally, after a long, arduous search, you’ve managed to identify one candidate that you think would do a stellar job as your new controller.
Make Me an Offer I Can’t Refuse
You make an offer to this candidate and she gives you a verbal assurance that she’s going to take the job. But two days later she phones you up and relays the bad news that her current employer made her a counter-offer she just couldn’t refuse and she is going to stay where she was.
If you’ve done much hiring over the years, some version of this story has happened to you. And no doubt, you found it very frustrating to get right to the end of the line, making an offer, only to have the whole thing blow up in your face at the last minute.
There’s no way to avoid ever losing a candidate to a counter offer, but there are a number of ways of reducing the chances of a candidate accepting a counter offer.
First and foremost, you can eliminate most of the people who might be susceptible to a counter offer at the onset of the interviewing process. These people usually have fairly thin stories regarding why they want to leave their current employer. They may say things like: “I haven’t had a promotion in a couple of years” or “I’ve been getting a little bored lately.”
My personal favourite, which only recruiters get, is: “I wasn’t really looking but you called me.”
People just don’t change jobs that easily – it’s kind of a big deal. And if the candidate doesn’t have a credible reason for making a move there’s a very good chance that they’re going to pull themselves out of the process before they get to the offer stage (but not before they’ve wasted a lot of your time). Even worse, they often turn down a reasonable offer or accept the job and then accept a counteroffer when they go to resign.
The common factor in all of these situations is that whether they realize it or not, the candidate wasn’t really looking for a new job, they were looking for some affirmation – either from the market or from their boss.
Tell Me Again Why You Want to Work for Me
The way to avoid this particular type of counteroffer risk candidate is to challenge them in terms of their interest in taking your job, or conversely, leaving their current position, right through the interview process. Be especially cautious with people who indicate that they’d like to make a move but don’t have a clear idea of what kind of job/career path they’d like next.
My Boss Just Won’t Let Go
There’s another type of counteroffer risk candidate, and that’s the indispensable employee. This is typically a more junior professional or manager who’s obviously on the fast track. They usually want to move because they feel that their career has stalled at their current employer. When this person goes in to resign, what can happen is that their current employer brings forward all the opportunities that would have come the candidate’s way in the future into the present. They offer that person a big promotion, a big jump in compensation and in some cases, I’ve even seen a retention bonus thrown in for good measure.
Let’s Talk About Counteroffers
The indispensable employee type candidate doesn’t usually put themselves in play without good reason so just challenging them about their interest in making a move to your shop isn’t as effective. In this case, you need to bring up the spectre of a counteroffer sometime before you get to the offer stage. Unless you get a full-throated protestation that they’d never take a counteroffer, you’re running a risk of counteroffer.
Sometimes, counteroffers work because they come as a real surprise to the candidate. The candidate will go through the entire interview process projecting what it will be like in their new job without really examining how they feel about leaving their current job. So when their employer all of a sudden shows the love via a counteroffer, they might, like Dorothy did in The Wizard of Oz, conclude that there’s no place like home.
If you can walk the candidate through the resignation process and play out the counteroffer scenario beforehand, they have a chance to decide how they really feel about their current employer and play out ahead of time, how they’d react to a counteroffer.
Have a Plan B
Last but not least, there’s one sure fire way of making sure that you don’t get burnt by having your finalist candidate accept a counteroffer and that’s to have two finalist candidates in the process when it comes down to the offer stage.