eady to hire someone? Don’t make an offer.
Once all the interviews and the
candidate reviews are completed, making an offer actually
reduces the chances of hiring the candidate you want.
Why? Offers can be turned down.
Then how else would you hire
A client has the best chance of
landing and retaining a candidate when the details are
discussed orally and agreed upon before anything is put in
writing. At that point, the written offer merely becomes a
My executive search firm worked
with a private manufacturer that was owned by four partners.
They decided to hire a person to lead a remote site in a
location most candidates found to be undesirable. They had
been searching for someone for this position for quite some
time before retaining us.
The candidate was drawn to that
area because he had spent his boyhood summers on a nearby
lake. He was also a very attractive candidate with the perfect
combination of skills and experience, which was in high
demand; he had numerous other options across the country. He
was earning $400,000 a year in his current location but was
living in a place that didn’t fit his or his family’s
Because he wasn’t happy with his
current location, he had agreed to move to our client’s
location for $225,000 per year plus a lucrative incentive
package. In addition, one of the partners had told him they
would be offering him a guaranteed three-year contract.
The company’s owners got together
to work on an offer to the candidate. As an aside, it’s never
a good idea to have a committee of four people hammer out the
details in a contract; the old adage that a camel is a horse
designed by committee holds fast.
One partner said that three years
was simply too long a time period and they should offer only
an 18-month contract. Two other partners recommended a broader
noncompete clause, a more comprehensive confidentiality clause
and other changes to the contract language.
The final contract was mailed to
the candidate. He read it, was shocked and dropped out of the
This may be an extreme example, but
it illustrates the wrong way to make an offer. Promising a
three-year contract and then offering less is foolish; in good
recruiting, the interviewers need to be sure they are on the
However, the time period was not
this candidate’s major issue. It was assorted clauses in the
contract language that surprised and discouraged him.
Imagine a 13-page, single-spaced
contract filled with legalese, termination agreements and
noncompete clauses. Research indicates that only 7 percent of
communication consists of the actual words used. Thirty-eight
percent consists of your tone of voice and inflection.
The remaining 55 percent of
communication is visual. When negotiating in writing, only 7
percent of communication abilities are used. People can easily
misinterpret the meaning and intent when something is
delivered in writing.
Many people have the impression
that something in writing is carved in stone. If they don’t
like what they read, they walk away.
A written offer should never be
thought of as the starting point for a negotiation. All too
often, good recruitments turn sour when the client quickly
makes a written offer with their boilerplate contract before
discussing all the details with the candidate.
There was one candidate for a
management position that required a rare, hard-to-find skill
set. We were told by the candidate two days after his
interview that, without our knowledge, the client had already
sent an offer. He also told us that he had no interest in it;
he was earning $120,000, and they had offered him a raise of
only $10,000. They offered to cover only part of his
relocation costs, so he viewed their offer as a financial step
A few weeks later, someone else
offered him $25,000 more than our client had offered along
with a better relocation package, and he accepted it. The
client told us afterward that they would have gone that high,
but the candidate lost all interest in them when he read their
first written offer.
Companies will have the best chance
at recruiting a desirable candidate if:
• They start by asking the
candidate what they would require to join the organization.
This should be discussed well before the person is interviewed
to ensure that you are not so far separated that you are
wasting your time. If the candidate stutters and stammers (as
they often do) and won’t give you an answer, throw the ball
back into their court by saying, “We’re still determining what
we’re going to pay for this position. We’re going to pay what
we need to attract the right person. Bearing that in mind,
what would it take to get you to consider this?”
With a soft approach and some tact,
you can usually get the candidate to tell you what they’re
earning and what they feel they need to be paid to make a
change. This approach also provides market data and insight
that the intended compensation package simply isn’t going to
work and requires adjustments.
• Discuss in detail all facets of
compensation and contractual issues orally. Whether the offer
will be a simple letter or a complex contract, go through it
orally and point by point before sending a written
• Finish it in person. Perhaps the
best results we’ve had have been when we’ve told the
candidate, “They want to make you an offer. What will it have
to contain to bring you on board?” If the candidate brings up
any points that separate them from the client, we go back and
forth orally until we get close. At that point, we recommend
that the client and the candidate get together to work out the
details. When you get face to face, the big stumbling blocks
generally become little, and an agreement can be reached.
• Never present a written offer to
a candidate until every detail has been discussed with and
accepted by the candidate. This makes the offer a mere
confirmation, rather than the start of a protracted
negotiation. As an added precaution, label the offer “DRAFT”
and include a note that says, “If any little things appear to
be not as we discussed or are confusing, please feel free to
give us a call to discuss these issues.” This will head off
the candidate getting upset over an issue that may appear big
to the candidate but insignificant to you.
Once we bumped into many stumbling
blocks. Again, this was one of those rare cases where the
candidate was earning significantly more ($390,000) than our
client could pay but was willing to take less salary in
exchange for a lifestyle change. After meeting her, our client
described her as unusually qualified and reached up well
beyond their salary range to $260,000. Fortunately for them,
money was not her driving force. She had earned enough at age
53 through stock grants to retire and wanted to move back to
the client’s location, which was near where she grew up (and
close to her aging mother).
The client prepared an offer for
her, but instead of sending it to her, sent it to us, and
asked us to review it with her by phone. We started by going
through the key points, and unearthed a number of minor
obstacles and one major one—the client wanted to offer only a
six-month termination agreement, and she felt that the
industry standard for someone at her level was 18 months.
Knowing the candidate was
considering only our client’s position at that time, we spent
several weeks going between the client and the candidate,
working out each issue until we reached an agreement (they
settled on a 12-month termination agreement). Once we reached
that point, the client sent her the offer/contract, which she
signed within a day.
There is almost always a need for
expediency when it comes to recruiting. The longer the wait,
the greater the risk of losing the candidate. However, don’t
use this as an excuse to formalize the whole thing too quickly
by making an immediate offer in writing.
Instead, make sure that to keep a
continual dialog going with the candidate, and once an oral
agreement is struck, overnight the offer.
Workforce Management Online,
February 2010 -- Register