Let's assume you've got a candidate and an employer who have wrapped up their interviews and want to work together. How, exactly, do you choreograph an offer and get it accepted?
I take the position that an offer is worthless or even counterproductive unless it's accepted. Therefore, a "clean" offer is the gold standard to strive for.
A clean offer is an offer that's been pre-accepted by the candidate. In other words, you've closed the candidate at a salary lower than what you know or anticipate the company is planning to offer, and tied up any loose ends that might present a problem. So, when the company tells you they've decided to make an offer, you reply that the candidate has already authorized you to accept. To seal the deal, you ask the employer to call the candidate to shake hands over the phone, and generate a letter of acceptance for the candidate to sign and date.
A less desirable option is the "conditional" offer, in which the offer is extended and accepted, but with one or more components to be determined prior to the start date. Conditional offers are fairly common in sales positions, in which there might be two or three different commission plans to choose from, or territories that need to be carved out. Generally, these deals can be put to bed with a simple meeting between the candidate and his or her prospective supervisor. But if the stumbling blocks are significant (as in dealing with a relocation), you might need to make eleventh-hour adjustments to protect the placement.
Avoiding a Train Wreck
The most risky offer is the "hope and pray" offer, in which the company extends an offer and waits for the answer. As a spectator, you're stuck in the middle, hoping and praying the offer will satisfy the candidate.
If the offer is accepted, congratulations. If the offer is rejected, the employer has to decide whether to up the ante, negotiate the sticking points, or find another candidate. I really dislike "hope and pray" offers, as there are too many unknowns. For example, is it the terms of the offer driving the candidate's decision – or is it the job itself? You can always adjust a compensation package; but you can't easily change the job, the company or the culture. And if the candidate isn't thrilled, you've got no Plan B to fall back on.
Most "hope and pray" offers allow the candidate time to "think it over," which creates a recruiting dilemma. Do you coax, bully or beg? Play good cop or bad? Shut up or make a nuisance of yourself?
I've found the best thing to do is stay calm, go to a neutral corner and wait it out, unless the candidate has a question or needs factual information. To increase your leverage, you and the employer can set a "drop dead" date, after which the offer expires.
Not long ago, I found myself in a potential train wreck situation. The candidate, after completing two strong interviews, said he wanted to work for my client company. The company also was interested, but wanted me to do some due diligence before they extended an offer.
The candidate then confessed that he had somehow attracted the interest of a couple other companies, and had scheduled interviews with both. When I asked how my company ranked in comparison to the others, he was unwilling to say. When I asked if he could name a price at which he'd shut down all other activity and accept an offer from my client, he couldn't do it.
So, rather than wage a bidding war we were certain to lose, my client and I decided to pass on the candidate and find someone who really wanted the job and was willing to commit. While it was heartbreaking to let an otherwise qualified candidate slip through our fingers, it reminded me that my role is to help the employer hire great talent -- not hand over a bargaining chip to a wily candidate.
- Bill Radin
Bill Radin is a top-producing recruiter whose innovative books, tapes and training seminars have helped thousands of recruiting professionals and search consultants achieve peak performance and career satisfaction. Bill's extensive experience makes him an ideal source of techniques, methods and ideas for rookies who want to master the fundamentals—or veterans ready to jump to a higher level of success.