You’ve found the perfect candidate and they’ve accepted. Congratulations! Having held all the cards throughout the hiring process, this can be an uncomfortable time for managers. When days tick by and there’s still no sign of a signed contract or confirmed start date, even the most trusting of hiring managers will grow suspicious. Until your new hire walks through the door on the first day, there's no ironclad guarantee they'll join.
So in the period between making an offer and having it officially accepted, hiring managers may need to fend off the risk of a counteroffer by the candidate's employer. Here are a few ways of doing that.
Initial qualifying conversations—even during those early phone screenings—are a great time to get candidates to open up. If you already ask candidates their salary expectations, you may as well also ask what they think their present company might do if they were to resign.
Ask outright if the company, to their knowledge, has a policy or track record of counteroffering. It’s useful to know of a probable eventuality. You may catch a candidate off guard, but if they're aware of such a practice, they're likely to have an opinion about it.
Next, ask them what they might do if faced with a counteroffer. It’s easier to gauge sincerity face-to-face; presented the right way, people can be very candid. But don't phrase this in a way that puts somebody on the defensive. Focus your question on the key priorities and criteria they're focusing on in order to make the next big decision of their career. Conveying a genuine interest in their situation and goals can encourage more openness.
Admitting that they'd potentially consider a counteroffer isn't necessarily a reason to exclude a prospective hire from a shortlist. Just be aware of any other opportunities they may be looking at, the likely salary level of those roles, and the timeframe of these processes.
Needless to say, it’s always possible that a candidate could be less than truthful and declare they'd never take a counteroffer even if they would. What's more, it's generally difficult for any hiring manager to get a full sense of the other opportunities a candidate might be weighing up. But these perils are all the more reason why regular communication is so critical throughout the hiring process. Don't just grill a candidate mercilessly—that's a big turnoff for talent you're trying to woo—but use each interaction to subtly test their interest. A person’s level of flexibility, communication, and availability through the interview stages are usually good indicators.
However, if you do get a sense that the candidate is likely to stay put for the right reasons, it's time to cut them loose. If anything, their candor has helped you. It’s always better to take action as soon as this becomes clear—ideally before you make an offer. If a candidate begins to worry that you're considering other contenders, they'll either make a more impassioned case for themselves or else fall off the radar, confirming your suspicions.
Understanding a candidate’s motivations for a career move is key to fending off the threat of a potential counteroffer. Use your interview process to get a better grasp of the things a candidate is most looking for, then build a case for the new role that's based on fulfilling them.
Everyone involved in the interview process should tap into an individual’s motivations—not just the lead hiring manager. Anyone on your team who's involved with interview debriefs and feedback calls should ask questions about what appeals most about the role, then regroup to compare notes and see if the candidates' answers are consistent.
One motivation that should raise significant concern, of course, is money. If someone is thinking of leaving their current company for money, they're quite likely to stay for it, too.
If you indicate the salary range before making an offer, listen carefully for the candidate's response. Anything less than resounding enthusiasm should signal that you need to explore their reservations. To be sure, a savvy candidate will keep their cards close to their chest while negotiating—and that's fine. But it doesn't prevent you from being clear about the company’s expectations on the offer and resignation process, or from making the turnaround of paperwork a priority.
If possible, make the offer face-to-face, give the candidate the contract in person, and request a next-day return. Then schedule a call immediately after their resignation to show support for what may have been a difficult conversation, and keep reiterating how delighted the whole team is that they're joining. Start penciling in "meet-the-team" meetings immediately: Putting a date in the calendar increases commitment and adds focus during a long notice period.
But your job isn't done yet. Post-resignation, it’s vitally important to maintain regular contact with the candidate until they're through the door on day one. Arrange a lunch with their new boss or colleagues, and encourage everyone to keep up a regular dialogue. Get the candidate’s input on upcoming projects, share updates on company developments, and send links to articles or a recently published annual report. Make them feel part of their new business right away, even before their start date. This helps keep your new hire focused on the role they've just accepted, and it cuts the temptation to follow up with additional recruiters or go on any remaining interviews.
You can also seek their help. Ask them for referrals for other vacancies or recommendations for the company’s talent watch. The referrals themselves are less important than their display of loyalty to the new business. After all, that's the prize you've just worked so hard to win.
Jenny Hargrave is the founder of CV writing and Interview coaching service InterviewFit in London, as well as an executive search firm, ExecutiveFit.