Recruiting Rule #1: Never Make an Offer that Won’t be Accepted

January 5, 2015

If you've ever had an offer turned down or had a candidate say, "I have to think about it," you made the offer too soon. You've probably also broken the cardinal principle that every recruiter must follow: "Never make a formal offer until it's been 100% accepted. Test it first, test it again, and continue to test it until the candidate says yes." Only then make the offer.

As everyone knows, candidates use offers to obtain counter-offers or negotiate other offers. This will become more common as hiring demands in the U.S. accelerate in 2015. By testing offers before you make them, you'll be in a position to be the last company to extend the offer, minimizing the chances the candidate will renege. While you want the candidate to have reasonable time to think about the offer, you also want to know what the person is thinking about. They will only tell you this if you haven't made the offer formal.

Start the testing process after the first interview by asking, “Based on what you now know about the job, is this something you'd be interested in pursuing seriously?” There’s more to this of course, but assuming the answer is "yes" and you've moved the candidate successfully through multiple interviews, let's fast-forward to testing a final offer.

At the final offer stage, ask: “Based on what you now know about the job, is it one you'd be willing to accept if an offer was fair?” If the candidate hesitates at this phase after expressing serious interest earlier, it’s likely something better has turned up. In this case the recruiter needs to figure out what it is before extending an offer. Try to uncover the concern by saying, “It seems to me you're a bit reluctant to move forward. This is surprising given all of the interviews and effort involved so far both on your part and others in the company. Something about the job must still be bothering you. Would you mind telling me what it is?”

You must uncover the problem. Sometimes what candidates tell you at this late stage is misleading in an attempt to disguise the real issue (better offer, doubts about the job or hiring manager, a counter-offer). To validate the concern, you can use the selling technique known as "closing upon a concern." It goes like this, “If we could satisfactorily address that issue — which I'm not sure we can, but if we could — would you then agree to (schedule the next interview, meet with the hiring manager, take the test, start by a certain date)?”

Most people are at least willing to move forward if their biggest concern is addressed. If not, you’ll have to continue to uncover the concern to determine if you can salvage the situation. If you can, you’ll then need to negotiate the compensation. Once you have a reasonable compensation figure you need to test the candidate’s true interest in accepting an offer. One way is to ask, “I'm not sure we can get to that level, but if we could, when would you be in a position to start?”

This test question is called a secondary or indirect close. If the candidate hesitates to give you a start date, something else is of concern. The recruiter must then go back and uncover the real concern before moving forward. Once this is accomplished, you can come back to negotiating the compensation.

If compensation becomes a roadblock put it in the parking lot by asking, “Forget the compensation for a minute. Is this a job you really want? If not, we should stop right now, because no matter what the compensation is, you’ll soon be unhappy.” This technique allows you to determine if the job itself is a problem in some way or just the compensation package.

For more on this critical topic, here’s the full negotiating the offer handbook, but the key point for recruiters to remember is to test all aspects of an offer before presenting it to the candidate. This testing needs to cover everything including salary, the benefits package, vacations, training, car allowance, bonus, options, and everything else you can think of. Do not assume anything. Frequently something minor, like an early vacation or the insurance co-pay, can cause an offer to be turned down, or create unnecessary haggling.

You should never be surprised when an offer is rejected. Even better, if you test them all first as described they’ll all be accepted or you won’t make them. When in doubt remember the first rule of recruiting: never make an offer unless you’re 100% sure it will be accepted.

* image by Minh Hoang

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