Boyden Executive Search

By Tom Sorensen

Losing a candidate to a counteroffer is a killer.

Picture this: You’re already many months into a search for that elusive talent you need to head the new business unit, factory, company, or whatever the need might be in your case. You’re finally down to that one person you believe will make the difference. Your favourite candidate has indicated an intention to join and an offer has been negotiated. Both parties have agreed and you have it on paper. The head office and your local organisation have already been informed about the new arrival. A sigh of relief and a pat on your shoulder.

 Then you get a phone call.

“Sorry, but I don’t think I can join your team. My boss has given me a new big important project. He told me I’m the only one in the company he can trust to lift this sort of responsibility. He said I’m the star of the company and the head office has acknowledged I’m the future for them. Actually the boss had planned to tell me two weeks ago but was too busy. If I leave, the company’s operation in Thailand may not survive and it will impact all my colleagues. They are all so nice to me. He also gave me a new title, a 20% salary increase, and a new company car.”

You: Aarrgh…..

Let me tell you how to avoid being “fired” by an indecisive (not to mention inconsiderate) candidate. If you happen to be a candidate right now, let me explain why accepting a counteroffer from an employer can and will ruin your career.

Giving notice can be the most emotional time for a candidate.

The pressure that a current employer, manager and colleagues may put on someone can be very hard to resist. The more you help prepare the candidate, and the easier you make the resignation, the better a chance you have to pull the hire through. As an interviewer, raising the point of counteroffers straightaway, in the first interview, and continuously educating the candidate should be part of your structured recruitment process.

Is the candidate serious about pursuing your opportunity?

How will the candidate resign and handle a counteroffer?

Ask questions like these: “Imagine you’re offered the job and accept it. How are you going to resign and what will you tell your boss? How do you think he and the company will react to your decision to move on? What if they give you a counteroffer?”

Ask the candidate to give you the reason why they will never accept a counteroffer – in their own words. Draw a square on your paper and write down in short what they say. When a counteroffer is extended, read their own words back to them. If a candidate, however strong, admits that a counteroffer could possibly be of interest, there’s really only one thing to do: forget you ever met this person.

Cut your losses right there. Move on to the next on your list.

To assess job and company fit (motivation), here are two other great questions you should ask when meeting candidates for the first time:

Earlier rather than later in the hiring process, you as the interviewer must take the bull by the horns. Don’t leave it for later. You have to raise the sensitive issue of counteroffers no matter how awkward it might seem. Trust me, you will save a lot of otherwise wasted time.

Say this: “I want to talk about resigning, because I know this is a difficult time for most people. I’m not concerned that you will accept a counteroffer” (you don’t want the candidates to think you don’t trust them). “I just want to make this transition as painless as possible.”

My warning to candidates: Are you gambling with your career?

To all you candidates, here is my warning: Accepting a counteroffer is gambling with your career.

You see, today’s corporate environment has made the counteroffer an important weapon in the war for talent. Many companies purposely keep salary costs down until they absolutely have to pay their best talent.

Your boss is going to be shocked that you have accepted another position and you’re leaving.

The first thing that will go through his mind is how your resignation will affect him. He may have to work more hours until a replacement is found. Your departure will lower the morale of the rest of the staff, and your boss may have an extremely difficult time finding someone with your qualifications to replace you. He is also thinking about what his own boss is going to say when a senior person decides to leave the company.

Honestly, this is not about you, but how he gets himself out of the mess when you leave.

End of the day, it is much easier and cheaper for your company and boss to try to keep you rather than losing you – especially if it’s to a competitor. But ask yourself why it is that, on the day you give notice, your opinions are suddenly so important to the boss.

By resigning, you are essentially breaking a trust that you had with your employer. If you take the counteroffer and stay, your company may feel that it owns you. You will be known as the one who caused your employer grief by threatening to quit. You’ll no longer be seen as a loyal employee.

Will this cause your boss to pass you over for the next promotion?

There have been instances in which companies only counter to get the employee to stay until they find a replacement, then let the employee go. Some companies feel it’s better for people to leave on their terms instead of their employees’ terms. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot.

Reputable, well-managed companies don’t make counteroffers. Ever. Period.