It Isn’t Over Until The Boss Knows

You just filled that really hard-to-fill position with a proven high-performing passive candidate. Even better, you took the candidate from your competition ó the much sought after “hire to hurt.” You invested valuable hours direct sourcing, networking, creating interest, discussing career stretch, and presenting the opportunity. You have closed the deal. Your hard work has paid off. The candidate has verbally accepted your offer. Feels great, doesn’t it? Before you strain yourself while patting yourself on the back, before you head off to the water cooler or an ERE discussion group to exchange high fives with your recruiting buddies, before you start sharing the war stories of your latest conquest, don’t forget that what comes next may be your doom as a recruiter. Remember your candidate is still out there about to face his employer in giving notice. The search is not over. You have not yet won. In fact, you can still lose if you don’t pay attention to the one of the most often forgotten aspects of hiring a high performing candidate. For just a minute, let’s pretend we are the candidate. I think this is what it would likely sound like in their head: Wow, I am going to be changing companies. This is going to be one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. In fact, I am a little frightened by the idea of telling my boss I’m leaving. We’ve been together for quite a while; we have done some great work together. I know I am her highest performer. She is going to freak out. I really like this new opportunity; the recruiter I am working with is great and I really trust him. But he isn’t going to be here with me when I give notice. Man, I thought this would be a bit easier. I never really thought about what it would be like to actually give notice. I know this is the right thing for my career, but all this fear about giving notice is causing me to have second thoughts. Maybe I shouldn’t do this. Not all candidates will be thinking this way. For many, however, giving notice strikes fear in their hearts. Keep in mind, if you went after a high performer, you approached them about another opportunity. Like most passive talent, they were likely to be completely content in their position and delivering great results to their company. They were also likely to have a pretty solid relationship with their current manager. Most high performers do. Giving notice might scare them into not accepting your offer. In reality, your work is just beginning. World-class recruiters know that getting the right offer extended and accepted is not the end of the search. World-class recruiters also understand that to capitalize on their investment of time and effort, they need to make sure the talent actually starts. This means they have to work a bit harder and coach the talent on how to give notice. Coaching Candidates on Giving Notice Having attended many seminars over the years and listened to the best thought leaders on recruiting and learning tactics from some the best recruiters I know, I have developed a system that for managing candidates through this final stage of the process. It starts early. It is very important to know at the very beginning that passive candidates will not respond to your coaching and guidance about resigning and counteroffers unless they view you as a consultant. Relationship building is also critical. The relationship is way too frequently overlooked in the recruiting profession. But it is, in my humble opinion, the single greatest difference maker between good and great recruiting. So, first and foremost, you must establish a consultative relationship with your passive candidate in order to be a great recruiter and have the confidence of your candidates. Once I have networked my way to the best performing talent, gotten them interested in making a change, and established myself as a consultant they can trust, I begin preparing them for giving notice. I carefully note all the decision-making criteria they are going to use to make a change and the reasons for each. I document this in my TRMS (talent relationship management system) so I can refer to it later. During my initial interview, and at various points during interview preparation and debriefing, I act as comforter and consultant to my candidates. I do this by explaining that once they get an offer and have accepted it (notice how encouraging that sounds to them), I will personally take the time to provide them with detailed information on how to give notice. I explain to them they are not in this alone. My role as a talent acquisition consultant is truly that ó to consult. Sure, I can’t hold their hand when they walk into the boss’s office. But I can reassure them that I will help them through it. Offering comfort and reassurance that I will walk them through giving notice helps to reduce their anxiety and allows them to focus on the opportunity, my company, and interviewing with my client hiring manager. The idea is to get them away from the stress of giving notice and the fear it brings so that they can perform well in the interview and focus on the career change opportunity. Giving notice is a moot point if they don’t have an offer to accept. You have to get them to perform at their best in order to get an offer. What Do I Say? I communicate how and when to give notice both verbally and in email form. Putting the information in writing allows the candidate to role play and practice for the reality of giving notice and gets them comfortable with the script. Most candidates and recruiters think the best day to give notice is Friday afternoon. I think this has something to do with making it all clean and neat for a two-week notice or to accommodate the HR process police who want new team members to start on a Monday to keep their paperwork in order. But don’t let the orientation process and HR process police dictate how and when your passive talent gives notice. Contrary to popular opinion, Friday afternoon is not the best day to give notice. The counteroffer is no longer a four-letter word to most corporations. Today’s corporate environment has made the counteroffer an important weapon in the war for talent. In fact, the counteroffer has become part of many companies’ strategy to keep salary costs down until they absolutely have to pay their best talent. Giving notice on Friday gives your candidate’s boss and their boss’s boss the weekend ó two whole uninterrupted days ó to develop a counteroffer strategy. As a world-class recruiter, you don’t want that. I have my candidates give notice on Monday or Tuesday in the late afternoon. The later in the day, the better. My candidate can give notice and get out of the office. This strategy helps to avoid the time they might have to spend answering their boss’s or co-worker’s annoying questions about why they are leaving or where they are going. If their manager is like most, he or she will have more to do in a week than can get done, and this will prevent them from finding time to putting together a counteroffer strategy. They might try, but this strategy minimizes the time they have. The Resignation Letter: The Best Offense Is a Good Defense I often get asked how to prevent a candidate from taking a counteroffer. My simple response is eliminate the counteroffer altogether. The best way to prevent acceptance of a counteroffer is to ensure that one isn’t made. You are probably asking how this is possible. After all, I am not in the inner brain workings of my passive candidate’s company. Let me explain. Traditionally, departing employees draft a letter of resignation. The importance of this letter is often overlooked and simplicity is key. Direct and to the point should be the guiding factors for the letter. The letter I give to my candidates as a recommendation is the combination of thoughts and presentations I have heard over the years from several recruiting industry leaders. It is carefully written, contains limited information, and offers subtle inferences that reduce the likelihood that their boss and company will present a counteroffer. Here is an example:

Dear Mr. Bossman, Please accept this letter as my resignation and two-week notice. I am grateful for the success we have been able to achieve together at Acme Rockets, but I have now made a commitment to another organization. Please know that I intend to work with you to complete as much work during my two-week notice to make my resignation as smooth as possible. I am eager to leave on a positive note and I am open to your suggestions on how to accomplish this smooth transition. Sincerely,

Ms. Passive Candidate

The wording here is not accidental. The letter resonates with positivity, cooperation, and a genuine touch of sincerity. This is important to the passive candidate. Because of the relationship they likely have with their current boss, they want to leave on a good note. Using this letter and these words helps them feel better about resigning. It also leaves a better taste in the mouth of the candidate’s boss and company. It is critical that the resignation letter and resignation meeting make no reference to where the candidate is going, what they will be doing in their next job, or how much they will be making. Providing this information to the manager and company gives them valuable intelligence that can be used in developing a counteroffer. They can’t counteroffer what they don’t know. Again, they might try, but without a baseline to operate from and a limited window of opportunity, their counteroffer will likely resemble a blindfolded six-year-old swinging a stick at a pinata. It is the recruiter’s responsibility to make sure the candidate understands that they must avoid sharing this important intelligence. In an effort to soften the blow to their current boss and company, they start sharing information and niceties that can be turned against them in a counteroffer. Taking the time to coach them through this important reduces, if not eliminates, the likelihood of a counteroffer. Scripting the Resignation Meeting: Transition Rather Than Decision Finally, I coach my talent through the dreaded resignation conversation they will inevitably have to have with their boss. I coach them to enter their bosses office with the resignation letter in hand and to begin the conversation like this:

Mr. Bossman, I have committed myself to joining another organization and I will begin working with them in two weeks. Please accept this, my letter of resignation. Please take a moment to read my letter so we can discuss how we can work together to make a smooth transition.

I also like to encourage my candidates to role play this meeting with me. It may feel a bit odd at first, but it helps to establish their comfort level with what to say and how to say it. It is important to coach the candidate that the best tactic here is the direct and to the point approach. Don’t beat around the bush and engage in idle small talk. Delaying the inevitable will only lead to more anxiety and possible cold feet on the part of my talent. Using this script makes it clear to my passive candidate’s boss that they are not planning on talking about their decision to leave or entertain a counteroffer. The focus is clearly on the transition rather than the decision. Now that they have made the commitment to leave, the conversation requires a focus on the transition. Go Time and The Art of Deflection I always schedule a conversation with my candidate just before they give notice. My main purpose at this point is to reinforce that their conversation with Mr. Bossman shouldn’t be about where they are going and what they will be doing. I remind them to keep the focus on actually giving notice and on working together to ensure a smooth transition ó not about the decision to leave. Again, sometimes I will even role play this with them. Finally, I teach them the art of deflection. Deflection is the art of avoiding unnecessary questions from their boss. It is natural for the boss to ask the what, where, and how questions. The key is to avoid answering the bosses questions with any response other than the fact that the decision is made, the commitment will be followed through on and the smooth transition. Nothing else really matters and should be avoided at all costs. The script might look like this:

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It is natural to be curious about where I am going and why, but it is my intention to follow through on the commitment I have made to another organization. I am going to suggest that we talk in a month or so about where and why, so that today we can work together to make a smooth transition.

To make my candidate feel better about this technique I discuss a few significant, and possibly obvious, points. I ask them why it is that on the day they give notice suddenly their opinions are so important to their boss. I ask why the boss and company have only become concerned about their future or why they are happy or unhappy or about compensation when they are face to face with losing high performing talent? I also go back to my notes in my TRMS on why they were interested in making a change in the first place and remind them that the new opportunity matches those criteria. Taking this approach only reinforces the singular purpose of the resignation letter and giving notice meeting. I then ask them to call me immediately after the meeting so I can head off any possible issues or challenges before they have a chance to set into their mind. Once my talent go through this nurturing, coaching, and scripting with me, they no longer feel the need to talk about anything else but resigning with their boss. They get it. Since most really don’t know what to say when giving notice, they are more than happy to have a friend and coach who provides them industry experience and advice on how to do it. If you have a consultative relationship with your passive talent, which you must have in order to succeed as a recruiter, the coaching on how to give notice is a natural extension of that relationship. So stop celebrating your success of an accepted offer and get to work ensuring your candidates start when they say they will by educating them on how to give notice.

Michael Homula has over 10 years of high performing recruiting and recruiting leadership experience in third party as well as corporate recruiting.


1 Comment on “It Isn’t Over Until The Boss Knows

  1. I smile fondly when I read this article. My former associates laughed at me because I was famous for not discussing my placements/hires until they successfully started the job. Let’s face it – at the end of the day, we’re dealing with people and people have emotions, and emotions change. Part of our job in developing relationships is to be able to anticipate those emotions.

    (In my humble opinion) A good recruiter should know their candidate inside and out. We should be able to anticipate what candidate is going to need to ‘consult with their better half’ before accepting a job, what candidate will immediately accept an offer on the spot, and we should always know what all of their hot buttons are. We must close, close, and close again – and this includes seeing them through resignation. Why wrap a package and not put a bow on it – finish the process.

    Fortunately, I had great training and this included no celebrating until the deal is sealed.


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