When someone says “no” to your offer, your goal is not to convince him to say “yes.” Your goal is to get him to say “maybe.” Recruiting and hiring top people who have multiple offers or who are passive candidates is not easy. They won’t put up with weak recruiters, weak hiring managers, or an unprofessional hiring process. The purpose of this series on “Becoming a Great Recruiter” is to provide recruiters with the tools and techniques they need to deal with the challenges of hiring the best.
You should take our 2006 Recruiting and Hiring Challenges survey if you want to compare your team’s or your personal performance to other recruiters. Handling objections, overcoming concerns, dealing with counteroffers, and candidates saying “no” is part of the daily grind of every top recruiter. Expect it. In fact, be concerned when these problems don’t come up. In this article, you’ll discover how to uncover and address these concerns. As you get better, you’ll develop new techniques to anticipate and address the problem before the candidate even brings it up. You’ll know you’re a top 10% recruiter when you’re able to do this consistently. Confidently handling a situation in which a candidate decides to opt out of your hiring process involves three basic steps: uncovering the problem, suggesting alternatives, and getting the candidate to agree to move ahead. Good salespeople who represent customized products or services know that uncovering and dealing with concerns is the key to closing more business.
The same is true when dealing with top people who are looking at your job opening as a career move, and not just another job. To begin, you’ll need to eliminate the transactional hurry-up recruiting model based largely on salary and start date if you use this approach. Then, you need to have a clear understanding of real job needs (reread Part 2 and these articles) before you start sourcing. The downside of hiring top people is that it takes a lot longer, and these candidates demand a lot more information like the scope of the job, hiring manager and team competency, company strength, location, opportunities for growth, and complete disclosure on short- and long-term compensation. So be prepared to give it to them in small bites, especially when they hesitate. To uncover possible deal-breakers early on, always ask what the person likes and doesn’t like about the job after every interview.
As long as there is some level of interest, all you need to do to keep the process moving forward in the early stages is to just say that you’ll make sure that these issues are addressed in the next round of interviews. Then, ensure they’re covered to the candidate’s satisfaction. When you’re down to two or three candidates, ask the person if she wants to be on the short list of final candidates. If the candidate says no, it’s time to use a solution-selling technique called “closing upon an objection” to uncover the problem and keep the deal alive. First, ask your candidate why she wants to opt-out of the process, and then validate it. Assuming, for example, the problem is associated with the scope of the job, ask something like this: “I can understand why you might be concerned that the job isn’t big enough for you. But, let me ask you this: If we can demonstrate that the job is in fact bigger than your current understanding, or if we could make it bigger, would you be willing to come back for a final round of interviews?” The key here is that you don’t have to solve the problem. You just need to ask that if it could be solved to the candidate’s satisfaction, would she be willing to move on to the next step in your hiring process? If the person agrees to go forward, you’ve probably uncovered the primary concern. Unfortunately, many times the person will still say “no,” meaning the initial concern was just a smokescreen.
To figure out the real problem, use the same close-upon-a-concern technique as you inquire about other concerns, always asking that if these could be satisfactorily addressed, would the person agree to go forward? When the candidate finally agrees to proceed, you’ve identified the real problem. Of course, then you have to solve it, and unfortunately not all problems are solvable. For example, “I think the hiring manager is a real jerk,” might be difficult to overcome even with an, “If I can prove to you he’s not,” counterargument – especially if the person is a real jerk. While you won’t close every deal using the close-upon-a-concern technique, you’ll close many more than normal, and you’ll better understand the reasons why when you lose some. This is how you move the hiring process forward by taking modest “maybe, if…” steps before you get to “yes, I’ll accept your offer.” When negotiating the actual details of the offer, you can use another form of this same process. The principle here is to never make your offer formal unless you’re 100% sure it will be accepted on the spot. You do this by testing. Testing is important if too many of your offers get rejected; if many candidates say, “I have to think about it” after receiving the offer; or, if some of your candidates say “yes” but later renege.
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While we want to give candidates plenty of thinking time before they’re ready to accept your offer on the spot, if you make the offer formal before they’re ready to accept it, you won’t find out any potential problems that could have been resolved. Here’s how the “testing the offer” process works. It’s based on the sales techniques known as secondary or trial closing. The simplest way to use this technique is to just ask the candidate if she would be in a position to accept an offer if something satisfactory were put together. If the person says “yes,” find out what she considers satisfactory. You’ll have to negotiate around this point a bit, but when some rough agreement is reached, ask the person if an offer with these terms were made, when she could start. If you get a specific start date like October 17th or two weeks from Monday, you’ll close this person. Anything vague or general like “in a few weeks” or “I’ll have to think about it” is a cause of concern. It means the person isn’t even ready to consider an offer from your company. In this case, you’ll have to find out what the underlying problems are by repeating the close-upon-a-concern techniques described above. However, don’t stop testing even if the person does agree to a tentative start date and you believe the person is ready to accept your offer. Use this approach to test the next step: “If we could put a formal offer together this week under the terms discussed, when would you be in a position to formally sign and accept the offer?” Anything other than “right away” is a clue that the candidate has other opportunities or that your offer is not all it’s cracked up to be. Again, back up and uncover any other potential problems, resolve them if possible, and then ask when the person will be in a position to accept your offer. Of course, some issues are not resolvable. But the techniques described here give you a good chance.
One last test you should use, even if the person said she’ll accept your offer, is by saying something like, “I’m ready to get the offer approved today under the terms we discussed. If Bill (the hiring manager) meets you for lunch tomorrow to make if official, are you in a position to tell him you’ll accept it, other than reading the fine print, and signing it within 24 hours?” The point here is to get the candidate to formally state she’ll say “yes” to your offer with the only contingency being reviewing the key terms, discussing it with her key advisors, and getting back to you the next morning. Under no circumstances should you give a person another three or four days to accept your offer. You’re just asking for problems. When this process is conducted properly, the candidate has just had three to five days to seriously consider every term of your offer. If, after all of this work, you then get a last minute “I have to think about it,” your deal is likely dead. While we want candidates to think about all of the terms of your offer in great depth and take a reasonable time to do it, you don’t want the candidate to use your offer as a negotiating tool with other companies or as leverage to obtain a counteroffer.
Being deliberate and thorough in this closing process is how you make your offer the last one the candidate receives. Doing this every time for every candidate is why great recruiters close more deals, especially the tough ones.