Turndowns and Falloffs

After every recession, the power pendulum swings away from the employer and toward the candidate.

Employees who have endured less than ideal working conditions during these economic downturns expect their employers to reward them when things turn around. When they don’t, they polish up their resumes and usually find a more than willing target audience.

Those who seek new employment during the down times are very cooperative. Find them a better job than they already have – or any job at all if they’re unemployed – and they are overjoyed to accept it and actually show up. When options are few, acceptances are many. Move from Philadelphia to Keokuk? No problem!

Unfortunately, once a person has placed themselves on the open market – whether you recruited them or whether they made the decision on their own – they become a lot more picky. For the “A” player (and even some of the “B” players), multiple offers are the rule rather than the exception. Things like big raises, sign on bonuses, relocation, more authority, company size, potential boss compatibility and a whole host of other factors enter in.

You may have recruited and convinced a superstar to consider your client’s opening, but once that momentum is established in the superstar’s mind, it is quite likely that they’ll explore many other opportunities – most of which will not be through you.

This results in last minute turndowns of offers you were sure would be accepted. In even worse cases, your candidate shows up at your client’s door only to finally confirm an offer from another firm they really wanted to work for – and they leave your client with an empty chair – and you with egg on your face. The dreaded falloff.

Of course, you can appeal to their sense of honor and integrity, but candidates today recognize that most jobs only last for a few years.

They don’t have any loyalty for the corporate world because the corporate world has proven they’ll drop them like a hot rock for no other reason than to maximize short-term profits. Employees no longer view themselves as an essential member of a job team. They view their jobs as a stepping-stone to a better job with their next company. Very few are susceptible to any attempts to lay guilt at their feet.

Steve Kohn, President of Affinity Search, expanded upon this phenomenon as follows:

“The reason for this trend is that over the course of the last 2 decades, the client companies have made it abundantly clear, especially to recently unemployed candidates, they will be discarded the moment they are no longer being fully utilized. There are noteworthy exceptions, of course, but in the end no candidate considers any job change to be permanent. Neither does any employee. Want proof?? When is the last time you recruited someone who did not have an up to date resume? So, we now have a national talent-force of intellectual mercenaries. There is no such thing as commitment any more. Therefore, when a jobseeker gets his first offer, he does what any mercenary would do: shop it for higher bidders. Naturally, he’ll accept the one he has in hand, because he needs a job, and it strengthens him for those with whom he’s still negotiating. Human nature is that we want that which we can’t have. So, once the jobseeker has a job, the others that he is still speaking with will want him more, and will now pay more.

Additionally, the professional gender gap has narrowed to the extent that the female wage earner no longer “follows” the male wage earner to wherever the income and opportunity is greatest. Location matters a lot. Many candidates accept jobs in other cities and take weekday apartments while still actively looking for something closer to home or in a location that is more agreeable to the career needs of both parties. Also, a driving philosophy of this generation is that parents serve the children, not the reverse. Therefore, social issues and schools, etc. become much greater issues than before. This is yet another factor that contributes to the trend of “taking the job you can get” while still searching for “the job you want.”

During the heyday of the 1960s, defense/aerospace splurges, mid-level engineers were viewed as “itinerant fruit pickers” by employers. They’d follow the contracts. Some companies even made them sign 18-month contracts with monetary sanctions if they left before then. The building of the DEW and BMEWS systems are a great example. The work was close to the Arctic Circle at double the pay rate of a comparable job in the USA and tax-free to boot. The joke of the day was that if someone could even pronounce the word “electronics” and was willing to live in a company-provided Quonset hut for 18 months, they were hired. After 18 months, they were expected to leave their employers and only those who were single, weird or social misfits were allowed to sign on for a second 18-month tour of duty. A lot of recruiters became very wealthy placing these short-termers but, basically, ours is a business where our claim to fame is in locating and providing “A” players. “B” and “C” players populate the job boards and are not our usual targets, even though there are exceptions. “A” players almost always know that they are “A” players. Peter Weddle, in his newsletter (www.weddles.com) wrote:

“Stripped of its embellishments, recruitment is an exercise in persuasion. Its purpose is to sell an employer to an extraordinary candidate. Not any candidate, not an average candidate, but a person who is among the best in their profession, craft or trade. Why? Because these A-level performers are much more productive than their mediocre peers. According to the McKinsey & Company report called The War for Talent, they provide a 50-100% performance premium to their employers, adding significantly to sales booked, customer satisfaction, quality of output and internal morale. In other words, selling A-level performers on the value proposition of your organization as an employer is the key to winning … not only the War for Talent, but the War for a Big Bottom Line in today’s hyper-competitive markets.”

The key word in the above quote is persuasion. And that seems to be where the ball is dropped when turndowns occur. Jim McNeal, Managing Partner of International Search Partners (ISP) told us, “Without sounding like too much of a hard case, it sounds like bad recruiting to me. I don’t think the uptick in the recruiting business causes fall-offs. I think poor recruiting causes fall-offs. Specifically, if a recruiter develops a proper and respectful relationship with the candidates they work with, fall-offs of the kind you describe simply do not happen.”

Peter Weddle says: “First, we have to recognize that the best and brightest have choices. They are highly valued by their current employer and sought out by other employers all of the time. To be successful, therefore, we have to “out-sell’ both. We have to develop and communicate a value proposition that is so persuasive it compels top talent to buy into our employer, even in the face of all of that other competition.

Second, we have to recognize that consumers, but especially fickle consumers (and that’s precisely what top talent is), want a lot of detailed information about the product they are being asked to buy. And increasingly, they are turning to the Internet to find it. According to David Leonhardt of The New York Times, as people get closer to a buying decision, they switch from looking at ads on television and in magazines to conducting research online. Said another way, they move from general, emotional appeals to specific, objective information about a product’s features and benefits.”

You may do a magnificent job of influencing your candidate. Unfortunately, you have very little control over what’s said and done by your client and many a deal has gone awry because of something stupid being said by someone in the interview loop. Nor can you control the “Lookie Lou” inclinations of motivated candidates

Practitioner Tim Rosswell said, “Once my candidate moves into the inner circle of contention, I communicate with them on an almost daily basis, probing for possible problems and, from the first indication of interest from them, I include conversations with their spouse since they can be either instrumental in a successful outcome – or detrimental to the deal. Family obligations and responsibilities are especially decisive when the job requires relocation. My checklist has two columns – one for the candidate and one for the spouse. I once lost a $50,000 fee for a V.P. deal that would have been perfect for everybody because the candidate’s wife refused to believe that she could find another suitable ballet teacher for their little five-year old princess in the new city.”

Trainer Joseph Zawacki put it this way, “Like a good doctor, you will continue to take the temperature of both the hiring authority and the candidate at every stage of the placement process. Remember: Closing is a continuous process.”

The major reasons for taking a job are the same as those for turndowns if there is perceived to be a deficit in one of the following:

  • Salary
  • Challenge
  • Permanence
  • Advancement potential
  • Benefit package
  • Quality of supervision
  • Potential growth or prestige of the company

The two toughest problems to over come are counteroffers and relocation.

Counteroffers: This ago-old nemesis is becoming harder to counteract without some hard-core preventive measures. You can reliably expect a counteroffer for most “A” players. (See the latest version of the written countermeasure at: http://www.careerjournal.com/columnists/perspective/20040809-fmp.html).

It should be one of the first things discussed with recruits and should be reiterated often as the deal comes closer to fruition. Rosswell approaches it this way with candidates: “If my client makes an offer to you which is in line with your career expectations, what kind of a counteroffer would you expect to receive from your current employer? How receptive would you be to accepting a counteroffer that meets or exceeds my client’s offer?”

Depending upon the answer to this question, some variable of the following is communicated: “Survey after survey has demonstrated that accepting a counteroffer can be very harmful to your career no matter how tempting it might be. My role in this relationship is twofold. First, I want to be sure that my client’s opportunity is really a step forward in your career progression. Secondly, I have an obligation to my client to only introduce candidates who are truly interested in making a mutual long-term contribution. In essence, my reputation is on the line as well, so if there are any doubts in your mind at this or any subsequent stage of the process, now is the time to voice them, get answers to them and bow out before more serious conversations take place.”

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But even the most skilled consultant may fail with this argument. Deborah Millhouse of CEO Inc. weighed in as follows: “With top talent, it is cheaper for the companies they are losing to ante up the compensation (BIG $$’s) with a counteroffer than to lose the talent.? The candidates are able to stay without retribution of any type, because they need them.? [The old techniques] don’t work with this generation.? That being said, the company that makes the counteroffer may regret the message that they sent to their other employees – hostage situations rarely end well – and it’s a set up. We qualify and re-qualify, prep and re-prep. It helps to also get a firm commitment in writing for their acceptance.? I heard of one firm getting the commitment from the candidate that they would re-pay the fee if they took the counter – we don’t do that, but an interesting position.”

The document mentioned by Ms. Millhouse is known as a Position Acceptance Agreement which we addressed several years ago as follows:

If you’re still concerned about a counteroffer or other problem with your candidate, a Position Acceptance Agreement (PAA) can be used. It should look official, be on plain paper (not letterhead – remember the rules of construction), and state the following:

I, _______________________________ hereby acknowledge and affirm that I have accepted the position of ____________________ with___________, at an annual starting salary of $_______, through _____________________.

I further covenant and agree to report for employment on __________, 20___.

It doesn’t really bind the candidate, but this secret’s safe with us. What it does is place a moral obligation upon the candidate to do what they promised to do. A great deal of money (your fee) is riding on the veracity of your candidate. They can back out of the deal on a mere whim. If that’s their plan, they won’t sign the PAA and, at least, you’ll know in advance.

Others have gone a step further by calling this agreement a Client Invoice Authorization and adding,

“I understand that (new employer) has agreed to pay the service fee of $_________to (Recruiting firm) and that my agreement authorizes (Recruiting firm) to submit invoice to (new employer).”

While some feel that this revelation of the actual fee is a bit tasteless, others think that by placing a price tag on the transaction makes the candidate aware of what is really at stake. However, in more than one case, the candidate asked for a percentage of the fee as a kickback or bribe to sign the agreement . . . not the desired result.

Relocation: What you want to hear is, “I’ll go anywhere for the right job.” In fact, reality is far different. Except for very senior executives, relocation policies are notoriously stingy and the gap between what’s offered to cover moving costs and the real costs are widening. Red flags, no matter what you are told, abound. Dual breadwinner families are the toughest to move, but other reasons for not wanting to move are legion. It is a rare family that comes through a move whole so some thoughtful probing must take place. Will an avid skier be happy in Iowa? Or a surfer is Kansas?

Have they ever made a move for their career before? Quiz them on the details. If they’ve ever done it before, it becomes easier for them to do it again. If they haven’t, it’s an uphill climb. They’ll say yes but the odds are against you. Having voluminous information about the target city can be helpful, even if only marginally so. Relocation is a BIG speed bump. Tough, but not impossible. Start with a phone call to the local chamber of commerce. Ask for everything about the community (housing, schools, industries, businesses, historical landmarks, churches, recreational activities, etc.). The directory of members will give you more leads to specific items. Ask for it along with maps, brochures, lists of real estate agents, etc. A call to the local phone company for the Yellow Pages will help too.

Remember, you are paid a fee for only one thing: Finding a suitable candidate who will say “Yes” to a reasonable offer from your client. Unfortunately, too many cross their fingers thinking that a “maybe” will automatically become a “Yes.” Then when the deal falls apart at the last minute, they wonder why. The real pros will cover all of these checklist items (and more):

  • Salary
  • Profit Sharing
  • Bonus
  • Salary Review Periods
  • Sign-On Bonus
  • Relocation Package
  • Potential for Advancement
  • Available Career Paths
  • Position Title
  • Benefits
  • Insurance
  • Vacation
  • Educational/Tuition/Certification Reimbursement
  • Expense Account
  • Company Car
  • Professional Dues
  • Retirement Options
  • Club Membership
  • Office Space
  • Secretarial Assistance
  • Company Culture
  • Office Politics
  • Compatibility/Congeniality of Bosses/Peers/Subordinates
  • Work Environment
  • Full Utilization of Skills
  • Necessary Resources for Work and
  • Anything else you can think of.

Then refer to your original notes as to what the candidate told you they really wanted from a new job.

Go down the list with the candidate. If your powers of persuasion are keen enough, and if there are just minor disparities between the offers, you should prevail.

If your candidate is considering other offers, you can interject things about the “other” companies you might know because of your dealings with them (or candidates from them). We don’t recommend fabrication or falsehood, but you may be able to sway the candidate your way by introduction of some timely anecdotes about the rival companies’ offers.

Just hope that they aren’t from another recruiter who will probably do the same thing with the candidate on their home turf.

Paul Hawkinson is the editor of The Fordyce Letter, a publication for third-party recruiters that's part of ERE Media. He entered the personnel consulting industry in the late 1950's and began publishing for the industry in the 1970's. During his tenure as a practitioner, he personally billed over $5 million in both contingency and retainer assignments. He formed the Kimberly Organization and purchased The Fordyce Letter in 1980.

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