What Great Recruiters Do to Prevent Counteroffers

Congratulations! You finally filled that tough position and the candidate is ready to join your company. The offer letter has been signed and sent back, and a start date has been agreed upon. All parties involved ó you, the candidate, and the hiring manager ó couldn’t be happier. You yourself are in recruiter heaven, thinking about which new Lexus you’re going to lease. With another notch in your belt, it is the perfect time to put that hire behind you and move on with your recruiting, right? Well, not exactly… Even though everyone around your office is now doing the happy dance (like the tango, but more of a two-step), there is one party who is not happy: your candidate’s current employer. As a matter of fact, this particular party is not happy at all ó and it’s your fault, because you have just recruited away one of their best people. There is an excellent chance that dark and sinister forces are currently deep into developing a strategy that will allow them to reverse their employee’s decision to leave, and that’s called having the candidate accept a counteroffer. The counteroffer is every recruiter’s nightmare, and it goes something like this:

  • You get a call from the candidate and know almost instantly that something is wrong by the tone of their voice. The candidate, as my friend Noonsy says, will probably start by saying something like, “You know, I’ve been thinking…”
  • Your heart sinks. You will do all you can to turn the situation around. But there is an excellent chance you won’t be able to, because the candidate is now stuck between you and their current employer. They are somewhat rattled, embarrassed, and confused. Unfortunately, under this type of pressure and mindset, it is almost always easier for the candidate to just stay where they are than make the move.
  • You will not sleep that night. You’re certain you’ll have to go in the next morning and tell the hiring manager that the candidate has accepted a counteroffer. Rain clouds form over your head. It begins to hail and the hiring manager chases you down the hall with a blunt instrument. Gone is that Lexus with satellite radio and the feel-good mood of last week.

Here’s the good news: It does not have to be this way! First of all, realize that an employee resigning his or her position is the equivalent of firing your entire company ó and most organizations react very poorly to being fired. If the employee is going to the competition, that makes it even worse. Combine this with the reality that the resignation usually comes as something of a shock, and here is some of what the offended company is thinking when a person resigns:

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  • “This is coming at the worst possible time.”
  • “We have no one who can do this job.”
  • “We will never fill that position in two weeks.”
  • “We will never make code freeze without him.”
  • “Our clients love her; how do we explain this to them?”
  • “We need this person.”

Is all of this real? Of course not. But people panic, and these are some of the reactionary thoughts that come into play as companies put together a counteroffer. Be advised that counteroffers have become far more sophisticated than in days gone by. They used to be based mostly on compensation, but companies are now addressing issues in a more global way, by looking at everything from different work assignments to titles to physical location to reporting structure to anything else that will turn the employee around. You must understand that your new employee is still employed by and on the site of the company they are leaving, and this is the stuff of which nightmares are made. In making a counteroffer, the company will try to exploit every perceived vulnerability, including relationships with coworkers, the employee’s sense of loyalty, client relationships, and more. Do not ever underestimate the power of this strong emotional appeal. It takes a well-informed, counteroffer-proofed candidate to withstand the pressure of what can be the longest, and at times saddest, two weeks of their lives. If you want to do all that is possible to see that you do not lose a hire to a counteroffer, I urge you to consider the following:

  1. Discuss the counteroffer with the candidate early in the interviewing cycle. The time to begin discussing the counteroffer is as soon as you think there is even a possibility that your organization might decide to pursue the candidate. In the event that the organization does not move forward, you have just wasted a bit of time. On the other hand, if they do make an offer, you will be ahead of the curve because you don’t have to discuss the counteroffer at the last minute.
  2. Find out how the candidate’s organization works. Just like people, companies often exhibit behaviors that can be predictable. When discussing counteroffers, find out what their company typically does when people resign. Armed with this knowledge, you will be better able to help your candidate deal with the pressure, anxiety, and temptation that comes with a counteroffer.
  3. Prepare the candidate for what might happen in a counteroffer situation. You need to prep the candidate in a way that will make them see all of the possibilities. For example, they might put their arms around the candidate and tell him they love him. They might ignore another candidate for a week, and only to pull her into a high-level meeting and offer her an entirely new position and comp plan. They might fly in an old mentor from the coast to take the candidate and his or her spouse out to dinner. The bottom line is that if the counteroffer does come, the candidate must be able to think: “Yes, the recruiter told me this might happen.”
  4. Make contact right after the resignation. Tell the candidate to call you right after they have resigned. They have just gone through a tough meeting and hearing a friendly voice from the place they perceive as their future will be very soothing.
  5. Keep close. Hold off on the Lexus for now. Keep in touch with the candidate on activities within your organization. Any contact is a good contact, whether it be emailed press releases, quick conversations about some aspect of benefits, or a call just to say hello. These gestures will keep the candidate focused on where their future lies. Partnering with the hiring manager can help here. They should call the candidate at least once to touch base, talk shop, get an opinion, or anything else that will get the candidate mentally involved in your organization.
  6. Never assume that the candidate will not accept a counteroffer. This is a deadly mistake! Just because the candidate tells you they won’t accept a counteroffer, this is not a pass for avoiding the counteroffer conversation. Follow the prep formula for all candidates or you might just get one of those “You know, I’ve been thinking” kinds of calls.

Prepping a candidate for counter offer is the best way to preserve the great work you have already done to make the hire happen. You are acting as an advisor and a trusted confidante by providing the guiding light that will ease their transition. For you it might just be another hire, but for the candidate it is a life-changing event: a new route to work, new coworkers, new places for lunch, and a new routine. With all of this comes some degree of uncertainty, fear, and apprehension. You owe it to your company, the candidate and your conscience to manage this part of the process well and be sure that the candidate does not accept a counteroffer, because in the end that counteroffer is bad for both you as well as the candidate.

Howard Adamsky has been recruiting since 1985 and is still alive to talk about it. A consultant, writer, public speaker, and educator, he works with organizations to support their efforts to build great companies and coaches others on how to do the same. He has over 20 years' experience in identifying, developing, and implementing effective solutions for organizations struggling to recruit and retain top talent. An internationally published author, he is a regular contributor to ERE Media, a member of the Human Capital Institute's Small and Mid-Sized business panel, a Certified Internet Recruiter, and rides one of the largest production motorcycles ever built. His book, Hiring and Retaining Top IT Professionals/The Guide for Savvy Hiring Managers and Job Hunters Alike (Osborne McGraw-Hill) is in local bookstores and available online. He is also working on his second book, The 25 New Rules for Today's Recruiting Professional. See twitter.com/howardadamsky if you are so inclined for the occasional tweet. Email him at H.adamsky@comcast.net


3 Comments on “What Great Recruiters Do to Prevent Counteroffers

  1. Howard;
    Well put- very clear and concise.

    To your point on the following:
    You are acting as an advisor and a trusted confidante by providing the guiding light that will ease their transition.

    TRUST is the key word. If you are talking to the candidate and dreaming of the Lexus are you truely being a confidante and impartial? True partners are those that are able to get beyond the ‘fill’ and help these people make the right decision. Sure I realize that we all think of the money, but it is those that can put the money aside for a moment, that are seen as true advisors in any industry. It is all about Kharma 🙂
    Dont do things that feel right- do things that ARE right

  2. The article brings up some good points regarding how to handle this situation. One tactic that I have used which I did not see mentioned here is to inform the candidate about the risks of accepting a counter offer. This comes in the same area as informing them as to what to expect in a counter offer situation. What I wonder, though, is whether it is counter-productive to do this- i.e. do they only see my warnings as protecting my own interest?

    Examples of things that I might regularly site are; the reasons for leaving your firm is the same when they make the counter offer as when you started looking, and that once you have let them know that you have accepted an offer from another firm you can’t exactly expect to be first in line for promotions and raises in you accept the counter. These seem like common sense pieces of advice that people would hear and immediately accept, but are they?

  3. Good advice on preventing counter offers, but I like to take it one step further and campaign for prevention of ‘buyer’s remorse.’ No counter offer will be effective if the candidate has truly felt compelled to permanently sever the ties that bind. Extensive conversations and questioning throughout the screening process such as ‘What will your company do when you give your notice?’ How will your company react?’ ‘What could your company do to provide you with as good or better opportunity than the one you are exploring with me?’ How do you perceive the differences between your company and the new one, in terms of what’s best for you?’ I could go on and on. The candidate must perceive, and correctly so, that the new opp is simply the next best thing for them professionally and that they are absolutely ready to take it. It is your job as a recruiter to hear them verbalize this to you in as tacit of terms as possible, long before the offer ever is presented. Never make an offer until you are sure of the answer. The more valued the person in his profession, the more true this is.

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