Ten Tips: Closing a Candidate on a Job Offer

By Evan Herman @evanfherman

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Previously, in part one of this two part posting, I addressed the candidate perspective of the job offer. I advised candidates on how to "negotiate like a champion". This week, I will address the employers' perspective of the job offer. I will provide ten tips for employers on how to properly close a candidate on a job offer and how to properly handle the job offer process. Job offers are far too important to be left to chance or ad hoc maneuvering. Job offers and the process of formulating, delivering, and closing candidates on them are often not done with the strategic long term goals of the company and hire in mind. It is my hope that the following ten tips prove helpful to employers in their efforts to build a "championship" organization by learning to hire like champions. Therefore, without further ado, I present ten tips for closing a candidate on a job offer.


1) First Define What Constitutes "Success" Before Delivering A Job Offer

It may seem obvious and intuitive to most employers that "success" constitutes a candidate accepting an offer. However, while under most circumstances this may technically be true, in many instances the key stakeholders and decision makers are not in alignment or even in agreement on which candidate to hire or even whether there is a need to hire anyone at all.

In the "war for talent", employers would be wise keep in mind Sun Tzu's maxim that "all battles are won and lost before they are fought". It is important to remember in this case to treat a prospective hire as a prospective ally. The enemy in the war on talent is a company's competitors. Therefore, when presenting a job offer an employer should never treat a prospective hire as an opponent. Misaligned goals of a hire and job offer result in misaligned goals and strategies of a job offer negotiation. Once all key stakeholders and decision makers at an employer have defined "success" for the job offer, they can then work together to to cultivate a strategy for presenting an offer and closing a candidate on the offer. 


2) Hope Is Not A Strategy

It is important to think, act, and approach a job offer discussion with a candidate in a manner consistent with the long term goals of the hire. In previous posts, job seekers were advised by make sure all actions from the resume, to the cover letter, to the interviews, to the thank you notes, to job offer are all consistent and consistently aimed with their long term career goals in mind. Concurrently, employers should take a similar approach with their own long term goals in mind.  

An employer only gets one chance to make a first impression of a job offer. It is important for employers to keep their eyes on the prize. The prize when referring to a job offer is a successful long term hire. The prize to pursue is not just an acceptance; that is merely the short-term goal. Tactically, an employer may "win" by presenting an "opening" offer and "hope" a candidate accepts that offer. Strategically and long-term, however, this tactic carries great risk. A candidate may accept an offer out of a variety of short terms interests, fears, and needs which can often differ from the hired candidate's opinions months later once he/she is securely employed by the company.

For the same reason candidates are advised not to accept counter-offers (i.e. they are band-aids, the company can replace you on their own time, etc), it is not advisable for companies to  present or "hope" a candidate will accept, a below market offer. Employers should make an offer based on what they believe the hire is worth, not what they believe or hope the prospective hire will accept. There is a very important difference. The short-term goal of a job offer should not  only be to have an offer a candidate will accept, it is to have an offer a candidate  will immediately and is excited to accept. It is only a matter of time before a candidate learns or is told that he/she is not earning market rate. Suddenly your new hire that you "closed" just 6-12 months earlier starts taking phone calls from agency and corporate recruiters to learn what else is out there. It is rare in the business world that this be the case, but it might be both easiest and best strategy to simply give a one and best offer when it comes to closing a candidate on a job offer. 


3) You Want A Job Offer Discussion Not A Job Offer Negotiation

Many candidates are not comfortable negotiating. Some candidates downright fear and dread negotiating. If you allow a job offer to turn into a negotiation and the prospective hire feels he/she is being bullied or "losing" the negotiation then you will likely "lose" the negotiation by "losing" the candidate. Many prospective hires would prefer to turn down a job offer entirely out of fear that they "lost" a negotiation rather than face their fear of negotiating or their fear of angering their new employer before they even start employment. With the possible exception of sales, business development, or corporate strategy hires; negotiation skills for most people are not a core responsibility or skill set necessary to properly doing their job. Therefore, the job offer process and outcome should not rely heavily on negotiation skill. The employer and the candidate should be prepared to discuss, not negotiate, their respective "pains", interests, and goals. From this common ground should result a mutually agreeable offer and terms of employment  based on a philosophy of "what is best for we" rather than a prospective "what's in it for me" perspective. Long term, an agreement of this nature, should be the foundation for trust, rapport, and long term success from both sides' perspectives. 


4) Time Can Kill All Deals

If an employer truly desires to insure it brings a candidate on board then it wants an offer that provides the company the verbal acceptance in the moment from the prospective hire. Anything short of the verbal yes and the employer is taking a risk. This goal may not always be possible for an employer to achieve, but it is nonetheless an advisable goal to pursue. 

Anything can happen when the prospective hire is granted the opportunity to consider an offer when not in your presence. Instead of you getting the opportunity to define the quality of your offer and to address any concerns, you are allowing the prospective hire's spouse, family, friends, colleagues, or the Internet, etc to define your company and your offer with no opportunity for real time rebuttal or discussion. Before granting a candidate time to consider an offer it is important to respectfully and directly ask him/her what concerns, if any, he/she has about the offer so that the employer can address any concerns in the moment in the employer's presence. Be prepared for candidates to consult with online salary guides from websites likeglassdoor.com and/or whitepapers from executive search firms. Correspondingly be prepared to rebut a candidates concerns and/or arguments that your offer is not competitive with the market.


5) Time Can Also Help All Deals

Conversely, time can also help all deals. It depends on who is asking for more time and why. Ideally, you already presented your one and best offer as it relates to the compensation component of the offer. However, if you are caught off guard or unprepared for a unique or unusual request for non-compensation terms of employment such as vacation days, flex-time, etc then the answer is always "I will see what I can do" even if you are 100% sure in the moment that there is nothing you can do. You can never take back a negative impression. Therefore, never say anything prospectively negative to a candidate in the moment. If the answer is negative, be prepared to explain in a thoughtful and considerate manner to the candidate why you are unable to his/her request
 

6) Let Go Of Your Ego. Think Like A Trader

Many employers like to feel they must "win" a negotiation, which is precisely why it is advisable to treat the job offer as a discussion rather than a negotiation.  As mentioned in the previous posting, negotiations have perceived winners and losers, discussions do not. It is important to remember that both sides "win" if the prospective hire accepts the offer and is excited about the offer. Do not let your ego, your personal interests, or your personal goals stand in the way of a prospective great long term hire. 

In financial markets and the trading world, most players are well acquainted with the term VAR which stands for Value At Risk. Think like a trader or a risk manager at a trading desk; always know what value to your company you are placing at risk when discussing a job offer with a candidate. It is petty and somewhat short-sighted to risk losing the interest of a great candidate whom your company expects to make or save your company hundreds of thousands of dollars; over a desire to "win" a negotiation and an attempt to"save" the company a few thousand dollars on the nominal "cost" of the hire (i.e the base salary, sign-on bonus, etc). Think in terms of value not costs. Think in terms of value at risk not costs in play. If you have a fixed budget for the hire then be candid with the candidate if you truly cannot "improve" the job offer. The candidate will appreciate your candor and it will assure him/her you are speaking with him/her in good faith about the offer. 


7) The Job Offer Discussion Experience Should Reflect The Prospective Hire's Employment Experience

Day to day the candidate, if hired, will be working with and under the hiring manager. The job offer discussion and the job offer itself should be presented by the hiring manager alongside and in full partnership with HR, finance, and any other relevant departments and decision makers. To be clear, it is very important that HR is included and very much involved in a job offer discussion. However, it also imperative that the hiring manger is the one to deliver an offer, discuss an offer, and ultimately is present for the acceptance of an offer. If the employer comes across during the job offer discussion as inflexible, bureaucratic, and or process driven rather than strategically driven, the prospective hire will sense that the same thing will occur when he/she wishes to implement an idea or make a special request when employed by the company. Subsequently, the candidate could lose interest entirely in the prospective employer. Remember tip #6 above; always be mindful of the value at risk. A little effort and conciliatory language can go a long way towards assuring a prospective hire that the hiring manager is one to whom he/she can discuss and address any problems that may occur while employed at the company.

 

8) Candidates Want To Know They Are Wanted 

Do not be afraid to state the obvious to a candidate. Hiring relationships are often like our personal relationships. Just as one's spouse often needs to be told explicitly how much they are loved, candidates need to be told and reminded throughout the job offer discussion and process how excited the employer is at the prospect of bringing the candidate on board. This goes back to tip # 7. If the hiring manager is absent from the offer and job offer discussion, the prospective hire may question how committed and excited the hiring manager, thus the company overall, is about bringing him/her on board.

 

9) No Excuses. Make Sure To Retain The "Human" Part Of "Human Capital" Discussions

Prospective hires do not give a darn about "how you do things", "what your process is", or "what your policy is". Candidates want to be treated as a human being and unique individual. Make sure to demonstrate true empathy and understanding for the prospective hire's perspective and concerns or he/she may lose interest entirely. Corporate policy is a reason for you and your company to justify your offer to yourselves. Unfortunately, that line of reasoning, as sound and as logical as it may well be, is nonetheless inconsequential to the candidate. If you want to change the candidate's mind; if you wish to move him/her closer to your line of thinking; then be prepared to speak about how the offer is in his/her own best interest. 

 

10) Remember: You Can "Win" A Negotiation And Still "Lose" The Candidate 

You do not  want a prospective hire's first experience with your company to be negative. Think long term. What is your true goal? Is it to get the candidate to sign or is it to get him/her excited to sign? Is your goal simply to get the candidate on board at the company or is it to incentivize him/her to be a long term home run hire who would never think of leaving? In part one of this two part posting, I advised prospective hires to do everything in their power to plant positive seeds to maximize the possibility of a positive outcome long term. The same principle applies to employers. You do not wish for your new hire's first experience with the company to be a negative experience. If you plant positive seeds throughout the job offer discussion and process then you enhance the possibility of a positive long term outcome for your company.

 

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