Candidate: “I’m sorry to muck you around, but I’ve been counter-offered and have decided to stay put afterall."
Recruiter: "Nooooooooooo not again!!!!! Yet another candidate who has received an offer that is just too good to turn down. Three months hard work down the drain. And now I've got to let down my client..."
"Why has my candidate left it so late in the day to tell me that he has changed his mind? This is going to ruin all the goodwill I had built up in this relationship. My reputation with this client will be in tatters. I am going to have to let my boss know. She will go mad.
And as for my target; well it’s blown any chance I had of achieving that, not to mention the hole it will burn in my pocket through the loss of the commission I was anticipating.”
So could you have done anything to prevent this from happening? Probably not at the end of the process! Whatever you do now is the equivalent of closing the gate after the horse has bolted.
But there was something you could have done – what is it? (And importantly when should you have done it?) Allow me to explain.
The risk of the counter-offer has never been higher
The risk of the counter-offer has never been higher in engineering recruitment. Companies understand the cost and disruption caused by losing a key (hard-to-replace) member of staff and will often go to extraordinary lengths to hang on to them.
Some really are prepared to chuck everything including the kitchen sink at an employee in an attempt to keep hold of them. The current employer always has the advantage of the last say in the proceedings too.
Businesses work on the employee during the course of their notice period. Some companies are very skilled at de-stabilising the decision that the candidate has made about their career. It can be an unnerving and uncomfortable time for candidates working their notice and they can easily be thrown into doubt as to whether or not they are doing the right thing by moving jobs.
But accepting a counter-offer can be fraught with risks in itself and these are well documented. For the employee it can be an emotional roller-coaster:
Seduced by a five grand pay rise
So as a recruiter, the first contact with any candidate should explore exactly why they want to leave, or in the case of a passive candidate, what exactly does a new opportunity have to have that the current one is lacking?
And for heaven's sake write these down - all the key issues and the little niggles. You will need to refer back to these later when the candidate has been seduced by a five grand pay rise!
Once you have exhausted this exercise (in the case that the sole reason is money then at least you have exposed that this candidate as extremely vulnerable to the counter-offer and a high risk candidate if their current employer is unwilling to let them go and join a competitor), find out what is likely to happen to them when they resign.
- How will your company react when you tell them that you are leaving?
- Who else has recently resigned?
- What happened to them?
- Has anyone been persuaded to stay only to subsequently leave?
- Then ask the most important question of them all: what would they need to do to make you stay?
Don’t accept “Nothing” for an answer. That is just a lazy answer and rarely true. Candidates will know that this is what you want to hear – there is nearly always something that would persuade them to stay.
Recruiter: “So if they doubled your salary would you stay?”
Candidate: “Well that’s not going to happen."
Recruiter: “Maybe not but if they did would you still put up with all those issues you have just mentioned and stay? If they don’t double it, at what point do you start considering a financial offer. £5k? £10k? £20k? Some companies are countering with ludicrous increases on occasions – I’ve seen it. What else could they do? How could they make the reasons for being unsettled go away?”
In every subsequent call to the candidate, you should check in to see if anything has changed and check that the reasons for them being unsettled are still very much alive and kicking.
There are several courses of action you can do to minimise the risk of the counter-offer.
Mitigating the risk
- Firstly make sure that you involve the new employer. You need to highlight the risk from the outset to the client and to the fact that the risk is much more prevalent where their recruitment process is onerous or long winded.
An urgent and speedy recruitment process, where the candidate feels like a VIP, important enough to be the top priority on the management agenda, and where the time to hire is quick and efficient is a must-have. Too many recruitment processes frustrate the candidate and let the initial wow factor go cold.
Engage the candidate
- The client needs to be involved in the candidate engagement from the outset. Any bonding that can occur during the process, and critically during the notice period, will reduce the risk of losing them later in the process to a counter-offer.
Most recruitment processes have two, one hour interviews, then an offer and acceptance (this can take a couple of weeks) normally followed by a month's notice. The new employer needs to be engaging somehow with the candidate during the notice period and not leave the candidate to go cold or be seduced unopposed by their existing employer.
Treat the candidate like an employee
- What events can the new employer include them in? Make sure the new employee receives the company newsletter, notices of awards or tender wins etc. An informal meet after work one evening where the new employee can meet some of his new colleagues over a couple of drinks would be a good idea.
Candidates on notice often feel isolated, disloyal (to the current employer and to their former colleagues who are likely to hit them with statements of “Oh you’re not leaving us are you – it won’t be the same without you here”) emotional and in two minds as to whether they have made the right decision.
They will certainly appreciate a friendly face and reassurance that they have made the right decision. Their future colleagues and company can start to give them this – and it can’t come early enough in my opinion.
Of course any reputable recruiter should be all over this, keeping very close to the candidate during the resignation and notice period.
Advise the candidate on how to resign
- A good recruiter will advise the candidate on how to resign and what to expect as a reaction. Poor recruiters will leave it to luck and bury their head in the sand and hope. If this is you, then I say this - shame on you. Expect that call that starts… “I’m sorry….but I’ve decided to stay put afterall”
A good recruiter will make the candidate aware of the risks of accepting a counter-offer. Did you know that 80% of candidates who accept a counter-offer, leave within six months. This is a horrendous statistic and provided by research conducted by the National Employment Association. Make sure you tell the candidate to expect a counter-offer, counsel them and provide supporting literature before they resign. It will be too late once they have been countered.
Counter-offers are not the answer
- Many candidates will not tell you they are being countered until after it has happened and they have made up their mind to stay. They know you will place more pressure on them and just add to their already stressful and emotional conundrum.
Of course there are always going to be some candidates that do accept a counter-offer. They may have been countered with something that they highlighted to you as something that would make them stay. They may have fallen for something that they categorically stated wouldn’t seduce them into staying and because they are embarrassed by this fact, are now possibly even refusing to take your calls.
Respect that it is the candidate's life and wish them all the best for the future, but make sure you keep the door open for them to come back and use you in the future. In fact, play on their feelings of guilt (ask them to provide you with some names of candidates they know who have the same skillset as themselves of course).
The 80% rule
- Keep in regular touch – because do you know what? 80% of them will need you within the next six months – so no matter how angry and resentful you feel, don’t burn your bridges. See it as a deferred placement. The best recruiters are those who make themselves fully accountable.
As an employer of hundreds of recruiters over the years I most respect those who have this mindset: “There is always something you could have done – what is it?” And if all else has failed, then it’s over to Plan B. What is Plan B? Make sure you have at least one other candidate competing for the role. Difficult I know in a candidate led marketplace, but top recruiters will know the importance of this – in fact they’ll stake their professional reputation on it!