In some strange way a counter offer is a good thing. It signals that the candidate’s current company values them and they don’t want them to go. The hidden assumption in this is that the person is top talent. That is the good news. The bad news is, now what? How should the new company respond to the counter offer? Should they offer more money? Match the counter offer? Get into a bidding war? Walk away and start the hiring process all over again? Negotiate with the candidate? There are lots of options, none of which are all that great.
Here are four ideas on how to handle a counter offer.
1.) The best way to handle a counter offer is by preventing it from happening. Few companies ever discuss the potential counter offer with candidates. This is a mistake. The hiring manager should begin discussing the potential of a counter offer as soon as there is genuine interest in a candidate.
Instead of ignoring the issue, the hiring manager should say to a candidate, “We want to proceed with you and would like to bring you back to meet more people. I want to respect their time and yours. If we proceed, I’m curious as to how you will deal with a counter offer should your current company make one?”
This is important because now the manager is starting to tie the person down. Few candidates ever think about the counter offer. By asking this question the manager is beginning the process of getting the candidate to not only think about a counter offer, but actually start committing to the manager they won’t consider one. The candidate is starting to put their word on the line.
Continue to bring up the potential of a counter offer after each interview. Before the offer is made, the hiring manager should once again ask the question, “We are going to proceed to the offer. We only hire top talent. I know if you were on my staff, I would be concerned if you left. What will you say to your boss or even the CEO when called into their office to discuss what it will take to keep you? What will you say to them?”
2) Never get into a battle over compensation. This is a battle rarely won. If the candidate accepts a counter offer for more money now, they will never be satisfied. They are opportunistic and will leave you for the first opportunity that pays more or they will hold you hostage by constantly asking for more money.
Make your best offer and leave it at that. Let the candidate know you are making your best and only offer. Remind the candidate that compensation was not the reason they indicated they wanted to leave and why they were interested in this new position.
3) Too often companies make an offer and that is the last contact with the candidate until they walk in the door two or three weeks later. This is a major mistake.
For the next three weeks whatever energy, excitement, enthusiasm, and bonding that built up during the interviewing process begins to wane. The current manager has all this time to express their appreciation for the candidate, how much they valued their work, how much they will miss this person, and on and on.
The new manager has to stay in the game. The biggest thing to discover is, has there been an announcement to their team and the company they are leaving? If that hasn’t happened, or their boss asks them to wait until next week before announcing it to the staff, get ready, a counter is imminent. The notice period is an opportunity to start having the candidate’s mind and emotions transition to their new company. The manager should meet with them, give them some work to start, invite them to staff or company meetings, include them in emails, call them for advice, or ask their opinion. Begin the process of putting them in their new job.
4) Understand exactly why the person wants to leave their current role. The real reason is rarely the first reason given. Don’t accept the first canned answer. Probe to understand what is motivating this person to seek a new position. This is the key if a counter offer happens.
Rarely will a candidate tell you the main reason is money. Usually it deals with some other issue; they are not happy in their current role, they lack career growth, the position isn’t challenging, their boss isn’t allowing them to take on new projects, or they have reached their limitations in the current company. Does the new position address the issues the candidate indicated? If it does, this is ammunition to use if a counter offer happens. You can now remind the candidate what they said as to why they wanted a new role and exactly how the new position addressed their concerns. Since it wasn’t about money, how will a counter offer address their issues?
Since when asked why they want to leave their current employer, the candidate cited several reasons about career growth, clearly stating money wasn’t the reason for leaving and then they accepted a counter offer based on money, chances are they lied or at best were misleading.
Even if the manager does everything perfectly, the candidate may fall prey to the counter offer. When dealing with people, nothing is 100%. All one can do is work to avoid the counter offer before it happens.
Speaker, author and trainer, Brad Remillard (Brad@impacthiringsolutions.com) is also the co-founder of “Impact Hiring Solutions” and co-author of, “You’re NOT the Person I Hired: A CEO’s Guide to Hiring Top Talent.” ( www.bradremillard.com)