Candidate Counteroffers and Fall-Offs: Lessons from the NFL

February 13th, 2018 by Dave Nerz

image of football referee representing counteroffersIf you are an executive recruiter, you have likely been burned. They call it a no-show, a no-start, a fall-off, a counteroffer or perhaps you call it something a little bit more like #%&$!

You have been there. The time has been invested. The candidate has been sourced. The candidate has been vetted. The candidate has interviewed. The employer has offered. The candidate has accepted. The date has been set. And then, the candidate does not show up for the first day of work, they are missing in action, or perhaps they have the guts to call and tell you they are backing away from the deal that you spent months creating. It happens to almost everyone. It is just another reason for recruiter paranoia and pessimism.

There was recently a very public situation that put on display for sports fans in North America what this is all about. The employer was the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts, the candidate was Josh McDaniels and the recruiter was really Josh McDaniels’ agent, Bob LaMonte. The Colts had their next head coach all locked in. The deal was done, all but the final details. That is when it all went wrong. McDaniels backed out and returned to his current employer. Rather than make the move to a head coaching job, he will remain as an assistant with the New England Patriots. So what happened?

There is mostly speculation with few known facts. But it seems clear that there were many factors that contributed to this deal collapsing. Let us cover the ones as I know them that parallel what recruiters need to be tuned into on every deal they facilitate.

Time Kills All Deals

There was too much time for the candidate, McDaniels to reconsider. Because of league rules, it could not be made official until the season was over. So although the deal was likely done weeks earlier, it could not be official and final until much later. We can only assume there was not much communication with the candidate during this period or there was not enough of the right kind of confirming conversation going on. It seems that the new employer, the Colts, were surprised by the fall-off as was the recruiter/agent.

Recruitment Tip: Keep the conversation going. Confirm and reconfirm. Do not assume it is done. Remember the existing employer has access to the candidate and will likely try to keep them even if it is for the short-term as they find a suitable replacement. As recruiters, you will have employees that cannot move until the end-of-year bonus is paid or their child graduates high school or one of a thousand other time-based delays. Do not let that time pass without checking in and checking up for a change of heart.

The Family Has a Vote

Never assume that if the candidate is good, all is good. In the case of Josh McDaniels, the word is his family did not want to move. They had not looked for or found a home in Indianapolis. They then added pressure and motivation for staying in place. Guessing that money was OK and lifestyle was more than acceptable where they were. Change was just not required for them.

Recruitment Tip: Stay close to the family and partners impacted by your deal. Check to see if behavior is in sync with the plan to relocate and start a new job. Meet with them in the new location so that they are not left out in the cold fending for themselves to make the move feel good. See if they have motivations that align with the candidate’s. Maybe they see it as closer to family, a fresh start, better cost of living, better work-life balance or a new adventure. Look for their win in this change.

Employers Can Make  Counteroffers

Right up to move time, the existing employer has access to, and a history with, the candidate. They can change the rules of the game with counteroffers and promises. Sounds like Josh McDaniels was promised he will replace the existing coach in a year or two. Sounds like some money “became available” from the owner to offer the soon departing coach.

Recruitment Tip: You are doing this…but you need to reconfirm often…understand the motivation for change. If it just about money, you are on thin ice. If it is about position and money, the existing employer can change the rules with promises. Remember that moving to a new employer, a new city, and a completely different circumstance for a small increase and a position or title one year earlier than expected is not great motivation. If they love the place they are and the employer can change that gap with money or promises, watch out. Counteroffers may be in the works.

Not Over Until it is Over

New information and things to consider happen through out any process. Looks like maybe McDaniels got new information about the health of the star player on his new team. Maybe he was more seriously injured than expected? Maybe he had too much time with the new management and saw they are a bit crazy and not to his liking? Maybe a rift that existed with his prior manager made a major move toward improving? Things are always changing.

Recruitment Tip: Stay close. Ask for feedback on every point of contact. Assume nothing.

Cut Ties and Move On

The agent LaMonte told McDaniels he was making perhaps the worse decision of his career upon his acceptance of a counteroffer from the Patriots.

Recruitment Tip: Cut the candidate loose and move on. LaMonte “fired” McDaniels. You cannot represent someone like that ever again. They reflect on your credibility and even if they have good reasons for doing what they do, you cannot represent them and commit to a deal and then have them reverse.

Deals are not done until the candidate has started and the guarantee period has expired (if there is one). How do you view counteroffers and fall offs? Any good stories you can share or lessons learned?

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