Candidates and counteroffers – it’s a recruitment conundrum as old as time. Right now, though, with plentiful jobs and candidates in woefully-short supply, counteroffers are at perhaps an all-time high. Recruiters need to assume that employers WILL counteroffer your candidates as part of their retention efforts, because they know replacements are simply too hard to find. And that means you simply must openly and honestly discuss this issue early and often to avoid any deal-killing surprises.
Start this conversation early in the process, before the candidate goes on any interviews. You might ask an open-ended question like, “What do you think will happen when you resign?” If the candidate responds that the employer might offer more money, ask how the candidate will respond to that. Make sure you are really listening here, and even taking notes. If the candidate responds that they might be open to entertaining a counteroffer, probe that some more. Is the candidate actually happy in their job except for the compensation? Maybe your best option is to coach them in how to ask for a raise and suggest they purse that option instead of using another employer’s offer as leverage. This is especially true since accepting a counteroffer after receiving an offer won’t reflect well on them with the new employer.
If the candidate *says* they wouldn’t accept a counteroffer, probe that some more as well. Review all the reasons they told you they are looking for a new opportunity. Ask which items would be solved with more money. Would that eliminate or fix a bad management situation? Would it make a career path suddenly appear? Would the counteroffer include MORE than just money? Your goal here is to get the candidate to acknowledge, out loud, that a counteroffer will not solve the issues they have identified as motivating factors for a career change.
Once you’ve done this, continue to have the counteroffer conversation during each step of the process. You cannot afford to assume this is a one-and-done task. It gets more important the closer the candidate gets to receiving an offer. Where relocating a family is involved, there are additional complicating factors. Make sure the family is getting the resources they need to be supportive of the move – whether that’s housing comparisons, school information, lifestyle considerations or more.
It’s also a conversation worth having with your hiring managers. The old saw “time kills all deals” has never been more true than right now. So the more time that the employer requires for extra interviews, slow feedback, etc. the more time that exists for a counteroffer to develop and get accepted. Employers who are making offers that aren’t top-of-market are also vulnerable. Another strategy might be to focus on candidates who are considerably underpaid – make sure you aren’t illegally asking about salary history, though! That *could* mean your client’s salary offer would be very comparable to the counteroffer, which would eliminate or reduce the financial component of the candidate’s decision.
Make sure your candidate knows a counteroffer WILL happen, even if they work at a place that “never” offers them. Things have changed. The market is crazy. Employers are doing whatever they think is necessary to prevent people from leaving. Help your candidate prepare for this scenario. You may even want to role-play it, especially if that would be a first-time experience for the candidate. It’s hard to resign. It’s scary to take a new job. A counteroffer means candidates can avoid those hard and scary things. And guilt is a powerful motivator.
As a recruiter, you’re likely always going to be dealing with challenges caused by candidates and counteroffers. Refresh your skills, develop a process to keep the counteroffer conversation top-of-mind, and don’t get complacent. Don’t let bad habits get in the way of success!