As recruiters we invest so much time, money, energy and emotion in candidates that we take through the recruitment process.  Sourcing, screening, interviewing, testing, background checks and all of the hiring manager discussions!  

Let me paint you a picture: you’ve got to the end of a recruitment process, you have what you think is the best candidate in the market and you’ve negotiated a great offer. The candidate verbally accepts the role and you are ready to start putting through the contract when………….. they give you the dreaded call to let you know they’ve been counter offered.

GAH! NO! Your brain is instantly thinking about how you are going to manage this one……. and hold on to your amazing candidate.  Your candidate is thinking that the counter offer is so flattering, so ego stroking.  If it’s from their current employer, they may even think that their boss must have been so busy they hadn’t noticed just how hard they really worked and that they really do matter to them………

Managing a counter offer doesn’t have to be hard.
 And, you don’t have to do all the work.  There are a number of things to consider when you are the recruiter in this position – and of course never forget your power of influence with your candidate (because you’ve built a relationship of trust – right?).  When managing this situation make sure you:

  1. Never get aggressive or defensive. There is an old saying you win more flies with honey than vinegar. It works with candidates too. Threats like “we will pull the offer” never end well.
  2. Ask A LOT of questions – what is the offer? What is the role? Is it more money? Is it just empty promises from a current employer? You need to understand what you are up against, what it actually is and how your candidate is feeling about it all.
  3. If it’s from their current employer – remember, the candidate wanted to leave in the first place.  Reflect back to them your initial conversations on the reasons for their desire to leave – Was there no support from management? Was the pay poor? Is the culture toxic? Will extra money or a new role they are offering you really make a difference or make it go away?  Make sure you reflect this back to them and discuss it.
  4. Stay close – don’t smother them, but make sure you keep your word to call them at set times or days and keep them engaged with you.  Give them time to consider their options.  Also think, would it be appropriate for their new manager to give them a call?
  5. Keep your hiring manager informed and begin the influencing process – is there potential that you are willing to negotiate the remuneration? The role responsibilities? Is there a project you could discuss with them that they will be working on in their role that could be discussed with them?  It’s better to be prepared and know what you can and can’t offer, or if your hiring manager (and his/her budget) is willing to entertain further discussion.


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With the above in your counter offer management arsenal, you will be well equipped to deal with these situations. Don’t let your blinkers cloud your judgement – remember, they aren’t the only candidate in the market.  Going back to market will be tough – but no matter how hard you try you won’t win the counter offer battle every time.  

More proactively, counter offers need to be part of your recruitment communication strategy.  They have become much more common, particularly in executive or senior roles as the talent market becomes more and more scarce.  Next time, think about:

  • Making sure you probe the real reason that your candidates wants to leave an organization.  Sometimes candidates will use development opportunities or “time to move to a new industry” as a cover.  Use your recruiter skills and ask another question.
  • Talking about questions – make sure you ask your candidate if they feel they may be counter offered when you are finalizing the int.  This can open up a good conversation about a potential offer, but it can also give you a guide as to whether or not the candidate would be open to a counter offer as well! If they feel they may be counter offered probe further.
  • Asking your candidates if they are in the process for any other roles can give you a great idea as to their commitment to your role – and gives you another chance to ask more questions if they are!
  • Make your offers verbally – never on email – and make sure that either yourself or the hiring manager are making the offer.  This is a crucial point when hiring as this gives you a chance to continue to build on your relationship with the candidate and keep them engaged with your company.
  • Ask your candidate to contact you after they have resigned, or even better, give them a call!  Ask them how it went, how they are feeling – this is a crucial point in counter offer management.

If you proactively manage the counter offer situation you are in a much stronger position to manage even the toughest one!

I would love you to share your counter offer stories in the comments below.

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