Counter Offer Candidate

They’re back! Counter offers have made a recovery along with the demand for talent.  Always a possibility, they are now a probability when a quality/qualified employees gets a new job offer.

I’m not going to re-hash all the reasons not to take a counter offer. We’ve all heard/read them a thousand times throughout our careers. I’ve certainly counseled on the dangers, etc. with practically every candidate (and client) I’ve ever represented.

Here I’d like to focus on why and who accepts counter offers. Quite frankly, I can usually predict who’s vulnerable to them and exactly what they’re going to do through the resignation process when the time comes.

Of course it’s more likely that a candidate who is generally happy where they’re at would be more vulnerable. After all, why go through the discomfort of leaving a perfectly good job for a few extra bucks and uncertainty? We, as our client’s representative, may not see it this way. Why wouldn’t our recruit want such a great opportunity with our best client? Risk still remains foremost in many a recruited candidate’s mind. We’re barely out of a long and deep recession and stability is not something to be considered lightly. The happy employee is more likely to accept a decent counter offer, ignore the risks and stay put for a time longer.

How about the candidate who does think they’re ready, whose been passed over, underpaid, or who is maxed out with their growth potential in their present company? That’s an entirely different risk profile – or so you’d think?

When evaluating a candidate through the final stages of the interview and offer process, I can usually assess what type of a decision maker I’m dealing with. The candidate who is clear cut, decisive and needs little hand holding, will very likely overcome the pressures of the counter offer(s) during the decision making process. This candidate is professionally mature, knows themselves, makes decisions with confidence and doesn’t sway easily. They don’t flatter easily, understand the career risks in counter offers and see beyond the short term  money fix usually offered. As early as our first conversations, this type of individual has clarity about what they require and where they’re going. They are a very low risk to both the recruiter and the recruiter’s client.

The fence sitter, on the other hand, is the one you have to view with caution. They are more likely to go along for the ride. This candidate believes he/she is sincere in their desire to make a move for the next opportunity. They will say and do the right things, but for some reason your gut is still screaming “CAUTION”!

Take heed of that reaction – it’s most probably accurate and here’s why. A candidate who is overly analytical is often very emotional in their decision making process. They don’t trust their own instincts, so  by over analyzing a decision they can either put off making that decision or give themselves the ammunition to objectify their actions. This candidate finds it ‘safer’ to stay and a counter offer can be a convenient screen to hide behind, so they don’t have to go through the uncomfortable motions of making a change. These candidates are generally insecure about their abilities and are professionally immature. Likeable as they may be, they are not objective regarding their careers and making firm decisions. Their self-absorption dismisses the damage they do to the client whose offer they have just accepted, then rejected (never mind the recruiter – who loses both income and more importantly, client cred).

What are some of the clear signs of the professionally undeveloped? For one, a lack of enthusiastic commitment. They might be going through all of the process hoops, but they never verbalize 100%, or are able to clearly define their reluctance. They go dark on you – and at critical moments in the process. They take an inordinately long time to make a decision or make excuses to extend the decision date. They have endless questions regarding the offer. They are surprised at how aggressive their current employer is in their pursuit to keep them – and this after spending an enormous amount of time discussing just that! And finally you and your client are spending just a bit too much time hand holding and digging at the truth. Go with your gut on these types of candidates. Even with a strong pre-close, they can turn tail and duck for cover.

Funny thing, it’s not always the money that turns their heads or changes their minds. It can be a title change or promises of a future where their contributions will be rewarded and recognized; this combined with a good dose of guit can be just enough to lock them into staying. This type of candidate isn’t stupid, but they want to believe their current employer. After all, it must have just been an oversight on their current employer’s behalf all these years and they are finally getting their just reward. Fear of change, lack of confidence, complacency – these are all flaws even the most qualified candidate may exhibit through the interview process.

Though we can’t always predict behavior and outcome, we can at least be prepared and know the signs of the back peddler. We all experience this type of hire from time to time. Some will stay, no matter how prepared we are or what we do and some will surprise us and take the plunge.  All part of the risk and reward that comes with successful recruiting.

  • Hi Cindy – Great piece! With a true fence-sitter, the new company usually finds itself at a disadvantage. There’s a relationship with the existing employer. There’s trust, history, a desire to please and a sense of loyalty. None of this yet exists with the new opportunity. It often doesn’t matter that it’s not the best decision for the candidate, or that s/he’ll be back on the market in 6 months. These emotional ties are why so many recruiters work so hard to form the kind of relationship with candidates that will give us some sway when crunch time arrives.

    • Yes, one would hope so! 🙂