Making a Compelling Job Offer

As employers, we’ve all experienced that oddly miffed feeling that comes with finding a great candidate, extending a job offer and having the candidate react with reluctance, accept a counteroffer or take too long to respond.

Today’s tips focus on how to create a job offer they can refuse (we’re not the Mob!) but would never want to because it’s so well-tailored to address the candidate’s needs, wants and pain points.

Do Your Homework in the Interview

Many job offer rejections are the result of the hiring manager not getting to know the candidate sufficiently. “But,” you say, “I knew the candidate well enough to make an offer!”

Indeed, but what matters to the candidate is not how well you understand his or her ability to fulfill your needs, but how well you understand his or her needs. The success of the offer you make depends on finding out what the candidate’s primary motivators are (delete comma, compound sentence with shared subject) and including them in the offer you bring to the table.

Why is the candidate job seeking in the first place? If they’re unemployed, your offer is probably like water in the desert. If the money is enough to cover their expenses and the other details are in order, they may well jump at the opportunity. But if they’re currently employed, you need to know why they’re dissatisfied with their current job and make an offer that’s better – and better doesn’t always just mean a higher salary.

Ask candidates their top five priorities for their next job. Some will phrase them in terms of what the new job must have and others will focus on what it absolutely must not have. These types of frames include Financial Improvements, Prestige, Burden and Oppression. 

  • Financial Improvement Points: Steer your interview around what areas for improvement the candidate is most sensitive to: financial improvements like base salary, bonuses, sales motivation programs, profit-sharing stakes and medical coverage (needs vary: full, inexpensive, ideal for families, PPO?) Other perks that improve are per diem, mileage, and cellphone expenses. 
  • Prestige Points: A director or VP title can sway someone who is otherwise satisfied, as can a nice office, direct reports, or directly reporting to a high level executive in the company. This is where your employer branding matters – your company’s reputation as an Apple, Facebook or Fortune 30 player earns you huge value in the mind of the candidate. 
  • Convenience Points: If your candidate has a long commute, frustrating or inflexible hours, stingy vacation or sick-day allowances and other quality-of-life conveniences, you need to listen and tailor your offer to address these pain points. 
  • Work Environment Oppression: Harried employees are often anxious to jump ship from a negative work environment but are also very cautious. They don’t want to repeat their last mistake. Find out what irks them about their current workplace: is it lack of modern technology, unavailable financial resources, political instability, managerial attitudes or long stretches with no recognition, gratitude or raises? Make sure your offer clearly details how your workplace will be a fabulously different and better opportunity.

A Word on Money

Generally, employed mid-career professionals expect a 10 to 15 percent increase in salary when they switch jobs. You’ve discussed their current salary during the interview, so when it comes time to make an offer, you’re likely to get a lukewarm response if the sum on the table amounts to less than 10 to 15 percent more than what they’re currently making, unless you explain the salary range is fixed at X and the candidate has already made clear they understand that unfortunate fact and is still interested.

However, a somewhat lackluster salary offer can be sweetened in a variety of ways with bonus options based on performance, profit-sharing opportunities, really great healthcare or investment benefits, lifestyle benefits like catered food, gym memberships and so on; highlight your unique corporate culture, or flexible work arrangements, vacation and sick days, to mention a few. If you know you won’t be able to hit a number the candidate will jump at, you need to be sure you know them well enough to sell them on other sweet spots in your offer.

Act Fast to Make an Offer

If you’re sure you want the candidate, don’t hesitate. When possible, contact them on the same day as the in-person interview. You can turn their post-interview anxiety into enthusiasm for the job. Let them know you spoke to 15 other applicants and, by far, they were the best! And remember, most job seekers, especially valuable, currently-employed ones, aren’t speaking to you only, so if you drag your heels, quality talent will get snapped up by your competitors.

Make the offer in person, if possible. If you cannot offer right away, use the phone, and never rely on email until the follow-up. Make sure you pitch the total opportunity, not just the salary. If you’ve conducted the interview correctly, you know their priorities, so recap them individually, outlining how the job will fulfill each. You know the candidate’s strengths, so make it clear how the role will use each one, finally giving them the chance to shine, and have the responsibility and recognition they deserve.

If the candidate is currently employed, they’re likely to receive a counteroffer from their current employer. Role play with them how they might offer a resignation and respond to a counteroffer – what would it entail? Would the employer try to address their pain points? Offer more money?

This is a crucial step as the recruiter or hiring manager, because you need to threat-assess the likelihood your prize candidate will accept a counteroffer and send you back to square one.

Follow Up in Writing

After the phone call, the offer may have changed a bit. They may have counteroffered, asked about a benefit you weren’t prepared for, and so on. Bring back what you learned, try to get them what they want (within reason) and provide them with a fresh offer letter with your new approved terms clearly laid out in writing, to avoid any sense of bait and switch. Be careful around statements that allude to job security.  They can be interpreted as a “promise” that can make it more difficult to let someone go who doesn’t work out.

Most important, for many candidates an offer isn’t “real” until it’s in writing. They won’t make important decisions that can affect their livelihood until they have the document. Have the loose offer letter written before the phone or in-person offer, but be able to revise rapidly it based on your negotiation. This is a stressful time for the candidate, so a long delay between your phone negotiation and the arrival of the offer letter via email can signal a disengagement or loss of interest on your part, which you absolutely do not want.

Light a Fire

You can give your candidate a week to respond, but if they take a week, it is probably not a good sign. 24 hours is a good rule of thumb – many folks want to sleep on it. But even after the offer is sent, continue to reach out to the candidate and keep the conversation going.

If all else fails, ask the candidate, “I’ve got two other great candidates’ resumes in front of me – should I call them and tell them this position is filled by you, or should I make the offer to one of them?” Nothing else motivates human psychology like the fear of losing out.

Know When to Call It Quits

Not everyone is going to jump at your offer. Some reluctance is a negotiating ploy, but genuine ambivalence can indicate that it’s really not a great fit. By asking the right questions and discovering the source of indecision, you can either address their pain and bring them aboard or compassionately disengage and find a candidate whose priorities better align with your company’s. Hiring a candidate who doesn’t really want the job is a surefire way to be forced to repeat the talent search again in a few months or a year when that person jumps ship for another job they really do want.

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