What to Do When Your Top Candidate Receives a Counter-Offer

Hiring the right team can keep managers up at night. Screening job applications, interviewing candidates, and making offers is a lengthy process that requires diligence and patience. This process becomes even more challenging when your ideal candidate receives a counter-offer from their current employer. For example, say you’ve been talking to a potential hire for months. They’re a great candidate with excellent experience and stellar references. You’ve assessed the market and are prepared to make them a competitive offer, only to find that they’re hesitant to accept—their current company has offered them more money to stay. Portland’s highly competitive market, employees with technical skills are incredibly valuable and in demand, and this scenario arises increasingly frequently. So, what should you do? How do you win great talent without breaking the bank? Take a look at these strategies below.

Understand your candidate’s motivations from the beginning

The best way to manage the surprise of a counter-offer is to arm yourself with an understanding of your candidate’s motivations from the beginning. During your very first conversation, take the time to understand their goals, dreams, passions, and frustrations. Determine why they want to leave their current company and what they’re looking for in the next step in their career. Your honest interest in the candidate’s story shows your commitment and sets the stage for a positive working relationship. The rapport and trust you build can be your secret weapon later, especially if another offer enters the picture.

Handle communication professionally and don’t take it personally

If your ideal candidate has been extended a counter-offer, the very first step is to take a deep breath. It can be understandably stressful to feel like you’re losing someone you’ve spent a lot of time and resources on. You may also feel hurt that the candidate who seemed genuinely interested in joining your team is having second thoughts. Don’t convey that stress, and absolutely don’t take it personally! Handle all communication professionally. Congratulate your candidate on their offer. Then, tell them you’d like to have a discussion to better understand the offer, their goals, and what the best next steps would be for everyone involved. Reiterate your interest in the candidate and how much they’d be a valued addition to your team.

Help your candidate weigh the pros and cons of the counter-offer

While a candidate may feel flattered that their current employer values them and wants them to stay, this may not necessarily be the business reality of the counter-offer. Turnover is expensive and employers don’t want to hire a replacement, train them, and start over from scratch. Counter-offers save companies the cost of turnover and hiring. The best response to a counter-offer is to continue having open and honest discussions with the candidate while drawing on their motivations for leaving in the first place. Ask questions that help your candidate see the big picture and focus on pain points they’ve brought up in past conversations. Consider these examples:

• Will the pay increase make up for the lack of work/life balance they’ve felt at their current job?

• Will the pay increase make up for the lack of upward mobility they’ve felt at their current job?

• Will the pay increase make up for a lack of other benefits, like PTO, healthcare, flexible hours, etc. that they don’t have at their current job?

• If they stay at their current job, will they feel more connected to the culture?

• If they stay at their current job, will they have opportunities to explore new skillsets?

Remember that money is only a temporary fix. In a few months, it’s likely that those frustrations will resurface and the candidate may regret missing the opportunities to grow and flourish. By getting down to the candidate’s true motivations, you can help them put their counter-offer into perspective.

Set a time to follow up

At this stage, you’ve done all you can to understand your candidate’s motivations. Now, you need to give your candidate time to sleep on it. Ask them to take some time to think about your conversation, and set a time for a follow up to discuss their final decision.

This is the time to determine if there’s something you should do to make your offer stronger. Discuss the situation with your HR team or your executives—if there’s anything that can be done to offer a more compelling choice, do it! Follow up swiftly to present the new offer and make yourself available to have further conversations.

If you can’t compete with the counter-offer, that’s okay too. Sometimes, that just can’t be helped. Follow up with the candidate to reiterate your interest and ask them about their decision. If you’ve convinced them to take your offer, congratulations! If they’ve decided to take the other offer, there’s not much else you can do. Wish them well and move on to another candidate.

Juggling candidates with multiple offers can be a challenge. That’s where VanderHouwen comes in. Get in touch with us.