Improve Hiring… With These Top No-Cost, Offer Acceptance Boosters (The complete guide for getting your offers accepted)

The most damaging part is when, at the end of hiring, your top candidate surprises you with a no answer.

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Realize That… Offer Acceptance Is A High-Impact Step

It’s no longer okay to just stand by. Today, it’s essential that you take proactive actions that boost the offer acceptance rates of your exceptional candidates. First, the offer acceptance step is the one where the highest number of exceptional candidates either drop out or are eliminated. Second, I have found that a majority of “no answers” to an offer could have been prevented.

You should also focus on the offer process because all exceptional candidates will receive several offers that they will compare side-by-side. To win, your actual offer and your offer process must be superior to your competitors’ offers and because acceptance rates of exceptional talent are almost always at their lowest during today’s low unemployment rate.

For example, the most recent data reveals that the offer acceptance rate is only 65% across all technical jobs. That means your current offer acceptance rate is for exceptional candidates in your technical jobs. It is likely to already be well below 50%. 

I estimate that last year, the offer acceptance rate for exceptional candidates
in priority positions, often approaching 30%.

After years of enjoying the moniker of the Michael Jordan of Hiring, I can guarantee that taking at least one of the following proactive actions will immediately boost your offer acceptance rate without spending a dime. For the record, if you combine several of these actions on a single exceptional candidate, You will likely double your chances of landing them.

The Top 7 Most Effective Offer Acceptance Boosters (that require no money)

It’s a huge mistake to assume that nothing can be done to boost your offer acceptance rates among exceptional candidates. What is needed is a data-driven targeted boosting effort that uses the following proven no-cost tools and actions. In this list, the most powerful boosting actions appear near the beginning.

  1. Meeting with the CEO… is the most effective way to close the deal the most powerful, convincing approach. It is an in-person meeting where the CEO presents the offer to the exceptional candidate. This executive meeting works first because it’s hard for anyone to say no to a CEO. However, in corporations, showing a top candidate that the CEO is willing to take the time to talk to a mere candidate is also important. It makes it clear to that candidate how important they and this job are to the organization’s future. Most finalists value the prospect of establishing a relationship with the CEO from the outset. They perceive it as a promise of direct access and support from the top leadership upon acceptance. They will have complete access to the CEO, as well as their support for all aspects of their assigned work. Incidentally, to maximize the effectiveness of this meeting. I have found that the CEO has to be clearly excited and well briefed on the finalists, their previous work, their interests, and what they will be working on if they say yes. Also, prompt the CEO to use phrases like “Please say yes so that you and I can build the future of this Corporation together.” Well-sculpted phrases like this are extremely powerful. Note: Meetings/calls from other high-level leaders (e.g., board members, founders, and owners) will also significantly impact. I would also note that I have successfully convinced CEOs to conduct four of these meetings each month.
  2. Offer them “their dream job”… because that’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – most exceptional candidates have at least mentally envisioned their personal dream job. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to spend most of their working time exclusively doing what they love doing to the point where they are excited about coming to work every day. In addition, the fact that their manager is willing to personalize their job is guaranteed to get any candidate’s attention. So start by telling the candidate that your goal is to offer them “their dream job.” Then, provide them with a blank page numbered “my dream job” as the title. Then, ask them to list the positive elements that make this next job “a dream job” and the negative job content that would make it less dreamy. To speed up their thought process, share examples of the job-related factors others have previously chosen (i.e., choice of projects, using advanced technology, managing their development budget, or working with an iconic employee). Once they have completed their list, you negotiate with them to finalize the content of their dream job. 
  3. When those who influence the candidate support “a yes answer,” you’re more likely to get it – remember that a decision to accept a new job is a major life-changing decision. So, I have found that exceptional candidates never make them without consulting with those they trust. And when all of their top influencers proactively push the candidate, your offer acceptance rate will skyrocket. Start this “influence the influencers” process by identifying the candidate’s top influencers: job references, colleagues, mentors, professors, and close family members. Then, have their manager (or a team member) provide each top influencer with enough exciting information about this job and your company so that they proactively recommend it to your candidate.
  4. Reveal the job’s purpose and big-picture impacts… to make the job even more attractive – exceptional candidates almost always strive to make a difference. In fact, “knowing that their job makes a difference” is literally the #1 motivator. So, it’s important to go beyond simply selling the job’s features and the paycheck. And proactively excite the candidate by revealing the job’s purpose and impacts. The best way is to provide them with a “job impact statement.” That outlines the new hire’s likely impacts on teammates, customers, the environment, the community, DEI, and other things they value. 
  5. Minimize some pay concerns… by offering them a future salary review – often the largest hurdle that keeps an exceptional finalist from accepting your offer. It is their perception that your salary offer is too low. But they will also be locked into this “too low salary” for a year or more. So, in cases where you can’t offer them more money. Consider offering an “automatic reopener clause” as an alternative. The justification for postponing their salary concerns is based on the fair premise that the two parties barely know each other initially. They can’t really know how strong the new hire’s performance will be when there is trust between the two parties. It makes sense to postpone a final salary decision. Until they have clearly demonstrated their value during their first three or six months on the job. Of course, the review must be automatic and clearly based on objective criteria for this delayed salary discussion offer to be effective.
  6. A face-to-face offer is more likely to be accepted – anyone who understands psychology knows it’s harder to turn an offer down (and disappoint the person). During a live face-to-face meeting. As opposed to communicating by phone, email, text, or a Zoom call. However, try to select a time and place where the candidate is likely to feel more obligated to say yes.
  7. Providing an expiring offer… may encourage a quick yes exceptional candidates are almost always highly decisive individuals. They fully understand the value of meeting a deadline. So, in the cases where you know that you have thoroughly and effectively done all that you could to sell them on your job. Provide them with “an expiring offer,” which is a job offer that is only valid for a number of days, and then it is automatically withdrawn. This acceptance deadline puts pressure on the exceptional candidate to make a quick decision. And not to forgo waiting for additional offers that may or may not come through. Of course, rushing their decision could also force them to say no. However, in my experience, I found that most decisive candidates are more likely to take the “offer in hand.”

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Still powerful actions with a slightly lower level of impact

This next section covers a handful of additional actions that tend to be slightly less effective than the ones listed above.

  • Showing you’ve met the candidate’s next job expectations… will reinforce their decision to say yes – this last “offer validation step” should be applied to every exceptional candidate. Its basic premise is that a candidate won’t say “yes” unless the elements of your offer come close to matching the “next job expectations” of this candidate. Where their “next job expectations” come in two parts. The first covers the positive elements. That must be included in their next offer before they accept it. (like pay, growth opportunities, and the tools they will have). The second part covers job elements they don’t want (i.e., excessive travel and overtime). So this “what’s it gonna take to get you into this car” approach forces you to assess whether your offer meets their expectations. You can identify these next job expectations. Ask finalists before their final interview to provide you with this list. And once you have selected your finalist. Sit down with them to jointly assess whether you have met all of their expectations. If not, ask what can be done to meet more of them.
  • Interacting with peers… will help to close the deal top candidates wonder if after they are hired. They will be welcomed, accepted, and needed by their teammates. Unfortunately, exceptional candidates have few opportunities to interact informally with their future coworkers during traditional hiring. However, one recommended way to increase these interactions is with “peer interviews.” These coworker-only (no manager) semi-informal interviews allow the teammates to become more comfortable with the candidate and vice versa. And when teammates become more knowledgeable and excited about a final candidate. They are much more likely to make a “peer support call.” Which is when a future teammate voluntarily contacts the offered candidate directly. To make them feel welcome, answer their questions, and encourage them to accept. 
  • A clearly written offer letter… will minimize candidate uncertainty – because complexity, legalese, and confusion in their actual offer letter will raise uncertainty in the candidate. Be sure that it is written as an element of the selling process. And that is pretested to ensure that it will excite the candidate. And to further minimize any lingering uncertainty. Also, make sure the offer allows the candidate to clear up any remaining questions/issues that might prevent them from saying yes.
  • Including an “unexpected surprise”… can tip the balance in your favor after several interactions with the recruiter and hiring manager. It is likely that the finalist already knows what will likely be in their offer. However, you can proactively increase the candidate’s current level of excitement. If you purposely add a completely unexpected “WOW surprise” to their expected offer. Common unexpected offer surprises often include you can work at home on Friday, you will have a $10,000 software budget, or you can pick your job title). These surprises can help to seal the deal. Because of adding something extra (when they didn’t need to). Allows the candidate to think that other pleasant surprises may come when they are on the job.
  • A hiring team… will excel at selling exceptional candidates – most individual hiring managers only fill vacancies infrequently. So, their candidate assessment and selling skills are often rusty. So consider an alternative that Google championed: establishing a permanent hiring team. That only works on priority jobs where hiring exceptional talent is essential. This approach works because these team members hire so often. They will better understand the talent marketplace and how to sell hard-to-land finalists successfully.
  • Offering a delayed start… can be an exciting differentiating factor a delayed start is when the candidate is given weeks or even months before they start. This can be a positive acceptance factor because some candidates want to take a break before starting a new job. This is especially true if a family relocation is involved. But this delayed start can help your company. In the cases where a burned-out candidate wants to take a well-earned break, they can start their new job well-rested and with a fresh mindset.
  • Failure analysis… will increase your offer acceptance over time – exceptional candidates always have a relatively high rejection rate. However, when viewed from the bright side, this high rejection rate makes it easier for your recruiting function to determine the causes of each failure. So, make it a required step to complete a failure analysis of each exceptional candidate’s rejection. Which is an objective process for identifying the root causes behind each failure. So that similar errors can be prevented in the future.

Note: More details on how you can upgrade your entire offer process can be found here

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Exceptional selling ability is the most critical factor that
differentiates exceptional recruiters from average ones.

Finally, if you have budget… here are the two most effective acceptance-boosting tools 

Although these two actions require spending some money, any investment will be well worth it.

  • Hire them both… another once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – this incredibly powerful approach is effective. Most exceptional candidates have literally dreamed about working side-by-side with someone important in their life (e.g., a mentor, an admired colleague, a best friend, or even a qualified family member). In fact, I have found that many top candidates will say yes to even a mediocre offer that includes this opportunity to work with a colleague. This “hire them both” approach has been successfully used by many (including McDonald’s and the U.S. Army). This approach will sometimes even work when their colleague’s job isn’t on the same team (because they can still commute and take breaks together). Before you can make a “hire them both” offer, your organization has to have another open job that the colleague is qualified for. 
  • A sign-on bonus… will make a significant difference – corporations, public schools, the military, and police departments nationwide. I have found that a lump sum sign-on bonus (of at least 15%) is the most powerful monetary factor that drives “a yes answer.” And if you make the bonus an exploding one (i.e., it expires in the next few days). You will further increase your chances of getting a “yes.” 
If you only do one thing – conduct post-exit telephone interviews (or surveys) with each exceptional candidate who turned your offer down. Ask them directly to help you understand how to improve future offers to candidates like them. 

Final Thoughts

Spending weeks finding and assessing an exceptional candidate is both bad business and bad recruiting. Only to lose them at the last minute because of a weak offer process or job offer. During these tough recruiting times, I have found that this preventable loss is simply unacceptable to business executives. So, instead, simply compile a list of the most effective “offer acceptance boosters” within your company. And require your hire managers/recruiters to utilize them on exceptional finalists. 

Author’s Note 

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About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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