How To Improve Your Candidate Offers

The top reasons why candidates reject offers? If you do an in-depth study of rejections, you will find some interesting facts.

It might surprise you that the number one reason why people reject job offers is not because of the content of the offer. Instead, it is because of the poor way applicants were treated during the screening and selection process.

Cancelled or postponed interviews, dull interviews with repeat questions, and delayed hiring decisions send a negative message to candidates with choices. It’s easy for these candidates to make the obvious connection between the way they are treated as applicants and how they will undoubtedly be treated after they are hired.

The number two reason why people reject an offer is that their colleagues and friends advised them not to work there. Yes, applicants get advice before they accept or reject offers. You can help combat any negative advice by improving your reference phone calls. Many candidates, as it turns out, ask one or more of their job references for advice on whether to accept or not. So rather than just asking references about the candidate when you call, be sure to “sell” each reference on your company and the opportunity. By exciting the references, you improve the chances that the references will give positive advice if they are asked by the candidate about your firm’s offer.

In a broader sense, you can avoid most negative offer acceptance advice by being listed on the various “great places to work” lists, by being written about in industry publications, and, in general, by building your great-place-to-work brand. Having a strong employee referral program can also increase your image in the community/industry, as a result of legions of aggressive employees continually telling friends why your firm is so great.

Other Reasons Why Offers Are Rejected

  • The offer itself was not compelling. In other words, the offer was off target (it didn’t meet the candidates’ acceptance criteria), it was bland, or it contained no “wows.” Managers need to realize that candidates need exciting elements in their job offer so that they can “brag” about them to their friends and family.
  • The offer process itself was not exciting. The offer was delivered in an unconvincing or impersonal manner. Failures can occur when a senior executive did not follow up the written letter with a call or when the call itself wasn’t passionate. Smart managers “script” and pretest these calls to ensure that they are compelling and passionate.
  • Deal breakers occurred. The offer included “deal breaker” elements, which caused the candidate to reject the offer immediately. To avoid this problem, the potential “turn off” factors must be identified and avoided at all costs. Deal breakers are often negative elements that already exist in the candidate’s current job (negatives that they obviously do not wish to repeat). Smart managers identify any deal breakers and candidate questions well in advance of the offer letter.
  • The letter format. Another reason why offers are rejected is the form and format of the offer letter itself. Letters that are overly legalistic (with a lot of fine print) are turnoffs. Also, letters that leave out key promises that were verbally discussed will invariably frustrate the candidate.
  • Over-focus on pay. A major error made by managers is focusing on the money. The money is important, of course — but the non-monetary issues are much more important (as much as 85% of the decision is non-monetary).
  • Pay cuts. A lowball offer, where the money offered (given the cost of living) is the same or below what they are currently making, will often be automatically rejected and considered as an insult. For candidates with multiple offers, it is generally also an insult if you offer 10% below what other competing firms have offered the candidate.

Ways To Improve Your Offers

It’s important to realize that developing great offers is really just a market research problem. If you view the process as one where the applicant is making a “purchase decision,” using a process that is little different than any other major family decision (like buying a house or a car), you can learn to treat the process as a sales problem and study how big-ticket items are successfully sold. You will then be well on your way toward offer success. It’s really quite simple. Identify their decision criteria, weigh them, and then try to meet as many of the highly ranked ones as possible in your offer. In addition, to avoid the offer “reject” reasons listed above, managers and recruiters need to keep the following points in mind:

  • The single most successful offer closing tool is having a CEO call the candidate and ask her to, “Join us, and let’s you and I build this company together.” A passionate and personalized call from a senior executive (generally someone they didn’t meet) works almost without exception.
  • Having team members ask the candidate directly to “join the team” can be compelling, because it shows that their peers want them. The request should be done immediately after the interview and with some level of excitement. Sometimes a phone call right after the offer is actually received can also be effective.
  • Remember that managers are generally bad salespeople (to be kind), and that they need sales help. They generally need aid in the form of information that tells them what candidates generally expect and what the competitive job market is offering. Provide managers with “side-by-side offer sheets” that demonstrate what the competitors are offering, and in which areas your offer is clearly superior.
  • Make your benefits real. Be careful when you use subjective terms describing your features like “work/life balance” and “growth opportunities” during the interview and in your verbal offer calls. If you expect to differentiate yourself, you need to quantify these terms in order to make them real, by showing how frequently they occur and citing specific real-life examples (or stories) that applicants can directly relate to.
  • Asking top candidates (during the interview process) what other offers they have will occasionally get you some benchmark (but often a bit inflated) data about what others are offering.
  • Managers can avoid the error of making “lowball” pay offers by asking recent hires, internal recruiters and executive search professionals about what the real prevailing pay rates are.
  • Remember: job decisions are not made alone. It’s important, wherever possible, to involve the spouse in the decision. You can improve your chances of getting family support by sending them information about the company. Sometimes a simple gift or a sample of the company’s products sent to the home will also make a difference. Sending “the kids” T-shirts can also have an impact.
  • You can’t afford to be naive in the offer process. So you should assume that the very best candidates will get other offers in addition to yours. Prepare for that eventuality by not making an initial lowball offer, with the intention of raising it later if necessary. Do competitive offer analysis (with your direct talent competitors) to make sure that your offer is superior to those of the competitor the first time out.
  • Everyone wants to know where he or she will be in a few years. So it’s wise to show candidates, by giving them concrete examples of how previous hires have actually progressed. Give them a projection of where they might reasonably expect to be at your firm in two to three years if things go well.
  • Because most employees want some control over their work life, be sure to give them some choice over job assignments, schedule, and projects. Try also to exclude them from certain tasks they don’t like. You might also allow them some choice in who they work with so that they get to work alongside a friend or someone they can easily relate to.
  • Let them know that on their job they will have access to high-level information. This is important, because it not only improves their ability to do their job but it also shows them that you trust them.
  • Be sure to provide them with some symbols or indicators of status just in case they have an ego or need to brag about some status symbol to their friends. This might include the opportunity to supervise someone, invitations to high-level meetings, a larger or better-located work area, and advanced equipment or tools.
  • Incidentally, it’s not the money. There is a great deal of data to demonstrate that top performers never accept a job based solely on compensation. By focusing on the money, managers get distracted and, as a result, fail to provide the applicant with what they really want.
  • It’s important not to delay offers. Make verbal offers quickly and follow up with a written letter right away. The top 10% will be gone within 10 days, so minimize approvals and approval delays

Steps In A Compelling Offer Process

It’s important that your offer process is logical and that it follows a standard format. Here are the basic steps for an effective offer process:

  • Get your best “sales closer” from your sales department to help you design and troubleshooter the process.
  • Do your market research to identify what most candidates expect.
  • Do your market research to identify what this specific candidate’s job acceptance criteria are.
  • Developed effective screening and interviewing processes that are fast, friendly, and don’t waste a candidate’s time.
  • Design (or redesign) a job with the above criteria in mind. Make sure the job is differentiated, and that it has some “wow” features that candidates will want to tell there friends about.
  • Give them an opportunity to do what they do best.
  • Give them an opportunity to do the best work of their life.
  • Make the job description exciting and compelling.
  • Ask them early for their minimum and their “can’t refuse” offer.
  • Identify any “must haves” and “deal breakers” so that you don’t get blindsided later.
  • Tell them your realistic salary range early in the process so that you don’t frustrate them later. Ask them for their minimum salary requirements.
  • Train your managers and recruiters how to sell. Be sure they understand the elements of a world-class offer.
  • Provide managers with side-by-side offer comparisons so that they know where your firm is superior to your competitors’.
  • Sell them during the interview. Make sure that you include exciting people in the interview process.
  • Sell their references and mentors.
  • Give managers flexibility both in offers and counteroffers.
  • Consider verbal offers to get an initial reaction, and maybe a tentative approval.
  • Sell the family as well.
  • Fix any internal inequities (as a result of their exceptional offer) fast… but later, after the candidate is hired.
  • Measure candidate and manager satisfaction.
  • On the first day of hire, ask them what worked and what didn’t.
  • Include feedback loop in the process to continually improve your offer process and results.

Follow these steps and on you’re on your way to developing compelling offers that top candidates will respond to enthusiastically.

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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