Job Offer Secrets: How to Seal the Deal with Top Staff!
Your earlier good work in pre-closing the candidate at the end of the interview should have given you an understanding of the options they’re considering and so a reasonable idea of whether they’re likely to accept an offer.
Never assume they’ll accept, though! Great Performers often receive counteroffers from their employers and better offers from competing employers. Their partner might influence their decision in ways that you can’t predict. Candidates don’t have to disclose everything, and you never know what else might be going on – there could be surprises in store!
For these reasons, don’t slow down as you approach the finishing line!
Have a Plan B
Before you make a job offer, it’s important to know what your options are. If you’re caught off guard by a counteroffer or similar, you can then react appropriately.
Use probation periods to reduce risk
Take a moment to consider what you can do if the employee doesn’t work out. Organisations often manage this risk by using probation periods.
I’ve never had a candidate decline a role because there was a probation period. They’re very common and candidates rarely think about failure. A situation where you might not use one is when you’ve headhunted an individual. Because you’ve approached them, you have to accept a much greater risk.
The counterargument to setting your own probation period is that, in the UK as of 2023, all new employees are on a 24-month probation period anyway and don’t get full employment rights until after that time. Despite this, I prefer to agree probation periods from the outset as it is difficult to amend contracts of employment retrospectively, and it establishes clear expectations.
I tend to use a standard probation period of six months, but the length will depend on your specific circumstances. Ensure that the contract stipulates how much notice you’ll give the candidate if they’re found to be unsuitable. If you fail to specify this, statutory notice periods will apply.
If you promise training to the candidate but dismiss them during or at the end of probation without having delivered it, they could sue you for breach of contract. You could extend the probationary period and give the employee training to get them up to the required standard. But if you keep on extending, you have to ask are they really worth keeping? Are you just being indecisive and delaying the inevitable?
After probation, changes may apply to the employee’s salary, notice period, job title, pension, health insurance etc. It’s important to be clear with them about what these changes are.
Reserve candidates give you options
It’s good to know if you have reserve candidates to make offers to, as this may influence how you react if the candidate doesn’t accept or receives a counteroffer.
Don’t inform reserve candidates that the job has been filled until the top candidate has accepted, had their right to work confirmed and final references checked.
Decide on a Salary
From the interview, you know the salary range a candidate will consider. In deciding the salary, you must balance various factors: what they can add to your organisation and the importance of making them feel valued alongside any risk they might pose, such as lack of industry experience and the amount of training you’ll need to give.
If you advertised the role at a higher salary than you’re prepared to offer, you’ll need to manage expectations. You might say to them, “As you know, we advertised in the range £25,000 to £30,000 because we expected more experienced applicants. The good news is that we see your potential to develop. Hence, we would like to start you on £27,000 and review your salary as you establish yourself in the role.”
You may also want to consider how salaries are reviewed after the probation period, a work anniversary or at a particular time of year.
Don’t Make an Offer via a Recruitment Agency or Headhunter
If a recruitment agency or headhunter has introduced the applicant, it’s very important that you make any job offer directly to the candidate. As I’ll later explain, speaking with the candidate is crucial to gauge their level of interest.
Recruitment agencies and headhunters won’t like this because they’ll lose control of the situation in the following ways:
- They may have introduced the candidate to more favoured companies who are long-term customers, or, more likely, who they’ll earn more commission with. They may try to manage the situation and delay making offers so that they have more options.
- A minority of salespeople try to manipulate candidates into accepting a job, even when they have reservations, in order to earn their commission.
- They may not trust you. They may think that you’ll offer the candidate a certain salary but tell the salesperson a lower one to reduce the commission. (You should never try this, as the candidate will consider it unprofessional and it may be unlawful.)
Regardless of any objections, insist that you make the offer. Reassure the salesperson that you’ll inform them of the candidate’s decision immediately, and that they can see a copy of the offer letter.
Expect the Candidate to Decline Your Job Offer
By this stage, if you’ve followed my advice, it is unlikely a candidate will decline your job offer – but I expect them to. Doing so is important because:
- I’m reminded of the fact that if they join the company, they are actually doing the company a favour because they are adding value. Therefore, I need to continue selling to them, in part through my words, but also through an upbeat tonality.
- I’m prepared, both practically and emotionally to handle the rejection.
- It is a natural part of the recruitment process that happens without any warning.
Phone the Candidate First
The best way to inform the successful candidate is to phone them. You should build up to your offer and sound excited and happy, as this will show the candidate that you’re looking forward to them joining your organisation. Phoning them allows you to immediately establish if the offer is going to be accepted and to answer any questions the candidate might have:
“Well, we’ve had some great meetings and met some really credible candidates. However, the good news is we really felt that you would be the most successful at the company because […] And for those reasons, I am delighted to make you an offer, [subject to satisfactory references from your current employer], on a starting salary of [X] and on the basis of [Y terms]. How does that sound to you?”
It's not necessarily what the candidate says next, but how they say it which is important. I want them to sound excited as if they’ve just won the lottery!
If the candidate accepts
By this point you’ve already spoken to their previous managers but not to their current employer, so if they accept say:
“That’s great. The first thing we need you to do is to send us proof of your right to work – a copy of your passport or visa will suffice. And, as we said from the start, the final step will be a Reference Call with your current employer, so this offer is conditional on a satisfactory reference.”
Pre-empt a counteroffer
They’ll likely receive a counteroffer if they’re a Great Performer because no one wants to lose a great member of staff. Prepare the applicant for this situation:
“How do you think your boss is going to react when you hand in your notice? If they were to make you a counteroffer, how do you think you’ll respond?”
If the candidate declines your offer
If the candidate turns down your offer, don’t immediately offer them more money; simply politely say, “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. If you don’t mind me asking, what influenced your decision?”
They may say that they’ve accepted a role with another organisation. Ask them what they’ll be doing in it, and if you notice a discrepancy with what they said previously, then explore further.
They may have decided to stay with their current employer. Politely ask them what has changed for them to have decided to stay.
If salary is an issue and you think there’s room for negotiation, ask them what they had in mind. Wrap up the call, explaining that you’ll have to consult your colleagues and then discuss your options with your Recruitment Team.
If all else fails, say, “Naturally we’d love to reconsider you for our company, so if you change your mind please give me a call first.” Set a reminder to call them in one month. If you’re still recruiting for the role then, contact them to see if their circumstances have changed.
If the candidate is unsure / wants to think about it
How you react to a hesitant candidate is critical. Even if you’re frustrated, never say, “What do you need to think about?” Instead, say, “I understand it’s a big decision. What concerns do you have?”
Many candidates want time to consider their options. I respect this and would be worried if they didn’t want to think carefully about their decision.
Candidates may have all sorts of reasons for being uncertain:
- Often, they’ve made the decision to leave their current job with their head but still have a fear in their heart of the unknown. Talk to them about how their boss might react when they hand in their resignation and reassure them that people hand in their notice all the time.
- They don’t have a good enough understanding of the role. Inviting them in to meet potential colleagues and discussing the role in more detail is a great solution here.
- They may have imposter syndrome and feel that they’re not good enough for the job. This is a tough call as you want someone who’s confident and can contribute straight away. If you’re sure that your recruitment procedures were robust, then give them an ego boost and remind them that they were the best candidate at the end of a long and thorough process.
- If they’re relocating, often it’s not just their decision. This is tricky because you should avoid asking about personal matters unless they’ve volunteered the information. Good questions to ask are, “How does your partner feel about this?” and if they’ve mentioned a family, “How excited are your children to be moving down here?" You might also wish to tell them, with no obligation implied, that their partner can talk to you if they want to – the very suggestion may give reassurance.
If you feel they’re stalling and you have reserve candidates in the wings, you should probably set a deadline. For example, you could say, “Obviously, we’re keen to fill the vacancy and don’t want to lose other candidates so I can give you until the weekend to decide.”
If the candidate starts negotiating terms
It’s common for Great Performers to negotiate, so don’t be surprised. But don’t expect requests to be elegant: sometimes they can be a bit clumsy, especially when candidates don’t have much negotiation experience.
Candidates may have been misled by recruitment agencies into thinking that that they’re going to be offered more money (higher salaries are to recruitment agencies’ benefit as they get a higher commission). Well-meaning friends and family members without understanding of market conditions might have encouraged them to ask for more. Or they may have looked at other job adverts and seen higher salaries without appreciating the broader context, for example, that a role located in a city centre might pay more to compensate for expensive and time-consuming commutes.
You’ve come this far so don’t immediately say no. Remember that you could offer a starting package, then review it after the probation period or another milestone has been met.
Manage a Counteroffer Correctly
Expect all Great Performers to get counteroffers from their current employers. This is why I recommend asking candidates during interview how their employer is likely to react and how they’ll respond.
There’s significant research showing that if an employee accepts a counteroffer, they’ll typically look for a new job a few months later. This is because employees usually want to leave because of poor management or limited prospects. Their employer might try to patch up the situation with a salary increase but often fails to address the underlying issue.
In some cases, the employer may treat the employee as a “dead man walking” and use a counteroffer to buy more time while they find a replacement.
When dealing with a counteroffer, you need to ensure you:
- Know why the candidate is really leaving.
- Make a fair and attractive offer in the first place.
- Understand fully what the counteroffer is so you can question whether it meets the candidate’s objectives.
Typically, a conversation with a candidate would go: “We expected a counteroffer because it happens all the time. Employers often try to pacify employees with a salary increase but fail to fix the real issue. In some cases, employers make a counteroffer to buy more time while they find a suitable replacement. How confident are you that they haven’t done the same to you?”
You may need to make a counteroffer to the counteroffer: “If we increased the salary to £29,000, are you confirming that it would make you say a polite and final no to anything your employer responded with?”
But don’t get carried away – no one is interested in a bidding war in recruitment. It’s often better to keep in touch and see how things develop. Simply leave it at: “Obviously, we’d like the opportunity to make another job offer in the future. So if you think that things still haven’t improved in a few months, please get in touch.”
Make a Written Job Offer Immediately
Unfortunately, many candidates have had the experience of receiving a verbal offer that has later been withdrawn, and so keep looking for work. To reduce the likelihood of them doing this, send a written offer immediately.
Even if you have to wait for contracts to be drawn up, I strongly recommend sending something in writing to reassure them. You’ve come too far to let a candidate slip through your fingers because of bureaucracy.
What to Include in a Written Job Offer
After the phone call, presuming that the candidate has accepted and you’ve successfully dealt with any potential counteroffer, you may need to make sure that they have the right to work before sending a written offer. This can normally be done by checking their passport, visa or birth certificate.
Usually, an offer is made conditional on the candidate meeting your specified terms. You should include in writing (usually to the candidate’s personal email) the following information:
- Job title.
- Name of the candidate.
- Official start date.
- Location of the role.
- Probation period.
- Conditions on which the offer is made.
- Any action required by the candidate, possibly including a deadline.
- Instructions on how to accept the offer.
- Company policy documents.
- The Great Performance Profile.
Some conditions to consider including are:
- Receiving satisfactory references.
- Confirming educational and professional qualifications.
- Proving eligibility to work in the UK.
- Completion of a probationary period.
- Passing a criminal records check, and ensuring that it complies with your company policy on the employment of ex-offenders.
You can download our job offer template. But I strongly recommend you use this as a template and work with an HR consultant or employment solicitor to ensure it meets your specific requirements.
Make Final Reference Calls and Background Checks
It’s very important that you don’t lose momentum, so you need to make the final Reference Call to the candidate’s current employer and carry out any background checks as soon as possible.
As soon as you’re happy with everything, tell the candidate.
If a candidate doesn’t meet the conditions of your offer, you may be entitled to withdraw it. If you choose to do so, you don’t necessarily need to provide specific information if it could be considered confidential.
Nevertheless, you’re recommended to get professional legal advice before doing this. If, for example, you withdrew a job offer because of a candidate’s long absences and these were due to a disability, this could be construed as disability discrimination.
<div class="grey-callout"><h2>Key Takeaways</h2><p>You’ve come this far and mustn’t slow down now:</p><p><ul><li>Know what your plan B is. How are you going to use probation periods? Do you have a reserve candidate?</li><li>Decide on an appropriate salary and be prepared to manage the situation if you aren’t offering the higher level of a salary range or what the candidate expects.</li><li>Phoning the candidate is the best way to deliver the good news and gauge their response.</li><li>Don’t be offended if the candidate declines. Have a friendly conversation about their reasons and put a reminder in your diary to call them in a month if you’re still looking for someone.</li><li>Be prepared to negotiate. You’ve already invested so much in the process that it would be rash to give an immediate no. You can negotiate with probation periods and other milestones.</li><li>Expect candidates to get counteroffers. You should have already discussed this at interview, and now you need to decide how best to manage the situation.</li></ul></p></div>