Recruiting excellence: Extending the offer

October 2011 » Columns » SEARCH SAVVY
Jeremy Clarke

Recruiting and selection can be a meticulous and costly campaign. Those who recruit regularly know that an average management-level search can last 90 days or longer. These campaigns, with their advertising, screening, and logistics, can be a significant investment of time, resources, and money.

The average national cost of recruiting a new college graduate (for just an entry-level, full-time position, mind you) was a staggering $8,947 in 2010, up approximately 57 percent from $5,708 in 2009, according to results of the National Association of Colleges and Employers' 2010 Recruiting Benchmarks Survey. Of course, cost-per-hire increases proportionately with the level of the position being recruited for.

In light of this, two words should be a staple philosophy of any respectable recruiting enterprise: Finish well. There is simply too much invested in attracting and selecting good talent to consummate a search campaign haphazardly, and in the recruiting world, consummation is spelled "O-F-F-E-R." In other words, to finish well in candidate selection is to consummate the campaign with meticulous attention to excellence in the development and issuance of the job offer. It has been my experience that more good candidates are lost over a lackluster finish and offer process than for any other reason.

Consider the whole picture: Your firm and the job candidate have been courting one another for the better part of three months. Beyond technical/professional acumen, you have learned a bit about his or her character, perspectives, experiences, and values. You see this person as someone who would make a significant impact to your firm's bottom line. On the other hand, she sees your firm as a viable source of income, a place to build a career, and a place that is culturally conducive to her family's values and goals. The point is that the prospect and you have invested an immense amount of time and effort to discern one another adequately and to see this process brought to consummation. But now the courtship is over and the time of expressing your perceived compatibility has come. You've decided to get "the ring," so to speak, and the candidate is anticipating that moment when you "pop the question."

It's a hokey analogy, but the point is to suggest that the means by which you present the ring should adequately reflect the esteem you have for the intended recipient. So, while this analogy isn't perfectly parallel, it isn't hyperbole either because we're still dealing with human beings and relationships. Finishing well not only makes good business sense, but it speaks volumes about your firm's character and the value you impute to people and the effort they have reciprocated to arrive at this point. The following four key elements can help you get a "yes" response from your hoped-for "bride-to-be":

1) Never extend an offer at the conclusion of an interview. You probably have had occasions where you've met a candidate and thought, "I need this person, and I'm just going to offer the job right now." Resist the temptation. An offer onsite only looks desperate. Besides, a couple of days are not going to change the ultimate outcome. There's still something to be said about timing, so let the candidate return home with something to think about. Give some time for anticipation to build and to map the design and delivery of your offer.

2) Never extend an offer that you're not absolutely certain will be accepted. This doesn't mean that you won't ever hear "no," but never extend an unintelligent offer. Be sure to determine collaboratively what the candidate is willing to accept before drafting and extending the offer. That isn't to suggest that you tailor your offer after their every whim, but you should be diligent to negotiate the terms of the offer well in advance of presenting it.

3) Always allow the candidate an opportunity to negotiate. The fact that you've negotiated the offer before extending it doesn't eliminate the need to be flexible. I always recommend an initial flexible offer that is fair and competitive while still allowing some latitude for thoughtful and reasonable negotiation. There is immense value to allowing a future employee an opportunity to negotiate, and furthermore, to "win" the negotiation. They'll see you as being collaborative and empathetic, and that speaks volumes about you as a prospective employer. There's nothing more disastrous in the offer process than extending a brick wall offer, especially if your candidate is courting multiple opportunities.

4) Presentation is everything. Always present a verbal offer first. A verbal offer allows you to coach the candidate on the offer nuances before they receive the document and get lost in company rhetoric. Secondly, abstain from e-mailing an offer letter. Doing so is analogous to wrapping an engagement ring in a Wal-Mart bag – it's just tacky. Where possible, strive to overnight a hard copy document. Finally, make the offer document sharp and professional; make it congratulatory and motivating. This level of attention to detail exudes intentionality and genuine care.

A failure to finish well is a failure to communicate your perceived value of the relationship you are attempting to secure. Be sure you're not left holding a ring with no finger to put it on.

Jeremy Clarke is director, Executive Search Consulting for ZweigWhite.
He can be contacted at 479-582-5700 or at jclarke@zweigwhite.com
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