Counter offers - when is a spade not a spade

Sep 16, 2021

When is a spade not a spade? Ask a consultant, or a navvy………

My editor loves amusing me with his catchphrase, “why use a sentence when a paragraph will do!”; another of his favourites was to say, “it’s time to call a spade a long-handled digging implement”.

This naturally brings me on to today’s topic, counter-offers, which are of course, not always what they seem (thus creating a tenuous connection to today’s blog title!). They are the bane of the lives of so many hiring managers and for those in the recruitment business, both agency and in-house. 

You go through the frequently tortuous process of advertising, short-listing, interviewing and negotiating terms, then you inform all the unsuccessful candidates and give them thorough feedback (at least I hope you do!), maybe disappointing or even angering some. Then, just as you are about to issue your onboarding pack you get the dreaded message, “They’ve matched or bettered your offer here and I’m going to stay”. I think we’ve all been there.

Full disclosure, as a recruitment company, we dislike counter-offers because they snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and we have even discussed whether you should 'counter offer staff who have decided to leave?' and 'what to do if counter offered'. The merits of accepting a counter-offer have been the subject of lengthier and perhaps better-expressed opinion pieces than this but I shall nevertheless press on and set out what I think employers could and should do to reduce the possibility of losing candidates to counteroffers.

I say employers because the candidates tend to follow the money and/or the sense that it is easier to stay for more than to leave, many studies have shown that to be far from true but I am going to concentrate today on employers.

So – here’s our seven-step programme to fending off counter-offers from those candidates you really want to hire:

Clear job spec

Your job advert landed a potentially great candidate, now make sure that your job spec helps to excite them and fill them with anticipation. Don’t use a 4 page brain-dump of every last task they will have to perform, focus on key areas of responsibility and growth/career opportunities – help them to understand how they will impact your business whilst developing as people, professionals and leaders.

Efficient and engaged interview process

My editor (again) subscribes to the theory that 80% of problems in companies are down to poor communication while the other 20% is down to poor communication! Be clear with your interviewees as to what you expect from them but also what you offer. Interviewing is a two-way sales process and you need to sell to stop them even thinking about not accepting your offer.

Clarity on earnings and potential

Be clear with interviewees what they will earn (including all benefits, bonuses etc.) and what they could expect to earn in the future. Paint a picture for them.

What will a career with you look like 

Our latest survey clearly shows that developing leadership skills and career progression are key drivers for senior or experienced candidates. Are you showing candidates how you can help make that happen? Don’t indicate that you will push them hard, show them how you will help them to push themselves and succeed. Make them want it.

Flexibility is the key today 

Our survey, and just about every piece of research and commentary demonstrates that flexibility is now at the top of most people’s wish list (no, make that a must have) so make it clear what your offer is. Not just in response to the pandemic but in general, helping to set the tone around supporting and developing and valuing staff.

Why you?

Be sure to explain clearly what sets you apart from your competitors, and the current employer of your candidate in particular. If you can’t do that then you can’t really be surprised if they choose to stay rather than move to you. This might result in some soul-searching about your organization but that will be time very well spent.

Keep on keeping on 

Once you have made your offer and it has been accepted, keep up the communications, tell them how much you are looking forward to seeing them, drip feed extra little pieces of exciting news or little benefits (cycle-to-work, your birthday off etc.)

So, there you have it, no rocket science. A simple plan, well executed and rooted in authenticity and clear communications. Right, time to get back to my garden, has anyone seen my long-handled digging implement!

Contact Rachel Tubridy on 086 662 9674 or email if you would like recruitment assistance for your finance team.

PeopleSource is a finance & accounting recruitment firm.

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