Wednesday Wisdom: My Candidate, the Juggler

Dear Claudia,

I presented a great candidate to my client a month ago, and they extended an offer to him this week. He accepted, and then two things happened: a counter offer came from his current employer, and an unexpected third company asked him to interview next week. He really likes the sound of this third job, so has decided to play the first two employers by accepting both of their offers while he explores the new job, and then make a final decision. I can’t get him to understand that this is a really bad idea. What should I do next?

Stuck and Uncomfortable

Dear Stuck and Uncomfortable,

Ok, let's help you get unstuck...but I'm not sure you'll be any more comfortable. When exactly did you lose control? Was it when you didn’t prep the candidate to expect and turn down a counter offer? Or when you found yourself participating in the rationalization that it’s ok to lie as long as the deal comes together in the end? If you’re worried about coaching this “great candidate” through a messy decision making process, you’re deeper in denial than he is. But if you want to keep your integrity and a solid client relationship, read on.

This situation has all the earmarks of a deliciously bad soap opera: a headstrong candidate about to receive the Darwin Award for career suicide; a potential employer about to fire you (and who could blame them if they did?); a jilted former employer already planning for this guy’s replacement; and an innocent bystander thinking that he’s got a prize catch on the line (surprise, surprise when he wakes up to the real story).

What goes around comes around, and this candidate’s Karma is packing a whopper. My grandmother used to say, “Don't roll around with a pig in the mud, honey. You’ll just get dirty, and the pig will enjoy it.” This guy is a pig in every negative sense of the word -- and you're going to need some commercial grade laundry detergent soon.

Here’s my advice: Fire the candidate. Tell your client the truth. And present the backup candidate pronto. What’s that you say? There is no backup candidate? Then your job isn’t done yet, is it? Get back to work, my friend.

In my day job, I’m the head of Products for Improved Experience, where we help employers use feedback to measure and manage engagement for competitive advantage in hiring and retention. Learn more about us here.

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Views: 163

Comment by Joshua Letourneau on July 16, 2008 at 10:45am
This recruiter has zero control - I see this too often when recruiters want to make the relationship overly touchy-feely and/or don't listen to what a candidate is really saying when they utter, "I might be interested in an oppportunity if it was right" . . . instead of focusing on the fact that the candidate and recruiter MUST have a mutually beneficial professional relationship, first and foremost. It's why I'd rather discuss professional happenings in the indusry rather than what kind of beer I drank at the lake last week.

There also MUST be a career wound outside of money or you're doomed from square one. I'm a fan of a little tension (not too much, but enough for the candidate to remember that you're not talking with them for the sake of B.S. during the workday.) "I'd love for us to build a frienship as this relationship continues, but let's both put it out there on the table that this is a professional relationship, first and foremost, in which I'm going to help you take that next step in your career when you tell me you're ready."

A great recruiter always fights counteroffer from day 1. I literally talk counteroffer on our very first conversation. If the candidate says they'd consider a move solely for more money, I consult them on how to go back to their current employer and ask for it. The candidate is likely going to be counteroffered, so why not go ask for more money now? Does the employer really need a gun to to the head to cough up a few more bucks for your hard work? This way, the next time the candidate calls you and says they turned the more $ conversation down . . . you know they're serious and are ready to take your professional relationship to the next level. This was a huge lesson in increasing my billings - I live ever in fear of the counteroffer monster. And believe it or not, most candidates will agree with you that "reputable people don't accept counteroffers" if you explain how 90% of counter-offered candidates are gone within 6-12 months, anyway.

Also, a great recruiter shouldn't be chasing candidates that have unknown opportunities coming out of left field. If it's unknown, it means they're an active seeker and are likely working with other firms. I don't know about anyone here, but I used to work with younger/less-experienced candidates that didn't understand what confidentiality meant . . . and/or the notion of presenting an aura of mystery to the client. Mystery = more interested clients and higher offers at the moment of truth.

Some tell me that it's too harsh to tell a candidate to go back and ask for more $$$ if that's what they want. Some tell me that it's harsh to explain to a candidate why losers accept counteroffers. Some tell me it's harsh to turn down candidates that are obviously working with other firms and chasing rabbits all over the place.

But that's ok, because real players play to win, not play to play.
Comment by Scott Godbey on July 16, 2008 at 11:42am
Excellent advice Claudia! Recruiting careers are defined by the placements that don't come together and what was learned as a result.

Stuck, if you don't come clean with your client you're an accessory after the fact. Is one placement worth sacrificing your relationship with the company? You can't control a candidate any more than you can control the weather, This candidate is only thinking about his best interests. Stuck, be a better person than that and put your client's needs 1st. That's what being in a service industry is about.
Comment by Rob Clarke on July 16, 2008 at 12:04pm
Great column Claudia, and great feedback too. I like everyone else am wondering how they do not bring up counteroffer from the beginning- you know it's going to happen, there are a 100 articles written why NOT to accept counteroffers and they should be force fed the material from the start- and they should have some other PAIN to develop besides purely compensation. I am with Claudia though, this guys integrity is absent and the offer should be pulled immediately. Great column (Claudia) and feedback (Maren, Josh & Scott).
Comment by Mark Eaton on July 16, 2008 at 12:29pm
Well we know why he is stuck and uncomfortable if I had my head stuck up my you know what I would be uncomfortable too. This recruiter is obviously newer to this industry so I think Claudia's tough love approach is right on. I had a candidate like this many years ago that tried to pull the same stunt so I needed to get a more experienced recruiters advice which was PRECISELY what you said Claudia. Save the client relationship first and foremost, then call his company and get the order to back fill the candidate.

Everyone else GREAT feedback, I only hope the newer recruiters are reading! Josh you and I should talk, I like your style.
Comment by Claudia Faust on July 16, 2008 at 12:49pm
Thanks for dropping in everyone -- great contributions today! I especially like the "accessory after the fact" comment from Scott; when dealing with someone (be it candidate or hiring manager) with an aggressive agenda of their own, the easy thing to do is state your opinion and then stop. It's much more difficult to separate yourself from bad behavior when it puts you at risk of losing financial or emotional rewards. I fired a hiring manager once for bad candidate treatment (and this was when I was recruiting inhouse); different situation, same priniciple. Maren, I agree that we're not here to be the "glorified middle man."

@Josh and Rob -- if counter offer training is so readily available, why do you think that this sink hole continues to suck recruiters in? what's the answer to raise the bar, as Maren said?
Comment by PJ Cunningham on July 16, 2008 at 1:59pm
excellent advice Claudia, I enjoyed reading your column today!
Comment by Jami Lieberman on July 16, 2008 at 2:22pm
What else can I say? Everyone said it. Fire the candidate and come clean. Long term vs short term mentality. It's always about the relationship, not the fee. The money will come when the Employer knows they can TRUST you. And I am an in house recruiter. Take the advice from the "Employer". Never place a dishonest, sneaky, coniving candidate. Ever! It's small world and there are "a lot" of recruiters out there. The in house staffing team will remember you. ;)
Comment by Joshua Letourneau on July 16, 2008 at 2:36pm
Claudia, the issue of counteroffer normally is overlooked for a few reasons:

a. The recruiter is wishful-thinking the deal. They 'think' their candidate isn't looking for a counteroffer, despite not asking.

b. It's tough to ask the tough questions. Some deals come together without ever speaking counteroffer, so it builds a false sense of security.

c. If you ask the question, you might just not get the answer you want . . . meaning you might have to let a tough-to-find candidate go. And that stings when you've been hunting for a while.

d. You're so excited to find a qualified candidate that you don't calm down and lose your fundamentals when you get them on the line :)

e. Many recruiters believe there is no such thing as candidate control, and if that is true, why bother asking counteroffer questions, anyway? Of course, I disagree and am of the Danny Cahill / Peter Lefkowitz ilk that although you may never achieve 100% control, you better push for it.

I could go on, but that's a few reasons. I'm of the Vince Lombardi belief: "We can never achieve perfection . . . but if we chase perfection, we will catch excellence." So, in recruiter speak, "We can never achieve perfect candidate control . . . but if we chase perfect control, we will catch less counteroffers."

Counteroffer is a demon that will haunt each and every deal if not excorsized at the beginning. To me, the issue here is one of fundamentals - blocking & tackling. It's more fun to work on spin moves than it is to perfect the art of a solid hit in football. But at some point, we all come back to the fundamentals.
Comment by Rob Clarke on July 16, 2008 at 4:13pm
Claudia- I see Josh beat me to the punch and added great content- it is always tough to train junior recruiters to "have the courage to interrogate reality" nature many people want to avoid conflict, and asking a question that you may not like the answer to causes conflict. I think those that succeed on really large scale have the ability to stomach conflict better than normal, and that only comes with experience. You should always "inspect what you expect" and make it a point to ask the tough, but maybe very thought provoking questions. Get "up front contracts" (agree in advance-staying a step ahead) and discuss the situations that may arise so that this will not happen to you, them and the client. Also, I think if this recruiter did a good job at exploiting the candidate's pain- he should really be ready to leave regardless of any counteroffer coming (even if he doesn't realize a counteroffer do not work for anyone).
Comment by Claudia Faust on July 16, 2008 at 6:11pm
You said something really excellent here Rob, about getting "up front contracts" with others. The art of staying a step ahead is the logistical cornerstone of matchmaking --and project management, now that I'm thinking about it. A very wise senior recruiter once told me that if there was a deal to be made, my job was to be the first one to see it and make it happen...and if there was no deal to be made, my job was to be the first one to see it and take it away. When candidates or hiring managers start to take the pins out of a great hire, they don't get there without my participation. And the better I get at productive conflict management, the more confidence I gain in my abilities, and the more comfortable I become in the cardinal rule of recruiting: "control every part of the process, all of the time."


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