Before Extending Written Offers: A Five-Point Checklist!

Recently a colleague and I were discussing the exact point at which her firm should be extending formal written offer letters to candidates they hoped to bring on board.

She was getting pressure from senior leadership to extend employment offers to candidates, even if they weren’t entirely closed on an opportunity with her firm, or were still evaluating other situations. The basic idea, in the minds of these managers, was that, “it’s better to put an offer out there,” if only to affirm interest in a candidate and keep the dialogue flowing. The formal written offer essentially, “puts the ball in play.”

Call me cynical, call me old fashioned, or maybe just call me paranoid. Actually, call me once burned twice shy!

You see, I’m a big believer that a recruiter or hiring organization should RARELY, if ever, extend a written offer of employment unless all aspects of the deal are definitively settled, locked down, complete, iced, mapped out…..done, over, finished. All of which can be accomplished via a well-considered verbal offer process.

Essentially, we want to assure that all bases have been covered, and nothing has been left to chance. In short, before anything is put in writing, I want to know that the candidate’s future is absolutely going to include a stay of some duration at my company, and that Mr. or Ms. Candidate is intent on becoming part of my firm’s team. And how do I come to know this? Because I have taken the time to thoughtfully outline and extend a verbal offer that assures that any subsequent written offer is nothing more than a formality.

A written offer letter is ultimately the icing on the cake – it is something that should be produced at the point where a candidate indicates, “Yes – I’m entirely ready to move this process forward and hereby dedicate my life’s very essence for being to the betterment of your company,” in whatever position is being discussed.

From my vantage point, a written offer is predicated on the following 5 criteria:

1) The candidate has indicated that he or she accepts and agrees with the 3 B’s of the total compensation package – which translates to Base, Bonus, and Benefits;
2) Benefits of consequence (Vacation/Health/Retirement) have been addressed and are acceptable. The candidate has confirmed that he/she has no debt that must be paid back to current employer – relocation, tuition, training, etc.;
3) The candidate has provided a tentative start date that works for everyone;
4) The candidate has agreed that entertaining, let alone accepting a counter-offer from his or her current employer is flat out “off the table.”
5) The candidate has agreed to terminate other discussions and/or prospective opportunities with other firms.

I’m going to carefully assure that I discuss each of these issues with a candidate prior to
putting anything in writing. In most cases, a majority of the compensation elements should have been discussed and qualified at a much earlier point in our relationship with a candidate, so, in large part we are validating information we should have acquired or shared previously, as well as making sure that nothing has changed.

Certainly there are other schools of thought/philosophies around when to extend a written offer. But from where I sit, an employer derives little value by extending a formal written offer to a candidate without first confirming that the offer elements are on-target and the offer will be accepted. Extending a detailed verbal at least gives us the opportunity to trial-close the candidate and determine whether there are any potential candidate concerns or issues. Simply extending a written offer without pursuing a pre-closing process is not so different from throwing something up against a wall and hoping that it sticks. In this regard, the offer extension process is very similar to the end-game strategy in chess; if you handle it thoughtfully/strategically, you’re going to successfully close more deals while wasting less time – and that, of course, is our overall objective.

Wishing you, ongoing recruiting success!

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