How to deal with counteroffers and when to make them Featured

7:12pm EDT February 28, 2013
Michael Stanley, recruiter, The Daniel Group Michael Stanley, recruiter, The Daniel Group

Though overall hiring is still sluggish, highly skilled candidates are still in demand and the counteroffer can be a factor in retaining them.

“Recently, because of the economic uncertainly, it’s a little bit harder for us to get candidates to change jobs,” says Michael Stanley, a recruiter at The Daniel Group. “They’re a little less willing to make a move if they are fairly comfortable in their current position.”

Conversely, many companies are willing to make a counteroffer to retain existing employees, often because it’s cheaper and easier than replacing them, he says.

Smart Business spoke with Stanley about using counteroffer strategies to acquire and retain employees.

What steps can you take to avoid losing a job candidate to a counteroffer?

You can’t prevent a counteroffer, but you can prepare candidates to expect one. Throughout the interview, when speaking with candidates currently employed elsewhere, gauge their likelihood of making a change by asking, ‘What would your current employer have to do to keep you?’ This shows where they stand and gives insight into what an acceptable counteroffer looks like.

Also, ask about their true motivation for leaving, which can be easier to find when working with a recruiter. Candidates are usually more guarded with future employers, whereas conversations with a recruiter are much more open. It’s also important to get a full picture of their current benefits and total compensation so you know how that aligns with your company’s offering.

Additionally, it’s absolutely imperative to stay in contact with candidates because they typically provide their employer with a two-week notice before leaving. Keep them engaged during this time to lower the chances of a successful counteroffer by their current employer. Have an itinerary of the onboarding process, such as when you’re sending an offer letter and paperwork and doing background checks. It’s also a good idea to have the job candidate’s future manager take him or her to lunch.

Once a job candidate tells you about a counteroffer, what should you do?

Ask a lot of questions, such as the nature of the offer and how likely they are to accept it. Open up the lines of communication. This is when you can leverage your initial conversation that uncovered their motivation for making a move. If the candidate said there was no room for advancement and the counteroffer gives a 10 percent raise, you can start putting holes in the offer by pointing out the disconnect.

What if you can’t give more compensation to counter the counteroffer? 

Use your knowledge of the candidate’s motivations, current benefits and compensation to tailor a nonmonetary incentive. Some examples are a flexible schedule, more vacation days or a guaranteed pay review after six months. An employee’s decision to leave is rarely based solely on compensation.

It’s important to know what the market is currently dictating for the open position and to not go outside of that range. If you overpay on the front end when hiring, you may not be able to provide expected raises down the road. A staffing firm, which is dialed in to compensation and benefits, can help with this.

If a current employee is leaving, should you make a counteroffer? 

If the reason the employee is leaving is easily addressed, it may make sense to make an offer. But ask yourself, ‘Is this something for which I could justifiably make a concession?’ You also might learn something, as the employee leaving is likely not the only one who feels that way. In such cases an organization-wide change could improve employee morale, such as using flexible scheduling to improve work-life balance.

However, counteroffers should be used sparingly as they can create a toxic workplace environment. If other employees find out someone was given more money to stay, they may resent management and could threaten to quit. Additionally, if underlying issues aren’t resolved, you have just postponed the inevitable and the employee may end up leaving anyway.

Michael Stanley is a recruiter at The Daniel Group. Reach him at (713) 932-9313 or mstanley@danielgroupus.com.

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