An undisputable fact: the job market is heating up. Candidates seeking employment no longer go months without returned phone calls, but rather, quite the opposite. This morning when speaking with a candidate who declared he was ‘actively looking’ for a new role, I was informed that since beginning his career search on Thursday of last week he had received 152 emails regarding job opportunities. An entirely separate call indicated the same trend. This candidate, who was directly recruited out of her organization, had to choose from one of four offers — all with a 10% increase in base salary and a significant equity component. These are all very solid signs that the job market is better than last year. But with a positive shift in the economy comes a new set of challenges that hiring managers must be prepared to combat. After 17 phone interviews, six on-site meetings, three reference checks and everyone on your team agreeing that this (and only this) person is the ideal fit, you cannot afford to lose him. So in a candidate’s market, what is the best approach when at the offer stage? Below are some suggestions to help you and the team make a successful hire.
1. Knowledge is power. It may sound obvious, but the best way to close a candidate is to have as much information as possible, and this starts from the minute you first look at their resume. After deciding you are interested in having a conversation/interview with the candidate, begin to ask questions. Here is what you need to ask the candidate — once at the beginning and again as the interview process continues:
a. Are you interviewing elsewhere? If so, how far along in the process are you? Knowing this will give you a rough estimate of their timeframe. If they are actively interviewing and are heading towards final stages, you need to get the interview process started immediately. This may entail moving scheduled trips, an impromptu meeting at the airport, rearranging your team’s routine, or skipping an initial phone call in an effort to expedite the process. In doing so, you have a chance to evaluate the candidate before they have multiple offers. Also, you can ensure they are as qualified as their resume reads and a good cultural fit for your organization.
b. Do you have any offers? If so, what number did they come in at? This is a great follow up question to the first question, especially if you are nearing the end of the interviewing process. In a hot market, companies have to get creative when closing candidates so they may decide to offer more (either in base, OTE or equity) to excite their prospective employee.
c. What is your currently salary? This includes base, W2 for 2010, projected earnings for 2011 and any components/allowances not included, e.g. equity, car/phone allowance, PTO, etc. First, inquiring about salary requirements often determines if the candidate is the right fit for the role. If they are ideal, but out of the allotted price range, you know what you are up against. Can you pull from other parts of the budget to make this candidate work? Lastly, if they are out of your price range, try to figure out what is motivating them to make a move. If they are looking for ownership in a company, you can potentially provide a smaller base salary in return for a larger equity play. If they are looking for uncapped earnings, you can reevaluate the OTE for the role and provide a very competitive compensation plan. If they are looking for a sign-on bonus, you can structure it to pay throughout the year and require them to pay it back if they leave prior to a specified length of time.
d. When can you start? Often this question is overlooked but is equally as important as salary, especially if a large project is on the horizon. Typically candidates like to give a two week notice to their current employers, but sometimes this period can be shorter or longer depending on varying circumstances.
2. Be prepared to change your interview process. Companies put processes in place in order to provide a predictable environment that also acts as quality assurance. The most typical interview process we see today consists of a phone interview, an on-site meeting with multiple managers, reference checks and finally a decision. From start to completion, this process averages about two weeks — but should always be subject to change. If you find a candidate that you like, odds are someone else likes their ability to sell, write or design as well. Meaning, you might have to skip the initial call as a way to save time and help move to the on-site interview. Alternatively, you might have to make an offer contingent on reference checks and/or a background assessment. Remember, the saying “time kills all deals” applies to hiring as well as sales.
3. Negotiate. Once the interviewing is complete and you have decided your ideal candidate has finally arrived, be prepared to negotiate, particularly in a hot market. Knowing what motivates the person is crucial for a successful and mutually beneficial negotiation. Often times making a move comes down to salary or equity but there are other factors that can make a huge difference. If funds are limited, PTO, flexible work hours, telecommuting, health benefits, matching 401k, frequency and credibility of bonuses or even gym memberships or corporate ski passes can influence their decision.
4. Incorporate the team. If during the interview process the candidate was able to meet multiple managers, incorporate those managers in the presentation of the offer. Have the CEO call and formally invite the candidate to join the team, or make your Director of Marketing available to answer questions the candidate may have regarding functionalities of the position. If you are in a position to do so, invite the candidate to dinner or another work event, so they can see the company culture in action. The more the candidate feels welcome and like an integral part of the organization, the more likely they are to accept the offer and feel secure in their decision.
5. Sell the company and the opportunity. After a few rounds of interviews, and once the candidate has successfully sold their skills and abilities, it is the company’s turn to put on their selling shoes. You want your potential new employee to understand what makes your organization tick, what the company’s five and ten year goals are, where the candidate should expect to see themselves in one year, and why you personally chose to work there. If you are in a multiple offer situation, selling becomes a very import component. Once a candidate feels the energy and sees the passion behind the company, it will be more difficult for them to pass on the opportunity. If there are perks you haven’t mentioned, make sure to do so — e.g. corporate Cubs season tickets, amazing President’s Club trips for top performers, free Friday lunches, etc.
6. Hire a recruiter. Sure, I am biased because I have made it my career to be a corporate matchmaker and help companies find their ideal candidates, but, there are a number of reasons I make this statement. Recruiters can ask questions that may be tough for a company to ask of candidates, and often provide alternative solutions to impasses. Also, candidates tend to be more open with their recruiter, often times because they do not want to offend or insult their prospective employer either by asking them for more money or telling them they are interviewing elsewhere. Having a middleman is also beneficial at the negotiation stage because it helps the prospective employee get what they want and deserve, without asking for too much. Recruiters serve as an expert for both sides of the relationship so they are able to provide insight to candidates, and employers. Regardless - if you are going to hire a recruiter, do your research and find one that you trust and comes recommended and then utilize them to help you get the talent you want.
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