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Nick Boulton: What recruiters must know about counteroffers

Posted on 6/05/2021
by Nick Boulton

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Recruiters have a massive blind spot when it comes to placing candidates – and the lockdown has only made it bigger.

Having spent most of 2020 talking to developers and engineers worried about moving jobs, many have turned down fantastic opportunities because of that most irritating of prospects: the counter offer.

Counteroffers are the bane of a recruiter’s life. You think you’ve found someone their dream job and their excitement on the phone is palpable. Only to find that bam, that tired old job is worth sticking around for.

It’s costing hiring businesses time, talent, and money – all of which they can ill afford to lose in this market.

Anyone who has worked as a recruiter has dealt with the peril of counteroffers. There are signs from a candidate who’s susceptible to a counter that a good recruiter will spot:

  • The ‘dream job’ they were singing praises of suddenly loses its lustre
  • They’re slow to return calls or emails
  • They’ve accepted an offer and then waver on handing their notice in

Being able to cover a counteroffer is one of the most important skills in a recruiter’s toolkit, but it’s one I feel has been neglected during the lockdown. In the euphoria of doing deals again and having so many jobs to fill, the age-old problem of thinking, “It’ll be alright, I’ve got them an offer of £20K more than they are currently on,” has crept back in.

Quite frankly, nothing has really changed. Counteroffers aren’t some new craze sweeping tech. Most devs aren’t going through the rigmarole of an interview process just to leverage a few extra beans out of their bosses. The fact it’s happening lies at the feet of us in recruitment.

Do any of these excuses sound familiar?

  • “He was offered his dream role…”
  • “He didn’t tell me he had anything else on the go…”
  • “It’s his best mate’s company…”

To be blunt, these are a load of balls. Counteroffers are easily dispatched – but you’ve got to ensure you actually cover them off in the first place. You’ve got to ensure they do more than sign the contract and “hand in their resignation”. You’ve got to ensure they actually start their new job.

How do I know all of this? Here’s an example of typical candidate interaction and three assumptions about them:

  1. Assumption 1: You have a 9/10 candidate who is looking for a job. Their current job is good but they are looking for some career progression, some exposure to new technology and a salary increase.
  2. Assumption 2: You have the “perfect” job for them, fitting all the above criteria and it's closer to home with more flexibility to WFH when needed. Result!
  3. Assumption 3: The interview(s) goes swimmingly and the client offers said candidate the job, with a higher salary than they were even expecting! Job done, right?

WRONG! Go straight to recruitment jail, do not pass the holiday incentives, and do not collect your commission cheque. In fact, start looking for another job!

This is where the nuances of dealing with people and the skill of recruitment comes into play. Pretty much anyone can be trained to do the basics of recruitment, find a job, match a candidates skills, organise the interviews, and make the placement. But dealing with human emotions, building empathy, creating rapport, are very different skills to master and ones that take practise, time to hone and need tons of repetition!

Recruiters need to practise these skills all the time, and unless you are covering the potential of a counter off with a candidate at every single opportunity, you are going to get bitten, often!

Even when candidates say:

  • “My company never counter offers anyone…”
  • “They could never offer me enough money to stay…”
  • “They physically don’t have the job available for me…”

Trust me, they will always find a way to counter offer them. Money, career progression, new job titles, new projects, you name it. Opportunities with their current employer will suddenly appear as if by magic.

Don’t panic, you can still equip the candidate with every tool possible to deal with a counteroffer and help them through this process, but unless they REALLY want to leave their company, they will end up accepting the counteroffer.

What you need to do is establish how badly they want to leave. Throughout the entire process, you need to figure out how much they want to join the company you have on offer and does it match what they wanted in the first place. Are their reasons sound and NOT just money motivated?

Unless you continually sow the seed, cultivate it, water it and tend to it carefully, the resignation will always have a high risk of not going in your favour. If the candidate is fully briefed as to what to expect when they hand their notice in, you have nothing to fear.

Don’t go patting yourself on the back or spending that commission money before they set foot in their new job on Day 1.

If you want to find out more or learn the skills needed to successfully deal with these situations, feel free to reach out and chat, or apply here: The list of stuff you have to cover is long.

We are always looking for good people wanting to improve.


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