Countering the Counteroffer: How to Stop Losing Deals

You’re in the home stretch.

You’ve recruited the ideal candidate. Your client has green-lighted a competitive offer, which your candidate heartily accepts.

You’ve closed the deal – or so you thought.

The next day, you get a call from your candidate (or worse yet, an email). They’ve received a counteroffer from their current employer, and have decided not to accept your offer after all.

It’s a real punch in the gut, but honestly, you can’t blame them. Our current economy has forced employers to fight harder than ever to keep the talent they have, and job seekers need to do what’s in their best financial interest.

But if you’ve ever heard: “I’ve given it a lot of thought, and I’ve decided to stay put,” you know how frustrating – and costly – the rejection is. In addition to losing time and money, you now have a client who’s irritated with you. And instead of celebrating, you’re thrust into damage-control mode.

Had enough?

The best offense is a great defense! Here’s how to stop losing deals to counteroffers:

Make initial offers stronger. In a prior post, I wrote about the negative impact low pay rates have on offer acceptance. If a client’s salary isn’t competitive, counsel them on the realities of today’s talent market – including the ways a higher initial offer can preempt the current employer’s counter.

If they seem reluctant, run the numbers for them. Use online tools or your firm’s own pay data, and adjust for compensating factors (i.e., cost of living, candidate supply and position vacancy costs) to paint a clear picture of an acceptable range.

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Counsel clients to round out offers. Money isn’t everything, but great candidates are motivated by more than just a paycheck. To keep your candidate from being lured back in by their current employer, help your client build a comprehensive offer that’s simply too good to pass up. While you may not be able to change your client’s healthcare plan or 401(k) offerings, investigate these options:

  • Work flex: flexible hours, compressed work weeks, summer hours, job sharing, and more.
  • Work/life satisfaction: suggest perks that promote a healthy balance between the candidate’s personal and professional lives.
  • Social purpose: younger candidates, in particular, want to work for organizations that have a clear commitment to doing social good.

Don’t sell the job; sell the “WIIFM.” Gainfully employed candidates want more than steady employment (they already have that!); they need the promise of something more.

Give it to them! Create a “performance profile” that describes the major challenges which must be met to succeed. Presenting an opportunity this way helps you create an “opportunity gap” (i.e., a significant difference between an individual’s current job and the new job) that will get them thinking. When you convince an individual that they would be passing on a major opportunity, you create “FOMO” (fear of missing out) – making your client’s offer tougher to turn down, even if your candidate is countered.

Position your client as an employer of choice. Great candidates have lots of options. Throughout the interview phase, continually remind your candidate how your client distinguishes themselves as a great place to work. Beyond the position itself, recap differentiators like benefits, mentorship opportunities, professional development, job safety, opportunities for growth, organizational culture, flex work options, bonuses, community involvement, and more.

Make the offer in person. People like to feel valued and know they’re wanted; there’s no better way to do this than when you’re in the room with them. Whenever possible, make the offer in person. Tell the candidate how excited your client is to have them join the company, and restate the upsides of the opportunity and employer.

Close quickly. Put an expiration date on the offer. The more time the candidate has to consider other options, the more vulnerable you and your client are.

Keep in touch. The period between offer and acceptance is critical. Keep the candidate engaged by:

  • sending a personalized email describing the client’s onboarding process;
  • arranging for the candidate to meet potential new team members;
  • calling to check in and see if the candidate has any lingering questions.

If the current employer counters, should you counter their counteroffer?

Even if you take all of these preventative measures, the candidate’s current employer may still counter. If this happens, it begs the question: Are they worth fighting for? To answer this, consider the following with your client:

  • How difficult is the role to fill?
  • Is more money the only thing that’s preventing the candidate from accepting your client’s offer?
  • Can your client afford to match the counteroffer?
  • Is the candidate extremely high potential (i.e., could they be worth significantly more to your client in the future)?

Final Thoughts

While no staffing or recruiting firm can completely eradicate counteroffers, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Implement these suggestions to cut current employers off at the pass, and close more deals, quickly.


Tammi Heaton

Tammi Heaton
Tammi Heaton is COO of PrideStaff. She can be reached at theaton (at) pridestaff (dot) com.

Tammi Heaton

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