By Mike Travis
Excerpted with permission from the author’s book, Mastering the Art of Recruiting (Praeger Publishers, January 2015)
When the candidate is motivated to join and you’ve made a reasonable offer, discussions tend to go smoothly and amicably. There’s a spirit of “Let’s make this work.”
However, sometimes things go wrong. The friendly discussion you’d hoped for doesn’t materialize, and things get rocky. How can you tell if a deal is headed south? Here are some red flags that indicate you’re headed for trouble.
The Candidate Wants Excessive Time
By the time you make an offer, the candidate has had abundant time to learn about the job, the company, and you. He knows—or should know— whether he wants the job. It’s reasonable for the candidate to take time to confirm that his family is on board, do a final analysis of the company, and understand the details of your offer, but those tasks shouldn’t take more than a few days.
Given those considerations, how long should it take for a candidate to make a decision about a job offer? How long is too long? In my opinion, it shouldn’t take more than a week to get a response. If it does (barring extenuating circumstances), it’s a sign that the candidate may not be as interested as you thought.
If the candidate asks for an extension or gives you some other reason to think he is delaying a decision, it’s time to address the matter directly. I’ll say something like, “It’s taking you a long time to make a decision. You seem to be ambivalent about this opportunity. What’s going on? The client is starting to think you’re not interested.” That usually provokes a response that sheds light on the situation.
There are plenty of benign reasons a candidate might want more time. Perhaps the candidate’s spouse is traveling and she hasn’t been able to discuss the job offer with him in person. Maybe a family member needs to be convinced to accept the move. If there’s a genuine need for more time, then grant it.
Most of the likely reasons for delay are more problematic. Perhaps the candidate is waiting for a competing offer, or is using your offer as a lever to get more from his current employer. Maybe his spouse or children are revolting against the idea of relocation now that it’s become a concrete possibility. Perhaps he is simply getting cold feet about changing jobs, in which case you may justifiably wonder whether he can make tough decisions.
If you conclude that the candidate isn’t really interested, be prepared to withdraw the offer. It can be difficult to accept that things won’t work out, but there’s no point in denying reality or delaying the inevitable.
If you have a strong number-two candidate waiting in the wings, you have an especially powerful incentive to withdraw the offer. After all, it would be doubly painful to lose your backup candidate because you let things drag out with your first choice. When it becomes clear that things won’t work out, move on.
The Candidate Makes Unreasonable Demands
Rarely, a candidate will respond to an offer with compensation demands that are far above the range you discussed earlier in the process, or that simply don’t make sense given her salary history. What the candidate is telling you is that she isn’t seriously interested unless you provide a windfall.
Candidates who do this are mercenaries. They don’t care about the company, the team, or the mission. They’re only interested in selling their services to the highest bidder. Negotiating with such a candidate can feel like talking with a used car dealer.
This isn’t the way most executives operate. Money is important to everyone, of course, but for most people it’s one of many factors to be considered when looking at a new job. They want to be paid fairly, but they also want to do interesting and challenging work with like-minded and talented colleagues. In short, they want work that is enjoyable and fulfilling.
If you are unlucky enough to hire a mercenary, you’ll end up with a radically self-centered executive who will poison your company and destroy your team. The only silver lining is that the executive won’t stay for long. He’ll move on as soon as there’s a better offer.
I’ve never seen a situation where a candidate’s unreasonable demands resulted in him getting hired. There’s simply no way to salvage this situation, and you should not want to do so. Cut your losses as quickly as possible and move on to other candidates who are interested in the job for the right reasons.
In every case, mercenaries could have been identified and screened out long before you got to the point of making an offer. But if you find yourself in this situation, there’s no point in beating yourself up. Try to learn from the experience so you don’t face the same thing in the future.
Mike Travis has been an executive search consultant for nearly 20 years. His accomplishments have been recognized by BusinessWeek, which selected him for its list of "The World’s Most Influential Headhunters." Mike’s practice focuses on recruiting general management, function heads and board members for medical device and biopharmaceutical companies. He can be can be reached at (978) 878-3232, ext. 112, or by email at email@example.com.