Recruiting? Make Your First Offer Your Best One

Several years ago, I was recruiting for a professional-level position. This was a search that took several months. The job market was becoming tighter, and finding the correct skill set and fit was challenging. The great news was that we had a candidate the search committee agreed on. We had made it through the final stage of the interview process and were ready to make an offer.

Using all the information I had gleaned from the interview process, I put together a reasonable salary. It was under budget, which I was sure would make my client happy.

My philosophy was, “Let’s get them in here, see what they can do, and then make adjustments as needed.” Reasonable, right? I had never lost a great candidate. But this time when I made the offer, the candidate, without any discussion, said no.

I was shocked! I knew he was excited about the opportunity and wasn’t happy where he was. While we weren’t offering a lot more money, I was surprised he didn’t want to negotiate and come to an agreement.
I couldn’t let him go. This was the guy: the fit, the skills! I knew what I needed to do. I decided to get my best possible offer together, the highest salary we could offer within the internal pay structure, along with a fringe benefit package (vacation, sick, personal) that recognized his time in the profession, and then try again with our first-choice candidate.

The good news: It worked. Fifteen years later, and he’s been very successful and so has the organization.
However, this was a game-changer for me and how I make offers. I decided I never wanted to put another candidate or search committee through that again. I recognized that trying to negotiate with the candidate by starting on the lower end created distrust, stress and uncertainty for both sides. Going through a solid interview process is time-consuming.

Now, when I have found a good fit, I make my best offer first.

Throughout the process I still make sure to discuss the candidate’s salary histories and expectations. I am realistic about pay ranges and benefits from the very first interview. If there is a big gap, it’s uncovered early on. Candidates may be eliminated or the existing pay range and grade may need to be re-evaluated.
In job markets like today’s where the best people already have jobs, you need to offer more to get them to leave a job and take a risk with you. Generally, this will be a minimum of 15 percent more than their current salary. In addition, this is a good time to look at pay ranges for similar positions both internally and in the market.

How do you know that you are making your best offer? Ask yourself: If the candidate came back and asked for $1,000 more, would you say yes? Keep going until the answer is no. At what point are you willing to lose them? Just below that number is your best offer. Don’t lose someone great over a few thousand dollars. A great performer can add exponential value to an organization, often within the first year.

I make it a practice to tell candidates that I will present our best offer, one that recognizes their experience and skills, and also one that fits within our salary plan. I find that most candidates are relieved to hear that they will not be expected to negotiate, which can erode trust or make a new relationship tense. Explaining that you will make your best offer lets the candidate know that you value them, respect their experience and that you don’t want to play games with their livelihood. This sets up a new relationship with trust and honesty, which are key in creating an organizational culture of integrity, cultivating loyalty and keeping the excitement high for the new position and person.

Kate Greene, SHRM-SCP, GPHR, SPHR, is with Human Resource Partners in Traverse City, and works with organizations to improve employee engagement, communication and performance; or (231) 409-9175.