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How to pre-empt the dreaded counter-offer 

Karen Young, Director, Hays UK


Counter-offers – they are an unavoidable reality for most hiring managers far and wide so if you haven’t experienced a candidate being counter-offered yet, then chances are you will at some stage. In fact, a previous UK-based Hays Salary Guide found that 60% of surveyed employers consider counter-offering an employer with a higher salary, should they attempt to resign. So, if you haven’t experienced a candidate being counter-offered yet, then chances are you will at some stage. 

And whilst you can’t stop an employer from making a counter-offer, you can minimise the chances of the candidate accepting this counter-offer by taking certain steps throughout each stage of the interview process, as well as during the candidate’s notice period. These steps include the below:

1. Before you start interviewing, try to eliminate those candidates most likely to take a counter-offer


First off, I would advise working with a recruiter who can compile a short list of interview candidates. The recruiter can identify the candidates who are purely interested in an increase in salary but are otherwise happy in their role. Upon meeting the candidates, the recruiter can ask each one some qualifying questions about their reasons for leaving their job, such as:

  • What are your reasons for leaving your current position?
  • Have you told your employer of your concerns?
  • Under what circumstances would you stay in your role?

And if a candidate is only looking to make a move for more money, the recruiter can advise that they go back to their employer and ask for this before choosing to move on, leaving you with candidates to interview who are at least a little less likely to get swayed by a counter-offer.

2. Appeal to the candidate’s motivations during the interview


Now that you have shortlisted the candidates you’d like to interview, you should feel fairly confident that they are sat in front of you because they genuinely want to move on from their current employer for reasons other than money – as many job seekers do.

As well as assessing skills, competencies and future capability, the interview is the perfect time to get to know more about what these reasons are, and what the candidate is looking for in their next opportunity and future career.

To help you determine this, I would advise asking the below questions during the interview:

  • What do you look for in an employer?
  • What are your career goals for the upcoming year? And beyond?
  • Why are you looking for a new role?
  • What appeals to you about this opportunity?

From here, you will be far better placed to tailor the way you pitch your job opportunity to them. For instance, if the candidate’s focus is on better training and personal and career development, you should spend more time sharing stories of how people at your company have advanced their careers and describing the scope for progression in this role. Provide them with some real-life role models to meet as part of the interview process.

Ultimately, you want the candidate to walk away from the interview feeling that this opportunity ticks all the boxes that their current employer can’t, thereby lessening the appeal of any potential counter-offer that is put on the table.

3. Create a sense of belonging during the interview


It’s important to bear in mind that even if the role you’re recruiting for genuinely appeals to the candidate’s motivations for leaving, they may still take a counter-offer from their existing employer because staying somewhere they know is the simpler and safer option.

If you think about it from the candidate’s point of view, they are probably already nervous about the prospect of leaving behind their current colleagues and their familiar routine. And if they are then persuaded by their current employer not to make this jump, well you can see why this option might be tempting.

However, there are other tactics you can deploy during the interview itself which will decrease the risk of a counter-offer being accepted. Firstly, try to paint a picture of what it would be like to work at your company, giving specific details about what this role entails and what a typical day in the office looks like. You can also bring the opportunity to life by describing their future colleagues, as well as the team – making introductions where possible. This will help to get a better idea of the company culture – which is hugely important to many jobseekers. In fact, in our latest “What Workers Want” report (UK), we found that whilst 45% of jobseekers felt pay was the most important factor when it came to finding a new job, 62% of jobseekers would be prepared to take a pay cut in order to secure a better cultural fit.

I will also add that you should also stay mindful of the language that you use so as not to make the candidate feel like too much of an outsider. For instance, instead of referring to the team as tight-knit or close, you would say they work closely together, but balance this out by emphasising how they welcome new starters and socialise. You can also swap out phrases like “the successful candidate would be…” for phrases such as “you would be…” so that they can imagine themselves actually working in the role. The key is to try and remove some of that fear of the mystery for the candidate, so that they don’t feel inclined to play it safe and stay with their current employer if given this option.

4. Keep the candidate engaged during their notice period


Once the candidate has accepted your offer, and they have handed in their notice, it’s time to change the nature of your relationship from a transactional one where you are discussing salary and start-dates, to a personal one which keeps the candidate excited for this opportunity.

In the first instance, you should personally call the candidate yourself to congratulate them on getting the job. From this point, invite them to any important company business events, team outings or possibly appropriate social events. It would also be a good idea to send them any induction documents and an itinerary of their first couple of weeks at the company so that they can start to feel truly integrated. If equipment needs to be ordered, checking with them and keeping them up to date on this can also make someone feel welcome and involved, even if you think it is a relatively small thing like a company phone, keeping them in touch can make all the difference.

Remember, the candidate can still get counter-offered at any time during their notice period, therefore it’s crucial that you develop a connection quickly. Keep the lines of communication open and ensure they feel involved in the business before day one – so that the reasons why they accepted the role are continually reinforced during their notice period.

5. Have your backup offer ready to go


Creating an interview and onboarding experience that both engages the candidate and makes them feel included can certainly minimise their likelihood of taking a counter-offer. However, it might be worth your while to have a contingency plan in place, just in case the candidate finds themselves being swayed by their current employer in the moment.

Whilst your first offer should be your best one, you could put together a backup offer and get sign-off in advance, so that you are ready to swiftly go back to the candidate in the event of a counter-offer. What else can you provide, based on both your financial resources and your knowledge of what the candidate is looking for? Perhaps you could agree to flexible working, more annual leave or immediate enrolment into a professional training programme that they have been wanting to do for some time?

Rest assured that if the candidate is showing signs of accepting a counter-offer, your recruiter will be taking steps to make sure that they are making the right decision – reminding the candidate why they chose to move elsewhere in the first place, relaying their own reasoning back to them. I think from this point onwards, you have to respect the candidate’s decision, safe in the knowledge that you and the recruiter have done all you reasonably can.

As I said, you can’t control what another employer chooses to do in order to keep their best talent. But what you can do, is create an engaging, inclusive hiring experience for the candidate, one which showcases all the ways in which your employer value proposition meets their career needs and one which by far eclipses any counter-offer that is put on the table.


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Karen is responsible for the UK finance recruitment business at Hays plc. With nearly 22 years of recruitment experience whilst working for this market leading global recruitment firm, Karen has a personal track record of recruiting top finance talent for business and helping people build their career.

Her knowledge covers finance appointments across a wide range of industry sectors and she is an expert in tried and tested talent acquisition methods. Karen provides strategic leadership to a team of over 400 accountancy and finance recruitment professionals across a network of almost 100 UK offices. Extremely passionate about helping people to find the right job, she is also a trusted industry voice on career planning and market insights.



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