Terry is a friend and CEO of a $100M company. He told me a story recently of his excitement and anticipation about an offer he made to a potential executive candidate, but surprisingly, the candidate sheepishly declined the offer. What happened? Did his spouse decide that she did not want to move? Did a child object? Perhaps the candidate wasn’t astute enough to reject a ‘damage control’ matching offer from his current employer? I’ve heard this story many times before.
Sometimes in the excitement of looking at a new opportunity for an individual, we get too caught up in selling the company instead of listening to the signals a candidate might be giving off and probing deeper by exercising the ‘Power of the Question.’
Over the last several weeks, Terry invested countless hours interviewing this candidate. He disclosed intimate information about the company and himself, involved his staff and the executive team’s time – all resulting in a thoughtful commitment to the candidate when offered the position. When the candidate rejected the offer, trust was broken. We all know Terry’s pain because we’ve been there; it is a loss of time, energy, and money.
When Terry asked me how he could have prevented this from happening, the single most important thing I could tell him is that when pursuing an executive candidate, it is critical to ‘close’ the offer at the beginning, instead of at the end of the process. You need to get to “No” quickly. Getting to a solid “No” is much more important than a weak, “Yes, this might be interesting.” Equally important is to acknowledge that in today’s world, any change in career and/or relocation must be treated as a family career decision; you are making an offer to the family. This means that all barriers, or perceived potential barriers, need to be addressed upfront.
When considering a candidate, ask what benefits are important to their family. Ask about the spouse’s career and if there is anything that can be done to help them find employment in the instance of relocation. Try to understand the family’s economic situation. Do they have a house to sell or rent? What is the cost? What is the market like? Provide quality information on housing and recommend a reliable real-estate agent, schools, suggested areas to live, and local community information. Send the candidate home to discuss the opportunity with their entire family and get back to you the next day should there be barriers. If it takes longer than a day to get back to you or you are given some excuse, there is likely not an agreement on the home front and the chances of the deal moving ahead are reduced. All of this investment in asking good questions will allow you to get to a “No” or firm “Yes” much more quickly.
Salary discussions are extremely important to have early in the process so that you are not wasting each other’s time; ask the person what they currently earn. If a candidate avoids this pointed question, he or she is likely below the desired seniority level; people who earn a good base salary are typically bold enough to share the number in confidence.
During the process of exploring the opportunity, build trust with the candidate so that he or she is committing to you in the same way that you are committing to them; the relationship must go both ways. If a candidate is guarded or standoffish about their intentions, especially once you have made your pitch, make it clear that unless it is possible to have a transparent discussion as to where you both stand, it will be impossible to move forward. Only proceed to the next step of preparing an offer when you are comfortable that the barriers have been addressed and there is mutual agreement not to waste each other’s time. Sometimes in the excitement of looking at a new opportunity for an individual, we get too caught up in selling the company instead of listening to the signals a candidate might be giving off and probing deeper by exercising the ‘Power of the Question.’
Relocating a family is one of the top 3 stress points for a family and accepting a new employment opportunity is not far behind. It is Terry’s responsibility to make every effort to address barriers early and establish a smooth transition for the entire family. It is critical to ‘close’ at the beginning and not at the end of the hiring process. Otherwise, a recruiting miscalculation is simply too costly and frustrating.