I am amazed at how often I speak with recruiters who have no idea what the motivators are of the candidate they are making an offer to. For example, earlier this week I was speaking to a corporate “Executive Recruiter” who was getting ready to present an offer to a candidate she had been working with for a SVP level position.

As we discussed the pieces to the offer, I asked her what the primary reasons were for the candidate to be interested in the position and how she would present the offer. After asking the question there was a long silence, followed by “What do you mean?” She went on to say that the candidate was interested in the position because of how great of role it was and how great of a company they were – really? In others words, she had no idea what the drivers were of the candidate!

I suggested to this executive recruiter to call the candidate and drill a bit deeper to really understand what the motivators for the candidate were – what were their current motivators. The recruiter indicated that she already pre-closed the candidate on the offer and any additional probing was not required – the same story I hear from candidates often.

Three hours later, this executive recruiter called and indicated that the offer had been declined by the candidate and she could not figure out why! The money was more, the title was higher, the equity was substantial, etc., however the candidate still said no, even after the supposed pre-close.

Having spent a few minutes with the candidate early in the process, I offered to reach out to the candidate to better understand his rationale for the decline. After a short 20-minute conversation with the candidate the reasons became obvious.

The candidate was pleased with the offer figures, title, equity, relocation package, etc. He ultimately declined the offer for the following reasons:

  • The candidate was concerned that the organization was not ready for the transformation he was being hired to lead. Why? Because his current employer who was going through a similar change had not provided the resources or support he needed to properly execute on a major change in the way they do business.
  • The candidate was not comfortable with his span of control. He was coming from a very matrixed organization that was structured with little direct authority, yet he had all of the responsibility for the success or failure of his division. The company making him the offer had similar structure on paper to his current role.

The candidate indicated that he mentioned each of these concerns throughout the process, however, neither was addressed by the executive recruiter or the interviewers. I shared that new information with the executive recruiter – her response? “We are paying him 30% more than he is making now, isn’t that enough?”

This executive recruiter completely missed the boat! She was stuck on the monetary pieces of the offer because she never spent the time to understand the real needs and motivations of the candidate. After addressing these needs with the hiring manager, they were easily addressed and the candidate accepted the offer.

Upon having a follow-up discussion with the candidate he had indicated to me that had the recruiter and hiring manager addressed his two biggest concerns early on in the process and he was prepared to take the position at a lateral comp package!! In essence this organization spent 30% more than they had to because they thought the candidate was more interested in the money than the work.

What can we learn from this typical example?

1. Define the Need – It is the job of every recruiter to understand the positive and negative motivators of every candidate without making assumptions. What does the candidate really like about their current role? What does the candidate like the least about their current role?

Understanding BOTH the points of pain and points of pleasure of every candidate is critical in closing the deal later in the process. Being able to address as many of the motivators in the recruiting process as possible increases the chances of successfully closing the right candidate for the right reasons. Throwing money at a problem is only a temporary fix if the money is not the primary motivator of the candidate!

As a recruiter, if you cannot walk away from your interview with the candidate and write down their current points of pain and pleasure, you haven’t done your job.

2. Inform your Manager – Assuming you followed step one, did you tell the hiring manager what you uncovered? Did you indicate the drivers/motivators of the candidate? Do you work with the hiring manager to develop a strategy of how he/she will address the identified needs of the candidate?

If you didn’t properly handle step one, future steps in the process could be a disaster. If everyone goes through the interview process talking about what they think is important and not uncovering what is most important to the candidate, an offer decline is almost certain to occur. Or the candidate asks for more money to balance the perceived risks they are taking due to unaddressed concerns.

3. Re-define the Need – When it’s time to present an offer, start by re-addressing the needs identified in step one. Was each properly addressed? Is the candidate comfortable with each one? Does any additional information need to be gathered to address a particular topic? REMEMBER – we buy emotionally and justify rationally! We need to make sure the candidate is emotionally committed by addressing each need prior to presenting the dollars – the rational side of the equation.

Having been in this industry for more than 20 years, I have seen both veterans of the business as well as newbies make the exact same mistake. Ask yourself after you interview your next candidate – Do I know the candidate’s points of pain AND points of pleasure? Can I list the criteria that is most important to them or do I assume that it’s only about the comp and title?

If you can’t answer this question, you haven’t yet completed the job you were paid to do.


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