When Top Candidates Have Another Offer

By Lin Grensing-Pophal September 18, 2020
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job interview

​You're in the middle of the selection process for a key position and have a few top candidates making their way through the second round of interviews. One of them informs you that he or she has received an offer from another company.

Your initial reaction is panic—oh no! You felt like the process was dragging along too slowly. What can you do? What should you do?

While some recruiters, HR professionals and hiring managers recommend expediting the process while asking the candidate to hold off on accepting the other offer, others take a less reactive approach. All acknowledge that the situation is quite common—and becoming more so. Consequently, it's very likely that recruiters and HR professionals will find themselves in this position at some point in their careers.

Top Candidates Have Choices

Unfortunately, it's generally the top candidates who are in this situation. That makes sense because top candidates are in high demand.

Matt Marturano, vice president of executive search firm Orchid Holistic Search in Detroit, said that "if you've been recruiting for a while and this is the first time you've heard about a candidate getting another offer, you may want to consider why candidates don't feel comfortable being honest with you."

When faced with such a situation, hiring pros recommend against making a hasty decision to extend a competing offer or expedite the selection process. Instead, they say, take a step back, take a deep breath and stay focused on the role and the candidate pool.

Consider Slowing Down, Instead of Speeding Up

"We often see highly sought-after candidates inform hiring teams that they've received another offer during an interview process," said Joseph Puglise, senior director of executive search and recruiting at JMJ Phillip, an executive search firm in Rochester Hills, Mich. "While it may be tempting to expedite conversations to retain a shot at landing their services, we advise slowing things down and taking a step back," he said. Rushing the process can result in a bad hire. Also, he pointed out, a misstep here could create internal discord with existing staff.

"If you honestly feel that they're a once-in-a-lifetime hire who will immediately take your business to the next level, then it may make sense to wrap up interviews and extend an offer over a few days," Puglise said. "Aside from that, invest your time and energy into candidates who are more interested in joining your team."

Gather Information

Scott Rivers, president and managing director of Cerca Talent+, an executive search firm in Oradell, N.J., agreed that recruiters should be contemplative rather than reactive or impulsive when learning that a job candidate has another offer.

As a corporate HR partner or recruiter, he said, his first step is to determine where the candidate falls within the mix of other candidates. "If the candidate is in position three or more, and if your process has multiple rounds to follow, it's probably in the best interest of everyone to guide this candidate to accept the offer that they have been given." If, however, the candidate is at the top of your list—the number one or two candidate—Rivers says he'd explore some critical issues with the candidate, including:

  • Where the company ranks in the candidate's decision criteria.
  • Whether the compensation range is within the candidate's expectations.
  • What the deadline is for responding to the existing offer.

Then he'd share the information with the hiring team to see if they want to expedite the process. If so, he would do everything possible to expedite the process. If not, he'd go back to the candidate to recommend they accept the other position.

"Being transparent during these times will allow you the ability to gain further insight into the candidate's thinking process as well as maintain or improve your employment brand," Rivers said.

Lessons Learned

Jessica Salter is in people operations with Best Response Media in London. "When I was still learning the recruiter ropes, I would express my disappointment at receiving the bad news [about a candidate's competing job offer], but I now know that this is not the way to handle the situation," she said. 

"The most important thing to do is to ask the right questions and listen," Salter added. If the candidate has been offered his or her dream job, you likely can't compete.

Sometimes, though, the "other offer" scenario may lead to warning bells.

Caroline Ceniza-Levine is a career consultant and longtime recruiter, both in-house and in retained executive search. She recalls an incident from her retained search days where a candidate had verbally accepted an offer after a long negotiation. He then came back with a competing offer for slightly more money. She recommended that the client walk away. "It wasn't the money—that was an annoyance based on the total package," she said. "But there was a question of integrity as he already accepted terms. We told him to take the other offer and wished him luck."

Matthew Sorensen, president of Candidate Club, said he's learned something important about the candidates he's pursued the most, and those he's had the most back and forth with before hiring. "They don't tend to work out as well," he said. Having candidates who are considering other offers is normal, Sorensen said, and those other offers are a good sign of their talent level. However, he cautioned: "Leave the doors wide open for them to come in, but don't try and drag or entice them in."

It's important for hiring managers to focus on the objective—finding the right person for the job, Sorensen said. "If the candidate goes elsewhere, then you know they weren't the right person."

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a freelance writer in Chippewa Falls, Wis.

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