Offer Stage: Tip Toe Very Carefully

October 11, 2017 at 10:26 AM

So you’ve have made it to the last gate in a long journey. Time and effort have gone into countless interviews, reference and background checks, perhaps even psychometric tests, and all systems appear ‘Go’.  Don’t start celebrating just yet.

Over the past several months we have witnessed several negotiations come to, or come very close to, somewhat inglorious ends. While these outcomes were not solely attributable to breakdowns during the offer stage, it is safe to say they played a role. Consider the following:

1.  In a search that required the selected candidate to move to a different city, negotiations on the relocation package became strained as the candidate (who by all counts wanted to join the company in question) incorrectly read the negotiation dynamics.  As the candidate’s ‘asks’ started to pile-up, the company began to see the candidate in a slightly different light. They became concerned with what they saw as signs of pettiness and inflexibility. Those niggling concerns grew into irritation as the requests kept mounting. The candidate, despite our best efforts to caution him, ignored or was oblivious to the tension that was building, perhaps believing that the parties were too far into the process to abandon it. Perhaps he was simply naïve, perhaps he actually lacked appropriate judgment. Nonetheless, when he finally asked that the company pay for a new set of snow tires for his car, the company withdrew its offer.

Though a company and candidate may decide to get hitched, each ensuing interaction reinforces or threatens what remains an embryonic and fragile relationship. In this case the offer stage convinced the company to run.

2.  In another search, our client elected to first negotiate the major compensation items with the candidate of choice and once a high-level agreement was in place, follow that with a formal detailed employment contract. The negotiations on cash, variable, severance, stock and other items took some time and both parties dug in on certain issues. They persevered however and came to an agreement. A formal contract was then drafted and sent to the candidate who quite reasonably took it to his lawyer for review. Two days later the candidate sent an email with several pages of revisions. The client immediately looked at the long laundry list of comments and requests for changes and concluded this was evidence of something concerning in the candidate. They openly balked at the ‘audacity’ of some of the proposed changes which they felt had already been negotiated and agreed upon.

To us however the email revisions had all the markings of a lawyer doing his/her job and a candidate simply forwarding their comments for discussion.  We asked the client to avoid jumping to conclusions and instead schedule a direct conversation with the candidate to discuss the redlined items. The ensuing discussion dealt quickly and easily with the legal issues and the candidate accepted the role. It was tenuous at times however.

In the end, it does not take much for negotiations to become personal, actions to be misinterpreted and offence to be taken. Sensitivity, care and in some instances an intermediary are recommended.

3.  Finally, our client is large, global and organizationally complex with a cadence and culture that derives from all three. Everyone is well intentioned, though nothing happens fast. The candidate was patient, meeting many stakeholders on different occasions, passing every test with flying colours. She was keen about the company and role in question. However, as the weeks became months, the delays, and extended periods of deafening silence began to sew the seeds of frustration. The candidate was employed and the more time she kept thinking about this role the less focused she was on her job. It gnawed at her and she became anxious for a decision. Several of the candidate’s later enquiring emails to the client had a discernible tinge of frustration.

Meanwhile the hiring manager was doing her best. The process was the process, and there were simply a lot of busy people with input into said process. The client interpreted some of the later emails not as simply ‘nudges’ but as signs of being ‘pushy’. The client started to question whether this person would fit. Both parties’ positions could not be faulted. From the outside however, they were producing storm clouds.

When the company finally extended an offer to the candidate, they made a ‘reasonable offer’, one not expected to be their best or final. They prudently saved some wiggle room. The candidate however, now frustrated, took the first offer as not simply a starting point, but rather as further evidence that this no longer felt right. She had no interest in negotiating (another long process she reasoned) and simply withdrew.

While it could be argued that in the final analysis, the candidate and company were not meant to be, the number of unfortunate timing and scheduling events that conspired to extend the process was unusual, even for this company. And the time apart, at least in this instance, did not serve to make the respective hearts grow fonder. Conditions were thus less than ideal for either party to extend a gesture to repair the damage. The tepid offer that followed was altogether appropriate for the tepid relationship that had been cultivated, and was the perfect trigger for the parties to go their separate ways.


About the Author

Robert Hebert , Ph.D., is the Managing Partner of Toronto-based StoneWood Group Inc, a leading executive search firm. He has spent the past 25 years assisting firms in the technology sector address their senior recruiting, assessment and leadership development requirements.

Dr. Hebert holds a Masters Degree in Industrial Relations as well as a Doctorate in Adult Education, both from the University of Toronto.