Winning Over Your Candidate One Play at a Time

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By Girish Mirchandani – Partner, New York –

So you have found your finalist candidate. You have had multiple meetings, gotten him/her through multiple stakeholders, might have gotten the board’s blessing, the executive candidate is clearly leaning forward and now you want to make the offer…let’s call it the 4th quarter or in the spirit of the recent Super Bowl, let’s call it the red zone (for non NFL/football fans, Wikipedia has a great description). What’s next?

This is a very tricky time in any recruiting situation (also in dating but let’s save that for another time).  The time between the offer and the close is one that must be handled with care and a lot of attention to detail.  It’s like running a pass play on 1st down in the red zone, you might cross the goal line but most coaches would prefer to gain some yards on the ground and move the ball forward.

Here are some thoughts to gain yardage:

o Make sure that the candidate really wants the offer.
Although the executive candidate might have said “Yes, I’m excited to join the team and accept an offer”, don’t assume that this is a done deal.  My advice is, spend time upfront socializing the offer.  Really drill down, ask the candidate if he/she is ready and continue to qualify him/her.  Today’s world is clearly a candidate’s market (most star executive candidates have multiple offers) and the candidate might just be hedging.  By continuing to probe, either directly or through your search partner, expectations of the executive candidate’s desire to join your team can be better qualified, allowing you to “gain yardage”.

o Once you have socialized the offer, ask the executive candidate what he/she holds most valuable.
Find out what’s important to him/her in the comp plan.  Is the candidate motivated by stock or cash?  Does the candidate have cash needs (college, childcare)?  These needs are critical in constructing a personalized package that is compelling.

o Get a verbal offer out as soon as possible.
Start discussing the offer with the executive candidate.  Even better, take the candidate out and give him/her the offer in person, if possible.  It is much more powerful to look someone in the eye and say “let’s build a great company together” than to send an email.

o Take time to sell at the tail end of the search and close process.
Having spent nearly 10 years in executive search, I find this is a very critical part of the process.  Most entrepreneurs/CEOs feel that their company is going to own their industry, which is a good thing.  However, sometimes they assume that executive candidates feel the same way and might not need more selling.  This is a critical mistake.  Take time to sell at the tail end of the search and close process.  The more personal you can make the offer, the more the executive candidate is going to feel wanted.  What seems like a small gesture – a quick email to check in, an invitation for coffee/dinner – can have a big impact.  If an executive candidate is deciding between 2 competing offers with equal upside, the personal touch can be a deciding factor.

o After the verbal offer has been agreed upon, get the written offer out to the candidate immediately.
Since you have already talked through the numbers, the salary and bonus structure should not be a surprise.  Most executive candidates will negotiate, which is fine, but if you spent time upfront socializing the offer and getting a “verbal yes”, this process should go smoothly.  And I can’t stress enough putting an expiration on the offer and creating urgency.

o Engaging the candidate after presenting an offer letter is a “4th and goal” endeavor.
After your executive candidate signs the offer do you just hope and pray that the candidate shows up at the office?  Most people honor their commitments, but life happens—the company could counter, a personal situation might come up, or the candidate might get “cold feet”.  To keep momentum, I suggest setting up recurring calls with the candidate until he/she shows up to the office.  Even better, involve the candidate in company conference calls (if possible) and keep the candidate engaged and as warm as possible.  Take the candidate out to dinner, set up coffee meetings, go for a bike ride, these are all great ways to continue to increase engagement.  Not only will this help reaffirm the candidate, it will also help build a relationship that will get him/her off to a fast start.

To sum up, the tail end of the recruiting process, the steps toward getting an offer to a “Yes”, is a crucial part of the process that must be handled with care, intent, and personal touch.  Aim for “additional yardage” while moving forward in the process rather than a Hail Mary (“Here is the offer, please sign”).  You will be better positioned for a “touchdown” than an “interception” and will have a higher probability of getting the executive candidate to a “Yes”.  You also separate yourself from others by personalizing the offer and details that might seem trivial and small, really matter.

I believe NFL Legend Fran Tarkenton summarizes this best: “If football taught me anything about business, you win the game one play at a time”.