The column executive briefing

Issue #XII

You have invested weeks, or perhaps several months, courting the perfect executive to join your company and finally… you gain their acceptance! The process has not been without its share of drama and Shakespearean adventure. However, you manage your way through and justify the significant investment in hours of interviewing, the dollars expended for plane fares, lodging and meals, not to mention the grueling negotiations involved in configuring a compensation package to attract the final candidate—

“Needless to say, you are on top of the world; that is until your prospective new executive calls to tell you their current employer has made them a compelling counter offer, and he or she has decided to accept it.”

If this comes as unexpected news, it can be demoralizing at best and devastating at worst. Suddenly, you are weeks, if not months behind in your schedule and the initiative you were ready to launch is grounded indefinitely. Fortunately, there is an easy way to protect against a situation like this from happening by following a few guidelines:

  • Prepare for the counter offer. Never go to the “offer stage” without a back-up candidate. We recommend a minimum of three qualified candidates. This assures that enough depth is available for the final steps of the process. In the event one individual withdraws, you are always prepared to substitute a second, or third, excellent candidate for the position. The added benefit is strength at the negotiation table.
  • Determine motives early in the interview process. What is motivating this person to consider change in his or her current situation? The reason given may be opportunity, money, job title, or even location. Beware if the issue is one that could be easily matched, or rectified, by their current employer. In most cases, these candidates should no longer be considered top prospects for the position. People are either moving towards having their needs met, or away from a situation that is causing them pain or undue hardship. Are circumstances motivating their interest, or is it opportunity — a very subtle thing to discern indeed.
  • Provide what the candidate is looking to attain. Is it opportunity, professional growth, security, status, location, monetary reward or other? Are you offering a unique opportunity that, once again, cannot be easily matched by the current employer? Be certain you understand and are able to deliver what the candidate desires in a position with your company.
  • Discuss counter offers early in the process. It is important that you tell him or her to expect such an offer. Otherwise, you will be in a weakened position when attempting to “counter” the counter offer when it comes. Discuss under what conditions they would remain with their current employer. Ask for a firm commitment that no counter offer will be entertained. Understand your risk factor with a candidate and establish a benchmark for judging how serious he or she is about accepting a position with your company. Do not waste time on a candidate who waffles back and forth in these areas. Remember … hesitation is always a “no” vote!


In the final analysis, a large percentage of individuals that accept counter offers from current employers tend not to stay long term after all. The very reasons that motivated them to contemplate a change once will almost always surface a second time. Seldom does the instant gratification of more money or a new title with the same employer resolve the underlying fundamental issues.