By John Borrowman, CPC
Borrowman Baker, LLC, BV Staffing + Consulting
Gallatin, TN

As difficult as it is to find good talent for your valuation practice, it’s even more frustrating to make an offer that gets turned down.  Or, worse yet, is used to leverage a counteroffer from the current employer.

With careful planning of your interview strategy, you can minimize the risk.

You may not have considered that you have the upper hand in the process until you actually make the offer.  At that point, control passes to the candidate.  The key, therefore, is to fashion the circumstances so that you know as much as you can about the likely outcome, once you do make an offer.

Also, don’t underestimate the pressure that most candidates feel as they go through this process.  Recall how you felt – the fears you experienced – when you contemplated saying yes to a new home and goodbye to your close friends at your last company.  No matter how much the candidate wants out, there are always pangs of fear and guilt about leaving.

All this adds up to the importance of a gentle, diplomatic approach to laying out an offer.

Assuming you’ve settled on the candidate you want to hire, and you’ve invited the candidate back for a conversation leading to an offer, ask:

What’s changed since the last time we spoke?

Most of the time, nothing has changed.  If it has, though, better you should know before you make your offer.  Maybe responsibilities have changed; maybe a pay raise appeared; maybe there’s an offer from another practice.  Find out what’s changed so you can recalibrate your approach.  If you smell a counteroffer coming, you might want to back up and have the candidate revisit the reasons why he was considering your position in the first place.

Make sure you’ve judged correctly that money is the only issue left to address by asking:

Tell me what final questions I can answer for you to help you make an informed decision?

Keep asking – and answering – until money is the only thing left.

Test how prepared the candidate is to accept your offer by asking:

If we were to make you an offer, when would you like to start?  How much notice would you need to give?

Anything other than a reasonable delay as a professional courtesy to the current employer should be a red flag that the candidate isn’t as ready to respond to an offer as you might have thought.

If your practice has a clearly defined hierarchy, with pay ranges for your various job levels, your offer may also have to take account of compensation for current employees.  If that is the case, it’s best to inform the candidate of that fact at this point.  If necessary, you can return to this point at the time you make the actual offer.

By now you already know what you’re going to include in your offer.  Before you lay your cards on the table, you need to do one last test by explaining:

I’m going to make an offer.  Before I do, I want to know that you’re prepared to give us your answer by ________.

Two days should be plenty.  The higher the level of the candidate, of course, the longer the process leading up to the offer, the more discussion that is held and the more information that is exchanged.  That doesn’t change the fact that once you get to money, the decision should require very little time.  Five days at most.

Do not move forward without a response.  This is one more chance for you to test whether your candidate is waiting for another offer.  If the candidate reveals that to be the case, probe thoroughly to learn how you rank against that other offer so you can make your own decision about whether you wait out the decision, or move on to other candidates.

It is not to your advantage to make an offer without a time certain for a response.  Beware of the tendency to think “it’s better if the candidate thoroughly considers both opportunities”.  If your candidate hasn’t thoroughly considered your opportunity by this point (in order to say yes or no), it’s unlikely that a delay will make much difference.

Everyone goes through a certain amount of arithmetic in the process of deciding how much an offer will be.  How many hours can you expect the person to bill?  What’s the billing rate you can reasonably charge?  When you actually make your offer, walk the candidate through that arithmetic.  This will position you for any “push-back” from the candidate about whether the offer might be raised.

If the candidate hints – or outright asks – for more, repeat the arithmetic and ask the candidate:

Tell me how we may have underestimated you?

This approach forces the candidate to focus on her true value, and not simply on subjective arguments about “I think I’m worth more”, or “I don’t think that’s the market rate for my position”.

In summary, an approach that is sensitive to your candidate’s normal fear of change will serve you best in the long run.  Make sure you provide plenty of information to the candidate during the interview process.  Encourage thorough due diligence in the interest of having money be the final piece of the puzzle.  Actually making an offer shifts the power from you to the candidate.  Don’t give away that power prematurely, or without some strings attached to let you know when you can expect an answer.

Nearly all the problems you may be encountering at the time of offer are foreseeable and preventable.  A little attention can pay big dividends in helping you get the talent you need to grow your practice.

John Borrowman