In today’s market, you need to be prepared to fight the counter-offer battle. Candidates open the door to a counter-offer for a variety of reasons. Some do it innocuously enough; believing that loyalty compels them to at least listen to what their employer has to say. Some genuinely underestimate the response that a resignation will generate. Not a few think, “Why shouldn’t I see how much they’ll offer me to stay?”

The reason doesn’t matter when the result is the same: Heartburn for you from what was lost. In the future, your best defense is a good offense.

Near the close of your first face-to-face interview, after you have developed some rapport with your candidate, raise these questions:

  1. Have you ever received a counter-offer when you submitted your resignation? Did you accept it? Why or why not?
  2. What is the problem that if your employer fixed it you would be persuaded to stay? What discussions have you had about that?

Listen carefully to what you hear and consider it alongside what you learned in the interview about the candidate’s motivation to change. Maybe you’ll conclude a counter-offer is low-risk. Depending on what you hear about the “fix”, you can offer to suspend the interview process until the issue is resolved. Your offer to delay should bring the issue—and the level of risk—into better focus.

Use the following as a preface in your second face-to-face interview:

You know we wouldn’t have you back if we weren’t serious about your potential. If we were to extend an offer, how concerned should we be about losing you to a counter-offer?

Listen to the candidate’s evaluation of the risk. If you hear an answer implying no problem, return to it when you make the offer.

When I asked about losing you to a counter-offer, you told me [answer implying no problem]. Has your thinking changed?

Consistent and candid responses to your questions are a clue that a counter-offer is low-risk. Responses that change over time can be red flags. Nothing can fully immunize you against losing a candidate to a counter-offer. But, asking the right questions can help.