close the deal with applicants
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Closing the Deal with Top Job Candidates

Ask The Expert

By Barbara Mitchell

Q: It seems to be increasingly difficult to get applicants to say yes to our job offers. We've confirmed that our pay and benefits are competitive. What should we do differently to close the deal with top candidates?

A: This isn't the first time I've been asked this question, so I know this issue is a challenge. I'm glad you've looked at your compensation and benefits; however, usually it isn't the money that causes a candidate to reject an offer.

As you evaluate your hiring process with the intent to improve your acceptance rate, ask yourself these five questions:

Are you listening carefully to what the candidate wants? If you listen carefully, there won't be any surprises when you make the offer. For example, if you heard a candidate say she values career progression, stress your commitment to professional development. Another candidate may share that he desires a mentor, so line up a mentor in advance and include the mentor's name when you offer the candidate the job.

Do you know your organization's reputation? If there is negative press out there about you, deal with it as quickly as possible by being honest with your candidate. Tell the prospective hire that you're aware of the criticism, and you're actively taking concrete steps to improve the organizational culture and resolve any problems. Honesty can go a long way to reassure the candidate.

Being open to negotiation may be the key to getting a potential superstar, so be as flexible as possible.

How are you making job offers? The best advice I can give you is to carefully plan the job offer—including start date, salary, benefits, any additional perks, and the date when you need the answer—and then have the hiring manager call the candidate to make a verbal offer. Detailed planning sends the message that you really want the candidate and are excited to work with him or her.

Many organizations have the HR team make the offer, since they're trained in hiring best practices. Sometimes, it's much better for the hiring manager to do it as long as she stays within the agreed parameters and avoids making any promises the organization can't keep. Then, HR should send a written offer that repeats exactly what the verbal offer said, with additional details to help the candidate make an informed decision (specific benefits, onboarding dates and times, I-9 requirements, and so on).

Are you giving candidates enough time to consider your offer? Some organizations allow people only a day or two before rescinding the offer, which sends a negative message. It's better to give five business days.

Do you encourage candidates to call with questions or to negotiate? Just about everyone negotiates for something these days, so be prepared for counteroffers, and know your range for flexibility. Being open to negotiation may be the key to getting a potential superstar, so be as flexible as possible.

A final thought: After a short time has passed, call a few candidates who turned you down and ask why. You will get valuable feedback that you can use to increase your acceptance rate.

Barbara Mitchell is a human resources and management consultant and author of The Big Book of HR and The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook. Do you have a question you'd like her to answer in "Ask the Expert"? Send it to [email protected]