Stronger Habits - Pete Leibman

Executive Search for Companies
that Make the World Stronger

Offer Letter Blunders: 4 Common Mistakes that Cause Candidates to Run

By the time that your company gets to the offer stage with a finalist, you will have invested significant time and energy into your search. The last thing that you want is to lose your top choice. You don’t want to have to settle for a backup or wait months to find someone else. Yet, many companies create and present offer letters that cause candidates to run. Make sure that you avoid the following four mistakes, all of which are surprisingly common.

(1) Having someone other than the hiring manager present the offer

Earlier in my career, I interviewed with a company for a sales position. After going through several rounds of interviews, the hiring manager told me that the company was going to make me an offer. However, the hiring manager did not present the offer to me. Instead, someone from HR (who I had not spoken with at all during the interview process) called me a few days later to make the offer by phone.

Think about the type of message that is sent to a candidate when the hiring manager delegates the presentation of a job offer. It suggests that the hiring manager is either uncomfortable discussing compensation with the candidate or not that enthusiastic about the candidate. Each is a major red flag.

It is absolutely imperative that the hiring manger presents the offer. This critical step should never be delegated to the HR department or to an outside recruiter. Such an action is a very impersonal way to handle a very personal action.

(2) Not making the initial offer in-person (or by phone)

Your company should eventually put any offer in writing. However, that step should only happen after the hiring manager and the candidate have first discussed the offer in-person or by phone.

Speaking live is important for a couple of reasons. First of all, the hiring manager can reiterate the selling points for the role and why he/she has selected the candidate. This reinforces the value proposition and also makes the candidate feel excited and valued. Secondly, speaking live allows the hiring manager to gauge the candidate’s interest and to respond to any immediate concerns or questions about what is being offered.

(3) Presenting an offer that contains a change or surprise

Accepting a new job is a stressful, emotional process. The last thing that a candidate needs is a reason to question if he can trust the company that he is about to join or the person that he is about to work for.

The offer letter should be a 100% predictable summary of what has already been agreed to by both sides. Unless you are sweetening the deal, any change or surprise can be a deal-breaker for a candidate.

Before sending an offer letter to a candidate, make sure that every single detail is exactly as discussed. If you cannot recall what was promised, or if anything has changed, discuss the question or issue in-person with the candidate before putting anything in writing.

(4) Presenting an offer that is unclear

As a candidate, I once received an offer letter that was extremely unclear. Because of the language used in the letter, I initially interpreted the on-target earnings (OTE) for the role to be $125,000 less than what the company actually intended. It was not until I spoke with the headhunter for the role that I realized what the company was actually offering.

We worked through all of this, but the initial offer letter nearly blew up the deal. Note: Had the hiring manager initially presented the offer to me in-person (and not by email), this entire fiasco would have been avoided.

Before sending an offer letter to a candidate, make sure that anyone reading the letter would understand exactly what is being offered. There should be zero chance of confusion in regard to the compensation package, the perks and benefits, the title for the role, the reporting structure, the start date, and so on.

Summary and Final Thoughts

While it might be possible to recover from the mistakes above, why take any chances? By the time that your company gets to the offer stage with a finalist, you will have invested significant time and energy into the process. You don’t want to have to settle for a backup candidate or start from scratch.

If you want your offer to be accepted, follow these simple steps:

  1. Have the hiring manager present the offer
  2. Present the offer in-person (or by phone) and not by email
  3. Make sure the offer letter is 100% consistent with what was discussed
  4. Make sure the offer letter is 100% clear

If you are working with a search consultant/firm, they should provide guidance on how best to present your offer in-person and in writing.

P.S. If you enjoyed this article, you can share it by clicking a social media icon on this page. 

About the author: As the Founder of Stronger Talent, Pete Leibman recruits exceptional leaders for companies that make the world stronger. Throughout his career, Pete has helped clients recruit exceptional leaders at the Board, C-Suite, Senior Vice President, Vice President, General Manager, Managing Director, and Director levels. Pete’s work has been featured on Fox News, CBS Radio, and Fortune.com, and he is the author of two books and over 150 articles on career management, healthy living, high performance, and executive recruiting.

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