You’ve done a lot of hard work posting job descriptions, sourcing candidates, assessing them, and keeping them engaged throughout your hiring process.
The selected candidate is a great match, so you’d like to make them a job offer. Exciting times! But how do you approach the offer and potential negotiation?
Hint—the process started way back in the hiring process!
This is the guidance I give to both recruiters and hiring managers on how to make a job offer.
Where To Start
While the job offer is the end of the hiring process, closing candidates (i.e. making sure they accept the offer) starts from the moment you first talk to them.
The actions you take at each step of the process allows you to bring them to a "closeable", "Yes I want to work at company!" state of mind (or do the opposite and get them to self-select out, that is important too so neither party is wasting time).
Building a rapport and relationship with the candidate is the most important thing, and really getting to understand them and their motivations for a potential move.
While salary will always be an important factor (people have bills to pay!), there will likely be other factors influencing the decision. It’s your job to find out what they are so that you can see if your job offer matches those requirements too.
General motivators for everyone fall under a few categories (non-exhaustive list of course)—cash compensation, the scope of the role, company growth, culture (company and team), location, remote working, and industry.
A global study by Manpower Group found that 40% of candidates put schedule flexibility as one of their top 3 motivating factors when accepting a new role.
Here are some questions you can weave in from the first interview onwards:
- Ask directly—why do you want to move? Why have you agreed to have this conversation? What is your situation?
- Ask what their career aspirations are.
- If they are currently working in a start-up, do they like that mentality and environment? If they aren’t, are they open/looking for that kind of environment?
A good tip is to get the answers to these questions towards the start of the conversation so you can subtly bring them up and address them (if applicable) during the part of your conversation where you describe your company and the role.
“Why do you want to move?”
“I'm at a big company now and I want to move somewhere where with less bureaucracy and barriers to making the decisions.”
With that information, when you make your pitch later on, you can focus on how your company is fast-moving and autonomous.
An important thing to note, though, is that you’re not trying to match everything the person says they’re looking for. You’re looking for places where what your company provides (your employer value proposition) and what the candidate wants overlap naturally.
It is perfectly OK to help people self-select out of the process.
For example, if a candidate is looking for entrepreneurship and autonomy, but you are a large enterprise where you need someone to operate in a role that they deliver to set parameters, it may not be a great match!
“Selling” Your Company
I am putting “selling” in quote marks because, while that is what you’re doing, in reality, this is quite different from selling tomatoes at the market!
First and foremost, your job should be to provide information.
Now that you have an idea of what their motivators are, here are some ideas on how to connect that with your company:
- Talk about your company’s potential, your latest roll-outs or fundraise, and your ambitions.
- Scope the opportunity—don't be afraid to help candidates do the math about the potential of the market!
- Share the product roadmap, future of what you are planning to build, and how this role will fit in
- Talk about the other people on the team and their calibre
- Talk about development (not necessarily career progression) and the things candidates could learn (and what you can learn from them in return). Rather than progression frameworks (there's too much uncertainty for that), perhaps tell your own growth story at your company in terms of impact and responsibility.
Talk about how you and your team live your values every day. Talk about a time when you or someone on your team went used your values to drive decision-making.
Surprise and Delight
Candidates in some markets are treated like numbers in a lotto machine—hopefully you’re not going to do that!
Taking a little time to surprise the candidate can really set your offer apart from everyone else and can help it get accepted.
A few ideas here:
- Offer for them to speak to other people in the company who've had a similar journey to theirs
- Make sure you keep in touch with the candidate throughout the process. For example, if they had an interview with other people, ask them how they liked meeting the other people in the team
- Provide personalised feedback, especially for people that have gone really far in the process. The further they go, the more feedback there should be. Recording Looms with feedback is always a nice touch.
- Pay attention to something they say during the interview process—perhaps interests they have. Could be something you can surprise them with during their onboarding!
Quick Do's and Don'ts
- Be transparent with every candidate on things like what you can offer, and what are the requirements
- Be honest if you do like the candidate but, equally, if you have some reservations. It's perfectly OK to say "I really liked your answers here and your attitude throughout the process has led me to believe you can be a good fit. The slight concerns are your experience in X, so I'll make sure as your manager that I get you up to speed on that as quickly as possible, but it's also something for you to consider."
- Be prepared to tell them that you need to double-check something in case you don't have answers (e.g. on things like raises, annual equity refreshes etc). It’s OK not to know all the answers off the bat, but make sure you verify and go back to candidates on their questions.
- Overpromise on things you’re not sure you can deliver, like raises. You can provide a potential path in most cases, so it's good to position it that way. Remember, development paths are not only in titles or going into management.
- Do not promise an offer in any conversation other than the offer call (e.g. interviews and pre-close calls)
- Do not tell the candidates that they are the only choice, even if that is the case. You should not be looking to have a cat-and-mouse relationship with the candidate, nor do you want to feel like either side overpowers the other. This decision is equally important to both sides. It should be entered into with the full understanding that, while they may like us, there are other companies and, while you may like them, there are other candidates.
The Pre-Close Call
If you feel like you don't have enough of a grasp on the candidate's expectations, you can certainly employ a pre-close call.
Ideally, you've built such a rapport already before the final interview that you know what the expectations are, but that doesn't always happen!
In decades past, pre-close calls were really aggressive tools used to pressure candidates into committing before you commit to them.
That is no longer acceptable. Instead, you should aim to level with the candidate and have a candid conversation on the situation so far and what they’re feeling.
Here is how you can start a conversation by stating excitement and hinting an offer is coming soon:
“We're doing a final team sync, but we’re extremely excited about you. Just wanted to take a second to chat about some final items.”
Then ask if they have any questions or feedback about the company or role, the process, and everything else so far. Give them the space to clarify any concerns they might have.
Here is an example conversation—not a script!
Pre-close statement: “Assuming we extended an offer to you that made sense financially, do you see yourself joining us?”
Potential answer 1️⃣ : candidate says "Yes"
If they did not hesitate, and you’re the first choice, ask these additional questions:
- “Have you discussed “your company name” with anyone else required to make a decision?”
- “Theoretically, if everything were to work out, when is the earliest you could start?”
Potential answer 2️⃣ : candidate is unsure whether or not they'd join:
- Ask very candidly “What are your considerations/what is holding you back?”:
- Repeat back what they said so you can confirm you understood correctly.
- Discuss any of the considerations you can address at the time.
- Ask "What is your timeline for making a decision?"
Potential answer 3️⃣ : Candidate insists that they want an offer first and then will consider things after:
- The likelihood of them joining is lower, but, ultimately, you have to go ahead. Agree with that idea cheerily: “Absolutely! We’re super stoked and will be getting back to you ASAP.”
- "Can you share with me some of the considerations you have—perhaps I can address them here directly?"
- Ask, "What is your timeline for making a decision?"
- End by describing what the next steps in the process are and lock in the next call with them.
Reaching an agreement
For scenarios 1 and 2 above you may want to ask the below and gauge their reaction.
You can ask for scenario 3 as well, but don’t be surprised if this doesn’t yield a concrete answer. Instead, try to find out if there are other determining factors other than the numbers of the offer.
Ask them, "If we were to make you the following offer (state the offer in full detail, including cash, equity, benefits, etc), would you accept?"
If they say they’ll accept, you have a tentative agreement. If they’re still thinking about it, find out why by going through the above questions again.
I want to highlight that the above is an idealized call and it doesn’t always pan out this way.
Some candidates may not feel like they can give you a direct answer, so just back away and accept that you may have to make an offer without assurance.
Making An Offer—The Call And Email
It’s likely you’ll have an approval process for any offers, so please make sure that any offers you make are approved by all parties that need to approve them (Finance, Hiring Manager, CEO).
I’ve seen way too many recruiters with years and years of experience having to go back to candidates with their tail between their legs because they were too overzealous. Learn from their mistakes!
My advice is to go in with the best offer you can make. Because of all your great prep and pre-closing, you should have a really good idea of what it would take monetarily to close the candidate. Make sure to present that to the approval committee.
My recommendation is to schedule a call, then send an email as confirmation. As useful as email is, I am still a great believer in actually hearing/seeing the live reaction of people about an offer because that will tell you a lot.
Let's go and give the candidate the good news with a verbal offer!
Firstly, schedule the call with them over email rather than call them out of the blue.
This is because you want to make sure they’re in the right mental and physical space. You may want to hint in the email that it will be good news, and that way potentially gauge their excitement as well.
During the conversation, start by asking them how they thought the hiring process went so far and any thoughts and feedback. Listen first, so that you can gauge how to proceed.
After that, let them know you'd love for them to join and you’re having this call to make them a job offer.
Start by going through both your company and the particular role’s missions. That way you can walk them through the journey and the plan and help them imagine themselves already as part of the team.
Get them excited to come in and change the face of what their position can look like and create work that they can look back on and think—this is part of their legacy! (this might not work with every candidate, but just an idea).
Give them the verbal offer and explain it, especially if there are components like OTE or equity or benefits which can differ from company to company and need clarification.
Describe the process from here on in, making sure to touch upon:
- Explain the documents they will receive and sign (employment contract or formal offer letter)
- After they sign, they need to hand in their notice. Do not assume everyone knows how to hand in their notice, and do not pressure people to hand in their notice before they receive their contract—it is bad practice. More guidance below.
- If need be, ask if they can negotiate down their notice period (especially relevant in Europe). Using holidays to "offset" a notice period does not count as they will still be employees of the other company, but just on annual leave.
- Walk them through the onboarding and make them feel like they’re already part of the team.
- Ask if they have any other questions and encourage them to ask questions throughout the process as well. You’ll be surprised how far this small gesture goes to make people feel welcomed.
Walking them through their resignation
This is dependent on acceptance and whether they’re able to join on the specified start date. You can mention something like:
"How do you think the conversation with your manager will go? - do you expect a counter-offer? - if yes - Why haven't they given you the (level, salary bump, promotion) before?"
Something to be aware of, but not necessarily mention, is that, while people are tempted by counter-offers, statistics are against taking a counter-offer.
The company now knows the person wants to leave and often they are looking to buy themselves time to find the person's replacement. This is a very old-fashioned attitude, but a lot of companies, and even individual managers, still think this way.
The offer email
Something to note is that offer emails are binding in some jurisdictions, so please make sure to be mindful of that if you are not sending out unintended offer emails.
In places like the UK, and most of Europe, after the offer email you’d also need to send an Employment contract (unlike in the US where, more often than not, it’s only a formal offer letter).
Here is a sample offer email I send out:
Thank you for your time just now—it was great catching up!
As mentioned, we’d love to make you an offer for the X role at X company!
- Title of position
- Base salary
- Line manager: Name
- Length of probation - if relevant
- Any other relevant info, which may include early signing bonus, start date etc.
- Standard benefits.
Please let me know if you'd like to accept the offer or if you have any questions. The above offer is subject to us carrying out 2 professional reference calls, one of which should be with your most recent manager. Please provide their contact details, including their email address and contact number, and give them a heads up that we’ll be contacting them shortly via either method. We will send you all the paperwork with the agreed start date of X. In order for me to prepare it, can you please give me the following details:
- Full name
- Current address
- Passport/right of work document
We're very much looking forward to having you on the team!
Your applicant tracking system might have some of these templates for you to use too.
My recommendation is that you should be looking to go with your best offer and have a candidate closed down on a number and conditions early on—save everyone time!
You should also make them aware that you try to go in with your best offer and put that thought at the top of their mind.
However, negotiation is a balance!
You don't want to bend over backward for anyone, trust me it never works out in the end. Nor do you want to be completely stubborn and not engage at all.
Think of recruiting as dating. If you play too hard to get—we're grown people, that is manipulative! If you are doing everything, and the other party is barely engaging or being too demanding, that is not good either.
Simply lay your chips on the table and make sure that you are being transparent. Then you ask them to be as transparent as you and, if they aren’t and end up not joining, that’s what’s meant to be.
Think about it, if you’re being honest and level with the candidate, and they turn around and try to play or manipulate, you don't need that energy and attitude.
If you think negotiation is reasonable, and you are comfortable with it, make sure that you have the space in the range and you have the internal parity as well.
You also don’t want to let everyone negotiate as much as they can because, eventually, you’ll end up with a large gender pay gap. It’s been shown time and time again that women do not negotiate as much as men!
Here is something I mention to candidates during the offer stage, because I work on keeping the salary ranges at the companies I work in competitive and current:
“We worked with a compensation consultant to develop a system of career levels and associated salary ranges. This new system is helping to make offers competitive and equitable by paying around the 80th percentile of the market rate, adjusted for cost of living. It also allows us to create a much more fair system for existing and future employees by removing negotiation from the picture; otherwise, we just reward great negotiators rather than basing offers on experience and skills.”
This, I’ve found, has three main benefits:
- Clearly states your position so there are less back-and-forth negotiations over small things
- Demonstrates that the salary ranges you’ve created aren’t just plucked out of thin air
- Shows your commitment to equity and internal parity.
Congratulations, your offer has been accepted! However, just because the candidate has accepted the offer, your work isn’t done.
Don’t let your new employee feel that you've dropped off the face of the Earth and left them on their own (nor should you stalk them of course).
The hiring process can be tough, so make sure you show them that they’ve done their bit.
Once they’ve signed their employment contract/formal offer letter, keep up with them by checking how their resignation went.
Make sure that a couple of weeks before they start (if longer notice period), you check on how they’re doing.
Another good idea is to invite them to a key team meeting or a social.
Make them feel part of the team and welcome throughout the process, especially before they start.
Related article: How to nail new employee preboarding
Offers should be the last piece of the hiring process puzzle, but they’re a piece you will have to start building from the beginning with every single candidate.
Do not leave discussion around the offer to the end because, often, you’re going to end up wasting time on candidates who may be looking for completely different things to what you can offer.
As always, good luck!
Some more resources to help: