In 48 hours or so, I (and around 4 million others) will cast our vote in the Scottish Independence Referendum. A simple “Yes” or “No” stating whether we believe Scotland should be an independent country.
I make binary, Yes or No decisions every day. Many are important – my decision whether to reject or shortlist someone in a recruitment process can have far-reaching personal and professional significance for individuals. But I’m paid to make decisions and to offer advice and judgement on key issues – it’s not something I usually struggle with and I rarely sit on the fence.
But this decision is different.
With business interests on both sides of the border, I’ve watched the debate avidly for two years or more now and, with a matter of days to go, I’m still listening to the arguments of both sides as they try to persuade that they have the best offer for my future. In the Executive Search business, I try to persuade people to leave one employer and join another every day. This Referendum process has given me insight into what that can be like for a candidate – this decision feels similar to choosing between offers from companies – and there are lessons to be learned for all of us involved in that process.
The Job Offer
On the one hand, I have “Yes & Co” promising me a brave new world in their funky new start up business. “Join us for a chance to start afresh,” they’re telling me. “Leave the dinosaur company that’s holding you back and treating you poorly. Here lies prosperity, autonomy and great opportunity” – some of the biggest motivators for most of us. It’s a compelling offer and who wouldn’t be tempted? But when looking at the small print on the offer letter I begin to wonder: is the business plan as fully formed as they suggested at the interview, why are there are no signed agreements in place and budget forecasts seem a bit “finger in the air”, to say the least. The Dragons in the Den would be sending this business packing for sure, but if I can see beyond that – just have faith – then it could well come good. But it still feels that I’m being asked to accept a job offer even though the company can’t tell me for another 18 months how much I’ll earn (or what currency I’ll be paid in) and what the other benefits might be. As a recruiter, would I advise a client or candidate that this is a sensible way to proceed?
On the other hand, I have my current employer, “No Thanks plc”. I’ve worked there a long time – it hasn’t always been easy and I’ve felt for a while that they haven’t recognised my potential and contribution. But they have just heard that I’m thinking of leaving and have thrown everything at me to persuade me to stay. The Directors even came down from head office to see me. They offered a pay rise and more responsibility while also reminding me how many start-up companies fail. They also reminded me that their employment policy is that no-one leaves and comes back – ever!
Well, this new deal is pretty much what I wanted in the first place – if only they’d offered me this before I went for the interview with Yes & Co. But now that I think of it, what about the other reasons I started looking in the first place? Will anything really change if I agree to stay, and why has it taken the prospect of me leaving for them to realise what I’m worth?
This is classic recruitment counter-offer stuff. I’m now confused and unsure whether to accept the new job or stay where I am. I’ve been bombarded with promises from both sides – and I’m not convinced I have the full picture from either.
In my job, I’ve seen many individuals faced with this dilemma. I work hard to help candidates and clients work through this process: weigh up the options, understand the drivers and motivators and make a decision based on the best information available.
It strikes me that this Referendum debate has many parallels with the interview, offer and counter-offer process. While a lot of people have very clear views about their decision, a large number seem to be uncertain and are still battling with the choices presented to them. For me, it has brought home some key points that all of us in recruitment should remember:
A new job is not just for Christmas. While a new job is rarely for life any more, most people don’t want to make poor career choices. When we make a job offer, we’re asking someone to trust our offer and potentially change their lives – perhaps leave a secure role, relocate their family etc. Their decision to accept or reject the offer creates a “sliding doors” moment that may have a dramatic impact on their personal and professional existence for years to come. We need to take our responsibility seriously.
Be open and honest about the opportunity. In interviews, I’ve experienced employers (and recruiters) that gloss over, or even exaggerate, the reality of the business prospects, the company culture, or make wild or vague promises about the support and resources on offer to the new role that will never materialise. Joining a new company, especially when leaving a reasonably secure job, is always a bit of a gamble so we should do what we can to be honest with candidates about what they’re joining. Allow candidates to base their decision on as much factual information as possible and be clear about the limitations, potential downsides and the skeletons in the cupboard.
Expect the counter-offer. Whether it’s a desperate, last-minute attempt to keep someone, or a genuine recognition that they should have done more earlier, employers will usually want to hang on to talent. The outcome of a counter-offer will mostly depend on the candidate’s circumstances, history with the company and confidence in the alternatives presented. But it can bring doubt to an otherwise straightforward decision and de-stabilise the appointment process. Employers and recruiters should expect the counter-offer and plan for it. Rehearse the potential scenarios with the candidate and you will get an insight into what the outcome might be when the time comes – don’t let it take you by surprise at resignation time.
Appeal to the mind as well as the heart. I’ve heard countless people talking about the struggle to win “hearts and minds” during this Referendum campaign. But it’s equally important in selection processes and the best employers and recruiters work hard at this. Over the years I’ve witnessed many accepted offers fall through because, although the candidate’s heart wants the challenge and opportunity (and no doubt enjoyed the flattery of the offer), their mind begins to think about the “what-ifs” and the negative aspects of making the change. Add a counter-offer into the mix and it’s very difficult to pull this one back. Execute a recruitment and selection process that wins the hearts and minds of candidates and your offer is much more likely to be accepted without contest.
People are people. We’re not machines – we have emotions and feelings and we’re not always rational. The seemingly equal split of opinion in this Referendum, demonstrates that we’ll never convince everyone, however strongly we feel our offer is in their best interests. We must give candidates (and employers) space to make their own mind up and respect their final decision – however long it takes and however much we think they are wrong.
I’ve never taken a job offer process lightly. I’ve always believed in the importance of it, to both employers and candidates, and I always strive to help both sides make the best, informed decision. This Referendum debate has underlined the importance of that to me.
As for who will get my vote on Thursday? I’m still listening to the offers, weighing up the options and trying to understand if my heart and my mind are in total agreement. I am that swithering candidate who needs more time to make my mind up. You’ll just have to be patient with me.