Three people during interviewsThe offer process can be a make or break part of the hiring process. It can certainly be a nervy part of the process, particularly for the candidates, but especially for the employer. Of course the candidate is in nervous anticipation of an offer, but the employer is in the process of trying to close the deal and, ironically, will soon have to transfer some of their power in the hiring process to the candidate as they show their hand by making an offer – and then leaving the candidate to decide.

Once the offer is made the employer is a little powerless and left to wonder whether the candidate is keen on their business, or is going to use the offer as leverage for their existing employer or a competitor. The candidate has control, unless you, the employer, can take some priming steps prior to extending the offer to help you stay in control of the salary negotiation process.

I suggest that no offers are extended to candidates before they are asked the five “priming” questions below. The first and second questions can be asked during first and/or second interview and/or the offer meeting, whereas the final three questions should be asked prior to offer, after the candidate has had a full appraisal of the company and role.

1. If you decided to stay with your current employer, what would most likely next be your next career move and how long before you are able to make that move?

What you are trying to establish with this question is whether there is a likelihood that the candidate may be susceptible to a counter offer. So, you are trying to understand what the candidate’s current career potential is with hos/her role, which gives you a clear benchmark to assess how much your role will advance this candidate’s career now or in the future. This means you can shape and subtly adjust your role (and communicate this to the candidate), to ensure that the role is as enticing as possible from a career point of view and certainly more enticing than a potential counter offer.

2. Can you tell me again why joining us and taking on this role would be of value to you from a personal and career development point of view? If you were looking back on this in five years how would you explain this move to a potential employer at that point?

The strategy here is simple. Rather than taking the obvious approach of telling them what all the benefits are – which can make the candidate feel as if they are being manipulated and therefore possibly less open to persuasion – let them explain to you exactly what the benefits of joining you are from a more considered, long-term perspective. This approach is great because the employee reminds him/her self of the benefits of working in this role without you having to use coercing tactics. If they have missed anything when giving their appraisal of reasons to join, you might want to fill in any gaps with additional benefits – which they have overlooked – while they are receptive!

3. If you received a job offer from us today, would you be in a position to accept or reject it?

Of course, the ideal candidate who is keen will say, “pretty much immediately.” But, in reality, people might want some time to think about it, but be concerned about any one who needs longer than 24 hours as they may be stalling as they are awaiting another offer or want to use this as a bargaining chip to get a counter offer from their current employer, which may take time. If they do expect to delay in their answer to your offer, I’d recommend probing a little deeper.

4. If we were to make you an offer, when would you be able to start employment with us, e.g how much notice do you need to give?

As you are probably aware, in the US candidates will typically need to give two weeks notice and in the UK this will be 1 month’s notice. Therefore candidates should be able to be quite specific about the date of starting and if they are vague, it could be that they are still intending to court other offers/counter offers even after accepting your offer, so make sure to follow up if their answer lacks clarity, certainty and the notice period is longer than the norm for their industry, profession or seniority level.

5. The crunch question. At what salary level would you accept our offer without need for further discussion and at what point would you walk away?

Most candidates will want to hear the offer from you and will not be used to having to volunteer figures themselves. Of course, if their figures are within your pay ranges you are safe to extend the offer, but if their expectations are out of your range then you should discuss that up-front prior to extending the offer to see if they have any flexibility. Alternately, you may need to delay extending the offer until you have talked to your compensation review team.

The whole point of this questioning process is to ensure that you remain in control of the negotiation and don’t extend a job offer until you have had all of your key questions answered.

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