The Employment Offer Stage: More Dangerous Than You May Think

The company and candidate have successfully navigated a long, arduous courtship and now seek to consummate their relationship with an offer of employment. It is almost over, or is it? As the two following anecdotes illustrate, a promising employment marriage can easily be derailed at the offer stage:

  • The entrepreneur/CEO has been extremely discerning, meeting a large number of candidates before he finds the one he believes ‘gets it’. After considerable due diligence, the CEO puts together what he considers to be a ‘fair’ offer for the candidate. He makes it clear to us that he has no interest in prolonged negotiations and wants reasonable assurances that the candidate is agreeable to the framework being offered. The candidate responds, not inappropriately, that ‘we are in the right ballpark’. A formal offer is presented. For the candidate the move is an important step in her career and she wants to be careful. Caution and attention to detail are in fact attributes being sought for the CFO role being offered. The candidate takes the offer to her lawyer for review and then formally counters with proposed revisions to the severance, stock options, vacations, and benefits provisions. The CEO becomes frustrated by the delays and what he considers a worrisome ‘nickel and diming’ attitude. When the candidate digs her heels on an issue, one which by itself would be considered minor, the CEO concludes he has the ‘wrong’ person and withdraws the offer. The candidate is dumbfounded.


  • Due to internal equity concerns, the publicly traded organization made it clear that there is a hard compensation cap for the role they are seeking to hire. There can be no negotiations beyond that ceiling. It is agreed that candidates will be advised early in the process of the compensation parameters to provide them the opportunity to opt out if it is misaligned with their needs. After three months of searching, interviewing, and all manner of due diligence, the company makes an offer to a senior executive. The company’s offer is at the very top of their band. Rather than accept the offer however, the candidate counters with a salary request approximately 15% higher than that presented in the offer. When reminded of the discussions at the outset of the process the candidate responds “I heard you but certainly didn’t think that no flexibility meant NO flexibility at all. I figured once they got to know me and what I can do for them they would find a way to put a package together that was closer to what I need to make the move”. The deal ultimately fell through. The company was dumbfounded.

You may well point out that the common denominator in both of these failed offers was the search firm charged with their success (that’s us), and you may be right. But the anecdotes also point out that the offer stage is anything but the curtain call at the close of a successful selection production. Rather, it is another opportunity for personalities, values, styles and even personal peccadillos to reveal themselves and be gauged. It is a stage no different, no less fraught with risks than the interviewing and reference checking stages that precede it. And notwithstanding the effort, time and expense expended by all concerned, a number of these relationships will be terminated rather than consummated at this very stage.

About the Author

Robert Hebert is the founder and Managing Partner of StoneWood Group Inc., a leading executive search firm in Canada. Since 1981, he has helped firms across a wide range of sectors address their senior recruiting, assessment and leadership development requirements.
Contact Robert by email at [email protected] or call (1) 416-365-9494 EXT 777

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