Dealing With a Meltdown During an Offer

It’s actually happened to me a few times during my search career – a meltdown right after an offer is made. Most of the time, it (the meltdown) can be avoided if everything’s going like it should and all the players involved are executing like they should.  When dealing with someone who’s suddenly experienced really high stress, employers and search professionals need to read the symptoms. Start out by assessing the problem – think about the meltdown. Why isn’t the candidate who wanted to graze on greener pastures jumping for joy when the offer arrives? Something must be out of whack!

Let’s look at some of the reasons why candidates become overly stressed-out during the offer phase:

  • The offer is promised at a certain time, but doesn’t arrive for hours. Most offers are either presented verbally or via e-mail before the hard copy’s sent out. When you’ve told a candidate an offer is being sent at a certain time,  follow through and do what you’ve said. It’s really not that hard.
  • The offer contains information that hasn’t been explained in advance of sending it. This could include the usual conditional language –  the offer is subject to successful completion of references, education verification or background checks, etc. – and while it’s fairly common,  if it’s new to the candidate , the language could create high anxiety. No surprises, please…
  • The offer is presented verbally but the written version is different. When you tell someone one thing and then change the terms in the written version, well…that’s just plain wrong. I like to get my hands on an offer before the candidate reads it, so there’s no room for ambiguity. Don’t make a candidate guess what you mean – tell it like it is.

So now that you know some of the main meltdown-inducing offer complications a candidate can experience, here are a few tips that can help you avoid candidate stress and keep thing running smoothly:

  1. Recruiters and employers need to take their sweet time when presenting an offer. This is a very BIG (ok – HUGE) decision for an individual to make. They might have questions or want to talk about the offer’s details or to even negotiate a key point or two. Block off an hour on your schedule to present and discuss an offer. Most don’t take that long – some will.
  2. Make sure the economics in the offer are clearly spelled out. This includes the base salary, incentive bonus, signing bonus, and relocation reimbursement. The last thing a candidate wants to do is accept an offer, start their new job and experience short-term cash flow issues. NOPE – not good.
  3. Make sure both parties have a good understanding on the actual start date, and build in a buffer (for an early arrival or a few days’ delay) just in case Murphy shows up. While most candidates feel obligated to work out their notice, many employers are ready to deliver empty boxes an hour or so after the resignation is received. If the candidate is going to work for a competitor, the empty boxes and security could arrive within minutes. I always like to use language that states “ON OR BEFORE” a certain date to allow the candidate some flexibility if they need to start a few days earlier.
  4. Have some empathy for the person receiving the offer. You have NO IDEA what’s going on in their head or in their life. Stop and listen to their concerns – be a good sounding board – and allow them to get their concerns on the table. Start with the biggest issue and work down the list, making sure your candidate has checked each box before you move on. This may take time and multiple phone calls to work out, but stick with it until it’s over.

The  offer is a critical phase of a search process and –  if not handled correctly – can become a disaster. Make sure you put yourself in the candidate’s shoes for a few minutes. Forget how you would handle the situation: during an offer, it’s all about the candidate. Plain and simple.

Hope this helps you (as much as it helps me) remember the importance of  spending the time and energy necessary to present an offer and have a successful outcome!

About the author


Tim Tolan

Tim Tolan is the Senior Partner of the Healthcare IT and Services Practice of Sanford Rose Associates. He has conducted searches for CEOs, presidents, senior vice presidents, vice presidents of business development, product development and sales. Tim is also the co-author of "The CEO’s Guide to Talent Acquisition – Finding Talent Your Competitors Overlook," available on Amazon.