In the job search process, getting an offer is probably the most anxiety provoking time in the candidate/client relationship. It's positively unnerving to think about all the change that comes with a simple "yes", so I try to offer my candidates an opportunity to internalize what that moment will bring well in advance of the formal offer. It's what you do BEFORE the offer that can help set you apart from other candidates, provides crucial insight and prevents acceptance mistakes. For the hiring manager, getting buy-in from your colleagues and clients can take a lot of the burden off you, and validate your decision-making capabilities.
If you are a candidate in the final stage of the interview process, put yourself in your own shoes when the big moment comes; how will you feel? Will you experience elation? Sorrow? Anxiety? Relief? Ambiguity? Despite the dollars, will it feel like you might be settling for a role that will under-utilize your total skill set? Or can you honestly say it's the best, most natural fit for you? If the new job requires it, can you make the case to your spouse for relocation? How about your kids, will they be on-board with a move? Did you ask all the right questions? Did you get answers to your toughest questions? How comfortable are you working with your new boss? Any concerns there? Truth is, most people will have one or two lingering questions about their new job that can not be addressed until they are sitting in the seat. But, if these one or two concerns could impact your future very negatively, better to exercise a healthy dose of cautious optimism. Get to the bottom of it...before the offer letter hits your in-box.
My advice? Try to internalize the reality of an offer as much as you can before the company makes one and figure out what you need to know before you say yes or no. Chances are, if you have underlying concerns or big blank spaces in your data, then you haven't got enough information to make a sound decision. Suggest a lunch meeting with your would-be boss, or a final round with the President or CEO. This might give you an opportunity to ask the big picture questions about growth, stability and overall direction of the company. Talk to someone who has been with the company for more than a year, but not more than five. Ask them why they came on board. The information they have to share will be recent and relevant enough to the company's current status in the marketplace. And, their decision-making process may be more recent and relevant to yours, too.
The three to four hours you have invested in "getting to know you" interviews may all have happened in the confines of a board room. This is often where hiring managers can portray a sense of confidence and control, where distractions are minimized. A setting, such as a restaurant, outside the formal office environment may also give each person a chance to observe basic social, focus and communication skills in a situation where distraction is unavoidable. If you're going for the deep dive on the company but there is little data available on overall employee or client satisfaction, consider doing references on the company. That might sound a little overly analytical, even paranoid, but why not? Your potential employer will be exercising every opportunity to uncover information about you before asking you to join the company, why shouldn't you?
Hiring mistakes happen every day, but the ones that can be easily prevented by a little due-diligence are the hardest to justify. Same thing holds true for you, the employee. Finding out in advance that you are about to be the fifth person hired in four years for the same role ought to be a sign that something is amiss here. While it's nice to be considered the potential magic bullet...the problem is likely outside your sphere of control. And why would you want to be in the set-up-for-failure seat anyway?
At the C-Level (CEO, CFO, CTO, CMO) it's completely normal to ask for a professional reference from the hiring manager. Assure them you are not looking to validate a concern, but that you want to be sure you know from someone with experience exactly what you need to be successful in the role. Addressing areas such as communication skills, strategic alignment, specific knowledge gaps and conflict resolution can go a long way to preventing major road bumps in the near term and into the future.
For the hiring manager, it's just as anxiety provoking to put your stamp of approval on a candidate. It's not only you and your team that will triumph or suffer with the next hire, it's your competence as a decision maker that will be in question if you hire the wrong person. A lot of questions about your process, the primary criteria and how you prioritized it, your interview skills, your due diligence process, your instincts and ability gauge a person's capabilities and character will all be under review. And, guess what happens if you really screw up? That's right, your team will also have a hard time trusting your judgment in the future. So don't count on them to back up your assessments if you have a track record of misfire hires.
What to do if you're not sure whether your top candidate is the best person for the company? Ask for additional interviews with the top 2 to 3 candidates and begin a pro and con list. Request that others on your team take part in the interview process and have each interviewer meet and rank the candidates based on top criteria including education, experience, current and future expectations of the role, image and presentation, communication skills, cultural fit, rapport with the team, and any other areas that will help determine that candidate's potential success in the role. A skills or personality assessment may also be employed as a way to validate or rule-out concerns about the candidate(s) in question. Ask the members of your team who worked closely with the last person in the role about what capabilities that person lacked, and whether they have targeted the right level professional to replace them.
If you are adding to your sales team, ask your top client's opinion(s) about what they look for in a salesperson. This demonstrates not only that you value their opinion, but that you're open and willing to listen to their needs. They may offer valuable insights you and your team hadn't thought about....they may also offer referrals to other candidates who could make a more compelling fit.
When it comes to making an offer, much like with a sales deal, time is the killer. It is critical to set expectations between receipt and acceptance of an offer. Adding an expiration date to the offer letter is a great way to reinforce your expectations. Neither party wants to be kept waiting for a number of reasons. As a candidate, if you need more time than two weeks to make a decision, it's time to go back to square one and ask whether this is really the right job for you. As a company, if you have identified a great candidate but can't get closure within two weeks, that's usually a sign that the feeling isn't mutual. Best to keep the interview process going until you close a candidate who both wow's and woo's you, too.