Should a Candidate only accept offers in writing?

QUESTION: Is it unreasonable to expect a candidate to verbally accept an offer pending an official offer letter and contract being sent by the client? I have put an offer to a head of procurement this evening, and although delighted with the offer, I have extended. She said she obviously cannot accept until she sees the paperwork. To be honest, the client has been annoyed. What has been your experience with this?  – Steph, Denver, Colorado

ANSWER: The word that jumped out at me there was obviously she cannot accept until she sees the paperwork. That means that part of the process was you did not set up the expectation on a verbal acceptance. So if it was obvious that a written offer . . . Well, that is her protocol. I am not beating the candidate up, I am just saying the obviously shows me an obvious flaw in the process.  

It was part of her process to not have a written offer.  A lot of people, never accept an offer until you see it in writing, which is true, but you can have a verbal acceptance contingent upon the written offer matching identically the verbal offer, which is how I used to do it. 

So going forward, what you want to do as part of your process is to say, especially after the first interview, this opportunity could begin to move pretty briskly. We want to make sure Mr. or Ms. Candidate that you have collected enough information that you are in a position, when and if an offer comes, that you can make a decision quickly. That means generally either on the spot or within hours. One thing that might not be possible for you at the end of this process is – I need to think about it. The good news is, especially if you are doing this after the first interview, we have a week or two right now to begin thinking about it. 

My whole strategy with candidates was to fast forward the thinking about it throughout the process. Why not start thinking about it now? Because when you start thinking about it now, it puts you in a position, Mr. or Ms. Candidate to ask better questions in the interview process or at least those questions you might think are slightly politically incorrect and do not to make you look like you are only asking about benefits, compensation, or bonuses. For me to broach with the client on your behalf as we go through this so that at the point of the offer if the money is in alignment with what we have been talking about, you are in a position to say yes, or based on the information you have collected through that process, you are in a position to say – No, I do not want it.  

In my office it was rare, we did not let people think about stuff because “I want to think about it” is generally, more than half the time, I am looking at other things and I want to have all my options open. Well, no, with me you are going to accept or reject my offer on its own merits. If my offer is 2nd or 3rd on your list of the places you would want to work, then it is a No and that is okay. Mr. or Ms. Candidate, you can say No. I am okay with a No. What I am not okay with is a Maybe.  

For those of you who think I am being unreasonable and we should allow people to think more, you probably find that you have counter offers and fall off more than the average recruiter. That deep empathy is actually costing you money. In my humble opinion, I have not been given arguments that are compelling enough for me over the years to understand why trying to have somebody make a decision within those type of parameters when I have given them a week or two in advance to think about it. I did not spring this on them the day before. None of this was sprung on them over time. 

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