How to Secure A Top Candidate If You Can’t Offer A Top Salary

Free Online Recruiting SoftwareWith the talent war raging, candidate demands increasing and attitudes towards work shifting, securing the candidates your business needs is difficult at the best of times.

With many candidates enjoying multiple offers, convincing that top candidate to sign on the dotted line can be a nightmare – even when you have pocket aces in hand.

I remember when I was actively recruiting. I was working with this Digital PM called Susie, and I knew from the moment she sent me her resume that she was going to get multiple offers. I couldn’t wait to get her details loaded into our recruiting software.

It was a symptom of the market as much as anything else – she was great but not exceptional, but I knew she’d be in-demand. She was working with another recruiter too which, as any recruiter will know, isn’t ideal.

So when I got the first offer through for her, I was thrilled. She’d had three interviews with them and both sides were buzzing: they loved each other. It was a match made in heaven. Then they made her an offer – $15k over the market average and $25k over her current salary. I knew she’d leap at it.

Except she didn’t.

In the end she went with another company and, heartbreakingly, another recruiter. And that’s the moral of the story: even when you have pocket aces, securing that perfect candidate is never guaranteed.

Which brings us to this article. What if you don’t have pocket aces? What if you can’t afford to offer $15k over market average?

Do you have to resort to scraping the candidate barrel as the cream of the crop head to your better paying competitors?

The answer is no, at least not in general.

There will always be financially motivated candidates, who spend their time chasing the highest bidder. You can’t get around that. But, and this is critical, you probably don’t want them anyway. Candidates who make important career decisions purely based on finances are often short-sighted and mercenary – wouldn’t you rather have candidates who see you for what you’re worth, in the holistic sense?

Using salary to snare top candidates isn’t recruitment best practice. Have you heard the adage, never sell on price? There’s a reason for that. If you sell someone on the money, you’re buying their custom but not their loyalty.

It’s a dangerous game to play. Look at Wal-Mart.

Their main sell is their prices – save money, live better. If I want to buy a sofa, I don’t go to Wal-Mart because I like the company, respect their values or think they’re any great shakes in the design department. I buy a sofa there because it’s the most affordable. Then say I check out HomeGoods.

HomeGoods have an offer on their sofas right now, and suddenly Wal-Mart isn’t the most affordable option. The result? I take my business to HomeGoods, because I have absolutely no loyalty to Wal-Mart. The second someone undercuts them, I’m gone.

It’s actually a particularly relevant analogy right now, as that’s almost exactly what’s happened, with Wal-Mart losing market share as quickly as you can say please don’t sell on price.

In recruitment terms, if you sell on salary alone you risk your candidates jumping ship as soon as your competitors make them a better offer. With the ever-increasing cost of candidate acquisition, that’s no small thing.

So what’s the alternative to selling on salary?

Sell on value instead.

These are basic sales principles, I know, but they’re so often forgotten when it comes to negotiating an offer. Selling on value means selling to the candidate’s need. It means aligning what you offer with what they want – in a much more holistic sense.

What do candidates want, then?

Well, there’s no easy answer – as I’m sure you well know. Different candidates want different things: for one, maybe it’s career progression; another, a fulfilling mission statement they can get behind.

There seems to be another study on candidate motivation cropping up almost every day – the variation amongst them tells us all we need to know. Although there are some common (and common sense) themes, candidates are individuals. They bring individual pressures, motivations and priorities to the table.

It’s your job to work out what the candidate you want, wants from you.

This comes down to your interview technique. Many managers I worked with would approach an interview as a chance to understand the candidate from the perspective of their skills and experience: what they can do.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a great tactic. It might tell you whether you want to hire that candidate but it doesn’t give you any fuel to sell your own job and company back to them. When it comes to making them an offer, it’s much more likely that they’ll turn it down – because you’re not pressing the right buttons.

So, use the interview as an opportunity to understand a candidate from a holistic perspective. Obviously you need to know whether they’re right for you, but you also need to know what’s right for them.

These are the sorts of questions you should be asking:

recruiting software

  • What about this role piqued your interest?
  • What would you be doing if you won the lottery?
  • Describe your ideal working environment?
  • What could we do to make this opportunity more attractive?
  • What do you love about your current role?
  • What would you change about your current role?
  • What would stop you from accepting an offer?
  • How would you evaluate two competing offers?
  • What’s most important to you when evaluating a career opportunity?

As posts, “asking the right questions and actively listening to the candidates gives us the roadmap for how to recruit and close them on our opportunity. It also gives us information to leverage in order to create a compelling offer.”

In other words, how well you understand your candidate will have a huge impact on whether they accept your offer. If there’s an alignment between what they’re looking for and what you can give, you’re well placed to secure that candidate.

It’s not black and white though. The spanner in the works, so to speak, is cultural fit – and it can’t be ignored. Susie, the digital PM I mentioned, ultimately chose another offer because “she listened to her gut” (I kid you not, her words not mine) and felt she’d “just fit in better”.

The problem with cultural fit is it can seem so subjective, some ethereal concept that no one can really put into words.

One of the best things you can do to improve your recruitment function is make cultural fit as objective as possible. Ultimately, improving your ability to assess cultural fit will have a big impact, not just on recruitment but also on retention.

As a first step, this calls for a deep engagement with your company mission and values. Talk to front-line employees across the business and ask them what they love about your company – and what they’d change. Ask them what they think you stand for and assess recurrent themes. Look at employee profiles and find common denominators for success and failure.

From that you can develop a more objective, insight-led understanding of what your company is, and the type of people who do well with you.

Then, develop a detailed questionnaire for prospective candidates aimed at finding out whether they’d fit in (and hiring managers should share this with external recruiters, so they can source better fit candidates for you).

You’re then better positioned to make hiring decisions, and better positioned to sell your company back. Tell your top candidates exactly why they’d fit in here, and why they’re most likely to succeed with you, and they’re much more likely to accept your offer. It’s about taking control of ‘gut-feel’.

There’s a final thing all recruiters and hiring managers need to do, to give yourself the best possible chances of securing that top candidate: improve the candidate experience.

The candidate experience is one of the biggest factors contributing to dropped offers and lost candidates. We’ve written about candidate experience a lot, so I’ll summarise the most important points:

  • Treat all candidates with respect – especially those who are unsuccessful
  • Write comprehensive, non-vague job descriptions
  • Improve your communication throughout the process
  • Introduce a hiring process timeline
  • Provide progress updates
  • Use shorter application forms
  • Set up clear candidate experience feedback systems
  • Invest in the right technology to streamline the recruitment process
  • Create a more cohesive employer brand

You can’t ‘fake’ candidate experience. Rather, it’s about embedding common values and building a cohesive brand – things that only come when you have a deep and authentic commitment to your company, your people and your value proposition.

Which brings us nicely back to where we started: sell on value.

Recruiting SoftwareIf you want to secure top candidates, it all comes back to your value proposition. The better you understand it and the better you express it, the better your recruitment process will be.

You’ll not only be able to identify the game-changing candidates for your business, you’ll be able to make them an offer they can’t refuse. And it’s nothing to do with paying them more.

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