What would have to change at your present position for you to continue working there?

Why Ask This Question?

Whenever you're dealing with someone who's doing excellent work for a competing company, it is safest to spend some time analyzing what's going on in the person's current position so that you understand how your offer stacks up against it. Of course, if a candidate is currently unemployed, this question has no application.

Analyzing the Response

Probably 70 percent of corporate Americans who willingly change jobs do so not because of technical matters but because of interpersonal conflict. When polled in survey after survey, U.S. workers rank recognition first among their top work priorities. This is usually followed by other emotional factors like enjoyable work and the ability to contribute to the team. Surprisingly, salary usually ranks fourth on the charts of reasons why employees stay with or leave a company. If recognition for a job well done ranks first, and it has direct linkage to interpersonal relationships with coworkers (and especially direct supervisors), then examining the level of recognition the individual currently receives is an important factor in the preemployment offer process.

Good Answers. When employing this query, look first for responses that are out of the individual's control. Pending layoffs, corporate relocations, and overall job insecurity will often result in the candidate responding, ''Paul, nothing could change at my present company to entice me to stay.'' That points to a clean break with the current employer and a graceful transition into your firm.

Red Flags

In contrast, if the candidate responds vaguely, ''Well, I can't really think of anything that could change at my present company and convince me to stay,'' then challenge her further by stating:

''I've found that one or two changes could often make an individual think twice about leaving a company. What would those one or two areas be in your case?''

If that query still only generates a superficial or vague response, probe even deeper:

''Tell me, Laura, about the recognition you get for a job well done. Do you feel that your contribution is properly recognized, or is it somehow diminished by your current supervisor?''

You're obviously leading the candidate down the path of coworker relationships. For the noncommittal candidate who is reluctant to address any shortcomings about her present company lest she weaken her negotiation posture, or for someone who hasn't given much thought to fixing relationship problems back at the office, this questioning pattern should force a critical issue to a head. After all, there is very likely a weak link somewhere in the chain that binds the candidate to her present company, and statistically there is an excellent chance that it stems from a people problem.

Even if the candidate feels that she's properly recognized for her efforts, this add-on query regarding the individual's relationship with her boss will naturally segue into other reasons for leaving:

''No, my relationship with my boss is fine. It's just that the company lacks state-of-the-art systems that would allow me to stay on top of the power curve in my field. Also, they brought in a new CEO about four months ago who's really changed the way things are done back at the office. All in all, I feel it's the right time for me to explore other career options. So there's really nothing that could change that would motivate me to stay.''

Bravo! You've brought this issue to a logical conclusion and mandated that the candidate voice out loud that the situation is most likely beyond repair. That's an important psychological step to prepare the person to make the break. It also allows you to further understand how you should position your offer once the time comes.

Tell me about the counteroffer they'll make you once you give notice. If you gave notice right now, what would your boss say to keep you?

Why Ask This Question?

Ah, this is the heart of the resignation drill—no more beating around the bush! Our first queries in this session were roundabout probes to gently test for salient career issues that were pushing candidates out of their present companies' arms or, inversely, that could lead to counteroffer acceptance. This query mentally prepares the individual to deal with the counteroffer awaiting her. This way, when it comes, it won't be a surprise that catches the candidate off guard or otherwise lets her emotions cloud her better business judgment.

If, on the other hand, the company makes no counteroffer, then the candidate (who, because of your prompting, is preparing for one) may feel disappointed that she wasn't pursued more aggressively to stay aboard. Such an emotion will only enforce her conclusion that accepting your offer was the right thing to do all along. In either situation, your pre-closing drill will have set the stage for a smooth transition out of her present company and into the new environment.

Analyzing the Response

Preparing for a concrete challenge to your potential offer makes practical sense and allows you to take sides with that individual by working together to plan her resignation and her successful exit out of her current company. A psychological good guy-bad guy contrast forms in the candidate's mind with the current boss playing the potential ''bad guy who is out to tempt her with perks that will only stand in the way of her succeeding at a new opportunity. Forewarned is forearmed for candidates too, and this brief exercise removes a snare that could entrap them.

Red Flags

If you sense some danger in the candidate s response, revealing that a hefty counteroffer will be made or that it will be very hard for the individual to break the personal ties to her boss, follow this query up with an add-on corollary by asking: ''What would change in your present position if you did accept a counteroffer? Would life six months down the road be any different than it is right now? Would you excel there as you could here?

By allowing the candidate to play out this scenario in her head, you'll take her past the immediacy of the resignation counteroffer and further into the future. You know that statistics bear out a bleak reality for those who accept counteroffers, but you can t necessarily say that to the candidate because you re a biased party in this negotiation. However, by pointing the candidate in this future direction, you re allowing her to reach the same conclusions about the limitations of staying with the current employer.

The bottom line to all this is that as a prospective employer, you are perfectly within your rights to find out what could entice the individual to stay aboard with her current firm. That's not being nosy; it's an effective business offense to gauge a candidate s interest level. After all, you have the job opportunity to offer. No matter how tight the labor market or how specialized a candidate's skills, one law will always remain firm in the land of employment hiring: The employer makes the calls. Use that guaranteed leverage to drill finalist candidates regarding their interest level in your company, their potential to accept a counteroffer, and their overall desire to make a positive impact on your organization. You'll simultaneously help them avoid becoming victim to the dangerous counteroffer syndrome.

 
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