So you have reached your decision about who to appoint. Now it is time to make them an offer, and negotiate terms and conditions. What will you do if they turn your offer down? What if another organisation makes a counter offer? If they accept, what conditions should you impose on your job offer? When should you take up references? How should you interpret another employer’s reference?
Start with a verbal offer
You can save yourself a lot of time by making a job offer verbally in the first instance. Summarise the nature of the job you are offering, as well as the benefits and salary that the position attracts. Give the candidate time to ask any questions they may have, and do not be surprised if the candidate asks for a little time to consider your offer. You may feel a little disappointed that the candidate does not jump at the opportunity to work for your organisation. This is natural, but unjustified. Accepting a job is potentially a life changing decision for anyone, and so you should be delighted that they are considering carefully the offer you have made.
If you are sure that you have interviewed the candidate that you would like to employ, there is nothing to stop you making a verbal, and conditional, offer of employment there and then. However sure you are, though, don’t make an offer until you have seen all the interviewees. It is unfair to interview someone whom you have no intention of employing, and unethical. Wait until you have seen all the candidates before making your verbal offer. If you are unable to make the offer at the end of the interview, then it is perfectly acceptable to telephone the candidate to make your verbal offer. This is a good time to ask permission to approach the candidate’s referees for a reference, and make arrangements for a medical, if this is one of the conditions of employment. You should take the opportunity to agree a likely start date.
Think beforehand about what action you will take if your chosen candidate declines your offer. Will you raise your offer, or try to negotiate terms? If there is one candidate who is clearly superior to the rest, this may be your best option. However, you must indicate that you have a line above which you will not cross: you might raise your offer once, but if you are still not close to terms that are acceptable to your chosen candidate, then you are better off moving on to your second choice.
If your preferred candidate accepts your verbal offer of employment, then you should put this offer in writing at the earliest opportunity. It is very unlikely that your candidate will hand in their resignation to their current employer, without a written job offer from you. So the longer you delay putting your offer in writing, the longer you will have to wait for your new employee to start.
Your written job offer should contain all of the following details:
- Job title
- Job description
- Main terms and conditions
- Anticipated / realistic working hours
- Benefits that the job attracts (e.g. non-contributory pension; company car)
- Any conditions upon which employment is dependent (e.g. satisfactory references; medical; proof of qualifications)
- Details of probationary period
- Date by which offer should be signed, dated and returned by the new employee, to indicate acceptance of the offer
Checking qualifications is an area where you should apply some common sense. There may be some essential qualifications that should be checked first, and thoroughly (e.g. Fork lift truck licence; lifeguard qualification; registered childminder). Others may be less important, or even irrelevant. It is generally recognised that people exaggerate or even fabricate certain qualifications, particularly with regard to academic achievement. You must decide which qualifications that your candidate has claimed are important to the position, and to your organisation. Check these thoroughly. At the same time, you should not delay your candidate’s employment until such time that they can prove that they did, in fact, achieve an award that is not relevant to the position (such as their GCSE Art grade). Naturally, you will want to confirm your preferred candidate’s honesty, but you also want them to start their employment as soon as is practical.
Also, when confirming qualifications, start in reverse order with the most recent qualification gained. For example, if you confirm that your candidate did, as they claim, achieve an upper second degree in Modern Languages, why would they lie about their GCSE grades in history or geography? Although schools and colleges are unlikely to give you any background to the candidate’s experience, they should be able to confirm grades or awards made, or even provide a duplicate certificate.
If at all possible, you should leave the salary negotiation as late as you can. Your rigorous recruitment process has identified your preferred candidate. Now it is time to see whether or not you can afford them! If you spend too long dwelling on salary during the interview process, the danger is that you will be influenced by a candidate who you know you can pay less than you anticipated, or be put off by a candidate who you think will be too demanding.
First of all, you must ensure that the salary you are able to offer is, at least, competitive. To be competitive, you can include benefits of the position other than the actually salary paid. For example, does the position come with a company car? Does your organisation offer cheap loans for travel / commuting purposes? Is there a pension scheme that new employees can join? Will the new employee benefit from a performance related bonus? All these extra benefits can be used as bargaining tools when you are discussing remuneration with your chosen candidate. If he or she declines your offer on the grounds of salary, see if you can make the overall package more attractive by offering one or more of these benefits.
Some candidates may use an offer of a new position as a tool to manoeuvre extra benefits or a salary rise from their current employer. If successful, they may then come back to you requesting you to up your offer. It is up to you how you react in this situation. You may take the view that this is not behaviour you expect from someone who is about to represent your organisation. If the position you are trying to fill requires someone with confidence and determination, you may applaud this action and submit to your candidate’s demands. A similar scenario might arise if a candidate has two job offers from which to choose. This is a perfect opportunity for the candidate to secure the best deal they can before accepting either offer of employment. Ultimately, the culture of your organisation will determine how to react to counter bids of this sort.
Make sure your offer includes:
- Job title
- Job location
- Job title and name of superior
- Salary: Level
- Payment dates and payment frequency
- Payment method
- Working hours
- Holidays and time off
- Employment conditions: References
- Confirmation of qualifications
- Trial / probationary period
- Start date
If the candidate you want to employ already has a job with another organisation, they will almost certainly be required to serve a notice period. This will vary between organisations, but will normally be at least one calendar month. However impatient you may feel about wanting to bring your preferred candidate on board quickly, do not apply pressure to encourage them to leave their current employment early. It is unprofessional, and you would probably not want the same treatment to be applied to one of your employees.
For senior positions, you can expect the notice period to be longer. Often, people in management positions might have to serve three months notice, and company Directors may be locked in to a notice period of six months. Whilst these are not always enforced, you should assume that they will be until you hear differently.
So as someone who wants to recruit your new member of staff quickly, what steps can you take? To begin with, you need to assess the level and type of position you are recruiting. If you are recruiting for a low skilled position, you might take notice periods into account. If you have a shortlist of two adequately qualified candidates, and one can start straight away, then you might legitimately choose this candidate ahead of the other one. For senior or skilled positions, this is counter productive. You should always appoint on the basis of the person most skilled, qualified and suitable for the position. The length of time that you must wait to employ them is a secondary consideration.
Although an employee may be contracted to serve three months notice for their current employer, they may be asked to leave the moment they resign. Many organisations take the view that there is a security issue by continuing to employ someone who is about to leave, particularly if they plan to join a competitor organisation. So you might find that you resolve to wait three months for your new member of staff, only to find that they can start work immediately. You never can tell.
Taking up references
All offers of work should be made subject to the receipt of satisfactory references. In the initial application, or after interview, it is common to ask candidates for the names of two or more referees. These might be:
- Personal referees, who will provide a character reference.
- Educational referees, who will confirm qualifications gained or courses studied.
- Current and former employees, who will have direct experience of working with the candidate.
In practice, the value of these referees is questionable, because the candidate will select the colleagues and former employers who are likely to speak favourably about them. Nevertheless, you must follow up references before confirming any offer of work that you make, and you should try and get as much supporting evidence as you can from the referees that you have.
Former and current employers
The former or current employer is likely to be the most useful reference to you, so it is a good idea to contact them first. You must only contact a referee with permission from the candidate, and you should not assume the worst if they are reluctant to allow you to contact their current employer. There are a number of legitimate reasons why this would create a problem for the candidate, and you should respect this.
Remember the situation. You have made a job offer subject to the receipt of satisfactory references. The candidate may wish to leave their current employer because of a personality clash, or even harassment. The current employer is likely to give a poor reference, leading you to decline to employ the candidate. The candidate now has to continue working with an even more difficult employer who knows that the candidate is trying to leave. So you must respect a candidate’s individual circumstances, and settle for a former employer. You can always contact the current employer after the job offer is confirmed, to verify basic facts about the candidate’s role.
Whenever you take up references, you are looking for evidence to support your belief that this candidate is right for the role you wish to offer them. You should take the opportunity to:
- Verify facts about previous work experience
- Confirm opinions you have made about the candidate
- Re-evaluate a candidate in the light of what you have learned
Although you should write to a referee in the first instance, you will get more out of the reference if you contact the referee by telephone. Referees tend to be guarded about what they will commit to in a letter. They will not want the candidate to see negative comments about them on paper, especially as this could lead to legal action if the comments are defamatory. On the telephone, referees tend to be more open and realistic when discussing candidate, although bear in mind that they will still be careful about what they say.
As with an interview, plan what you want to ask the referee before you pick up the telephone. You will get much more out of the referee if you ask specific questions rather than request a general endorsement of the candidate. Examples include:
- Factual questions, such as the dates that the candidate was employed, the position that they held, or the salary that they earned
- Details of the responsibilities that the candidate held, including the number of staff in their charge and their management status
- Emotive questions such as why the candidate is leaving
You may find that the referee is evasive when answering certain questions. Employment and discrimination laws are notoriously tough, and the referee may simply be protecting himself legally. In fact, some organisations have a policy of only confirming that an employee was employed by the organisation.
If you want to take up reference by letter, there is little value in writing to the referee asking for a general reference about the candidate. You are much better off thinking through and noting carefully all the questions that you would like answered about the candidate and state them carefully within the wording of the letter. You may wish to include a questionnaire addressing some or all of the following issues:
- Position held
- Dates employed
- Daily tasks
- Attendance and timekeeping record
- Behaviour / conduct
- Honesty and integrity
- Reason for leaving
- Would you reemploy?
You may wish to send a copy of the job description and person specification to the referee and ask them if they think the candidate is suitable for this particular role. You may not always receive answers to all the questions that you ask, but by preparing thoroughly you stand a good chance of getting back something more useful than a broad endorsement of the candidate’s work record.
Always include a reply paid envelope with any request for a reference.
Although it is unlikely that a candidate will put forward a referee who will give a bad reference, there are any number of reasons why this might happen. Some employers believe that the best way to keep a good candidate is by giving them a poor reference for any job that they apply for. If there has been any question of discrimination, harassment, or just a personality clash, a current employer might chose to criticise the candidates work record as a means of disguising the real reason.
You should be equally wary of an exemplary reference. Although illegal, an employer may give a first class reference for an employee that they are desperate to lose.
Non-committal references will also need to be interpreted. A reference may say very little for several reasons:
- It may be the organisations policy only to confirm the dates between which a candidate was employed.
- The referee may prefer to make a negative comment about a candidate, but chooses to avoid this by simply not commenting on a particular aspect at all.
- They may simply have forgotten to answer a particular question you have asked.
You are unlikely to get all the supporting evidence that you would like from the referees you have been given. The following checklist will help you get the most out of them:
- Be specific in what you ask
- Be open and direct when talking to a referee on the telephone
- Plan what you want to ask before you write or telephone
- Use questionnaires to be even more specific
- Try to verify specific facts that the candidate has given you
It is increasingly common for candidates to support their application with an open letter from a former employer, such as the one illustrated below. Such letters are called testimonials, and are often issued as part of a redundancy package, or when an organisation is closed down or relocated. You should only regard a testimonial as confirmation of a candidate’s former employment and the reason that the candidate left. You should be sceptical of any positive endorsement of the candidate, as such letters are often produced to a standard format for a number of candidates.
Offers and references: Checklist
- Have you made a verbal offer of employment?
- Have you followed this up with a written offer?
- Have you checked your preferred candidate’s qualifications?
- Have you negotiated a mutually acceptable salary?
- Have you dealt with any counter bids?
- Have you agreed a start date?
- Have you taken up references?
- Are the references you have received satisfactory?