Whisper it quietly, but those two little words that strike fear into the heart of any recruiter, are very much back on the agenda in the media world. For the uninitiated, a Buy Back or Counter Offer, is when a candidate is offered a new role only for their current employer to convince them to stay put, often with a pay increase or promise of promotion. This inevitably leads to a very unhappy (to put it mildly) recruiter and client
Having worked in the media industry for around 17 years, the last 12 in recruitment, I can tell you that the Buy Back is not a new phenomenon. It has always happened to a greater or lesser extent and is symptomatic of a candidate short market where there are more open jobs than active candidates. The upshot of these market conditions is that often candidates have to be headhunted out of agencies and are much more likely to accept a counter offer. Candidates are frequently happy in their current company and just get tempted by the promise of more money and a promo elsewhere; they’re not genuine job seekers if you like
Any experienced recruiter will tell you they know the tell-tale signs that a Buy Back is on the cards. The once attentive candidate is now not answering your calls; they only send the odd cagey text which invariably says they need to discuss things with their (now wonderful) boss before making a decision. This inevitably ends in a long winded email detailing what a difficult decision it’s been and how they never envisaged things turning out this way. Whilst obviously annoyed, we’re not completely heartless and more often than not we have a little sympathy with the candidate. We get that it can be a difficult and stressful decision. This sympathy is tempered however by the fact that we have invariably highlighted the possibility of the scenario occurring at various times during the interview process
There are those out there however who just play the game, have no intention of ever moving and just view the whole process as a way to get a pay rise. The less said about them the better but I would suggest it’s a tactic they don’t try too often as their boss may one day call their bluff. Incidentally Buy Backs happen much more on the agency side than media owner; quite what that says about the respective cultures I’m not sure really but there is a definite distinction
There is a school of thought, mostly driven by recruiters I should add, that says a Buy Back is never successful in the long term and that the candidate will invariably be looking in 6 months or so. The theory being that there must have been an underlying reason initially that made you consider a new role and that reason will soon raise its ugly head again. I have to say, despite it going against the recruiters union that I’m not so sure how accurate this theory is. I’ve seen many candidates who have opted to stay put remain and progress happily for many years to come, although equally I have seen promises not being delivered and candidates coming back with their tails between the legs only a few months later
Reverting back to the recruiters’ and clients’ perspective, what exactly can be done to stop Buy Backs occurring?
• Talk about it being a possibility when you first meet the candidate. Ask them directly how serious they are about finding a new role and what they would do if their current employer attempted to keep them. Suggest they sleep on it and ask them to get back in touch the next day if they’re still interested. A genuine candidate will always come back to you whereas a chancer will be scared off.
• Try and make the new offer as high (talking cash here) as possible. I’m not asking clients to double people’s salaries but simply ensuring that it’s enough of a step up to excite and inspire; it also puts their current company in a bit of a sticky situation as they might not have the budget to counter.
• Get dialogue open directly between the client and the candidate. Encourage them to meet outside the office and socialise with other team members. This helps get buy-in with the candidate and can develop a form of emotional engagement.
• Don’t just tell, sell! A little cliché perhaps but it is important to make sure you get the candidate really enthused about both the new job and company from the first dialogue. Work with the client to ensure that all the positives and potential of the new opportunity are continuously being showcased throughout the interview process. Make them believe it is 100% an opportunity that is too good to miss.
• Strike whilst the irons hot – momentum is so key to a successful hire. Experience tells us that the longer the hiring process drags on for the more likelihood the candidate will lose interest and be more susceptible to a counter offer. I’m not expecting clients to be rash, just to be mindful of keeping the process in forward motion.
Recruitment is all about dealing with human beings so ultimately every situation is unique and there is no one size fits all solution; sometimes despite your best efforts there is nothing you can do but take a deep breath and move on. However, it’s worth remembering that buybacks happen for a reason – that being that we are fortunate enough to work in a fast growing, buoyant sector in which candidates are heavily in demand – if that wasn’t the case then us recruiters would soon be out of a job!