The journey from offer to acceptance to start date can be a tortuous one and leave otherwise composed recruiters fraught and frustrated. The current squeeze on the availability of candidates means that this part of the process is unfortunately likely to become even trickier to navigate over the coming months. But rest easy and call on the trusty adage “To fail to prepare is to prepare to fail” or its more reassuring cousin “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” as in actual fact, much can be done in the early stages of the recruitment process to prevent your efforts being scuppered in the final furlong.

The key to success is communication and most importantly asking the right questions early in the interview process. Finding out your candidate’s motivations for wanting to move is crucial. Is an increase in salary their prime motivator? If so don’t be afraid to box-off tricky conversations early on. If a counter-offer by their current employer is likely to keep them happy and in post, this may well relegate them from pole position on your shortlist. If their motivations lie elsewhere it’s time to sell what you can offer in terms of career progression, brand or culture. Setting out your stall in this way is an essential part of the process and candidates should be given all the information required to make informed choices between competing offers further down the line. This clarity will pay dividends later in the process; your interactions with the candidate are likely to be more direct and less “smoke and mirrors” if you can establish a healthy level of transparency early on.

Interviews are also a good time to establish how active the candidate is with other job opportunities. It is well within the rules of engagement to ask what else the candidate has applied for and where those applications are up to. Finding out what else they are looking at can be revealing and establishing if other offers have been made will help you to frame your own if they are successful.

Managing your candidate’s expectations is important – be clear on what they can expect from you and also on what you will need from them. Details of the type/number of references you will require and the start date you are hoping for should be covered in the early stages – a staggering proportion of offers fall over when no agreement can be reached on start date. With six month notice periods increasingly common, it pays to establish early on how soon you could expect to have each candidate on board.

If you can garner all this information early in the process you stand a much better chance of making the right candidate the right offer. Timing is important – don’t procrastinate – make (your best) offer soon after your final interview, most likely verbally but with a written offer to follow shortly afterwards.

For the candidate leaning to an alternative offer, don’t be afraid to negotiate. Find out what is potentially tipping them the other way – it may be an easy fix on your side. If not it’s incredibly useful to know what your competitors are offering for use in future exercises.

And finally, stay in the loop – aim to keep in contact with the candidate particularly around the date of their resignation and keep the lines of communication open. Employee engagement doesn’t have to start on day 1 – inviting your new hire to social events (within reason) during their notice period can go a long way to reassuring them that they have made the right decision.

threesixty selection – Management & Executive Recruitment Practice. Specialist Search & Selection in Finance, Purchasing, Supply Chain, Manufacturing & Sales.