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First-time poster and also first-time software hiring manager 😃

People are looking for jobs for different reasons.

When these reasons involve things that their current employer can change fairly quickly (like pay, benefits, job title, remote working policy), how do I filter out job candidates who were only looking for a job offer to “extort” their current employer?

What I’ve tried so far:

  • asking candidates twice why they’re looking for a new job, once in the initial phone call and also in the job interview, using different questions and checking the answers are aligned;
  • in the post-interview call, asking the successful candidate how do they think they did, before telling them they were successful (what I’m looking for here is a vibe of modesty vs entitlement)

Currently I’m trying out considering stating an expiration date (3-5 working days) on the job offer letter.

What else I’ve been thinking about but hadn’t had the chance to try out yet:

  • expecting almost perfect answers to technical questions (thinking this could show the candidate actually spent some time preparing so they’re serious about it)
  • asking harder technical questions
  • focusing exclusively on candidates for whom this would be their first job in the field (e.g. fresh out of university), train them up and make sure they stay.

I’ve tried googling some of this but not much came up. I’m wondering how do more experienced hiring managers deal with this or if it’s just something I need to filter my way through?

For context, I’m working for a small software agency. So far we’ve been working with freelancers and we’ve got enough work to hire at least two developers. I’ve spoken with fellow software developers and the salary and benefits are certainly competitive for the market in which I’m hiring; they thought the company’s presence is very professional; and there’s also a higher degree of flexibility compared to the bigger companies out there. So I don’t think there’s a problem with that part of the recruitment funnel.

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    Almost all answers on this website in regards to ‚should i stay after receiving a raise to compete with a job offer‘ are almost always answered with „expect the company to replace you as soon as possible“. The very idea that „extortion“ will actually work to get a raise that is significant sparks an overzealous, work oriented moral panic by a manager who for some bizarre reason cares more about their employers wallet than that of their fellow human. May 28 at 7:54
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    You just want to make sure you don't waste time on candidates who don't really want to join, right? Why pollute your question with statements about them wanting to extort someone else with your offer, etc.
    – androidguy
    May 28 at 10:25
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    What are you trying to gain by filtering out good candidates, after they already passed the interview? It is already sunk cost, if they join they were willing to join, if they don't they don't.
    – Helena
    May 28 at 10:52
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    How do you actually know why your offers got rejected? Offer gets rejected for all sorts of reasons, the "extortion" one is quite rare.
    – Hilmar
    May 28 at 11:14
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    Also please understand that rather than "extortion" it's just "competition". I've stayed in my company after three counteroffers in separate occasions, as they only needed to match the pay to make it worth it. But I think @androidguy it's right about this topic polluting your question.
    – Erikus
    May 28 at 15:54

7 Answers 7

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I might suggest framing the problem differently.

The real problem is how to filter candidates whose current employer is significantly underpaying them, but who won't ultimately allow them to leave and will match any external offer they receive.

You actually want to attract underpaid candidates, as well as malcontents. That's basically how recruitment works (at least when recruiting someone from existing employment) - you pay more or offer more satisfaction than the existing employer.

Typically, you do this because the existing employer is so inefficient that they cannot match your offer, or because your need for the labour is more productive than theirs and therefore you can afford higher wages.

The real variable you are trying to measure is the behaviour of the current employer behind the candidate. The candidate themselves may not know for sure whether the existing employer will match an offer they receive, and the existing employer's behaviour may vary on different occasions with different candidates.

Ultimately, there may be no strategy to fathom this information from the candidate, because they may not have the information themselves - they are simply seeking better wages in the normal way, whether it comes from a new employer or the existing one.

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how do I filter out job candidates who were only looking for a job offer to “extort” their current employer?

First up - is this actually a problem you've faced, or is this theoretical. If it's theoretical, I suggest you stop worrying about it.

Running down your suggestions:

asking candidates twice why they’re looking for a new job, once in the initial phone call and also in the job interview, using different questions and checking the answers are aligned;

Anyone with two brain cells can spot what you're doing here. I'm going to wonder why you're wasting my time asking the same question again.

in the post-interview call, asking the successful candidate how do they think they did, before telling them they were successful (what I’m looking for here is a vibe of modesty vs entitlement)

This would be a red flag to me. It says you think the interview process is a one way street, where you're the only side that matters.

Currently I’m trying out stating an expiration date (3-5 working days) on the job offer letter.

Terrible idea. If I'm 1) genuinely job hunting and 2) good, I'm quite possibly going to be pursuing multiple offers. I quite probably can't make those line up to hit your arbitrary 5 day limit - again, consider the impression you want to give as to how you value your time versus that of the candidates.

expecting almost perfect answers to technical questions

Interview questions should never be a "right/wrong" situation - if they are, you're asking trivia questions which people can look up on Google. They should be about discussing the candidate's approach to a problem, at which point there's no "perfect" answer, because everything is a trade-off and it depends how you weight the various trade-offs that need to be made.

asking harder technical questions

See above.

focusing exclusively on candidates for whom this would be their first job in the field (e.g. fresh out of university), train them up and make sure they stay.

Every company likes to think they can do this. Very few can.

To me, these suggestions will result in your missing out on the best candidates in the market.

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    +1 for the point about interviewing being a two way street. I would walk away from a company that was acting like this in the interview process, especially with the "you have three days to accept this offer" nonsense.
    – Gh0stFish
    May 28 at 8:14
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    +1 for "is this an actual problem you are facing?" May 28 at 9:32
  • I've gotten (or heard of) job offers with a time limit anywhere from 48/72 hours to 3 weeks. YMMV.
    – zmike
    May 28 at 17:53
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    @zmike So have I. But never have I heard an actual legitimate business reason for those deadlines (for permanent staff) - it's always been a flex on the part of the employer to say "we're more important than you". Of course practically there comes a point at which the employer moves on, but it's never a hard deadline. May 28 at 19:44
  • It wasn’t a theoretical question. The first candidate to whom we were prepared to make an offer was in this kind of situation. We’re rather early in the recruitment process so while I don’t know if this happens often, I thought I’d ask nevertheless.
    – Stefan
    May 29 at 6:10
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asking candidates twice why they’re looking for a new job, once in the initial phone call and also in the job interview, using different questions and checking the answers are aligned

If you start "gamifying" the process, you're going to risk losing good candidates who don't want to be "gamified".

in the post-interview call, asking the successful candidate how do they think they did, before telling them they were successful (what I’m looking for here is a vibe of modesty vs entitlement)

Wow. the sense of entitlement here seems to be completely on your part. The sense of ownership and authority you must feel over these people is astounding. "I'll just string these people along before surprising them with the news that they were successful."

expecting almost perfect answers to technical questions (thinking this could show the candidate actually spent some time preparing so they’re serious about it)

How does providing a perfect answer prove that they're serious? Do you think someone who is only using this as an opportunity to extort their current employer won't put any effort into the interview process? How would they extort their current/boss employer with an offer if they don't get an offer because they were lackadaisical in your interview? It would be counter to their goal to not be serious, wouldn't it?

asking harder technical questions.

I'm failing to see how asking harder technical questions addresses the problem.

focusing exclusively on candidates for whom this would be their first job in the field (e.g. fresh out of university), train them up and make sure they stay.

That sounds like a great way to miss out on great candidates. How would you propose to make them stay? Chain them to their desks? Do you think you own your employees?

Your question presumes that there are candidates who go through the process of submitting themselves for and interviewing for other jobs for the sole purpose of getting a counter offer from their current employer. I find that presumption rather dubious. Do people really go to that trouble? And if they're doing this solely to "extort" their current employer why wouldn't they just make something up? "Hey boss, I got a job offer." Why go through the trouble of actually looking and interviewing?

"I want my boss/employer to pay me more, treat me better, and give me more opportunity. Since they haven't done that I'm going to go to the trouble of applying for other jobs, sending my resume out, scheduling phone calls, and going on interviews. Then when I've received the offer I'm looking for I'll go back to my boss/employer and use the offer as leverage to get what I want. Mind you, I have no intention of actually leaving, I'm just doing this to extort my boss/employer into giving me what I want."

Now, it is true that some candidates will recieve a counter offer from their current boss/employer and choose to stay, but there isn't anything you can do about that and you can't "filter" for it.

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Be more upfront with pay at the start of the process.

You're wanting to avoid people getting through both rounds of interviews only to say your salary isn't enough to warrent a job change, even though you're framing it currently as them using it as leverage for their current employer.

If you list your salary ranges from the start, you'll filter many people for whom that salary is unacceptable. If a recruiter reaches out to me with a dream role on LinkedIn, the first thing I do is ask about salary. If it's comparable to mine, I thank them and move on because I don't want to jump through the hoops of getting a new job for no extra benefits, even if that job sounds great.

It's a worker's market. Anything you do that makes your interview process more of a hassle decreases the likelihood of finding a good fit for your team. Anything you do to help filter so candidates don't get through both rounds of interviews only to say no means you waste less time interviewing.

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  • Mm not sure what part of my question suggests we wouldn’t be upfront with the pay but we actually state salary ranges for all the jobs we post.
    – Stefan
    May 29 at 6:16
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Welcome to the club ! Hiring is hard work, especially if you are new to it. As the saying goes: You have to kiss a lot of frogs to find your prince.

Hiring is also one of the most impactful decision that you make as a manager. Landing a great fit for a role is awesome; hiring the wrong person makes life miserable for everyone (you, them, peers, ...).

Hiring is like any other type of work: the more effort and skill you put in, the better the results will be. Putting a few job postings on a website and expecting your dream candidates to walk in the door ready to sign up is not going to happen. Most good candidates are happy with their current situation and you have put some real work in to access them.

If you don't get the results that you want (for whatever reason), take a good look at your process.

  1. Sourcing: where and how do you (or your recruiter) find candidates? The best ones are often not actively looking, so posting on job boards or harvesting LinkedIn will not give the best choices
  2. Engagement: What's your strategy for first contact? A mass mailing from a recruiter with a link to a resume gets automatically trashed by most good people. A personalized outreach by an actual hiring manager for an exploratory chat has much better chances of a reply.
  3. Relationship: What do you do to get to know the candidate? What's their professional goals and ambitions, what's their personal constraints and/or motivators, how does the line up against their current situation and what you have to offer?
  4. Interview: Prep it properly: make sure the candidate gets exposed to the right people (you, team peer, HR, your boss, your peers). Make sure that every interviewer has clear assignments (technology A, tech B, cultural fit, communication, team player, career goals and aspirations, relocation/commute/family, sell the job, etc.). Depending on how promising & desirable the candidate is you can adjust the ratio of "grilling" vs "selling". Make sure that at least some amount of selling is happening and don't be afraid to adjust on the fly.
  5. Debrief: Get all interviewers in a room (virtual or real). Have everyone go through their notes, identify areas of concerns, etc. If crucial information is missing or there is a significant area of concern that needs follow up decide on next step. That's a ding for you: if you can't figure out all you need to know in one round of interview, you didn't prep properly. Then make your call.
  6. Don't be afraid to say no : a really good fit is a rare find. Don't settle.
  7. Consider alternatives for the candidate: If you like the candidate but they are not a great fit for your current role, consider shopping them around with other hiring managers or keep them warm for the next opening you may have.
  8. Negotiate: If you want to hire the person, it's time to figure out what makes an attractive offer for them. Discuss up front verbally: base comp, bonus, equity, benefits, commute/relo, work conditions (home/remote/gear), special accommodations. You need to put something together that's better or more appealing than their current situation. That's also where you need to "sell" your own company and role.
  9. Make the offer: : By the end of step 7, you should have both aligned on what is an offer that works for both you, so that step should be just a formality (but often requires a lot of paperwork). Make sure you get it out speedily.
  10. Acceptance : if you executed all previous steps properly, you will get a signature in 95% of all cases.
  11. Follow up:. Make sure you stay in contact and prep for onboarding. If things like Visas, relocation, etc are involved, stay on top of the process and make sure that your internal departments that handle this, don't drop the ball (which they frequently do).

If you follow a process like this, you will get good results and you typically know why a candidate turns you down so there is no need to implement your other suggestions.

how do I filter out job candidates who were only looking for a job offer to “extort” their current employer?

In my experience, that's quite rare. More often than not, it's family reasons or they have a really good gig going on that you can't beat (in terms of comp or type of work).

The most annoying one is "testing your market value". Many companies (at least in the US) use salary bands that are determined through compensation clearing houses (like Radford for example). In other words companies like Google, Apple, Amazon, etc compare salaries with each other and use that tone down bidding wars. The candidate typically doesn't have access to that data so their only choice to get some accurate read on their market value is to generate actual offers. While that is annoying, you really can't blame the candidate for it.

If things don't work out, just move on to the next candidate.

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You are worrying about the wrong things. You worry that you might get a candidate who passes all your interviews, gets a job offer, and just uses your job offer to get a raise from their current employer.

Why would I do that? Instead of passing two interviews, getting offered 10% more, and going back to my employer, I might as well not do any interview, not get an offer, and tell my employer that I got a better offer anyway.

So you are asking me weird questions. If I leave my employer, I’m not going to badmouth them, so I might not want to tell you the reason because of that. And if you ask the question again, I’m not a trained liar, so you won’t get the exact same answer twice. Unless I spot what you’re doing, and that is a big red flag.

Now you want to make an offer only good for 3-5 days. Sorry mate, but I’m applying at more than one place. Some are faster, some are slower. If you try to pressure me into accepting quickly, then I assume it’s not actually a good offer and wait for better offers. So you’re missing out.

Best is to play honestly and assume that I’m honest as well. That way, no red flags, no driving good people away. If you want me to sign on the spot, make an offer at the high end of my expectations. If you want me cheaper, make a lower offer and it will take longer for me to accept - if I accept. If you make an offer that I think can be beaten and you try to pressure me, I’m gone.

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There's only so much time in a day. If you're focused on weeding out people who are looking for leverage against their current positions, you're going to likely overcompensate in your process and scare away the other 95% of applicants who are not looking to do as you've described.

If you were to spend time asking me to answer the same questions as an applicant, it'd be a red flag. I've applied in several places where they asked me to solve a production issue or help them implement a product feature as part of an interview. "Nope, ya gotta pay for that!" Four-hour skills test? "Hard pass." These kinds of s--t tests will get you desperate people who don't have the confidence or skillset to turn these kinds of interviews down. Ultimately you can hire them, but they may end up hindering your operation more than they help.

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