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Last Tuesday the US Government reported that Americans were quitting their jobs in record numbers, with the data recording 3.952 million US workers leaving their employment in April, surpassing the previous record for this century of 3.591 million employee departures in July 2019.

Recent surveys of employee sentiment suggest that this spike in the data is unlikely to be an anomaly and serves as an early confirmation of a trend that is not confined to the US.

Robert Half’s survey (26 March to 15 April 2021) of 2,800 workers at US-based companies with 20 or more employees produced reported that 32% of employees plan to look for a new job in the next several months.

A survey in the UK and Ireland found that 38% of employees were planning to leave their jobs within the next twelve months.

This data was mirrored locally with Hays Australia reporting 38 per cent of Australian employees plan to look for a new job in the next 12 months.

A Microsoft report based on responses from over 30,000 workers in 31 countries found that 41% of the entire global workforce could be considering handing in their resignation including more than half of 18 to 25 year-olds.

A stated intention to quit is no guarantee that an employee will quit however the multi-survey evidence unequivocally points to the fact that employees are more amenable to an approach by a recruiter or more motivated to apply for another job, compared to any other time in recent history.

This is good news for recruiters; however, there is also a downside.

Candidates who are kind-of looking are much more likely to withdraw from a process, decline offers, and accept a counter-offer. Existing employers, aware of how tight the labour market is, are likely to throw everything at trying to retain a valuable employee who is not fully committed to leaving.

This is especially likely when you consider the main reasons consistently offered by survey respondents as to their motivation for seeking greener pastures.

“Top reasons for searching for a new job were getting a salary boost and greater opportunities for career advancement, cited by 29% each.” (Robert Half survey)

“…the (main) reasons cited by professionals for searching for a new job include a lack of promotional opportunities (43%) and uncompetitive salary (39%).” (Hays Australia survey)

Short-term solutions, such as raising pay or providing a promotion, are much more likely to work in a counter-offer situation compared to promising to address more intractable issues such as poor management style or workplace culture (mentioned by 37% of respondents to the Hays Australia survey).

There is no guaranteed way to avoid drop-outs, declines and counter-offers however there are some steps I recommend to minimise the frequency of recruiter (and client) frustration and disappointment.

Many years a recruiter smarter than me helped me enormously when she helped me ascertain the difference between a currently-employed candidate who was interested in leaving their job and a candidate who was committed to doing so.

In summary, my mentor said to treat all candidates as interested until you have accumulated enough evidence to classify them as committed.

I recommend you do the same through utilising the following six tactics, as appropriate to your market:

  • Fully explore the stated reasons for leaving: The first answer an interviewer receives to to the “Why are you looking to leave?” question (eg “I have a personality clash with my boss”) is unlikely to be the whole truth. It’s important to respectfully probe until you have sufficient specifics to decide whether the candidate is window shopping for a new job, because, for example, they are having a knee-jerk reaction to a recent situation at work, or whether they are truly committed to leaving.
  • The hypothetical resignation conversation: “Okay <candidate name>, it’s clear you are very good at your job and valued at work. I suspect your boss will be very disappointed, and potentially upset when you tender your resignation. If she/he says “Why are you leaving?”, “What can I do to make you stay?” or “How can you do this to me now, when I am already understaffed?”, how are you going to respond?
  • Provide a hypothetical counter-offer: “Let’s say your boss offers you (20% more than current remuneration/a promotion to X position/secondment to Y interesting project) to stay, what will you say to him/her?”
  • Reconfirm RFL in writing: After the interview send an email to the candidate detailing your understanding of why the candidate is leaving their job, the type of role they want, and the remuneration they are seeking. Ask the candidate to respond within 24 hours, via email, confirming that what you have written is accurate.
  • Set a task to test commitment: A recruiter cannot charge a fee to help a candidate find a new job but you can request a different piece of ‘skin in the game’ by asking the candidate to complete a relatively easy task related to their job search. An example of such a task is: asking the candidate to provide a list (by a deadline) of five organisations they are interested in working at, and why, together with three organisations they wouldn’t accept a job at, and why. Another example is requesting the candidate provide, in writing, specifics that they were unable to provide to a question (or two) at interview.
  • Be alert to disengagement: When you experience a candidate’s consistent lack of timeliness in responding to your requests for co-operation, information, or feedback you can be sure that their job search (or at least the version of it that involves you) is not a high priority.

Each of those six tactics provides the candidate an opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to leaving their current employment, through their behaviour.

Be alert to the non-verbal clues offered by the candidate’s voice, gestures, and body language as to the level of real commitment behind what they say.

Be wary of the tendency to conflate a candidate’s suitability with their motivation to leave their job. They are completely different things and require completely approaches to ascertain.

Just because a candidate says they are going to quit it doesn’t mean they will quit. Don’t let the difference derail your reputation and motivation.


Related blogs

The boom is back (part 2): wages set to jump (along with counter offers)

Answers to interview questions you should never accept: “I left because of a personality conflict with my boss”

Why candidates decline job offers (and what to do about it)

Increase your candidate supply by 30% with this tiny nudge

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