A typical offer letter from Lyst

The perfect job offer

There’s no question that the single most satisfying element of my job is extending an offer of employment to a great candidate. I’ve been at Lyst for just over one year now and in that time we’ve grown from 25 full time, permanent staff to 80 full time, permanent staff and our job offers currently have a 95% acceptance rate, but we can do better.

Start at the beginning

Regardless of whether you approached a candidate or they approached you, prepping for the offer stage begins during your very first conversation. It’s absolutely imperative that you qualify a candidates motivation and intentions right from the start. Simple questions will help you understand if your opportunity is amongst a long list of jobs they have applied for or if the individual is dead set on working only for you.

  • Why are you considering leaving your current role?
  • What’s the most enjoyable part of your job?
  • What’s the most difficult part of your job?
  • What do you want to do more of that you currently don’t do enough of?
  • Where do you want to take your career over the next year or two?
  • What industry/problem really intrigues you?
  • How do you like to be managed?
  • Do you prefer to work as a part of a larger or smaller team or do you prefer working independently?

All of the above questions will allow you to create a picture of what really motivates the individual in question. It will also allow you to identify what opportunities you can provide that their current role doesn’t which can play an integral part in long term retention. That being said, the first question is key.

Why are you considering leaving your current role?

If we work on the assumption that the candidate in question has already committed to leaving their current role then it’s essential you clarify why. All too often a candidate will start complaining about the work they are doing (or lack thereof), the team they work with or their manager. This is an immediate red flag. Granted there are plenty of people stuck in miserable jobs but the fact is, if you work for a miserable company or for a miserable boss or even on a miserable team, that shouldn’t be your primary motivation for leaving. Your primary motivation should be wanting more for yourself. A company you truly believe in, a manager who can inspire you or a team that can help you grow. I appreciate that may seem tautological but the difference between the two comes down to motivation. I’m not interested in hiring someone who wants a new job. I’m only interested in someone who wants to learn and better themselves.

Give them clarity

Once you have a thorough understanding of the candidates motivation, you need to clarify this to the hiring team as early as possible. Without this understanding, they can’t even attempt to give the candidate the best experience during the hiring process. It’s now your responsibility to ensure that during the process, these needs, desires and concerns are addressed in detail.

When Lyst interviews a candidate, they will likely meet approximately six different people throughout the course of the interview process. This comprises of future team mates as well as people who can give the candidate a clear picture of what reality at Lyst is like. We intentionally instruct all of our interviewers to avoid ‘selling’ the company to a candidate. If, for example, an engineer interviews at Lyst, they will learn about our technical debt. They will get a clear picture of how we manage projects and people. They will learn about our biggest and most persistent challenges and what we’re doing to address them. It’s essential that they understand exactly what life is like here and the only surprises during the first few weeks here should be positive ones.

The candidate also knows, from the first conversation, what our interview process entails and how long they can expect the process to last. They are also encouraged to ask as many questions as possible and often we ask our candidates to suggest one or two people they would like to meet during the process. If we hadn’t already factored those people into the process, we make sure to include them.

Show me the money

Regardless of whether you bring three months or three decades of experience to the table, it’s my job to establish a ballpark salary range as early as possible. Note I said ballpark range. I’m not worried about an exact figure just yet. The reason for establishing this range is exclusively to help us contextualise what we should expect from you in terms of your impact on the business. If you suggest a range that puts you firmly in the top percentile of what we currently pay people in a similar role, then we will interview you on the assumption that you’re as strong if not better than those people.

Again, we clarify upfront why we ask for a ballpark range and make it absolutely clear that by stating a range, you aren’t limiting yourself to that range.

Seal the Deal

By the end of the process, I should have a very clear picture of what it will take to convince you to join our team. I should also have a very clear picture of why you would potentially say no to an offer. There have been many examples of candidates that we have been incredibly keen to hire but have often extended the interview process because I haven’t been convinced that we’ve done a good enough job helping the candidate understand why working for us is the right choice for them. There have also been a few examples of candidates that we’ve chosen not to extend an offer of employment to on the sole basis that we don’t believe we can provide the challenge or growth that they are seeking. Sure, we can pay them enough and keep them busy but that’s not a solid foundation for hiring the right person. Matt Buckland wrote a phenomenal piece detailing exactly why money is a terrible motivator which you can read here.

My involvement in the process is obvious only at the beginning and end. I won’t go into the excrutiating details of my role at Lyst, that’s another post for another day but I will say that I make every effort to get to know the candidate at the beginning both over the phone and then face to face. The next time I have a lengthy conversation with the candidate is right after their final interview where I take feedback from them on the process and ensure there are no more outstanding questions or grey areas. I then inform them that I will collect the feedback and provide them with a final decision within 24 hours.

When we extend an offer of employment at Lyst, it’s rarely done via a phone call or even in person. We send a very straightforward, positive email with a formal offer letter and contract of employment attached. See the header image on this post for a real example. This isn’t arrogance on our part. The receipt of an offer from us shouldn’t be a surprise. The point of our interview process isn’t to keep you guessing, it’s to keep you informed and equipped with all the information you need to make the right decision.

Summary

Stay honest, ask the hard questions, address the difficult ones early. Respect your candidate and appreciate that they aren’t privileged to have the opportunity to work with you. The privilege is yours. We all know how hard it is to find great people. Those great people have the luxury of being able to choose the right role and the right role is rarely the best paid one so drop money way down your priority list immediately.

Finally, every candidate is a great candidate until proven otherwise. Regardless of experience or ability, a person who has chosen to give you the time to talk about what your business needs is a person who deserves that time and attention. Don’t save it for the superstars because you may be waiting for some time.

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