Securing the best candidate – how to avoid buyback

Recruiting for key roles within engineering and manufacturing is challenging because businesses want maximum impact from people they hire, leading to increasingly specific requirements. In particular, clients in manufacturing are looking for candidates with both strong technical skills and also strong people skills. Combining these factors narrows the candidate pool, often meaning that multiple businesses are competing for the same group of top candidates.
It is therefore a lot of work to identify these candidates, shortlist those who are the best fit, and go through the entire interview process. In an ideal world, this would then result in a smooth offer process with the successful candidate accepting the role. Unfortunately, we don’t live in an ideal world!  
Not only are the best candidates fiercely in demand but their existing employers don’t want to lose them either. We are seeing a significant upturn in buy-back – a counter-offer from the existing employer to prevent resignation. This can be a pay rise but it can also include things like an increase in responsibilities, more resource in the team, more options to work flexibly or remotely, or a more defined career path.  
Successful buy-back is hugely frustrating as it can take a recruitment process back to square one. By the time a candidate has been offered and then bought back, other candidates on the initial shortlist are likely to have been snapped up by other businesses too. This means starting from scratch and missing out on many of the best candidates in the market. 
Needless to say, this is a problem that is best to avoid! However, it is increasingly common. Across engineering and manufacturing roles, half of the job offers are met by counter-offers from the existing business. At Michael Page we are continually working to minimise this risk for our clients with a significant success rate. Of our candidates, 96% refuse the buy-back offer and accept the new role. 
Here’s a list of things that we advise considering to minimise the chance of successful buy-back. 

Understanding candidate motivations

These are crucial, both to ensure that any chance of buy-back is reduced, and to make the right hiring decisions for long-term performance and retention. 
Why is a candidate looking for a new opportunity? What do they want to get out of the next role – both now and in the next few years? What motivates them to do a good job? What frustrates or demoralises them? And most important, how does that match with what is on offer? 
Understanding all of this allows you to make sure the candidate is right for the opportunity and vastly increases their buy-in. All interview processes are two-way; candidates need to be sold to as well as selling themselves! If hiring managers sell the opportunity in line with the candidate’s key reasons for moving, there is less chance that the current employer will be able to convince them to stay. 
It is also worth noting that, of candidates who accept a buy-back offer, 80% are active on the jobs market again within nine months. Therefore buy-back offers only actually address reasons for leaving in 20% of cases. Ensuring that candidates think hard about their own motivations at the start of a process and matching a new opportunity to those priorities, will minimise the chance of candidates being “distracted” by a buy-back offer that might be a short-term gain but doesn’t actually address their main motivations for leaving. 

Being clear on overall salary package

As with motivations, it is vital to get into the detail of a candidate’s current package at the beginning of the process. It is surprising how many people can’t list their full package details, or the financial value of them. It is also too common for candidates to leave this calculation until late in a process which can cause problems if there are elements of the current package they have overlooked. 
From a hiring business point of view, it is crucial to be equally clear about the package on offer. Provide a full breakdown of the package and the value of it. This will allow an accurate comparison of a candidate’s current situation vs. the package on offer. Expectations are therefore realistic from day one and allow more credible conversations around buy-back scenarios. 

Distance to travel and work-life balance 

Sometimes this factor can be overlooked. What is a candidate’s current commute? How does this compare to the commute for a new opportunity based on usual working patterns? How much does the current commute cost, and how much would the new commute cost? What are the shift patterns and the hours of work in the current role? Does shutdown have compulsory holiday repercussions, notably during school holidays? Has the candidate considered all of these things from the start of a process? 
There is no point getting into the middle of a process only for a candidate to decide the commute is too tough or too expensive. That is a waste of everyone’s time! 
Likewise, what is the realistic work-life balance in the new role? How does it compare to the current situation? What are the candidate’s personal/family circumstances, and will that have an impact on their final decision? It is important to be upfront about this from the start. 

Engage with the candidate 

Quite simply, many people move for people! This has a huge impact on candidates but is sometimes underestimated. In engineering and manufacturing, pressure to fill key operational positions quickly can sometimes be high, meaning this part can sometimes be overlooked. It is, however, worth considering when mapping out a recruitment process. 
Who will the candidate meet in the hiring business? The personal rapport with the hiring manager is critical but it isn’t the only factor. Will the candidate meet the rest of the team? Will they meet key stakeholders in other parts of the business? Will they meet people who have progressed internally, and talk through their experiences? Will they be able to walk round the site they will be working in prior to receiving an offer and meet some of the staff? 
All of these things can create an attraction to a business and team that is separate from things like role specification, package, and location etc. It can create an emotional attachment and desire to work somewhere, which is one of the most powerful weapons against buy-back. Equally, in a competitive employment market, where our clients are vying for the best talent, it is critical that the client remembers to sell their business aggressively as well as conduct a slick process that highlights their commercialism. This is an important weapon for smaller environments to compete against large blue chip companies that can have a tendency to have more unwieldy processes when recruiting.

Have a well-structured assessment process 

Candidates often judge businesses by their interview processes. Are there clear timelines in place to manage expectations? Is the CV and interview feedback prompt and detailed? Does the advised preparation match with the content of the interviews? 
These may seem like small things but they can make a big difference. A company that is well organised, thorough and effective at recruitment, can impress a candidate – and likewise, the reverse can put the ideal candidate off. 
Explore what could happen when the candidate resigns 
Ensure that the candidate has fully thought through the potential buy-back scenarios before any offer is given. For example, if they are on £45k and the role on offer is £50k, what would happen if the current business offered them £50k to stay? What if they offered more – £51k or £52k? It is also worth exploring what the candidate would do if offered a promotion by their current employer, or a change in working patterns, or other additions to the total package. 

Make a compelling offer 

An offer should always be made based on what the hiring business thinks the candidate is worth, not just on the advertised package info. However, be mindful that if “cheeky” offers are made you could lose the candidate’s good will as it is a suggestion of what you perceive the candidate is worth. An offer well below what the candidate needs to accept is an offer that is arguably not worth making, as a second attempt to rectify is seldom entertained.
If the candidate has other processes on the go with your competitors or other businesses, what are they offering? What might the current business offer them to stay? For each role it is worth considering what a compelling offer would be – both as a statement of intent to secure the candidate, and also to ensure your remuneration is in line with the rest of the market. Importantly, this might not just be salary. It could be a bonus, healthcare or flexible working hours. Be clear about where in the organisation this role could progress to. 
Offers different to the details advertised should always be a pleasant surprise, not a condition but they can be a very powerful tool to prevent buy-back. 


If you are a hiring manager or internal recruiter, keeping these things in mind can avoid many of the common buy- back risks that we see across the market. And if you are using a recruiter ensure that they are doing this too. It is a crucial part of their service to you and can make the difference between a smooth, quick recruitment process, and a hiring nightmare!
Jonathan Abell
T: +44 121 230 9384
M: +447884492618