Relocation: the Silent Killer
By Steve Tennessen
Your highly touted CFO candidate just declined your job offer. Given the timing at this advanced stage, all other motivated candidates have moved on, leaving you with no back-ups. Your stomach churns, you had vouched to the Board that this would come together. Even worse, as news breaks to the team you literally see morale deflating. And you can't ignore the numbers flashing in your head - you know that the opportunity cost of prolonged executive recruiting is typically 4(x) the salary of the vacant role, meaning your company is wasting approximately $20,000 per week as this CFO role goes unfilled.
This scenario isn't so far-fetched. Since 2008 less than 1% of the workforce is relocating annually, down from nearly 3% in years prior. The relative drop is more precipitous if you exclude manufacturing and government jobs. On the surface that doesn't sound like much, but that ratio means less than one-third of people who were "movable" before are "movable" now. So when a talent-hungry organisation needs to zero in on that 1%, HR must be shrewd in developing candidates. Here, instead of latching onto a quick fix like monetary incentives, let's plant red flags along the path of relocation's hidden minefield.
While the X's and O's about mortgages and cost of living are obviously important, the trump card is always lifestyle. Attack that Rubik's cube gradually, utilising each step in the recruiting process to fit various snapshots into the big picture. Questions about the family's local weather and preferred climate is a safe place to start, as is whether the family enjoys a rural or urban scene, because you're starting from facts and common knowledge about their current situation. A city mouse almost always remains a city mouse. And some people hate snow.
From there it's a casual transition to ask about where the candidate is from originally. If the candidate (and/or the spouse) is from the area, the family likely has deeper roots including close proximity to extended family. Learn about their dynamic with relatives; for example, having young kids often means a strong bond with grandparents.
By this point you should have some rapport with the candidate so extend this goodwill by opening up about yourself, which should in turn encourage the candidate as we dig deeper. Chat about their hobbies especially location-specific elements like sailing, which could work for or against you. Probe for any fondness of the family's home; some people love their ranch-style house or expansive yard with a tree-house and a dog-run. Ask about the current commute and how that affects work/life balance, to catch a glimpse of how the candidate thinks about priorities.
Remember: you relocate a family, not an employee. Some of your target candidates may have school-age kids, in which case most couples attempt to postpone relocation until summer or the winter holidays. Fair warning - asking your candidate to live alone in a new city for more than a month risks distraction and cold-feet. In some cases a family needs to manage two job changes, not just one. Never under-estimate the other career, sometimes the spouse makes more money or faces a more stringent job market. And if you're screening for education, watch for tuition reimbursement(s) especially with graduate degrees.
The most unexpected grounds where relocation may blow up on you? Savvy candidates wonder about future career opportunities in the new city, with your company or otherwise. Even with a profoundly loyal new executive, if he or she knows that to advance from Business Unit President to a Corporate Executive means relocating from New City A to New City B, few candidates knowingly accept the double relocation job path. Or if your company is the chief employer for a given area, some candidates may not relocate to a city where there's limited external options because it essentially guarantees a double relocation if things don't work out.
Candidate engagement is the closest thing to a metal-detector when navigating the relocation minefield. In addition to asking insightful questions and building rapport, do the little things right like having a realtor escort the family around the area during one or more visits prior to (or in conjunction with) making a job offer. Destinations should cater to the parents (neighbourhoods, schools, nightlife) as well as the kids (parks, museums, the zoo).
Despite our fierce vigilance and foresight, some candidates won't seriously contemplate how relocation would play out for their family until the 11th Hour. You must be their guide, at the same time the angel and the devil on their shoulder. Be brave, suggest reasons NOT to relocate; better to know sooner rather than later. Ask what the spouse thinks about particular aspects of relocation, a vague response from the candidate may mean the conversation isn't happening at home. Challenge inconsistencies along the way, do "the takeaway" if behaviour indicates that the candidate is unreliable. And keep in mind, one genuine candidate is better than any number of speculative candidates.
So how are you maximising your chances of success in nudging that All-Star Candidate toward relocation?
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