Death By A Thousand Cuts by Frank Jay

Death By A Thousand Cuts is a book written by historians Timothy Brook and Gregory Blue in 2008.  The book investigates the use of “slow slicing” or lingchi…a form of torture and capital punishment practiced in China until 1905. 

But the title reminds us of the procedure often used by many companies when making a formal offer of employment to a potential executive or management team member.

What we are talking about here is not the process for reaching a hiring decision but the process for actually making a formal employment offer.  It is unfortunately the point where some companies…who have proceeded very successfully through the interviewing of candidates and the determination of which candidate is the most viable…begin to stumble and ultimately lose the candidate that they have chosen.

Here is what happens too often.  A hiring decision is made, a compensation package is established, and the formal offer letter is prepared for presentation.  At that point, either the hiring manager or the human resources department makes the formal offer by phone and verbally confirms the details included and then explains that the formal offer letter (usually attached to an email) will be sent immediately to the candidate for review, signature and return.  The candidate occasionally accepts immediately but, in most cases, says that they “want to review the offer” and then respond.

And it is exactly at this point when many potential hires are lost!

Too often, the person making the offer responds to the candidate by saying “We understand and we look forward to hearing from you”.

By making that response…or one similar to it…the hiring manager or HR department has just delegated control of the rest of the hiring process to the candidate and has accepted an “open ended” wait for an answer.  Not only does this approach concede control but it communicates “weakness” to the candidate.

We aren’t proposing that arrogance or a dictatorial approach is required here.  We are simply saying that reasonable structure needs to be required by the hiring team in order to manage the process and potentially obtain successful results.  Candidates expect as much and wonder at a hiring approach that is more “wishful” than “firm” and reasonably structured.

So, instead of saying “we will wait to hear from you”, we suggest that the response by the hiring team to the candidate should be “we would appreciate hearing from you by phone on (date) at (specific time)”.  And, we would propose that the date and time should not be beyond 72 hours from the date and time that the offer is made.  In fact, if a weekend is not imminent, we would suggest that it is reasonable to expect a response within 24 hours.  A candidate will tell you if they need more time and they should tell you “why” they need more time…and the point of moving quickly is that time is NOT your friend when it comes to an offer being accepted.  Truly, the more the process stretches, the more likely that something will occur which will result in a negative decision on the part of the candidate.  And, if the candidate is an effective decision maker, they should have prepared to make a decision within 24 hours.  If they cannot or if they are unwilling to do so, maybe you have made the wrong hiring decision.

When you respond by saying you “look forward to hearing”, “Death By A Thousand Cuts” has started.  And it will feel like you have died a thousand times before you get an answer to the hiring offer.