One of the worst and unethical things a candidate can do (to a client, especially) is to go through the interview process in hopes of receiving a counter offer from their current employer. It is wrong for several reasons (in no particular order): 1) it is a waste of both the search firm’s time and the client’s time, 2) it burns bridges majorly with the client and, since these industries tend to be small, tarnish the candidate’s reputation, 3) jeopardizes the client’s opportunity of finding a great person for the role (especially if the client proceeds with one particular candidate because it seems as if the candidate is truly serious about joining the company), and 4) creates a really bad situation at the candidate’s current company as it becomes obvious that the candidate might not be loyal and is perhaps out for money only.
I worked on a senior role and the client had put all of their eggs in the basket of one candidate. Several rounds of interviews were involved, and the role was an immediate need so the client felt that they would have a great and much needed addition to their team after making an offer. The entire process lasted for about two months, and the candidate expressed a very strong interest throughout. When the offer came, she took several days to respond and even asked a very senior client in the company to make time out of their busy day to answer questions about benefits, etc. All parties involved believed she would accept based upon all of the signs and actions. In the end, she declined the offer and said she had received a nice counter offer from her current agency. She gave some other reasons for her decision but it was clear that more money from her current employer was the primary motivation to stay put. To note, her original reasons for wanting to seek other opportunities were based on valid concerns regarding her current agency—which could not have gone away in a week’s time!
While a candidate has any right to say “no” to an offer or ultimately decide that this isn’t the right next step, a candidate should really think things through before getting to the offer stage and should definitely not express an extreme interest in joining the company if he or she is only doing it to get a counter offer from his or her current employer.
Again this not only leaves the client in a bind with an incredibly bad taste in the mouth, but it also signals to the candidate’s current employer that he or she is actively seeking other roles—and this makes for an awkward and unstable situation ultimately.
LESSON: Candidates should pull out of the interview process at the right time (definitely before reference gathering and offer stage) if they know that they are only pursuing an opportunity to use it as leverage at their current company. It just isn’t cool.