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Top 5 Reasons Candidates Reject Offers - And What You Can Do to Prevent It

Updated: Feb 3, 2020

How many times have you faced a candidate turning down your offer after spending weeks interviewing and qualifying them? Everything seems great at first; you meet their salary expectations, you offer great vacation time, and you even have an inviting office environment. They say this job is exactly what they’re looking for, but after you extend the offer, to your surprise, they ghost you or or flat out turn it down.

As someone who is involved in the hiring process every single day, I’ve seen my fair share of turn-downs. Some of these occur because of unforeseen situations on the candidate’s side, but the good news is, most issues are actually under the hiring manager’s control. With the unemployment rate at an all time low in my lifetime, and the best candidates being passive, you can’t afford to have your candidates turning down offers with no guarantee you’ll find someone better.

Over the past decade, I have worked on thousands of jobs with thousands of hiring managers throughout their careers; I’ve analyzed each scenario to narrow down the top five reasons (in no particular order) why candidates are turning down offers - and what you as the hiring manager can do to stop them.

TURNDOWN #1: Your Company has a Bad Reputation on Social Media.

As soon as a candidate hears about an open position, they’re going to Google the company. They want to know everything about what your brand stands for and what management is like. They may use LinkedIn or Glassdoor, and some people even check Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

A company’s negative image on social media is one of the top reasons a candidate will turn down a position. Take a look at your company’s social media presence and imagine what your candidate will be seeing:

  • Are they reading about an amazing and collaborative environment?

  • Do current employees write about long work days with low pay?

  • What are the approval ratings of management and the CEO?

THINK: If current employees are taking the time to let the public know online what they think about a work environment, candidates looking into that company are going to listen.

How can you use social media to your advantage? Own it! The most effective thing you can do with your company’s social media is to bring it up without mentioning the source (in casual conversation) so it comes across as natural during the interview whether it’s positive or negative. Work the talking points into your conversation. If the reviews are generally positive, bringing this up to a candidate will show them know how awesome working there will be. If your company has negative reviews, addressing these as soon as possible will show that your company is proactive and cares about its reputation.

Our Chief Recruiting Officer Matt Hall says, “Every candidate is looking at social nowadays. I’ve had candidates bring up what they’ve seen online during the first phone call I have with them. Really, if you want to have a smooth hiring process, you have to be aware of the candidate’s perception of your company.”

How to address common negative reviews:

  • If the review is old - talk about how things have changed so that whatever was written is no longer true.

  • If the reviews say there are really long hours - be truthful if there are, but talk about the many benefits you offer that make those long hours great or worthwhile

  • If the reviews say there’s a heavy workload and not enough structure - be truthful about what is happening in the company right now (even if it’s messy), and then talk about what the company is doing to transition to a better point

  • The point is, most negative reviews can be salvaged. Every candidate has different ideas for what they want and don’t want in their next position at a company. Being upfront about the reality of your company builds trust and ensures you’re spending your time with the right candidates, not just any candidates.

TURNDOWN #2: Your Offer isn’t Competitive Enough.

It doesn’t matter if you’re in NYC or rural Montana; the pay rate and benefits you’re offering need to be competitive to the market you are in. In saturated markets, like those in large cities, this will help you secure candidates with a vast number of opportunities open to them. In areas of less density, this will draw talent to you.

If you are unable to offer a competitive salary, you are limiting your options no matter what the market looks like.

THINK: Before you make an offer to a candidate, figure out what their pain points are during the interview. Salary is not the only factor you need to consider when creating an overall package.

How to make your offer seem competitive:

  • If they want more time- if what they’re not getting at their current job is a good work/life balance, offer a flexible schedule. Or let them work remotely once a week. Find a compromise that works for everyone.

  • If they want more money- get everyone on the same page about the budget (this means hiring team and candidate both). If what your candidate wants is completely off the table, communicate that early and see what else they might be willing to accept besides a big check. Get creative, ask about an end of year bonus, relocation package, or signing bonus which can often be taken from another bucket of funds.

  • Get creative - How are your benefits? Unlimited vacation days? What about opportunities for career growth? Think long and hard about what the candidate’s pain point at their current job is and how you could ease their pain if they worked for you. 

TURNDOWN #3: This is a Candidate’s Market- and They Know It.

When conducting an interview, in today’s market, you should assume every candidate is passive. With the unemployment rate low, the best people are already employed. This is what you’ll find more often than not. That said, if you’re going to fight for a candidate to join your team, keep these things in mind. 

  • A candidate is also going to only show you the best version of themselves (sometimes a false version) to appeal to you. For example, they may agree with certain viewpoints they normally wouldn’t in order to seem more likeable. If a candidate has had a different job every year for the last ten years - be skeptical. 

  • If a candidate has had the same job for ten years - be equally as skeptical. Contrary to popular opinion, there’s reasons for concern in each.

THINK: When this happens, a candidate may see interviews all the way to the offer stage, just to see what they can get, before they’ve fully considered whether or not they even want the position. If the offer is rejected, the hiring team has to scramble to find other decent candidates, so this understandably should be avoided at all costs. 

How to set expectations to minimize your risk: 

  • Look for passion in the candidate - are they excited when they speak, and are they equally excited to listen when you speak? Or do they sound rehearsed and seem uninterested?

  • Don’t just focus on your favorite candidate- think about not just who your top choice is, but how many of the candidates in the process you would actually hire. This way, if your top choice falls through, you can have a backup ready to go and not have to start the whole process over again. 

  • Be clear about the hiring timeline and process - whether it will be two weeks or two months, the candidate should know how soon you are prepared to make an offer. If they’re passive and you’re moving quickly, they may drop out of the process altogether out of fear of being forced to make a decision they don’t feel ready to make, saving you valuable time. 

TURNDOWN #4: They Received a Counteroffer from Their Current Company.

You should always assume your candidate is going to get a counteroffer, and you or the recruiter should be preparing them for that. Once the offer is on paper they can use it as leverage to get more.

Christian Sontag, the Client Delivery Manager at Syfter, suggests that the recruiter or HR ask these questions to the candidate before the final interview to try to uncover their biggest pain point before the final interview:

  • “Are there any other jobs you’re seriously considering?”

  • “What really makes you want to leave your current job?”

  • “If you could get more money and have everything else stay the same at your current job, would you still be looking to leave?”

THINK: When the candidate is answering, listen to what they say and how they say it. Are they thinking their replies through and answering honestly, or are they telling you what you want to hear?

How to prepare for a counteroffer- get ahead of it:

  • Have a list of reasons the candidate is looking to leave- if they’re offered more money, it will sound great in the moment, but it won’t solve the long commute they’re trying to escape.

  • Prepare the candidate ahead of time to receive a counteroffer- if they see it as an expected maneuver by their employer to try to keep them from leaving, they may be less inclined to accept it.

  • Have a backup candidate- there’s never a guarantee, and you never want to be left unawares. Make sure that you interview multiple people regardless of what you feel about any of them. During the interview process, identify the candidate as someone that you would hire or not hire, and then rank them. Having a backup or two ready just in case your number one decides to stay where they are is a solid plan, not to mention you never know what your headcount will look like in the future - good talent is hard to find.

TURNDOWN #5: The Candidate Had a Negative Experience on Their Interview.

True story: I had a candidate go on an interview, and while they were waiting for an interviewer, someone walked by complaining about how much they hated working there. On the candidate’s way out of the interview, someone else was complaining about the company in the elevator.

How likely is that person to go work at that company?

In today’s market, employers are the ones putting in the effort to impress a candidate and convince them to take a job, rather than the other way around. Most candidates in this market are passive, and have no real need to leave their job. When this type of candidate interviews with you and your team, they are looking for an amazing experience that will convince them to risk the security of their current job for something new and unknown.

  • Bringing a candidate to the offer stage without understanding their specific situation and motivation is a mistake. If they’re a passive candidate, they are not begging to be hired and can take their time interviewing and browsing, but you and your team need someone in your open seat now.

  • If a candidate has a negative experience (interviewer is late, interview space is messy, a long interview process, rescheduling, unfriendly people around the office, etc.) they will be unlikely to fully consider your company to be a part of their future.

  • Show them you can give them more or better than what they currently have: more money, more benefits, more perks, more time at home, a better office, better coworkers, better opportunity

THINK: Consider your company’s organizational culture. This is not company culture in the way many people think about it; organizational culture is not about having game rooms in the office, beer on tap, or company outings to the Bahamas. According to the Harvard Business Review, “Organizational culture is the sum of values and rituals which serve as ‘glue’ to integrate the members of the organization.” The values of your company and your internal team are more than words in a mission statement; they’re present in your employees’ behaviors and mindsets. For this reason, hiring managers need to carefully choose who will be part of the interview process and what questions will be asked. The interviewer is as important as the candidate being interviewed - they are a representation of your company and will leave a lasting impression on the candidate. If they don’t embody the values you want to portray, they are skewing every candidate’s perception of your company. This will likely give the candidate a confusing or negative experience.

How to prevent a negative interview experience:

  • Control the entire candidate experience- you can’t control their way up to or down from the office, but you can control how quickly they’re brought into their interview, the opportunities they have to talk to people outside the interview team, etc. Try to ensure that everyone they touch will give them a good experience.

  • Tell your story- Tell the candidate how you came to be where you are and how much you’ve enjoyed it. Be a proud leader on your team, not someone bashing their company.

  • Talk to everyone directly involved in hiring- you want to figure out who you can trust to create a positive image of your company. Talk to them about what they should and should not be saying to a candidate.

  • Make candidate experience your top priority- it’s a lot easier for you to turn someone down for a job than to convince someone to take one who doesn’t want it. Train your interviewing team to prioritize candidate experience while being able to discern if the interviewee will be a good fit for the team overall.

In Conclusion:

Without planning ahead for the potential issues that could arise, hiring can become a messy and drawn out process. Uncover the candidate pain point and use it to guide you and prevent turndowns from candidates to minimize the stress and effort. Your team will be fuller and happier because of it. Some things are out of your control, but control what you can control. This article should leave you better equipped to do just that - best of luck!

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