I had recruited this particular candidate for a full-time position in a large consulting firm.  He impressed everyone during a rigorous interview process - he was judged to be an excellent fit in skills, prior experience, business acumen, and cultural fit to our organization.  My interactions with
him were all extremely positive and he appeared to be extremely excited for the opportunity.  He was seemingly one of those candidates whom we all like to find.


We extended him an offer that exceeded his salary expectation, had a project ready and waiting for him which met his professional interests, and proceeded to schedule his start date; he and I spoke several times on the phone during this stretch and e-mailed back and forth to lock in the timing for his start – he continued to show great enthusiasm and excitement all this time.  We had several direct conversations about his departure from his current employer, and he kept me posted on his exit discussions with them and everything appeared to be a go.  Suddenly, as of the week prior to his scheduled start date, he wasn’t responding to multiple e-mail messages about his first day of onboarding.  He also no longer returned my calls. 


When I finally reached him at 4pm on the Friday prior to his scheduled Monday start, he informed me that his current company had made a counter offer the week prior which he “just had to honor” and so he was staying with them.  He stated that he "just wasn't sure of the best way to tell us".  I gently reminded him of all the concerns he had expressed about his current company, the opportunity for a fresh start, how our role was more aligned to his stated future goals…etc.  But, he was unswayed and he reneged his acceptance with us.  So, I wished him well but also candidly shared with him that I didn’t expect we could ever come to terms again given that we now had to try to backfill the role we had sold him into with our client and might lose the work and client as a result.  I impressed upon him that it wasn’t a personal issue but that his decision resulted in a very negative experience on
our business and in our client relationship.  I also commented that if he had any cold feet, he should have notified us sooner as a courtesy.


Fast-forward to two years later when said candidate applies again for another position with us, making no mention in his cover letter of the preceding experience.  I responded with a generic ‘thanks but no thanks’ e-mail message because I was not about to be hosed a second time by him.  He replied to the generic message explaining that he had applied in the past and would really like to be considered again given how much he still really liked our company and wanted to be a part of it (!).  In this response, he referenced only that he had interviewed with us but that “it didn’t work out” and wasn't sure if we remembered him from before.  At this point, I responded to him personally, identifying myself and reminding him that I recalled not only him but also exactly how the chain of events occurred and it was a bit different than his summary recollection:  you interviewed – we liked you – you accepted an offer – you locked in a start date and repeatedly engaged with us to lock in details over a two week period in advance of starting – then you went completely dark – we finally hunted you down on the last business day before your start – at that time and only then did you share you had a counter-offer and had made up your mind to stay put - you reneged an acceptance – we were left holding the flaming bag – we lost the project and the client work.  A bit different than “it didn’t work out”.


I reminded him of the significant impact he had on our business as a result of his decision, and that I had told him at that time we would never entertain his candidacy again and that we meant it and would be passing on him this time, and anytime in the future.  I ensured his record in the ATS reflected the full and ugly story (blow by blow) so that it would live on beyond me and to prevent another recruiter in our company from engaging with him and not knowing the prior experience we had with him. 

I learned the following:

  • You NEVER really know a candidate’s intent, but that doesn’t mean you should cease trying to get as close an understanding of their motivations as possible.  However, some candidates are flaky or unprofessional or unpredictable and therefore impossible to read.
  • I don’t count my chickens before they hatch:  always keep additional candidates warm in the pipeline and never celebrate that placement even one business day in advance.  When prepping a candidate for exit discussions with their current company, probe hard to ferret out any misgivings or potential cold feet.  Even if they don't hint at any.
  • But most importantly, I learned to keep track of the flaky candidates out there because, like a horror film zombie, they will rise from the dead again and bite you if you aren’t prepared!


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Great post. Thanks for sharing. As an earlier blog note, you really need thick skin to survive in our trade, eh? Our "product" is the only one that can walk away, be flakey or rude. A car can't turn around on its own and go back to the dealership "I wanted a family with only 1 kid as owners not two!!!"  

Oh my goodness.  I had this candidate as a Project Manager for a oil field services company.  This guy interviewed, was offered a job.  They offer was lower than what he wanted. , he proceded to negotiate.  Relentlessly, he really pushed the envelope.  He was not awarded any extra money but was awarded vacation.  This took quite awhile and involved ALOT of people within the company.  I spent an incredible amount of time on the phone with this narcisist .


The entire time I never encouraged him to stay in the process, it was his choice.  Then he said no, after asking and recieving all this additional meetings with the hiring manager.  BECAUSE he is getting married and maybe now is not the time to change jobs.  He has been engaged for about 4 months!


I was MORTIFIED, the client was angry and fatigued.  Then three weeks latter he calls up the hiring manager and says he wants the job.  The hiring manager says YES.  He is going to start in a week.  I am sure I would never hire him but he client felt they needed him.

Let me just say I did not see this comming, this guy is totally outside the norm. 

Being fed up with candidates declining excellent/better than expected offers I wrote this template in my best English (quite a feat as Afrikaans speaking) that I email to them:

Dear Candidate,

Herewith I want to extend my congratulations with your new vocation.

I just want to bring the following to your attention to safeguard you from burning more bridges when you re-enter the job market in future:

  1. Please inform your recruiter that you’re not interested in the position offered as soon as possible (preferably before the stage where an offer is extended to you). Most recruiters work on a commission only basis, meaning they only receive remuneration once a candidate is successfully placed and DON’T receive a secure monthly income as you were offered. To facility the recruitment process up to the stage where an offer is extended requires considerable time, effort and resources to be expended. Extend your recruiter the courtesy to expend their energy and resources on another, more suitable, candidate in order to earn their daily bread.
  2. For every offer that is extended to you, at least one other candidate has been declined. The other candidate may have been retrenched/are in the process of being retrenched due to economic factors and desperately in need of employment. You may have deprived another candidate from the ability to care for his family.
  3. The client is left in the lurch when you feign interest and enthusiasm just to decline the extended offer. They undoubtedly declined other interested parties and have to recommence the entire recruitment process. They too invested time and resources and are left with a bad taste in the mouth.

I wish you well with your future career.

Kind regards

Your Recruiter


A bit sarcastic I know, but makes me feel better to send them to hell in a nice way without getting personal.

@Stephanie:  I may be sending your letter to two candidates this week.  I can't believe the offers that these two turned down.  Have they NOT been paying attention to current events???


Wow, in reading this I had a total flashback to a very similar experience with a candidate (there are probably more but this one always stood out to me).  I never stop being amazed at how cavalier candidates can be (and clients too if you think about it it) only thinking of their own self interest, which is normal, but it's their method and viewpoint about how in their minds no one else is impacted by their flakiness or lack of professionalism.  But the gall to think they can just come back and expect they didn't burn any bridges is truly mind boggling.  Love the letter you wrote @Stephanie

Very Good Article. Thanks for sharing!!!

I faced similar experiences in my four year old recruitement career and you are abolutely correct about the candidate's intent and also about creating a good pipeline.

Great article, Todd.  We too never celebrate a deal until the candidate officially starts.  We've had too many last minute turndowns that we didn't see coming.

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