Every recruiter has had, or will have, the experience of a candidate declining a job offer, contrary to everything the candidate has said or done up until that point.
This is a very expensive failure of your recruitment process because at the time of the offer you have completed around 95% of the necessary work and have collected (if you are a contingent recruiter) precisely 0% of the fee. If your second best candidate is not to your client's liking, or if the second best candidate is not your candidate, then you either (i) have to start the whole sourcing process again (bad), or (ii) lose the placement to a competitor (really bad).
I still shake my head thinking about the candidate (an experienced recruiter) who I had taken through three interviews, only to ring him three times (once each at work, home and mobile) to offer him the job (which was explicitly communicated in the mobile phone voicemail message I left him) and never hear back from him. I caught his eye a few years later across the room at a recruitment industry event and at least he had the good grace to pretend he hadn't seen me, saving him from a potentially embarrassing conversation.
Why do candidates do this?
Candidates decline jobs, almost always, because they have doubts about some aspect of the position (eg duties, remuneration, reporting manager, reporting line, peers, colleagues, etc) or doubts about some aspect of the company (eg size, location, industry, financial success etc). Candidates know that expressing doubts is not helpful to their chances of becoming the preferred candidate.
In most instances the candidate never had a strong likelihood of accepting the job but the recruiter optimistically ploughed ahead with the process, hoping that these doubts would prove to be unjustified.
As a result they generally keep these doubts to themselves. It's human nature that a person would prefer to be in the ‘power' position of declining a job offer rather than being ruled out of the running by the employer or recruiter due to another suitable candidate expressing greater enthusiasm for the role. Candidates typically want to keep as many (close-to-suitable) job options open for as long as possible.
It's likely the declined offer could have been prevented by the recruiter asking the candidate a more searching set of questions, both right at the beginning of the recruitment process and also during the recruitment process.
Here are some pre-suppositions that I always found helped me to avoid the ‘turned down offer' scenario:
- All candidates are susceptible to a counter offer, no matter what they might say to you at the first interview.
My recommended action: After an offer is accepted, role-play the counter offer conversation so you know exactly how equipped the candidate is to effectively handle a counter offer should it occur.
- The closer to the offer the recruitment process gets, the more likely it is that the preferred candidate will raise their salary expectations.
My recommended action: At each stage of the recruitment process, re-confirm the candidate's agreement to the salary discussed at the beginning of the process.
- Candidates don't seriously consider their resignation conversation until they actually have an offer.
My recommended action: At your initial interview test the candidate as follows: ‘You have clearly been successful in your current job and I suspect your boss would be very reluctant to see you leave. What would you do if you resigned and were then offered a pay rise of $15,000 to stay?' (Pick a figure about 15% above their current remuneration).
- Candidates won't tell you about other job opportunities they are pursuing unless you ask (and even then, they probably won't tell you the whole truth).
My recommended action: At regular intervals ask the candidate ‘What other opportunities are you waiting to hear on?' (Always assume they have other opportunities).
- Candidates will forget to tell you about relevant changes in their circumstances (eg received a pay rise or promotion etc).
My recommended action: At regular intervals ask the candidate ‘Has anything changed at work or at home that is relevant to your job search?'
Also ask every single candidate who is in a permanent job when their next salary review is occurring and what increase they are expecting to receive. Then make a note in your schedule to call, just after the nominated salary review time, to ask the candidate what happened at their review.
The outcome of a salary review can often mean, either the candidate now has greater motivation for leaving (if the outcome was disappointing) or less motivation for leaving (if the outcome was better than expected).
- The less responsive to your calls and other forms of contact a candidate becomes, the greater the chance they won't take the job.
My recommended action: Always leave a time/day by when you want them to get back to you and always be specific about the reason for your call. Also given them additional contact options (eg ‘If it's easier to text me then do so, or a LinkedIn message is also fine').
- When offered the job, if the candidate wants to ‘think about it' or ‘see the offer in writing', then there is a very strong chance they have a competing offer, have an offer pending or they will use the offer to gain a pay rise in their current job.
My recommended action: Always respectfully press the candidate on what they want to ‘think about' so you can address their concern (they must have a concern or hesitation, otherwise they would have already accepted the job).
Pre-suppositions are statements that are not necessarily always true however it's to your advantage to act as if they are true. When you act as if each of the above is always true then you dramatically reduce the chances that any assumptions you make about candidate behaviour (either consciously or unconsciously) will de-rail a potential placement towards the end of a recruitment process.