Getting To The Bottom of the Rejected Offer

Aug 24, 2010

How did it come to this?

The resumé was great, the cover letter perfect. The interview went well. After the candidate was placed in front of the client, both sides raved to you about how well it went.

Really, the other candidates just seemed like they were going through the motions.

And so the offer is made. And rejected!

“But…but…but…” is your considered reply. “You love them. They love you. What’s wrong?”

At this point you slip into objection mode to be ready for the answer.

You’re getting an unexpected promotion? “Well, congratulations… if that’s really what you want.”

You’ve been made a counter-offer? “Well, let me give you some highly discredited statistics that have been floating around recruitment for years.”

You’ve decided you don’t like the extra ten minutes travel / puke-coloured company shirt / half hour lunch break / compulsory annual conference in Tahiti? “But we discussed this…”

Where did you go wrong?

Sometimes, it’s not your fault. It really can be something out of the blue.

A colleague of mine once had a candidate who, having verbally accepted a job offer on a Friday, won several million dollars in a lottery on Saturday. The candidate rescinded his acceptance on the following Monday. You could hear the champagne corks still popping in the background. (Of course, there was no second suitable candidate!)

I once made an offer on the day that the papers ran an article suggesting the company was closing down. The candidate decided a bird in the hand was preferable.

Of course, sometimes you have to deal with the client going off script. “They offered me $200K in the meeting and the offer says $192K, just like you told me, but now I want the $200K”.

Short of applying a quick, sharp jolt of electricity to your client via a taser in an effort to help them understand your point of view, you can never stop them from making unusual, contrary, illegal, unethical, or just plain wrong statements.

Often a line manager interviewing has virtually no idea about company policies (“I’m sure that the ‘no smoking’ policy in the building could be waived for you’) and so when the offer comes from you, it bears no relation to the offer that the line manager and the candidate have agreed on.

When this happens, it can easily lead to mistrust.

And sometimes, it’s your fault. Yes, yours!

So what can you do to make the chances of this happening to you as small as possible?

The obvious thing is to not oversell in the ad.. Sometimes, we can get carried away with our ability to market a role and to hit a candidate’s ‘hot buttons’ without considering if the role is actually as good as we are claiming. This is bound to lead to disappointment at some stage. In fact, I find I get better results by just telling the truth. (“Can you handle a role as Personal Assistant to two senior executives who barely know how to turn a laptop on?” is one of my more memorable efforts)

Secondly, if you are an external consultant, try to always get out on the ground where the position will be located for a spot of reconnaissance. Without sounding like an aging hippy, you need to pick up the vibe, man.

That way, you can test the candidate you are talking to against the vibe. Not what they say; not what the client says, but whether you can picture that person in that space.

If you can’t get a clear picture, tackle it early and directly. “John, after three jobs with multi-nationals, how in the world would you cope with being ten percent of the workforce in a tiny business?”

Why is this necessary? Because after the fact, people lie! Candidates don’t want to say, “I don’t want to join an organisation where the manager seems to be quite mad and the wallpaper is covered with risqué anime characters” so they say “my current employer offered me a raise, so I’m staying”.

Candidates are never comfortable suggesting that they just don’t like the people and/or the organisation and/or the view and/or the wallpaper, so they fall back on the old romantic standard – “it’s not you, it’s me”.

If you haven’t figured out by now that there’s virtually no difference between recruiting and romance…time to change careers.

In the same way as my sister-in-law refused to marry a man with a vaguely embarrassing surname until he changed it by deed poll; a job ad headed “Business Development Executive” that leads to a contract headed “Salesperson” might then lead to some mumbled excuse because the candidate doesn’t want to say “I want a better title on my business card”.

When I meet with candidates, I often tell them a little about the person they will meet. A bit of their background, or their personality. Of course, it’s hard to do that if you haven’t met them, as part of my “on the ground” remarks earlier.

So basically, my argument can be distilled to the following: know your client; know your candidate. Make sure that the candidate is your client’s “sort of people”. And vice versa.

Pay attention to the vibe, man.

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