When a Recruiter Should Break Up with a Candidate

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Aug 2, 2017

It’s not me, it’s you. No really, it’s you!

Your candidate just rejected the offer. Or disappeared without a trace during the interview process. How could that happen? Was there any way you could you have seen this coming? Well, maybe there were signs. Red flags. Ok, admit it. You just didn’t want to end it. Not after all the work and time you spent.

Most of the time when you lose a candidate to another offer there is nothing you missed or did wrong. The other job was just more challenging or paid more or had a shorter commute or better hours or some other reason you cannot control. However, in a candidate-driven market, especially for positions that are hard-to-fill in any market, it is tempting to overlook — and rationalize — all those issues that ordinarily would make you decide not to submit a candidate in the first place.

Don’t ever believe that all those “little” things will be easy to negotiate when an offer is extended because your candidate will be so excited about the job by then and therefore more flexible than they were when you submitted them.

Let’s review a few circumstances when you should break up with a candidate.

Won’t Answer Basic Questions

First and foremost, a candidate has to tell you why they are looking or, if it is a passive candidate, what would motivate them to make a change. Don’t settle for a vague answer like they “want a better opportunity.” Find out how they define “better” and don’t move off the topic until you get an answer. If you skim over this subject, you are just asking to lose a candidate to a counteroffer or have someone drop out of the interview process because they changed their mind and don’t really want to make a move or don’t have the time right now.

Also, they need to tell you how much money they want to have in their next position. It doesn’t matter how much they are making in their current or most recent job, but it is very important to know how much they want to make in their next job. Don’t want to waste everyone’s time by putting a candidate all the way through the interview process just to find out later your company can’t afford them.

Unrealistic Expectations

You probably need to move on if your candidate has offers on the table and tells you he has a few days left before he has to give an answer to those offers. If he next informs you that if your company can interview him and make a decision in the next two days he’ll be happy to let you submit his resume for consideration, move on.

Or if a candidate tells you that your company will have to pay him an extra $50,000 per year to make up for the fact that they don’t have a retirement plan other than a 401(k) and he currently has a pension plan at his job (someone actually said this to me recently), move on.

Any outrageous demand someone makes is reason enough to break up with a candidate. Don’t count on unrealistic expectations to disappear at offer time.


Sometimes catastrophic circumstances or unexpected work trips or schedules intervene and will be the reason you don’t hear back from someone. But eventually they should get back to you and let you know what is going on. If someone is consistently slow to respond or completely unresponsive to interview requests or follow-up calls after an interview or after they have an offer without giving an explanation, you may need to pull them out of the interview process or rescind the offer.

First try leaving a very polite voicemail message and send an email saying that you assume their lack of responsiveness means they are no longer interested in the opportunity and you are withdrawing them from consideration or rescinding the offer. Say you are disappointed but wish them the best of luck in their future endeavors. If you still don’t get a response, move on.

Better to end it with a candidate and move on sooner rather than later.

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