Why New Hires Quit Before They Start and How to Prevent It

Roy Maurer By Roy Maurer August 10, 2018
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​It might've taken weeks, or maybe months, to lure and land the perfect candidate whose skills and experience check all the boxes. The person has accepted your job offer. But shortly before the start date, he or she has a change of heart and decides not to join your organization.

It happened to Suzie Grieco, now the president and co-owner of SG2 Recruiting, a recruiting and search firm in Washington, D.C. "After a long negotiation regarding compensation, the candidate accepted a verbal offer and returned a signed offer letter," she recalled. "The day before he was scheduled to start, he called to say that he had accepted another offer that he could not refuse."

Grieco said she was livid "given [their] extensive discussions regarding comp, the team and second chances"—he had declined another offer the previous year.

Recruiters are understandably frustrated when a candidate rescinds a job acceptance, but the decision also creates larger problems for the business. The employer has likely notified any recruitment agencies it was using and other potential applicants that the position has been filled; job ads may have been pulled; and supplies, software and hardware may have been ordered and are being set up.

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Why Does This Happen?

There are several reasons candidates might accept a position and later rescind it, starting with the fact that the current labor market favors job seekers. "In this market, all job seekers and candidates have more options," said Matt Deutsch, chief content officer at Top Echelon, a recruitment software and services company in Canton, Ohio. "Top candidates have no qualms about exploring multiple opportunities with multiple employers."

It's possible that candidates received a better offer from a different company or accepted a counteroffer from their current employer, said Diane Domeyer, executive director of The Creative Group, a staffing firm for design and marketing professionals based in Menlo Park, Calif.

"You see it when individuals are trying to negotiate with their current employer or negotiate two employers against each other, especially if their skills are in high demand," said Kate Bischoff, SHRM-SCP, founder of tHRive Law & Consulting, based in Minneapolis. "Or they didn't do very good research initially, and they find out something they really don't like about an employer and change their mind. I've seen this happen when the hiring manager wants the person to be in the office every day 8 to 5, and the candidate decides they need more flexibility."

Domeyer added that if salary negotiations didn't go as planned, candidates may rescind acceptance to look for an opportunity with a higher salary.

Legal Recourse

Simply put, there isn't any legal remedy that's worthwhile, Bischoff said. "We're in an at-will environment where someone can quit at any time, even at the point of offer or before the first day of work."

A signed contract, which outlines specific employment terms, generally supersedes at-will employment, however. "If they signed an employment agreement that outlines a certain amount of notice that needs to be provided before resignation or specifically lists the reasons that they can leave the company, the employer could challenge their resignation and try to initiate legal proceedings—but I don't advise that," Bischoff said.

"The company would basically be forcing the person to work for it," Deutsch said. "It's not worth it, even if the organization has the legal leverage to make it happen. Hopefully, they can make an offer to their No. 2 candidate, the runner-up who is now the top choice."

How to Prevent Candidates' Rescinding Job Acceptance

This can be a great opportunity for feedback and critical awareness about what may need to change about the job's terms and conditions or the company's recruiting process, especially if it's happening with the same roles, hiring manager or recruiter.

"It could be that the offer is too low, or working conditions are not attractive. The candidate's perspective gives you additional ammunition when you go to the hiring manager and ask him or her to re-evaluate how they think about the positions," Bischoff said.    

For example, if the salary was too low, the organization may be able to offer other perks and benefits that satisfy the candidate's needs, Domeyer said.

Deutsch added that successful recruiters will identify any pain points the candidate has about the role or the company early in the process and reassure the candidate on those concerns. "Do everything you can to shorten the process, sell the socks off the offer and make the candidate feel wanted," he added.

Nicole Belyna, SHRM-SCP, a strategic recruitment business partner at Thompson Creek Window Co., based in Lanham, Md., said the hiring process at her company has been refined so that by the end of it the candidate and hiring manager can make a mutually confident, well-informed decision.

"The interview is not just a time for us to get to know the candidate," Belyna said. "It is an opportunity for the candidate to learn about us too, including the company, the team they would be working with, and additional details and expectations of the role. We don't sugarcoat anything, and we offer a lot of transparency. From the first conversation, we discuss the good, the bad and the ugly. If a candidate has made it to the point where we're ready to extend an offer, it is likely they are in it for the long haul." 

Recruiters can also probe candidates about their job search. "Be sure to ask throughout the interview process what other opportunities they have considered and how your opportunity compares," Domeyer said. "In today's highly competitive market, it's important to realize there may be others wooing them even after they've accepted an offer, including their current employer."

A well-developed onboarding program, which starts once the candidate accepts the job offer, is also important, Domeyer said.

"Once the candidate has accepted the offer, we stay in contact with them until their first day," Belyna said. "We onboard outside sales representatives once a month, so sometimes we have to keep a candidate engaged for a month. Their recruiter reaches out to them on a weekly basis to check in and maintain the excitement of joining the team. We know we have to keep them engaged so they don't start to look at other options."

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