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How to Prevent Rejected Job Offers

Is it you? Your competitor? Or the candidate's current employer?

Rejected job offers are inevitable, especially in today’s candidate-driven market, but some tried-and-true best practices can prevent or mitigate this unhappy surprise.

According to CareerBuilder’s latest quarterly survey of 400 staffing industry professionals, the most common reasons for a declined job offer are:

  • Candidate received another offer (39 percent).
  • Compensation and benefits are not in line with the candidate’s expectations (29 percent).
  • Candidate received a counteroffer from his or her current company (10 percent).

When an offer is declined, what should HR do? “It’s difficult to be on the rejection side of a job offer, but the reality is that job offers are like any other business transaction,” said Erin Engstrom, content marketing strategist for recruitment software company Recruiterbox, based in San Francisco.

Elaine Orler, CEO and founder of talent acquisition consultancy Talent Function, based in San Diego, describes the offer process as “the point of extending the ring in an engagement. It’s sensitive, personal and much like putting your heart on the line—nail-biting.”

But it doesn’t have to be, she added. “There are many cues that happen throughout the recruiting process that can prompt and educate the employer on the potential for rejection at this stage, and ensure that you’re extending the ring the candidate wants, or one that they will accept,” Orler said.

Another employer may have offered the candidate a shorter commute, higher pay or better benefits. “Regardless, when a candidate turns you down, it’s not a reflection on the caliber of your company,” Engstrom said. “And the good news is that since candidates decline offers only about 10 percent of the time, chances are you won’t run into this situation too often. But you should always examine where your hiring process could be stronger.”

Rejected for a Competitor

Organizations that find themselves losing candidates to a competitor’s offer should do everything they can to determine why this is happening, said Aly Funk, human resources manager at Bratney Companies, based in Des Moines, Iowa. “HR should consider compensation and benefits offerings as well as the interview process itself. Were there too many steps or too many people in the process?” she asked.

Countless studies have shown that candidates are vetting employers as much as companies are interviewing candidates. “Candidates want to understand the hiring process and know their status in the process,” said Sharlyn Lauby, president of ITM Group Inc., a South Florida-based training and human resources consulting firm and author of the popular HR Bartender blog. “If a candidate doesn’t know their status, I believe on some level the candidate will assume the worst and look for other opportunities. It’s all about keeping candidates engaged.”

Be consistent, timely and professional when communicating with job candidates, said Steph Shemanski, SHRM-CP, HR director at Reading, Penn.-based Custom Processing Services. “If you say they will hear back from you by the end of the week, it is absolutely critical to follow up. Even a quick check-in e-mail could provide clarity to the candidate that you’re still interested, reference checks are in progress or final approval for an offer is being processed. Don’t let your lack of follow-through make a qualified candidate slip through the cracks.”

Orler recommended that HR ask pointed questions during the interview process, such as: “Your qualifications are excellent, and we’re excited about the possibilities of you joining our organization. I can only assume that there are other organizations that are also excited about your qualifications. Is there anything we need to change to ensure we’re your first choice?”

Shemanski recalled that she recently learned a top candidate was interviewing at several companies and had two offers on the table. “During the phone interview stage I asked if he was looking at other companies and he replied ‘yes.’ After the in-person interview, he let me know that he did have an offer on the table and another on the way. This information was critical when I worked with management to ensure we provided a competitive offer,” she said.

Being up-front in the early stages of the process can also help align the company’s needs and wants with the candidate’s needs and wants, Shemanski added. “For instance, if a candidate must have flexwork options or absolutely won’t take under-X salary, the company will need to justify if they can accommodate the candidate’s requests as a smart business decision.”

And don’t forget that you can ask the candidate about his or her choice to decline your offer. “HR should relay the company’s disappointment regarding the declined offer and ask the candidate what their reasons were for choosing a different company. People are often willing to provide transparent feedback if you ask,” Funk said.

Rejected for Not Meeting Salary Expectations

Experts agreed that compensation expectations should be managed up-front, with honest communication between recruiters and candidates. “Ensuring you know what they want in total comp is part of the data-collection process prior to the interview,” Orler said.

Engstrom recommended including a salary range and benefits package overview within job postings.

“[Address] all of their compensation needs, prior to just presenting a salary,” Orler said. “Most effective organizations deliver this message as a verbal offer first. Outline the growth plan, the potential for bonus and any other variable comp package prior to extending the offer.”

Lauby said she’s worked in many organizations where salaries were at the lower end of the scale but the perks were fabulous. “If that’s the culture, then have that conversation with employees up-front. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about and many candidates will appreciate it.”

The key is responding to the candidate’s driving reason for considering the position at your company, according to Orler. “The reality is the candidate needs to feel whole. If it’s more cash compensation, and you know you can’t offer that, then the verbal offer is a way to test out what they will flex to and what your organization might flex to,” she said.

Rejected for Current Employer

Candidates rejecting an offer due to a counteroffer from their current employer are hard to spot, Orler said. “If you take the same approach as with the competitor offer, you’ll know if they like where they work and intend to stay or if they really want to leave.”

Counteroffers are a tricky thing, Lauby noted. “Organizations need to realize that they can’t do much to avoid being rejected due to a counteroffer.” She added that in her experience, counteroffers typically do not turn out well for either the company or the employee because of unresolved issues. “Yes, the money gets resolved but the other issues don’t. So it’s often just a mechanism for postponing the inevitable.”

Gone But Not Forgotten

Orler advised employers to keep track of their offer-withdrawal candidates “because the reality is their circumstances will change in the future and there is always the potential for you to extend a new offer to them, when they realize they really are ready for a change.”

Just because a candidate might not be ready for the leap, don’t burn bridges, she said. You can ask these candidates for referrals for the position also, since “they’re the most educated external person on what the position will entail now. It is very likely that they could refer the perfect person for the role,” she said.

And don’t forget about the other candidates you rejected on the way to having your offer declined. “Your first step is contacting some of those good-but-not-quite candidates before they, too, obtain other offers. Time is often of the essence for companies who want to get the best candidates on their side,” Engstrom said.

Finally, Engstrom cautioned that if candidates are repeatedly rejecting your offers, “you’ve got to take a closer look at how you’re sourcing candidates. Are you relying too heavily on LinkedIn, external recruiters or job boards? Just like it’s great to diversify your workforce, it’s great to diversify your candidate sources.”

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him @SHRMRoy

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