• Andrew Telburn

It’s Not You, It’s Me: Why Good Candidates Walk Away



As competition in the marketplace has tightened, so has our understanding of organisational efficiency and the creation of long-term value. A whole field of “dark costs” is being illuminated, and recruitment is one of the biggest culprits. The cost of each new hire has been estimated at AUD $5,000 – and that’s just getting someone in the door. If we guess wrong, we find ourselves caught in a vicious cycle. Having burned up resources to make a flawed hiring decision, we burn more resources to try and right the ship.


Hiring managers end up scratching their heads when this happens. They often look back at the person they really wanted to hire. The person whose personality and talent seemed like a perfect fit for the company. The person who was offered the job and, cordially, turned it down.


Why does this happen? Why do good candidates walk away? Obviously, there is no single answer. A company may need to fine tune its hiring process. It may need to consider more significant changes to the way it presents itself to job candidates. In other cases, it may need to rediscover the strengths it already has. Here are three possible weaknesses:


1. The perception of a rigid work culture


Some of your mature candidates might be okay with an old-school vision of work culture: Show up on time, stay on task, work for the future. Millennials (and their successors, Generation Z) already make up nearly 40% of the talent pool. By the end of the 2020s, they’ll have a strong majority.


A supportive, flexible, vibrant work culture is no longer optional if you want to retain top talent. Candidates want to live a fulfilling and balanced life and know the countless hours they spend in the office will be engaging and collaborative – maybe even fun. We’ve seen more than a few good candidates decline job offers because the company culture felt a little inflexible or staid. This perception may or may not be accurate; that’s why employers should take careful steps to show their candidates what the culture is really like.


2. No signs of career development


Candidates and hiring managers are constantly, albeit indirectly, asking each other ‘what’s in it for me’ during interviews. Hiring managers should take care to let candidates know that opportunities for career development not only exist, but that elevating the candidate’s career is a high priority. If the conversation centres completely on what the company needs, candidates will question how far the opportunity will actually take them.


3. Too much haggling


Negotiation is a normal part of the hiring process – but if it involves too many steps, a good candidate can get cold feet. The way to head this off, of course, is to make a generous initial offer and limit the amount of negotiation that follows. If a candidate feels like the process is too stingy or indecisive, they see it as a sign of things to come.


4. The recruitment process was too slow


The average time it takes to fill a position seems to have increased in many markets around the world. Employers want to make the right decision, and some are adding steps (live presentations, group interviews, drug tests, even IQ tests) to the hiring process.


But the job market, much like airline ticket prices, is dynamic and constantly changing. If your hiring process is too drawn-out, one or more of your best candidates may have accepted another offer – or changed their mind – by the time an offer is extended. It can be tricky to strike a balance between thoroughness and dispatch, but when you have standout candidates in contention for a job offer, it’s worth remembering the old proverb: He who hesitates is lost.


Too good to pass up


When a good candidate is looking for a new role, and when several different companies would like to hire that candidate, you will occasionally lose out; but if you’re doing everything you can to strengthen your company where it matters most – on the culture level, on the brand level, on the career development level – it will be as much that candidate’s loss as it is your own.


The road is long, and the talent pool is deep. Hiring managers should look at the latest research on how talented professionals select for job opportunities, and think about ways in which the brand, the compensation package, or even the interview process are failing to hit the right notes. Getting a recruitment expert involved can enrich and accelerate this process. Our objective is to fortify the hiring process from the inside out, so that the opportunities we bring to market are the ones that good candidates can’t pass up.


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