If a candidate turns down your job offer, do this next

You’ve gone through a thorough recruitment process, interviewed some exciting applicants and you’re ready to make an offer to the standout candidate.

But when you call to give them the good news, they turn you down. Now what?

According to US-based organisational development consultant Ben Dattner, you’re making a big mistake if you simply wish the candidate well and send them on their way.

In a recent article for Harvard Business Review, Dattner instead advocates gathering feedback from candidates like this in the form of a ‘declined offer’ interview.

In a premise similar to an exit interview, a declined offer interview aims to unearth why the candidate chose not to take the job.

In doing so, you could gain valuable insights into the interview process and organisation as a whole – and ultimately improve your recruitment process and your employee value proposition (EVP).

Not all feedback is created equal

Feedback from candidates like this may be outside of what you or your organisation can control – for example, reasons specific to the candidate’s personal situation.

Other feedback might just not be very useful, because the source of the issue is very difficult to change ­– for example, remuneration, benefits or facilities.

But the feedback that will be most valuable for your organisation is often that which is the most difficult for the candidate to discuss openly.

The solution? Dattner suggests engaging a third party to administer the declined offer interview – for example, an external operator like a consulting firm; an internal one like staff from a different department within your organisation; or anonymously using an online form or platform.

How to conduct a declined offer interview

To encourage the candidate’s participation, make it clear that their feedback is necessary to help inform and improve your organisation’s recruitment process.

Assure them there’ll be no hard feelings over their feedback, which can be kept confidential if that’s important to them.

Dattner suggests asking about how the candidate views:

  • The positive aspects of the role and organisation;
  • Their concerns about the role and organisation;
  • The most important factors in their decision;
  • Suggested improvements to the interviews, interviewers, the interview process itself or candidate experience;
  • Observations specifically for the hiring manager, HR and the organisation more broadly; and
  • Any other feedback not already covered.

How to assess the feedback

When assessing the feedback, bear in mind that personal sensitivities and organisational politics can come into play when it comes to the conclusions those analysing the feedback reach.

As a result, the analysis of the candidate’s feedback shouldn’t become a witch hunt or a blame game. Frame the results in a positive, forward-looking way, and focus on what the interviewers, HR, senior leaders or the organisation as a whole can improve for next time.

For example, hiring managers might need better or more training on how to conduct a good interview; a different set of interviewers might better represent the organisation; the organisation might need a clearer explanation of its future plans that everyone understands; or your organisation might need to change the whole process to make sure candidates get a speedier response after an interview.

Nobody likes rejection. But by confronting potentially negative feedback from candidates who passed on a job and being open to learning from it, your HR people, hiring managers and your organisation’s leaders all potentially have much to gain.

How often do candidates knock back your job offers? We’d love to hear your experiences in the comments below.

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