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When there are more job seekers looking for work than jobs available (think: the Great Recession), it’s rare for candidates to turn down a job offer. In a labor market favoring employers, candidates have to take what they can get. But in a tight labor market like today, where candidates have the luxury of being a bit more discriminating, it’s not uncommon for job seekers to turn down opportunities that don’t fit their criteria to a T.
While this is undoubtedly frustrating for recruiters, there’s no need to despair. Candidates rejecting job offers is rarely out of your hands entirely. There are often changes you can make to increase the acceptance rate–the key is to understand why candidates are rejecting your offers.
We chatted with a few hiring experts to learn the most common reasons candidates turn job offers down–and what recruiters can do to prevent them.
They found better salary and benefits elsewhere
There’s no beating around the bush–salary and benefits are two of the top things that candidates look for in the job search, so if a different company can offer a better salary and more robust benefits package, it will be highly attractive to candidates. The best way to preempt this is to make sure that you’re transparent about salary from the get-go, says Alex Benjamin, agency recruiter and owner of Recruiter Written.
“This means reconfirming salary expectations during prep and debrief calls as well as keeping abreast of the other opportunities the candidate [is] interviewing for. If the candidate’s compensation expectations change, the minute this change occurs, it is imperative to go back to the hiring team and give them an update to make sure everyone is on the same page,” Benjamin says. “It is better to turn away [a] candidate early rather than go through the entire process just to run into salary issues in the end.”
It’s also worth digging into what the candidate values the most–if they’re primarily leaving their company to look for one with a better culture, for example, salary may only play a secondary or tertiary role in their decision.
“Candidates don’t always pick the best-paying position–they often go for the best fit. Understand motivation and where salary fits into the equation,” Benjamin adds.
If you really want to make your offers more competitive, there are a handful of benefits that are low-cost and relatively easy to implement.
“It’s not always all about money–workplace culture and [other factors] do matter. Unlimited vacations, flexible working hours, many team retreat trips other than just [an] annual company trip, are some cool perks we offer,” says Ha Pham of TINYpulse, an employee engagement platform.
However, if candidates rejecting offers for salary-related reasons seems to be a recurring theme, it may be time to evaluate whether or not your offers are actually up to par. Exploring salaries on Glassdoor and turning to resources like Randstad will help you determine whether or not you’re offering market-rate pay.
They had a poor candidate experience
Sure, being late to an interview or a delay in responding to a candidate might be a rare thing for you, but the candidate you drop the ball on doesn’t know that. If you don’t take care to make the first impression a good one, it could also be your last. Lengthy interview processes are a particularly common candidate complaint.
“Perhaps they’re put through the wringer of endless interviews with various ‘decision makers’. . . or perhaps they have a reasonable number of interviews, but then the employer ghosts them for weeks and suddenly an offer pops up out of nowhere. Either way, long interview processes never leave a good impression,” says Jackie Ducci, CEO and founder of Ducci & Associates. “In fact, they often cause candidates to worry that the firm is inefficient in their processes, indecisive in their decision making, etc., and this turns them off from the company completely. They may also feel put off if they don’t feel that the company is excited about hiring them.”
To avoid this, Ducci recommends that employers streamline their processes as much as possible. “Have a clear idea of what the ‘ideal candidate’ looks like before starting the search, and be ready to pull the trigger if/when that person surfaces”–even if they’re the first candidate.
“Also, be respectful of the candidate’s time. If they need to meet five people during the interview stage, consolidate those five meetings into group interviews and/or schedule short conversations with each person back-to-back on one or two interview dates,” Ducci continues.
And of course, it’s paramount that the interviews themselves are cordial and professional.
“Remember, from the moment your candidate steps in the door[ . . . ] to the moment you, the interviewer, say goodbye, they’re interviewing you just as much as you’re interviewing them,” says Denise Dudley, author of Work It! Get In, Get Noticed, Get Promoted. “Examine every single aspect of your company’s interviewing experience, and make sure everything spells ‘great place to work.’” This includes sharing information on the culture, making sure the candidate knows how to get to the office, having the receptionist warmly greet everyone who walks in the door, etc.
Your company has earned a bad reputation
If you’re familiar with Glassdoor, you probably already know that today’s candidates are increasingly researching companies online before they accept a job offer. A 2017 study conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of Glassdoor found that a full 83% of job seekers are likely to research company reviews and ratings if deciding on where to apply for a job. In addition, a new study revealed that job sites like Glassdoor outweigh word of mouth, social media, and even careers pages as the preferred research channel.
“Job seekers are definitely researching your company before or after applying, which is why brand reputation is so important. Bad news has wings. If there are bad reviews from your previous or current employees online, it can be a red flag to candidates,” Pham says.
Rather than being afraid of or angry about negative reviews, though, you should view them as a gift. After all, feedback helps you identify the areas your company needs to work on. See if you can find any common patterns among unhappy employees, then get together with your leadership and HR teams to brainstorm ways you might be able to address these areas. Not only will this help with your online reputation–employee satisfaction is also correlated with improved financial performance.
Very few (if any) companies will ever reach a 100% acceptance rate–no matter how buttoned-up your company is, candidates will turn offers down due to personal obligations and practical reasons. But don’t think that you as a recruiter have no sway in tipping the scales. Taking a few small steps to address some of candidates’ most common hang-ups can have a powerful effect.
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Maybe your job isn’t great. Or, you hate your apartment. Those coworkers you have are so annoying. Or, you may be dealing with life challenges like illness, job loss, or sudden caretaking responsibilities that are getting in the way of some other things that you want to do.
Into each life, some annoyances, obstacles, and misfortune will fall. And while some self-help gurus will tell you to simply ditch what’s making you unhappy or holding you back, sometimes, it’s not that easy.
“Everybody has those constraints and situations that we don’t want to be in,” says licensed clinical social worker and resilience expert Linda Hoopes, PhD, author of Prosilience: Building Your Resilience for a Turbulent World. You don’t want to get stuck there, but sometimes, you’re stuck with them for the time being. But there are things that you can do to make many situations better and cultivate greater resilience, even as you look for long-term solutions or resolutions, she says.
1. Honor your opponent
It’s easy to ruminate about why you’re stuck in a bad situation, but challenges are where we learn, says performance coach Bob Litwin, author of Live the Best Story of Your Life: A World Champion’s Guide to Lasting Change. Litwin works with professionals in high-pressure jobs, such as talent agents and hedge fund managers. And sometimes, having a difficult boss or set of circumstances can be a gift.
“Adversity is the ultimate great teacher,” he says. As an elite tennis player, he says his toughest opponents were the ones who made him better. While the difficult situation may seem “just awful,” sometimes they “bounce you in a better direction and teach you how you’re going to be in that situation,” he says. Simply understanding that you have an opportunity to learn from your challenges can give them some previously unseen value, he says.
2. Break it down
Many big challenges are really a series of smaller challenges that can seem overwhelming. When you break down the individual components of a situation, they’re easier to address, Hoopes says. For example, a “crappy” job may break down into unpleasant interactions with coworkers and long hours that affect family time. Break down the individual components of what’s making you unhappy, and they’ll be easier to address, she says. Prioritize those that are draining your energy most, she adds.
3. Change what you can
Even within a bad situation, you can make small changes to improve it and turn it into motivation to make bigger changes, Hoopes says. You can look for opportunities to learn new skills, even in a job you hate. If you’re managing caretaking responsibilities, you might be able to enlist help from others to get some time for yourself. Think creatively about your situation and how you might be able to make small changes to improve it, she says.
In addition, stop beating your head against the wall trying to change things that you can’t, says Paul G. Schempp, PhD, a research professor at the department of kinesiology at the University of Georgia. “We see this with highly successful athletes. Often, people who are less successful focus on things like injuries or ‘The crowd doesn’t like me,’ or ‘I’m not getting enough playing time,’ so they start on this downward spiral, because all they see is the negative things,” he says.
When you start letting go of things over which you have no control and focusing on the things you can improve through small changes, it’s easier to get out of that trap, he says.
4. Change your story
When you’re dealing with obstacles or adversity, change the story you’re telling yourself, Litwin says. The way you think about or explain your situation is your story—and most stories have flexibility about them.
“Even if somebody is saying, ‘My situation is much tougher than what you’re saying to me,’ I would say, ‘Okay, well, that’s good, because that story can be flipped too, which is, the tougher I am, the more focused I am at making changes of who I am in order to accomplish what I want.’ We know that plants, when they’re not given that much water, often become stronger because their roots have to work harder to find the water that’s there. That’s a better story about literally plants in dry soil, that they do amazing with very little,” Litwin says. Reframing the issue in this way can make a world of difference in how you view and respond to your circumstances.
A useful tool here is tracking your progress, Schempp says. When you focus on the small changes you’re making to improve things or move away from your challenges, you immediately shift to a place of taking control and making a difference. He refers to a Harvard University study about the “progress principle,” where acknowledging small wins was found to be a powerful motivator.
5. Find your calming practice
Even as you make changes, it’s important to understand how to calm yourself down when you’re feeling the stress of your challenges, Hoopes says. Whether it’s going for a run, spending some time in your garden, or finding a couple of hours to catch up on a favorite television show, take that time to push your personal “reset” button.
6. Don’t let obstacles define you
When you’re stuck in a tough time, it can be easy for your self-talk to be dominated by the situation. Remind yourself that your situation doesn’t define you, says counselor and coach Anahid Lisa Derbabian. “Begin to notice critical or discouraging thoughts or words, which can in subtle ways sabotage yourself and keep you stuck. In the moments when you realize that you are doing this, do not blame or shame yourself. Just allow yourself to shift into messaging, which is compassionate and helpful to you,” she says. If possible, ask for help from family or friends to help you recognize these patterns—and also to assist you in making changes or finding the resources you need to do so.
Most of all, use your situation as a source of motivation to make long-term changes that will help you find lasting solutions or ways to adapt to your situation, Hoopes says. “[There is] a Buddhist saying, ‘Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.’ Life just has this stuff in it, and it’s just, ‘Okay, here I am in one of those zones. Now what am I going to do?’” she says.
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