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Learning from rejection: how to benefit from candidates who say “No”

What can a business do if it makes a job offer only for the candidate to turn it down?

In the battle between companies for the brightest and best talent, success lies in attracting quality candidates and retaining them. The smart strategy is to find out why the job offer has been declined.

Not only can a firm gain valuable information about how it is perceived but also it can potentially acquire data about the industry as a whole and about its competitors.

When an employee moves on, an exit interview may be held to gain feedback on the experience of working for the firm and why the individual has decided to leave. In the same way, interviewing a job candidate who rejects what a company considers a compelling offer can present an opportunity to learn much more.

It may be that the rejection is down to individual factors that have nothing to do with the firm; for example, the candidate may have decided on a different career or circumstances may mean that they favour a particular location. If the interview highlights factors that the company can control, however, such as the level of pay, the job title or the working environment, action can be taken to make these more attractive.

A candidate who has turned down an offer may feel uncomfortable about explaining why they did so, especially if they are concerned about damaging their chances of finding work later in their careers. For this reason, other ways of obtaining the information, such as web surveys, may prove useful.

Engaging a third party such as an external company to gather feedback may also prompt those who have rejected a job to speak candidly about the whole recruitment process. A firm needs to know a candidate’s real reasons for turning a job offer down; for example, it may be that they found the interviewer unenthusiastic or that they felt they were given conflicting ideas about the role and responsibilities. These are areas in which the company can take action to present a more professional and unified front to the next candidate.

Making it clear to those who decline positions that their feedback will be confidential and anonymous, and that their cooperation will be appreciated, should show a candidate that the firm is keen to improve its recruitment practices and has no ulterior motive.

In addition to asking about the candidate’s concerns, it can be useful to ask for suggestions as to what could be done to improve the candidate experience, for their views on what would have been a more compelling offer, and for the criteria they used to make their decision. It may also be worthwhile comparing feedback from candidates who did accept job offers, as this could highlight areas in which improvements can be made, such as in the training of interviewers to be more relaxed, friendly and focused.

Being rejected by candidates can be a blow to any organisation; however, those that invest in honest feedback from the ones who ‘got away’ will find themselves in a good position to improve the experience for the next batch of interviewees, thereby increasing their chances of attracting and retaining the top talent.

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