The fine line between a yes and a no. Effective candidate management tips for HR & Talent Acquisition leaders to help ensure they land the candidates they offer to

12th June 2020

The fine line between a yes and a no. Effective candidate management tips for HR & Talent Acquisition leaders to help ensure they land the candidates they offer to.

The employment situation has shifted dramatically in the last few weeks since the coronavirus outbreak shutdown large portions of the economy. Whilst many organisations remain in survival mode, others are slowly recovering from the disruptions and volatility brought by COVID-19 and start to plan for a very different post-COVID future. We now begin to see greater volumes of employees return to work and adapt to new working practices, whilst others will continue to work remotely and operate in a virtual way.

Many candidates have been fortunate enough to have had employers offering exemplary support, empathy and flexibility throughout the pandemic and may often remain loyal. Others who weren’t so lucky, those feeling undervalued, as well as those sadly impacted by redundancies and restructures, will now be more open than ever to fresh career opportunities, whether by necessity or sounding out their next move, bringing a glut of job-seeking talent on the market. The post-COVID employee will be looking for organisations ideally offering consistency, stability, safety and longevity.


It takes an average of 10-17 weeks from role briefing to contract signature for an executive hire, without considering the notice period. A job offer decline can be a big blow to an organisation, in particular to a HR and Talent Acquisition team who may have invested considerable time and resource over the entire lifecycle of the recruitment process. The economic cost of a mis-hire can also be incredibly high.

Effective candidate management and developing strong engagement throughout the entire recruitment process is crucial to avoid disappointment. So how can you distinguish between the ‘window shopper’ vs the committed candidate?

Having spent over 20 years in Executive Search, leading European and International mandates, both in-house and with executive search organisations, including my own business, across the industrial sectors such as Transportation (Rail, Road, Aviation, Marine), Energy and Construction & Infrastructure (Built Environment), the majority of job offer declines I have seen have usually been as the result of four situations: a counter offer; candidate expectations not met regarding remuneration, often because the organisation’s compensation package is not reflective of external market demand; personal reasons/timing; and in some instances lengthy hiring processes, usually due to a lack of Hiring Manager interview availability and a slow offer management process due to a high number of approvers.

One Managing Director of a leading defence business, recently admitted to me that they have two external interviews per year to ensure they are ‘on top of their game’ in case the job opportunity of a lifetime presents itself, in the meantime having no interest in leaving their present organisation.

An offer decline should be a surprise to both Talent Acquisition and the candidate, only if a great counteroffer materialises, or where the family changes its mind about relocation, a sudden promotion or a new internal opportunity comes out of the blue, or where another competing recruitment process takes the candidate off the market.  If the decline is a surprise only to Talent Acquisition, it means your relationship with the candidate was not established properly and it is transactional, not based on trust. Establishing that relationship is “step 1” and it should take care of 50-80% of possible declines.

Recommendations for success

The role of a good Talent Acquisition team and headhunter is to identify a great candidate for an exciting role, expertly engage with them to create interest and successfully convert that passive voice to an active one. Testing their commitment, ethics and ensuring regular ‘touch points’ through each step of the recruitment process is vital to maintain a tight candidate relationship.

So, how can you ensure they remain motivated and committed to make that move, and what signs should you look out for to ensure everyone involved and the candidate are on the same journey? Early warning indicators include delayed or a complete stop in communication, lack of attention, not following up on agreed actions in a timely manner and not disclosing information about their remuneration early on.

A Head of Global Talent Acquisition for a leading Global Civil Aerospace & Defence organisation confessed they were proud of their 0% offer decline rate. This is because, however perfect the candidate is, they know how important it is to recognise those early warning signs and have the bravery to say “come back to us when they timing is right for you”.

I strongly believe timing is everything in life and a new role can have a huge impact for the candidate you are engaging with. Therefore, always encourage the candidate to have a discussion with their partner or family before a company introduction to ensure the timing is right for everyone. Selling the company and the Line Manager can be as important as the role profile, company vision and business strategy. How the candidate can make a contribution to the organisation’s mission can also be crucial. Sharing business collateral with the candidate prior to the interview is always good practice.

Provide a transparent and balanced view, covering the good and the bad, the type of personalities and behaviours that succeed and thrive and the type that flounder and fail. Describe the management style of their new boss and how they get the best from their team. Outside of the normal assessment process (technical, behavioural, cultural fit & style etc.), it is important to take an interest in the candidate’s personal life. Probe them about a time when they faced an ethical dilemma, at work and in their personal life, and how did they resolve it.

Asking a candidate to prepare a presentation where they outline in detail their first 30-90 days in the role can help to rule out time wasters.

Discussions regarding remuneration should start as soon as possible, covering both current salary package and expectations to move, to ensure there is alignment with the organisation’s grading and budget. Further on in the recruitment process, have a follow-on discussion with the preferred candidate post interview to prevent a counteroffer. Remember, some candidates will merely be motivated by money and may use a job offer to leverage a better position at their current company.

In the early stage of the shortlisting and interview process it is vital to engage personally with the candidate, which can be difficult by telephone alone. A video or face-to face meeting will help to build the emotional rapport. Don’t be surprised by not adopting this approach if a candidate then declines your offer to proceed to the next stages because they are declining a transactional relationship (a phone), not a person.

The most effective Hiring Managers recognise during the 1st interview it is a two way discussion and, rather assessing the candidate simply for fit, they sell the company, themselves and express what’s great about working for them and why the candidate should want to work for that company. This openness and style often results in a more genuine relationship being developed early on. I have experienced many times where the Hiring Manager doesn’t adapt their style, are not fully prepared or even structured and this can be a huge frustration for HR and Talent Acquisition.

During the offer stage, initially discuss the terms to confirm the candidate will accept the offer in writing. Check they are mentally in a place to accept or if there are further points that need to be discussed outside of the offer. I have often seen and experienced that the hardest part is yet to come after the offer is presented and accepted. Supporting the candidate to think though their resignation also prevents them reneging on their commitment.

Be honest and open in that they are about to have a conversation with their boss that may be very unpleasant; they will be professionally breaking up with them, so probe how they intend to do that and support by offering suggestions, perhaps a role-play.

Finally, to avoid disappointment at the last hurdle, stay in regular contact until the commencement date, ensure the Hiring Manager has planned their onboarding and that they are checking in regularly with their new team member. Planning for the worst case, by having a strong B candidate, is always good practice. Ensure they are engaged throughout the entire process so the recruitment process will never have to be restarted.


Establishing a candidate relationship is as much an art as it is a science. When someone reneges it can be a big blow to your efforts and to your ego, but it is important to remove emotion from the situation. However perfect the candidate seems, remember not to ignore any of those important warning signs. The cost of a mis-hire can be significant, economically and to your own personal confidence.

Categories: Manufacturing & Engineering