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The One That Got Away

Don’t Let the Perfect Hire Slip Thru Your Fingers

Today’s post is written with my employer clients in mind but is applicable to anyone involved in interviewing and hiring decisions. The topic is candidate drop-off – when your favorite person for the job suddenly goes dark then takes another offer. Oh no, what happened? We thought things were going so well…

I can help you with candidate drop-off, by looking at the vulnerable points when commitment is either secured or lost.

First Interview

This is your company’s opportunity to make a first and lasting impression. Candidates are eager to get a read on your company compared to the other places they are interviewing, so they look intently for clues in what you say and how you act. This includes how long it takes to schedule an interview, if the interview starts on time, how friendly and conscientious your people are.

Think these are hard things to screw up? A lot of companies faceplant on first impressions. I had to laugh when one candidate recently gave me this feedback: “Oh Jen, it was great. The guy interviewing me showed up right on time and had actually looked at my resume!”

Get the first impressions right and you’ve already come a long way in distinguishing yourself from the competition.


Let me tell you about John. John has a Thursday night date with Sarah. They hit it off and John ends the date excited about seeing her again. Then he has Friday, Sunday and Wednesday dates with Jessica, Allison and Liz. He still likes Sarah best, so he calls her. One week after their first date. Except by then Sarah has gone thru all the emotions of why he hasn’t called and is ready to punch John. Plus, last night she met Eric and he already left her a message this morning.

I’ve seen this scenario play out in interviews more times than I care to admit. It’s maddening. Hiring managers feel as though they want to compare several candidates before they move forward with one. I get that. It’s reasonable. The flaw lies in failure to give prompt feedback, leaving those who interview early in the same purgatory as Sarah: Did they like me? Will they call?

It’s simple to say “We liked you, Sarah. You’re smart and buttoned-up and we think you’d connect with our client. We’re meeting a few more people this week and will get back to you by Wednesday at the latest.”

Note: If you’re also using this as dating advice, omit the last part about seeing other people. Too much information.

Between the Last Interview & the Offer

In fact, it’s important to telegraph all stages of the decision-making process to keep candidates engaged. Knowing what to expect and when to expect it will help them plan their job search activity. For example, if you’re their first choice, and you’ve been communicative even as the process was stalled, they may find a way to keep competing offers at bay. Think about the touch points you need to maintain interest and enthusiasm. Maybe it’s a well-timed call from an important decision-maker, or a check-in to nose around about other interview activity. You’ve found your person, now you need to protect them until you can act.


As soon as I pick up on signs that a particular candidate might be The One, I start a process I call “pre-closing.” This sounds like I’m putting the screws to someone. I’m not. It’s very low-pressure. I’m looking for any questions or nagging doubts that may result in the candidate declining an offer. I want to know if anything has changed since the beginning of the interview process, e.g. How does your company compare to the other places they’ve interviewed? How would they react to a counter-offer? Is there anything to prevent them from resigning and starting in two weeks? Any updates or considerations to their salary requirements?

I’d rather know now so we can put together the most compelling offer. Part of pre-closing can include actually describing the offer terms and getting the candidate’s buy-in before an offer is formalized. This works out great because the candidate feels included in the process and can often readily accept because they’ve had time to internalize and react to the offer. Now all they have to do is resign.

Resignation to Start Date

We know this period is a minimum of two weeks, right? What do you think is happening during this time? I like to imagine your latest hire has entered a blissful state of new job anticipation and is just chomping at the bit to get started. But here’s a more likely scenario: Her boss has launched a major guilt trip and is trying to pull together a compelling package to make her stay. Other companies she’s met with are continuing to court her.

It’s a shame when companies assume it’s a done deal once the offer letter is signed and don’t communicate again until day one on the job. It’s still a vulnerable time. Instead they should convey how delighted they are to begin working together and be attentive to requests for paperwork, benefits information, start date instructions, etc.

Parting Thought: It requires a lot of effort to find and interview the right candidate, which is why it’s so devastating when things fall apart. Securing commitment requires that an intuitive and seasoned person be shepherding the hiring process. The good news is that a talented recruiter can take much of this burden off your plate.


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