How to Lose Your Top Candidate in 6 Steps

How to Lose Your Top Candidate in 6 Steps

These Hiring Manager Mistakes Will Send Top Applicants Running

After weeks of interviewing, you’ve found the perfect the candidate. Their resume is flawless. Their career goals and needs are a perfect fit for your organization and they got the big thumbs-up from everyone who interviewed them.  Now all you need to do is get that offer out. Right?


If this candidate is as great as all that, rest assured, they have other options. Yes, that’s even true of the applicant who exuded such enthusiasm for the job, your company and everyone on your team. So when you’re ready to make an offer, don’t make these mistakes. In this market, it could be a while before you get a second chance at a first choice candidate.

1. “Start Negotiations” with a Lowball.
Feel like you need to leave yourself a little negotiating cushion? I understand. But if you’re looking for ways to save yourself a bundle on your staffing budget – or thinking your candidate will counter offer – you’re taking an ill-advised risk. Here’s the more likely scenario: you will not be taken seriously, you will offend the candidate and they will be more likely to speak negatively with others about their experience. Keep in mind, your goal is to maintain the candidate’s enthusiasm for the job, not squash it. Figure out the most you can afford to offer that is appropriate within your organization. Offer that amount or something only slightly lower. These days, lowballing will end the talks before they even get started.

2. Take Your Sweet Time.
This is the time when you need to demonstrate your urgency to fill the job and your respect for the needs of the candidate. Dilly-dallying before making your offer – or failing to respond to candidate questions during the negotiations – will cost you. The minute you know you want to make the offer, pull it together and get it presented. In the meantime, stay in close contact with the candidate, letting them know where things stand and always reiterating your interest in having them join your team.

3. Go Super-Impersonal With the Formal Offer
I cannot tell you how often I see this mistake. And it is a mistake. Keep in mind that, if you handled the interviews well, you likely impressed the candidate with your own personal brand, your management style and your ability to represent your company well. Translation: you made a personal connection. Don’t blow it now by sending a form email with an attached offer template. And for goodness sakes, don’t have someone email it because you’re just so busy. If you’re too busy to put yourself on the line at offer time, you’ll likely cause the candidate to second guess their previous positive impressions of you.  You sold the job. Now sell that offer by leveraging your interpersonal skills and demonstrating your total enthusiasm for hiring this person.

4. Rain on the Parade with a Stuffy, Cold Offer Letter.
Some degree of legalese is necessary in most offers. But if you’re using a template, try to look at it from the applicant’s point of view. Does it read like a warm and hearty “welcome aboard” or more like a warrant for someone’s arrest? If you’re absolutely required to keep the template intact, make sure you speak with the candidate first, describe the important elements of the offer, and, again, keep it timely and welcoming.

5. Litter the Offer with Unwelcome Surprises.
All job requirements and company expectations of this person must be clearly discussed and explained prior to the offer being made. You may have thought your awesome two-week vacations were the bomb. But if this candidate is used to four weeks, suddenly your offer feels insulting. Same goes for office hour expectations, benefits, and everything else. Never, ever break this offer rule: no surprises.

6. Get Insulted and Act Defensive when You Don’t Get an Immediate Yes.
You may feel annoyed, frustrated, and defensive. I get it. But if you let any of those negative emotions leak out into your communications, you gain nothing. Worse, you create an adversarial situation where none should exist. Does your formerly gung-ho candidate suddenly “need some time to think it over?” Tell them you appreciate that and choose a time to get back in touch. They want more money? Ask what they need and let them know you’ll be back in touch. Have they gotten a counter-offer from their current employer? Take a long, deep breath and stay upbeat and open-minded. Don’t get offended. But don’t leap through a thousand flaming hoops to offer more and more money, either. Instead, find out how much money they’d need – and whether they really want to join your organization. Then take some time for yourself to figure out whether matching or exceeding the counter offer makes good sense for you. In the meantime, remain respectful of the candidate’s needs and decisions. It’s a small world and, like the rest of us, they’re just trying to navigate it. No need to burn any bridges.

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