Why do candidates decline a job offer, and what to do about it?

5 minutes

At MRL, we have seen thousands of job offers accepted, as well as some declined. Here, we li...

At MRL, we have seen thousands of job offers accepted, as well as some declined. Here, we list some of the most common reasons a candidate may choose a competitor over you and some advice on how you can react when this occurs.

While you may not be able to win your current candidate over, you’ll know what to do next time:

The candidate’s situation changes

Changing circumstances come out of the blue and can be disheartening, knowing that a candidate was planning on accepting your job offer but had to decline it at the last minute.

Changing circumstances can be anything from:

  • A family member, or the candidate, becomes ill.
  • A spouse needs to relocate.
  • Something that requires them to stay at their current company, such as to be eligible for paternity leave.

What to do about it:

Unfortunately, this is one occasion where there is nothing you can do, at least not concerning the current position. However, we encourage you to maintain friendly communication with the candidate. 

When their situation returns to normal, they will remember how you reacted and, if contact is maintained, may be willing to move over to your company should another vacancy arise. 

At the very least, you will have made a new industry contact and made a good impression.

Lack of progression

Even though you are trying to fill a specific vacancy, the most talented candidates will already be looking to the future, trying to ascertain what progression opportunities there are and what positions they may be able to transition into. 

If they ask this question at an interview and it’s clear you haven’t considered it, it may come across that you aren’t invested in your internal staff. 

What to do about it:

This should be considered when building your recruitment strategy and made clear at the interview stage. Whether you respond to a candidate's question or bring the subject up yourself, explaining the opportunities you envision the role leading to and asking if this aligns with the candidate's personal goals is an easy way to build a rapport and see whether there's a long-term fit.

A progression plan doesn't have to be static or set in stone at this stage. However, having a general plan will not only reduce the chances of your job offer being rejected but will also help you ascertain if a candidate truly is the right person for your team.

Poor company culture

While the salary and benefits package you offer to employees play a significant role in enticing talented individuals to accept your job offer, company culture is continuing to become a fundamental factor. 

Employees want to have an enjoyable experience at work. Not only that, happy staff are more creative and productive and are less likely to accept an alternate job offer as a passive candidate. 

If a candidate is deciding between two, or sometimes more, job offers, they are much more likely to accept the offer from a brand that showcases a positive company culture. 

What to do about it:

If a candidate declines your job offer because of company culture, we recommend doing some competitor research. Search for job adverts and descriptions from your competitors that closely match the position you are hiring for. 

List anything that relates to company culture and compare this to your advert. Perhaps you simply missed an opportunity to praise your company culture as much as you could have, or you are genuinely missing the mark. Either way, you can make a plan to improve either how you showcase your company culture or improve it in general. 

Ensure you are showcasing your culture in every method of communication, whether via your website, traditional and online marketing, or social channels. Candidates carry out in-depth research ahead of an interview, so take every opportunity to prove that your company is a great place to work.  

The salary and benefits package misses the mark

Even if your company truly is the best place to work, a low salary offer or less than exciting benefits package will undoubtedly lead to a job offer rejection. 

Similarly, if the salary you offer is lower than what a candidate states they are looking for, you leave your company open to salary negotiations or a flat-out rejection. Candidates want to feel that the skills and knowledge that they have worked hard to achieve are valued, and a low salary can be seen as disrespectful. 

What to do about it:

You don't necessarily have to offer a brilliant salary and a fantastic benefits package. Some candidates may be willing to accept a lower salary if the benefits are exceptional. Whether you offer flexible or remote working, sabbaticals or extensive holiday leave, being aware of your competitors' offering and going above and beyond this will significantly increase your chances of having a job offer accepted. 

In addition to competitor research, ask your employees which benefits they value and what else they would like. This way, you'll gain a decent idea of what to include in your own packages, and your employees will feel appreciated. 

If it's impossible to offer a competitive salary, you may have to look at more junior positions and rely more on internal staff. A low salary offer will not only reduce the number of qualified candidates applying but is likely to result in an offer being rejected if it isn’t made clear at the beginning of the process. 

The hiring process is too slow

The hiring process is notoriously long-winded. Multiple application stages and numerous interviews with different people within the company may feel like the correct thing to do to find the right person to fill your vacant position. Still, it increases the risk of a competitor with a shorter process making an offer that is accepted.

A long-winded hiring process gives the impression that all internal processes will be similar, which ultimately leads to frustrations and could be all a candidate needs to decide not to work for your company. 

What to do about it:

Review your hiring process and streamline it as much as possible. Perhaps speak to a recruitment agent who is familiar with your industry. They may have insights into how long a candidate in your sector expects the procedure to be, and you can use that information as a benchmark. 

The role is badly located

When it comes to roles that can't be remote, location is essential. However, it's impossible to please absolutely everybody. One candidate may thrive working in a city atmosphere, whereas another may prefer a quieter location.  

What to do about it: 

Unless the role can be carried out remotely, there isn't much that can be done if a candidate declines a job offer because of location. We recommend making it clear that the role must be fulfilled on-site as early as possible as this will nip in the bud any challenges later down the line. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed how people see working. Unfortunately, if your company cannot offer remote or flexible working opportunities, you must be prepared to lose out on some opportunities.

The candidate didn’t click with the interviewer

The odd thing about working environments is that you essentially make people work closely together even though they may not necessarily click. While every business owner hopes that all employees will get along, this is rarely the case.

Unfortunately, if a candidate and interviewer don’t click, this can result in a job offer being rejected, no matter how good the salary, benefits package and company culture.

What to do about it:

No matter what kind of day you are having, the amount of work waiting for you following the interview, or any other work or personal-related stresses you are dealing with, these cannot seep into the interview room. 

An interviewer's role is to sell the company and the position to a candidate and ascertain whether they have the skills and experience to help your company thrive.

This isn’t limited to the interview, either. Every email or phone conversation you have with a potential employee helps them build a picture of what it would be like to work at your company. A slip of the tongue or a misconstrued joke can have a dramatic impact on how things progress. 

So take a moment to think about everything before you say or type it. If you are unsure, err on the side of caution. 

Communication is lacking

Similar to a slow hiring process, if a candidate feels out of the loop at any point, this can be enough to entice them to accept a competing job offer over yours. A candidate can tell if communication is rushed or if their point of contact has other things on their mind. 

Communication at this stage is essential to increasing the chances of an offer being accepted. A candidate will, perhaps rightfully, think that if a potential employer doesn't have time to communicate effectively at this stage, then the same is likely to be true following onboarding. 

Even candidates who thrive from lone working still require clear guidance. 

What to do about it:

If the person leading the recruitment drive doesn't have the time to communicate with every shortlisted candidate, the best course of action may be to hand this responsibility over to a recruitment agency. However, it's highly recommended to choose a recruitment firm with an in-depth understanding of the sector you operate in

This way, they can take on much of the communication on your behalf, reducing the number of times they will have to approach you for answers to questions. Additionally, if you rely on the same agency continuously, you'll find they will be able to answer more and more questions without having to come to you at all.  

While it's difficult not to take a job offer rejection to heart, taking the time to analyse the reason behind the decline can reduce the chances of it happening again in the future. Remember, though, some situations can't be foreseen and have nothing to do with your company or hiring team.