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When the Candidate Says No

When the Candidate Says No
How quickly a rejected job offer prompts us to say "Good riddance!" Instead, we should figure out why the recruitment process has failed

by Liz Ryan

Three managers are sitting around a conference table, congratulating one another. "That Joe Adams—great hire!" says one. "Yeah, he'll be a great addition to the team," comments another. "He drove a hard bargain, but he'll get our next product launch on track," adds the third. There's a knock at the door and a young human resources person pokes her head in.

"Bad news," she reports. "Joe Adams has declined our offer. There were a few reasons, but essentially he said he had too many concerns about the position."

"What!" thunders the most senior exec at the table. "That's outrageous. That was a great offer. He's got too high an opinion of himself."

"High maintenance," agrees his colleague.

"We're better off without him," remarks the third.
Sour Grapes

As an HR leader for Big Business, I was witness to this scene about eight zillion times. The leadership team first agrees that a candidate is great—he's outstanding, or she's brilliant. He's going to revolutionize our product marketing, our cost accounting, our international licensing. She's going to whip our sales force into shape. Then, disaster strikes. The candidate says no. In the blink of an eye, the story is rewritten. He's self-important; she doesn't know what she's passing up. We didn't land the candidate, so the candidate is flawed. Ever heard this story before? Of course—it's one of Aesop's most famous fables, The Fox and the Grapes. Once the fox realized the grapes were out of reach, he decided they were sour grapes, anyway. Who needs 'em?

When the Candidate Says No

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