With 75% of recruiters saying they’ve seen a candidate change their mind after they had accepted an offer, it’s safe to say candidates backing out of new roles isn’t anything surprising or uncommon. Chances are, as a recruiter you are going to have to deal with a candidate backing out sooner or later - and we are not going to lie, it’s going to be a bad day for you.
That being said, being able to handle a candidate back-out professionally makes a huge difference in how your client will think of you as a recruitment partner and taking the right steps might even strengthen your relationship!
The easiest thing that you could do once your candidate gives you the bad news is jump straight in and try to sort things out. Well, don’t.
When receiving the information, the best thing to do is to take a moment, sit back and think carefully about your next steps. This way you will be approaching the problem with a plan and you can figure out what you are going to say to both your candidate and client. If you start making calls straight away, the panic/desperation that your deal is in jeopardy will come across on the call - which could lead both your candidate and the client to think that the main concern for you is saving your commission cheque!
Lastly, before doing anything, you want to set yourself in a “solutions” mindset- yes, you have a problem, but the best way for you to handle this is by coming to the table with ideas on how to solve it. This will not only show confidence but also prove to your client that you’re an expert professional who knows how to handle difficult situations.
Speak to your candidate – the right way
Now that you have got your thoughts in order it is time to speak to your candidate. Before you pick up the phone, you are going to have to carefully plan what you are going to ask them – and the best thing to do here is to write out a list of questions. The goal of this call isn’t to have a go at the candidate for messing you around but to understand the underlying reasons for why they are now declining your offer and work out if there is anything that can be done to salvage the deal. Your candidate is unlikely to be forthcoming with real reasons straight away, so prepare to dig deeper - make sure you have structured your questions to be open ones, so they can provide more detail on their earlier answers.
When you call your candidate, the real goal is to work out if they can be persuaded to take the role after all – have they accepted a counteroffer that your client can beat/match? Do they have cold feet about the job and just need some reassurance that they will be great? Being able to get the candidate back on board without your client finding out is the ideal outcome – however, sometimes you won’t be able to do anything to stop them from leaving, despite your best efforts. When this happens, remember not to burn your bridges - even if you decide you don’t want to work with them again, others will be sure to ask them about you at some point. Make sure that despite the lack of placement, you still get a glowing referral as a professional!
Find a replacement
Ok, so your candidate is backing out and you can’t do anything to change it- but what now? Well, you are going to have to tell the client (scary, I know!). However, there is a lot you can do to make this conversation much smoother - and the first one is to see if you have a replacement candidate that you could offer. Being able to pull a quality candidate out of thin air is a big ask, especially in specialist markets, but if there ever was a time to do it, it’s now.
While your client isn’t going to be overjoyed with getting the news their new employee has changed their mind, offering another quality candidate will show them you can act under pressure, solve problems, and are an expert in your field with a great pool of candidates. Just remember - you can’t spend days/weeks looking for a new candidate and leave your client in the dark!
Speak to the client
No pressure, but this is the bit you really need to get right. While your candidate might be gone for good, your client is still there and the main goal for you is to protect your relationship. Preparation is key - taking the time to plan what you are going to say and how you are going to respond to the questions you get will really help you appear calm and professional.
Being able to confidently communicate your candidate’s reasons for backing out and offering any potential solutions you have discussed with your candidate will show the client you have taken the right steps in saving the placement and you know what you are doing. If your candidate has offered valid and constructive criticism about something in the recruitment process you should speak to your client about this, too - not only will it help them close any gaps in their hiring processes, but it will also show them you are able to put the consultant in a recruitment consultant.
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David is a Senior Growth Outreach Specialist at Firefish. After working as a 360 recruiter, he loves innovating recruitment with Firefish Software.