June 24, 2022

AF CommunityCareer Advice

5 Reasons Candidates Decline Job Offers

By: Claire Kittle Dixon

I know a thing or two about rejection.

I once went on a blind date with a guy who, from the moment the date started, clearly did not want to be there. He had this disapproving look on his face the entire evening, almost like he was a member of the Royal Family or maybe had just gotten a whiff of woefully expired cottage cheese. Alas, this was just his natural reaction to me!  His eyes kept darting around the restaurant, presumably in search of something sharp to stick in his eye so that an ambulance could cart him away and spare him another minute of my company. The whole thing amused me, so I decided to prolong the torture by ordering dessert. I wondered if (and sorta hoped) his head would explode. And at the end of the evening when we said goodbye outside the restaurant, I almost suggested getting cocktails just to see him squirm, but I was afraid he would intentionally dart into traffic to end his suffering. Oddly, I never heard from him again.

The most disappointing thing about the date (other than the fact his head did not explode when I ordered crème brûlée) was that I never learned why I was so off-putting to him. God knows there are endless possibilities, but it would have been entertaining to know which ones sent him over the edge!

And this brings me to one of my favorite things about my job. When I witness rejection now, unlike in my past dating life, I can often poke around and figure out why.

And this poking around has become increasingly necessary in recent months because, as the job market has tightened up, we’ve seen an increasing number of candidates decline job offers. And in those cases, we try to get both the candidate’s and the nonprofit’s view of what went wrong.

So, since we’re always comparing hiring to dating anyway, here are the five most common reasons we’ve heard lately about why candidates decline job offers AND the dating analog for each.

Compensation. It won’t surprise you to hear that in this market, compensation is the most common reason candidates give for declining job offers. Some candidates are getting more lucrative offers from other employers and some are getting counteroffers to stay where they are. And sometimes candidates don’t even have other offers in hand, but they believe they can get more elsewhere, so they walk away.

In one recent case, a candidate had found what appeared to be a dream job. He went through a month of interviews and it seemed like all of the stars were aligning perfectly…until he got the offer. It was lower than he expected by a wide enough margin that he declined it. He didn’t have a competing offer in hand, but he believed there were more promising opportunities on the horizon.

Dating analog? Let’s say you’re a single, aspiring guitarist. What you don’t have in income, you make up for in personality, complex guitar solos, and John Mayer good looks. And because of that, you do just fine on the dating scene – unless you’re competing with an equally charming orthopedic surgeon.
Relocation. It goes without saying that the pandemic caused many people to rethink where they live. Relocation, which previously had been driven by the location of job opportunities, is now often driven by personal preference. Not surprisingly, candidates are being very selective about jobs that require relocation.

In one recent case, a candidate declined a job offer that would have been a big step up in terms of job title and responsibilities. But ultimately, she decided it just wasn’t worth packing up and moving 400+ miles.

In another case, a candidate turned down an executive level role because he wasn’t in love with the prospect of relocating 1000 miles away from his family and friends.
In both cases candidates knew they could (and ultimately did!) secure employment that didn’t require relocation.

Dating analog? Imagine you are a successful attorney with a thriving practice in Poughkeepsie. You meet a fantastic mate, but he is  GU (geographically undesirable) because he is unable to relocate from his homebase in Nashville. Sure, you can dump him if he’s not willing to move to Poughkeepsie, but you might also want to be open to long-distance dating prospects!

Compatibility concerns. The intangibles matter and in a market where jobs abound, candidates are paying attention to the complete package.

In one case, a candidate turned down a senior level role with an impressive organization because two potential co-workers rubbed him the wrong way during the interview process. He knew those two could make his new job miserable, so he walked away despite liking virtually every other aspect of the job/offer.

In another case, a candidate felt as though she was treated unprofessionally during the process (so much so that she was genuinely surprised when they offered her the job!). As attractive as the offer was, she couldn’t bring herself to accept.
Another candidate detected a turnover problem and decided to keep looking. As he said, “I don’t want to be on the job market again in six months.”

Dating analog? You meet an amazing woman and you two hit it off immediately. It seems like the perfect match…except she has two Maine Coons and a Himalayan and you are deathly allergic to cats. Compatibility across many different facets matters!

Other options. In this market, chances are high that the person you are interviewing is also being courted by other entities. And sometimes, despite your best efforts, those other entities might win out.

For instance, a candidate recently turned down a fantastic litigation job offer in our world to work for a liberty-oriented private sector law firm. Both offers were tempting, but he had to make a choice!
And in another case, a candidate turned down a free-market advocacy job in the nonprofit space for a similar role in a for-profit.

Dating analog? Imagine you go on a few dates with a great gal but when you ask her to go steady she says she’s decided to get serious with someone else. When you ask why, she explains both of you are fantastic, but she could only choose one!
Home is where the heart is. Interestingly, we’ve had a couple of situations lately in which candidates turned down offers and remained at their current jobs without increased pay. In both of these cases, the employer did not know the candidate was looking and there was not a counteroffer on the table! Ultimately, the candidates just decided they had a pretty good gig and decided to stay.

Dating analog? Have you heard The Piña Colada Song? It’s an incredibly Velveeta tune (with all due respect to Rupert Holmes!) about a guy who places a singles ad for a woman who likes fruity beach drinks and he ends up finding the lady he was already dating. You get the idea: sometimes what you want is right in front of you.

Now that you know why candidates are rejecting job offers, your organization might be in a better position to prevent it from happening. And as for my blind date who rejected me, I guess we’ll never know, but at least he paid for dinner and I got some top-notch crème brûlée.