How To Lose a Candidate in 10 Ways

Murphy’s Law states that anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Obviously, Murphy was a recruiter. If he did something else for a living, he would have been a bit more optimistic. Whether you believe in Murphy’s sad bromide or not, as a recruiter it is a good idea to do all that you can to avoid becoming one of its victims. But in the last month or so, I have seen it happen: recruiters who have been around long enough to know better saying or assuming things they shouldn’t be saying or assuming. Almost verbatim, they are stated below. If you ever find yourself saying any of these things or making any of these assumptions, think again!

  1. “This deal is a slam dunk.” I think not. Fast and easy deals are usually neither. If you think you are working on a slam dunk hire, go back to the drawing board and look at everything that can possibly go wrong. Look at the candidate’s commute, compensation, title, job stretch, and everything else that relates to the candidate, the job itself, and the fit between the two. If you still think it’s a slam dunk hire, have another recruiter grill you on the details. If there is something you are not seeing, it is better to find out before the deal falls apart than after.
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  3. “I’ll start recruiting now and get the requisition signed next week.” If there is one thing recruiters can’t waste, it’s time. Recruiting for a position that has not yet been approved is a fool’s errand and I suspect most of us have done it at one time or another. I suggest you tell the hiring manager that you would love to help them but that you really must spend your time on what has already been approved and will be more than happy to provide recruiting resources as soon as the requisition has been signed. I suspect they will understand.
  4. “Let’s only look at passive candidates.” I’d be very careful here. Passive candidates are great, but when you need to move quickly, or need multiples of the same type of employee, passive candidates should only be a part of the total sourcing strategy, not the whole thing (see my article The Myth of the Passive Candidate for more insight on this topic).
  5. “This candidate isn’t worried about compensation, just opportunity.” This is big trouble if ever big trouble existed. Candidates who talk about everything from opportunity to growth to the value they can bring to the organization have probably spent too much time reading books on how to find a job. In my career, I have never had things go smoothly at offer time when the candidate told me they were not concerned about compensation. Everyone is concerned about compensation. I suggest that you consider this line of thinking a red flag and be sure to nail down the compensation issues before you try to take this deal to the bank.
  6. “Trust me, I would never accept a counteroffer.” Or so says the candidate. This one is enough to make most experienced recruiters cry. Taking a candidate for his or her word on this issue is the clearest example of begging Murphy to run over your deal with a truck. I suggest that you always prep candidates on counteroffers and be sure to doubly prep the ones that tell you with a calm and professional assurance that they would never accept a counteroffer.
  7. “This candidate does not mind a 90-minute commute.” Be very careful of this one. Commutes are quality-of-life issues, and long commutes get old very quickly. Unless it is a very unusual situation, I recommend you have the candidate interview at times that will have them traveling into the office and going home during rush hour. You also might want to look at past commute scenarios, because a candidate with a history of only 20-minutes commutes has no real concept of what a long and difficult commute is all about. The last thing you want is to hire the right candidate and have them leave in six months because the commute was too difficult.
  8. “Let’s make Phyllis in accounting a recruiter.” Lord knows I will probably hear from some recruiter named Phyllis about this one, so let me apologize in advance. I am endlessly amazed when organizations that should know better suddenly realize they need a recruiter. They pick a person out of thin air to be the recruiter because they are friendly or have a nice personality. This is not how you choose a recruiter. See my article Hiring the Best Recruiters: An Executive Briefing for more information on how to hire the types of recruiters that build great companies.
  9. “This new ATS will change our lives.” Applicant tracking systems can do great things for the organization, but they won’t make your recruiters more aggressive, they won’t make your organization look better to candidates, and they won’t help to close deals. What they can do, according to Scott Schoenick, senior consultant with Taleo, is “empower a staffing function with speed, automation, and decision-support capabilities that are integrated into the real work of staffing.”
  10. “I can’t call in there; that would be stealing.” Don’t let this belief limit your success as a recruiter. I hate to open up old wounds on poaching and ethics (I think John Sullivan still has to wear a disguise when he goes out in public), but I will say this: You can’t steal employees, since no one owns them in the first place. This is a free market, and the best people are almost always open to a call that outlines an opportunity. If you know someone who can do the job, give them a call, as this is a great chance to demonstrate the value you bring to the organization. Here is a simple rule of thumb: If your sales force is trying to acquire their customers, you should have no problem acquiring their employees.
  11. “My company is not a company you have to sell to candidates.” Wrong. Every company has to be sold. Candidates have many options in terms of places they can work. I do not care what company you’re working for. If it disappeared off the earth tomorrow, all of your people would find other positions, become adjusted to new organizations, and move on with their lives. I suggest that you sell the organization all throughout the interviewing process and have the hiring managers do the same. This way, the hiring decision is also your decision and not just the decision of the candidate.

Becoming a better and more effective recruiter is not as complex as it seems. It is really just about learning how to source and hire great candidates on a consistent basis. We all make mistakes from time to time and those mistakes usually cost us something. Does Murphy play a role? Of course, but he can be held at bay if you cover all of your bases and apply best practices to the recruiting process. After all, recruiting is like any other sales job: Work it easy and it tends to be hard; work it hard and it tends to be easy.

Howard Adamsky has been recruiting since 1985 and is still alive to talk about it. A consultant, writer, public speaker, and educator, he works with organizations to support their efforts to build great companies and coaches others on how to do the same. He has over 20 years' experience in identifying, developing, and implementing effective solutions for organizations struggling to recruit and retain top talent. An internationally published author, he is a regular contributor to ERE Media, a member of the Human Capital Institute's Small and Mid-Sized business panel, a Certified Internet Recruiter, and rides one of the largest production motorcycles ever built. His book, Hiring and Retaining Top IT Professionals/The Guide for Savvy Hiring Managers and Job Hunters Alike (Osborne McGraw-Hill) is in local bookstores and available online. He is also working on his second book, The 25 New Rules for Today's Recruiting Professional. See if you are so inclined for the occasional tweet. Email him at


3 Comments on “How To Lose a Candidate in 10 Ways

  1. As regards to commute, I’d add it depends on skill set. If it is a skill set where it is hard to find a job in a given location then the candidate would be more willing to travel to the site.

  2. For those of us who don’t work a local market, #1 has got to be: ‘You don’t need to speak with my spouse/significant other — they’ll go where I go — they support this 100%’ Yeah, right. And gasoline is reasonably priced, too!!!!

  3. So true.

    Its often the Hummer drivers who say, ‘I don’t mind the commute’, right? In an uncharacteristic raise mid year due to escallating gas costs, the Government allows .485 per mile, which equates to $121.25 a mile per year figuring 250 days (50 wks x 5 days) total costs to drive a car (not a Hummer). Sick days and holidays will eqaulize some Saturdays Middle Management usually falls into. AAA has been claiming costs of .50-.60/mile for years, and a recent study put it as high as .86c in Detroit due to high insurance costs. And it can cost under .30 if you buy used cars & drive them forever and have good luck on the repairs.

    Back to,’I don’t mind the 90 minute commute’ – say its 45 miles, 90 miles a day, works out to $10,800 not counting wear and tear on you, your family or your time. But does the Hummer driver have the ability to understand this?

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