On Declined Job Offers & Why Sometimes, I Really Believe Recruiting is Like Dating…

Subway_arm I am not sure when it last happened to me… but the other week, I had a candidate turn down a job offer. In this economy? I know. And it was a great, fair offer. The feeling of rejection? Slightly piercing. Okay, deeply piercing. I mean… it’s been a while since I’ve had anyone reject me for anything… a date, a job. It just isn’t something I’m used to! Ha! I kid! Being rejected though… it reminded me of an ongoing disagreement I’ve had with my best friend on his dating strategy and the parallel lessons for recruiting.

My BFF? He’s a good looking guy. He’s handsome, charming and sweet. He has a good job, no particular oddities or freakish tendencies and he’s a ton of fun. I love him to death and think he’s a great package – I even dated him myself at one point. If I had to liken him to an employer, because after all there’s a point in all of this, he’d be one of those great places to work and have a kicking employment brand. People are drawn to him and he doesn’t have to do much recruiting. But in some ways, he has a bit of a retention problem as at 34, he’s still single. His turnover rate? Well, let’s not go there because that would make ME just another statistic. There’s voluntary and involuntary turnover though. He’s ready to meet “the one” though. So what gives?

My theory is that it’s his approach to dating. He casts the net wide, pulls ’em in, and because he’s a great catch, he always has lots of options. The kicker though? He juggles multiple gals at once because his theory is that he should have backup options. If one gal doesn’t work out, he wants to have alternatives who are lined up and ready for him. So on any given night when we are out on the town, I can watch my BFF working his phone and flirting with any or all of the dames. And it’s entertaining, trust me. (Except for those fateful nights where they all show up at the same place in which case I have to run some major interference. Oi vey…)

My issue with his approach? He’s too unfocused. I have long nagged him that each and every one of the gals he “talks to” can sense that he’s not entirely present. There’s just no way he can really give a gal the attention she deserves and probably wants out of him because he’s spread too thin. He’s not fully engaged – with any of them. If he really wanted to court someone? I have always argued that he should focus a bit more and give his attention to one girl a time. A gal can tell after all when her suitor is distracted so give her complete, undivided attention and then if she’s not the one, move on. Yet my BFF thinks that it’s opportunity lost. He doesn’t want to be left standing in the cold alone if the object of his attention doesn’t pan out. He wants a pipeline of gals.

But back to my declined job offer… We were all in love with the candidate and thought she was the one. We pulled out all the stops – the equivalent of red roses, love poems, wining and dining and all. I was singularly focused on her and getting her in the door… but then she said no thanks and I felt like I had been dumped and left out in the cold. And I can’t help but to sit here and wonder if maybe my BFF is on to something.

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Jessica Lee
Jessica Lee is a VP of TA at Marriott International where she leads a team that enables the company to think big, broad and boldly about all things talent acquisition and in effect, keeps them relevant and ahead of the curve in how they attract and acquire top talent. Don't be fooled by that fancy pants title and description though, she's still an everyday HR gal in the trenches at the core. SPHR certified, a decade and a half into trench HR life... she can whip up a corrective action plan or source for your purple squirrel in a heartbeat. Talk to Jessica via EmailLinkedInTwitter or Facebook... See Jessica's riffs and rants on Fistful of Talent here...


  1. nelking says:

    She’s just not that into you?
    Usually there are signs that the feeling isn’t mutual. Every once in awhile,you get a candidate who reciprocates the love…and then they dump you.
    Ice cream is the only cure.

  2. jessica lee says:

    @nelking i have to back-track and figure out what signs i missed. i’m honestly completely miffed… i’ve not had many (any? i can’t remember to be honest) declined job offers in my almost 10 years recruiting. seriously! ice cream sounds perfect though… and i think i also need a good rebound gal.

  3. Sara says:

    I feel your pain, I’ve had 3 of these in the last 2 months. I think I might be cursed, but I have never known quite such an emotional rollercoaster as these two months. Still, my luck can’t stay this way… Can it?!

  4. Dave Wakely says:

    Is it just the dating where the analogy applies? How many organisation “marry in haste and repent at leisure”? I’ve pondered this one myself (http://dontcompromise.askeurope.com/2009/05/21/take-this-man/) and – as an employee – I’ve certainly wondered why so many organisations can flirt so energetically and then seemingly lose all interest. If recruitment is all conquest and no on-going nuturing, what does that say (at least in language that’s printable) about HR? It’s no good simply making me want to come if you don’t make feel like staying, is it? If organisations want to engage us (in every sense of the verb) don’t they need to listen to what attracts us as well as what’s attractive to them?

  5. Puf says:

    Loved the post, I use a lot of dating anaologies with my team so they really got the post as well.
    As a dude, and a recruiter, my philosophy has always been: “It’s best to be the second one to fall in love.” I assume your BFF may feel the same way. When it comes to courtship (sorry for being the first person to drop that word since 1882)or recruiting you really want to sell yourself and ensure that the other party falls in love with you, and only then can you feel comfortable falling in love with them.
    This doesn’t mean that courtship or the recruiting proces can’t be mutually enjoyable, it’s just when you close your own commitment.

  6. Kevin says:

    The Wall Street recently wrote about a few technologies that not only store all the applicants but screen and rank them for you through matching technology like dating.

  7. Wally Greene says:

    Declined offers in this market say a lot about the fear that candidates have about jumping ship from a steady environment to being the “last one in, first one out – the door” at a new company. As a recruiter, I’ve often believed that the one thing we have no control over is the “human element,” where people can change their minds at a moment’s notice. That’s why we need to operate with a healthy dose of skepticism, and have great back-up candidates. I thought Nelking’s ice cream debrief concept was a good idea, although I might lean toward something a bit stronger!

  8. jessica lee says:

    @sara – it will get better. i’ve worked hard to have this record though… so like @nelking said, there probably were signs. go back and study to see what went wrong. i’m doing that now with this candidate.
    @dave – i love the analogy… marry in haste and repent at leisure… thanks for sharing.
    @puf – “It’s best to be the second one to fall in love.” LOL! but i’ve never been that cautious even in my personal life. why start now? i see something i want and then i go after it until it’s mine. same goes for recruiting. it would be odd then to chase and then be the 2nd to fall in love, don’t you think?
    @kevin – thanks for sharing. i’m a little skeptical though… online dating or online matching services can only do so much, me thinks. i need to allow a lot of it to still be organic. basic match ups, sure that’s nice… but anyone can make themselves look good on paper. i still need to go through and pry and poke and feel the candidate/guy out.
    @wally – it was a passive candidate that the offer was made too… so i may have underestimated her fear of leaving a safe role where she has tenure and is established. you raise a good point. that human element… ugh. keeps it interesting though!

  9. Puf says:

    @Jessica – good point. Maybe the correct way to phrase it is “it’s better to be the 2nd one to admit you’ve fallen in love”. I know that is total guy logic, but for me the thrill is in the hunt (I’m am overflowing with cheesey analogies today), I love the chase, I love the close, but by the time the chase is over it’s fait accompli. And did I just drop French – I really need to get some sleep!

  10. nelking says:

    While it may seem like a client’s market. The readily available talent market consists of those who are underemployed or out of work.
    Those who are sitting in a position that isn’t too bad are really tough to move. I’m guessing, that the known in this case seemed stable compared to the unknown.

  11. Your friend treats dating like a sales process. He is keeping his sales pipeline full.
    This is a risk trade-off between:
    a) Narrow focus on one highly valuable candidate so you reduce risk of losing him/her.
    b) Increase time on your pipeline for alternatives or filling other positions.
    I think there is a sliding scale instead of picking only one. If the person is very valuable, only invest 5% of your time on your future pipeline. If the person isn’t very valuable, then invest 40% of your time on your future pipeline.
    It is interesting how they are similar. Dating is like executive search!
    The catch-22 is that the candidate you are focused on may only be an 8 in a 1-to-10 scale. (A 10 can walk on water) Investing in a future pipeline may net you a 9 or a 10.
    The world is full of risk arbitrage…
    Bryan Starbuck
    CEO of TalentSpring, Inc. Resume Semantic search engine

  12. Dave Wakely says:

    I came back here to see any follow-up comments. Re-reading the original – and trying to put myself in the candidate’s shoes – I just thought mmm, isn’t seducing someone about finding – and pressing – their buttons, not your own? How far do most recruiters go in finding out what would really motivate the candidate. If I were a potential candidate reading your post, I might actually pull my application – I realise you’re writing for an HR audience, but I’d worry that I only seem to really figure in the story as a problem for you. (It really is like dating: the person you’re schmoozing has to find reasons for finding you attractive too.) I might feel like a ‘resource’, but not a particularly humanised one. I might also wonder quite what HR in your organisation was focused on achieving and who they saw themselves as primarily serving – themself, the candidate(s), the existing (human) resources , or the organisation. Which, by the way, didn’t seem to figure at all: unless the job was working directly with you, that’s what your candidate was evaluating. I know people join companies and leave bosses, but only HR folk join HR departments.

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