22 Jan 2016

How to decline a job offer...

It’s January – New Year, New Career and all that.  Busiest time in the recruitment calendar.  All true.  However, it has been a funny old month with three candidates declining offers last week.  It is always an interesting study in human behaviour to see how individuals communicate (or not) when they have received a job offer.  I tend to reduce this to four typical reactions from candidates:

1.  Hurrah! It’s the job of my dreams.  When do they want me to start. Of course I accept!
2.  Hurrah!  That’s great news.  However, I’d now like an extra £5k please.
3.  (cautiously), of course I am pleased, I’d like a week to think about it
4.  Silence. (usually a lack of response via email).  A candidate who until now has responded within seconds to email or text communications, goes off grid.

OK. So I’ve been doing this job for a long time now. I’ve been a client and I’ve been a candidate too.  I know that in the wonderful world of recruitment, sometimes candidates accept job offers and occasionally they don’t.  There may be a myriad of reasons why a candidate turns down an offer but the point of this post is really to iterate the importance of keeping the lines of communication open throughout the process. 

The psychology of the client is important as much as the candidate.  I think it’s important to remember this when dealing with the post offer process.  The client will have made an offer wanting the candidate to accept it.  If there is any ‘wobbling’ after an offer, it’s going to start the warning sirens.  That can occasionally result in a hasty withdrawl of an offer so it is definitely worth considering how to communicate post offer. 

Clearly, profile 1 doesn’t really require any consideration.  We’re all happy.  However, I’ll start with point 4 and work backwards:

Can I have a week to think about the offer...
Client calls with the offer. It’s the offer we were anticipating.  The right money, the right holidays, a reasonable clutch of benefits.  I contact the candidate and inform them of the offer.  Ideally we’re hoping for response 1, however,  I know it is never guaranteed.  Recruiters have a sixth sense for anticipating tricky offer situations so we’re usually prepared for it.   I will generally ask clients to put the offer in writing first and this will provide ‘thinking time’ for the candidate and allow them to check the details of the offer.  All entirely reasonable.  However, the minute that a candidate asks for ‘time’, it sets of warning signals in both the recruiter and the client.   Usually it will mean that the candidate has other interviews in the mix or they have cold feet.   

The client and the candidate have both invested time and effort into the recruitment process. Everyone is aware that there is never a guarantee of an offer and post offer, no guarantee of acceptance.  If you are interviewing elsewhere, it’s important to be honest with the recruiter so that we can in turn, communicate with the client.    If a client feels that the candidate is not engaged or interested, they will simply withdraw the offer.  After all, they want the candidate to really want to work for them (and no-one else).    The most honest thing to do if you are interviewing elsewhere – say for example you receive an offer on Monday from Company A and on Wednesday you are due to meet Company B for a second stage interview, is to tell your recruiter this and to ask them to see if the client is prepared to wait for a decision until the end of the week.  Most recruiters are used to diplomatically asking clients to see if they’ll wait for a decision and the will quickly establish whether the client will wait (in which case they will usually put a deadline on the offer acceptance)  or if they’re simply not prepared to wait, potentially losing their back-up candidate in the process and withdraw the offer.

The other common occurrence at this point, is the counter offer from an existing employer.  In the current market, we are seeing 70% of candidates receive a counter offer from their current employer when they hand in their notice.  So I ask my candidates quite early in their job hunting process to be prepared for this and to think about their reasons for looking for a new role.   80% of candidates who stay with their current employer, are back on the market within 6-8 months which I always think is a very high statistic.  Ultimately at the point of counter offer, the existing employer will say a lot of things to retain the employee (much cheaper than hiring a replacement and easier to have continuity with clients and internal stakeholders – sorry to sound so cynical!).  It is very interesting how many candidates who have come to me, almost at the end of their tether (I haven’t had a rise for 3 years, they keep promising me Account Manager title, the hours are dreadful, the work is the same day in, day out etc) who then with a bit of (heavy handed) persuasion, will then stick it out.  However, as I say, stick it out for another 6-12 months.   I quite understand that sometimes, after interviewing elsewhere, it can be evident that the grass isn’t necessarily greener elsewhere and for personal reasons, it’s the right thing to do to stay.  But, if your employer says, you’ll be an Account Manager in 3 months and we’ll then give you that raise, it should probably set off some warning signals to you too.  It’s important to review your original criteria for why you were looking for a new role and to assess whether now that you are in possession of a viable alternative (or alternatives) to see whether it is the right move or to sit tight.

Candidate goes AWOL at point of offer
So.  The other reaction from a candidate at the point of offer is silence.  This one is the most troubling as it makes everyone look a bit rubbish!  The client will (rightly) become frustrated with both the candidate (I thought they were keen) and the recruiter (isn’t this your job to be the go-between?).  I’m never quite sure why people go quiet.  I’m not an ogre, I can take no, it’s OK!  However, the Northern market is a small one and I think generally, it’s a good modus operandi never to fall out with anyone.  If you’ve interviewed to the point of an offer, and declined with good reason, that’s fine – everyone will understand that you had options and choices to make and as it happens, it’s not the right decision for you to accept.    However, going awol and not responding to texts and emails just isn’t great.   Keep the lines of communication open, tell the recruiter what your concerns are and hopefully, there will be resolution.  Most recruiters will work late into the evenings and accept calls at any time of day.  If you have any concerns, talk to them.  Silence sends negative signals to everyone involved.

Candidate who moves the financial goalposts at offer...
I’d like to briefly give a note on the second profile.  ‘The moving goalposter.’  Whilst I do agree that the one time you can properly negotiate on your salary is at the point of a job offer  - it is not the time to present your potential future employer with any surprises. Now,  a good recruiter will, at the point when you first spoke to them , have established your salary expectation and have given you a good idea as to whether this is realistic (subject to the kind of roles you are approaching, the level, the discipline etc).  Always bear in mind that a recruiter is going to try to secure you the best salary possible – (without sounding like a shark), however, they are also working within the realms of what is realistic and achievable.  If you are keen to negotiate from the original offer, ask the recruiter for advice – is this a client who typically will negotiate or not – some do actually get genuinely offended and say it’s not the time for Monty Python style haggling.  Some clients can be impressed by how potential employees come to the negotiating table but it can be a gamble so do take advice.

Another point worth mentioning is that often clients will ‘package up’ an offer.  I’m never 100% sure why this is but there are some agencies who I work with who will say the offer is £30k – and the candidate says ‘great, that’s what I wanted’, however the offer letter comes through and it says basic salary £26k + car allowance £3k +  1k parking – total £30k.  This can present problems. Ultimately it’s the salary the candidate was looking for – it’s just the way the client bundles the money together. So it requires a certain level of pragmatic thinking to say,’ ok, the end number is the same, I don’t care how they arrive at it.’  I should note that there are not many agencies around today who would say ‘here is your £30k salary plus a £5k car allowance – so I seldom see ‘big’ packages with a host of add on benefits.  To be honest, this is not an industry where cars or car allowances have ever been prevalent but my point is to decide at the outset, what you consider to be a reasonable offer and make sure you communicate this to your recruiter and potential employer.

Finally, I think there is a caveat here to say work with recruiters you like, trust and respect.  Of course, as in any industry, there are cowboys out there.   But you should always feel that the recruiter has your back and is giving you good objective advice.     Recruiters know that offers do not guarantee placements for them and a good recruiter will always be hoping to have a long term relationship with you throughout your career and hope that if they don’t place you now,  you’ll come back to them in the future – either as a candidate or a client.  Like I said, it’s a small world up North.