As a recruiter, the word “yes” is your bread and butter. “Yes” from a client is great, but the real money is in the “yes” offered by a candidate. In fact, if you want to see a recruiter’s pupils turn to dollar signs, just like in the cartoons, hang around for that moment when a candidate accepts a position. It’s the nature of the business for the majority of recruiters; you don’t get paid until a candidate accepts a position, but the road there can be very bumpy. It requires a time commitment as you connect with the candidates, get to know them, coach them, and lead them through multiple rounds of interviews. So when the “yes” comes and your candidate accepts a position, it’s a relief!

However, we’ve all experienced that moment when your hard work with a candidate comes to a screeching halt because they decline an offer. It’s frustrating, disheartening, costly, and confusing. You’re not sure what changed during the time it took to complete the interview process, and you wonder how you could have predicted it—or better yet, changed the outcome. It’s unfortunate that candidates don’t include a tell-all section on their LinkedIn profile that includes things like “I’m just testing the job-search waters,” “I’m not REALLY interested in relocating,” or “I’m worried about these specific things…” but it couldn’t possibly be that easy.

The Complicated Candidate Detector

In a perfect world, every candidate you approached wouldn’t move forward with the interview process until they had voiced all of their questions and concerns, and knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that they were ready for a new position. In the real world, however, candidates sometimes leap before they look when the prospect of a new job comes up. It’s not until they have to make a decision that they consider all aspects of whether or not it would be a good move for them. Fortunately, all recruiters have a “complicated candidate detector” that allows them to see past the polite responses and feigned enthusiasm to reveal the real concerns that are holding a candidate back. It consists of two things: intuition and the ability to ask the right questions.

There are often red flags throughout the process that recruiters ignore, such as a candidate agreeing with everything you say and never voicing an opposing opinion, or a candidate being open to anything and not having a specific idea of the type of position he or she’d like, or where to relocate. This can mean that a candidate is just testing the waters and hasn’t put serious thought into the decision. Additionally, a candidate who is reserved and doesn’t share much or have any questions may actually have concerns he or she’s afraid to voice. Then there are the candidates who experience a change at work or even in their personal life that makes the new position less appealing, and the candidates who aren’t satisfied with some aspect of the new company or offer.

One of the main signs that recruiters optimistically overlook is candidates’ not answering phone calls, emails, or messages. As the popular book and movie explain, if you have to call several times to get an answer or it takes two weeks to get a reply to your email, they’re just not that into you (or the position, rather).

What You Can Do About It

If you sense that any of these issues are occurring, the best way to attempt to resolve them is through communication. And in fact, even if you don’t suspect that there are underlying doubts, you may have a candidate who falls into the latter two categories: candidates who develop issues or concerns along the way in the process, having to do with their personal life or the specifics of the offer. Since you likely won’t be the first call your candidate makes when he or she receives a raise, has concerns about the future supervisor, or has a life event occur that will prevent relocation, you have to be the one asking the questions and pursuing communication. Ask them how things are going at work; whether anything there has changed; if anything has come up since you began the process that would keep them from accepting; if they have any concerns about the new organization; and how their overall job search is going. Think beyond the position and consider other influencing factors like a possible counter-offer from their current employer, other job offers, and their personal life.

If you keep the lines of communication open, you’re much more likely to be able to alleviate their concerns and get to “yes,” or at least have a heads-up that the candidate is likely to decline.

What other red flags can you add to our list, to know when a candidate is likely to decline a job offer? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, is an author, speaker, Human Resources professional, and workplace social media expert who has a passion for recruiting, training, and all things social media. She is the president and CEO of Xceptional HR, and a leader in the HR community with more than 12 years of industry experience. The author of Tweet This! Twitter for Business, Jessica was named by HR Examiner as the second most influential recruiter on the Internet and the seventh most powerful woman on Twitter. She is a columnist for both SmartBrief and The Huffington Post, in addition to Blogging4Jobs and Human Resources One on One. Jessica has been interviewed for professional articles in CIO Magazine, Entrepreneur Magazine, SHRM’s HR Magazine, and on CBS. Jessica earned a Senior Professional in Human Resources designation in 2008, and holds a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology and Business from Kansas State University. Originally from a small town in Kansas, Jessica currently lives near Oklahoma City with her husband, Greg and daughter, Ryleigh.


  • Avatar Jim Mitchell says:

    Candidates always have doubts about some aspects of their future position or about the company. The task of every recruiter is to spot these doubts and eliminate them. Recruiters should treat their candidates as customers and try to sell them the position and the company and persuade them won’t regret their choice! But in reality recruiters are aware that it’s difficult to find a job and sometimes think they do a favor to candidates giving them the job. Does it seem fundamentally wrong to me only?

  • Avatar Connie Gillis says:

    Most valuable candidates have job offers from several companies and they don’t want to lose any of them, they want to be in the power position of declining a job offer rather than being ruled out of the running by the recruiter. But there’s usually a position they favor the most and the one they crossed out of their list at the very beginning. So you have to watch closely in order to spot a hint that they’re going to reject your offer, because the chance they’ll tell you directly is slim.

  • Avatar PAUL FOREL says:

    My tact is to probe for the reason(s) a recruit is agreeing to spend time with me (after I called them from out of the blue).

    If they do agree to interview, then I am double checking with them all along the way -testing- to see if they are going to fall back or are sincere in wanting to take advantage of what our client has to offer that person.

    Usually, for me, the key is to be very sure there is a sincere desire on the part of the recruit to want to experience a ‘better’ situation and to know what, specifically, they want in a new opportunity.

    If there is a mismatch, it behooves me to either see if the client can reconfigure the opportunity or simply put the recruit back and seek out someone else.

    The key is to be inside the person’s head as much as possible so I am aware of their thought processes all along the way.

    If I can’t read the person or they are not being forthright with me then I will often do the ‘take away’ and if that doesn’t change anything then I put them back where I found them and seek out another recruit.

    In each case I had a recruit decline an Offer -when I first started in the business- it was because I had not correctly matched the opportunity with the desires of the candidate.

    Candidate control is everything.

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