Top 5 Reasons Your Candidate Dropped Out

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By Keely Gjelsteen – Associate, San Francisco –

It happens a lot.  You’ve had a vacant seat on your executive team for several weeks and you’ve been consumed with the recruiting process.  You met the ideal candidate who ticks every box on your detailed checklist and suddenly they drop out of the process leaving you scratching your head.  As an executive recruiter with a range of clients from venture-backed startups to publicly-traded corporations, I’ve experienced these struggles across all types of tech companies.  Below is some empirical data from inside the confidential executive recruiting process.

1. The candidate thought the interview process took too long.
This is possibly the biggest reason I’ve seen for a candidate dropping out.  When a company makes decisions at a snail’s pace it makes an immediate impact on a candidate.  It can conjure many ideas such as “maybe they don’t want me nearly as bad as I thought they did” or “how does anything get done over there if it takes this long to set up my next round of interviews.”  An exceptional candidate thinks strategically; if the interview process was unorganized at an executive level, it will likely be difficult to recruit, build, and develop their teams once they are on the inside.

How to avoid:  In executive search, 95% of candidates are passive.  This means they have a job they like and are not actively looking for a new opportunity.  Be respectful of the candidate’s time and energy.  Be sure to provide feedback promptly and stay in contact with them if plans change. Momentum is key – keep it at a constant rate by keeping the candidate engaged and actively move them through the interview process.

2. Lack of personal contact.
I’ve seen this a lot with startups, particularly early-stage companies where a lot of social interaction is required 7 days a week, 15 hours a day with the same people.  It’s common to see a candidate struggle to connect with the team during a company’s interview process.  Without that culture connection, a candidate may not feel like the opportunity is the best fit.

How to avoid:  Although killer product offering and compensation package are important factors, executive leaders choose to work for a team over everything else.  Be personal.  The best way to evaluate team chemistry is by breaking bread.  Take them out to dinner with a few key members of the executive team to instill an image of camaraderie for the candidate and executive team.  Find ways to demonstrate the company’s culture through an event that they can experience rather than a story.

3. You failed to discuss the elephant in the room.
After a candidate has invested time into learning about your company and the role, it’s likely that they’ll begin their own due diligence process.  Previous internal company turmoil or various bad press can sway a candidate to drop out.  Perhaps it’s a former employee with a fiery story to tell or bad press during a tumultuous time two years ago.  A candidate may be speaking to those involved who may leave them feeling like this may not be the best place for them.

How to avoid:  Always assume that your candidate will be doing their own due diligence and reference-checking and be prepared to explain the elephant in the room.  Ask the candidate if they have any concerns about joining and promote an open dialogue on any potential hardships they foresee.  Whether this is a demanding member of the executive team or a failed product launch, candidates appreciate and value candor.

4. Your Pitch Failed.
Interviews are tricky.  You are tasked with not only understanding a candidate’s professional history but also explaining the company and role in typically less than an hour.  After I’ve interviewed a stellar candidate and sent them to meet with my client, I’ve found that unsuccessful interviews often robbed the candidate’s excitement I was able to instill.  This can occur if the interviewer was able to sell a candidate on either the company or how perfect they are for the role, but not both.

How to avoid:  In interviews it’s important to focus on two basic but often forgotten points.  First is getting to know the candidate personally and professionally.  The second is to entice them with the battles the company intends to conquer with this position.  Focus on the potential for growth, what part the candidate will play in composing a team, and what the company plans to accomplish utilizing the candidate’s expertise.  This will help outline the career trajectory that one might expect in this position, demonstrating the long-term impact on the company’s capacity for a successful future and therefore securing their interest in the role.

5. The role wasn’t aligned across the team.
Clear communication is an essential part of hiring.  The purpose of the role, the growth of the role within the company, and the measurement of success are important ways to cement the understanding of a job function between the candidate and the company.  Many times a company’s executive team will not be aligned with the purpose of a role, which can cause immediate and long-term visions of unpredictability in the eyes of a candidate and ultimately cause them to drop out.

How to avoid:  Successful placements have started with a clear understanding of the role across all interviewers.  Starting with the role requirements, collaborate with your executive team regarding the expectations of the role and help those involved in the interview process to understand what the company is looking for.  This will help to communicate a clear and consistent description of the role to the candidate from each member of the team throughout the interview process.

A candidate dropping out of the interview process can happen to any company for a multitude of reasons.  Hopefully these tips provide insight into some common hiccups in the process and how to avoid them.