5 Signs You Are Falling in Love with a Candidate Who is Going to Break Your Heart

We’ve all been there. Rejection hurts, and although the ego blow is a bit harsher in the dating world, it’s no fun in business, either. And it’s not just your dignity that smarts. Companies can spend hours of time and resources on courting the perfect candidate only to be left at the altar. On top of that, the performance of many recruiters is evaluated based on their acceptance rates. Thus, the pressure of offering a candidate is twofold: a good recruiter focuses not only on finding the right candidate, but also making sure the interest is reciprocated. Recognizing the signs that there may be trouble in paradise early on will save you time, money, and heartache.

1. Your candidate is overqualified.

Sometimes you just have to accept that a candidate is out of your league. Drooling over a candidate’s Ivy League degree or bevvy of technical skills? So is everyone else. I know what you’re thinking: “But our company is special, who wouldn’t want to work here?” However, no matter how awesome your corporate culture or how bright your company’s future might be, if the salary or job duties aren’t in line with what your candidate is expecting, you’ll likely be out of luck. This is not to say that you should never hire a candidate that has more experience or education than what the job calls for. Smart companies always have room for highly talented people, but it takes shrewd judgement to ensure you can keep them.

Solution: Adjust your candidates’ expectations as well as your own. If you feel a candidate might be overqualified, be honest with him or her about the salary and responsibilities of the position early on. This will prevent wasting time on both ends. Additionally, be honest with yourself about what skills are essential to the job. Do your sales people really need above 3.5 GPA to increase revenue? If they know how to sell, probably not. We all want the cream of the crop, but focusing on those criteria that actually predict success in the role will decrease competition and let some great candidates through the door you may have otherwise missed.

2. Your candidate is flaky during the recruiting process.

It’s the classic tale of recruiter meets great candidate, candidate responds enthusiastically, recruiter moves the process forward, and candidate flakes out. This song and dance can start making even the highest level recruiters feel like a needy boy/girlfriend. “I called you three times last week! Why didn’t you call me back?” With today’s technology, if a candidate takes more than 1-2 days to get back to you, you’re probably not at the top of their list. Other signs of trouble include: emailing a response instead of returning a phone call, intentionally leaving voicemail, or calling after business hours. Even if the candidate seems genuinely interested when they get back to you, their flakiness now is often a sign of bad habits down the road.

Solution: No matter how good a candidate appears on paper, if they take more than a few business days to get back to you, don’t waste much more time on them. Of course there are legitimate reasons for communication lapses, so use your discretion. However, if a candidate misses a scheduled appointment with me, it’s generally a deal breaker.

3. Your candidate wants more time to think about it.

There’s nothing worse than enthusiastically offering your candidate a job only to be met with the question, “How long do I get to decide?” Haggling over this time frame isn’t a fun game either. Of course, all of us would like our proposals to be met with a passionate “I do!” But as with any relationship, career choices are complicated and involve an intricate web of financial, social, and personal issues. Thus, it is completely understandable that candidates will want some time to think about the offer and talk with important people in their lives before signing on the dotted line.

Solution: This is another sensitive interaction with a candidate that can be solved with clear and open communication. Setting a deadline upfront about when you would like their decision and sticking to it is a good practice to set candidates’ expectations. If a candidate comes to you on D-day and asks for more time, be ready to have an open conversation about why. It may be awkward but being direct will end up saving you both time and effort in the negotiating process.

4. It’s between this and _________.

Graduate school. The Peace Corps. Teaching abroad. Moving to Seattle with my boyfriend. With the options technology and globalization have afforded people, the possibilities are endless. In fact, many twenty-somethings feel almost paralyzed by the choices in front of them, painstakingly weighing the opportunity cost of each one. To hedge their bets, they often try to secure a back-up plan just to see what’s out there. Just like in the dating scene, even if the first three dates have gone great you can never be sure he’s not seeing someone else.

Solution: This is as simple as incorporating one question in to your very first interview: “What other positions/opportunities are you looking at right now?” This will not only give you a better feel for what they are looking for in a position, but it’s also a good opportunity for candidates to confess other plans they may have in the works. If they do mention they are already committed to something else and just browsing, I would push that candidate to the bottom of your list. Even if they do end up choosing you, the fact they bailed on their prior commitment may be a sign of a flighty employee.

5. You are, actually, in love with them.

I’ll never forget the first candidate that turned down my offer. I considered the interview to be as good as any “first date” could be. He was smart, funny, attractive, and (most importantly) the boy could program, which is a rare skill to find in combination with some of his other assets. He was an ideal candidate for the position (and probably would have made a good date too, though I would never go there.) I did everything I could within the realm of professionalism to ensure he would accept our offer, but in the end it wasn’t enough.

His resistance to moving halfway across the country was the undoing of our courtship, and a long distance relationship with the company just wasn’t in the cards. Now, this may seem like a rookie mistake for a savvy recruiter, but I was in denial about these little red flags because I was so wrapped up in his strengths. In the end, I felt the sting of both professional and personal rejection. Now maybe you aren’t as easily beguiled as I am, but as recruiters it is in our nature to make friends easily. Interviews are the perfect occasion to hit it off and it is often hard not to let your personal opinions affect your hiring decisions.

Solution: Be honest with yourself, if it doesn’t fit, don’t force it. Culture fit is important, but only after you are sure the candidate is qualified to do the job. If you find yourself having a strong personal connection with a candidate, make sure to step back and get an objective opinion. It seems simple, but it is a more common mistake than you might think. As strategic HR becomes more prominent and hiring criteria becomes less black and white, having a system of checks and balances in your decision making process can help keep your process unbiased.

Notice a running theme here? Just like in dating, good communication during the recruiting process is key. However, unlike the dating world, you can be straight forward early on without the risk of scaring off a potential match. In fact, many candidates will respect your frankness, as it will save you both time and energy in the long run. Even though you may lose a candidate or two with the “real talk” approach, don’t get discouraged–they probably weren’t the right fit anyway. Remember, you have to interview a few frogs before you find your prince.

by Stephanie Young

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HR, interview, Recruiter