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An Accepted Offer is not a Done Deal

This January the Australian HR Institute (AHRI) published an article, pointing to recent Gartner research that indicates that half of the candidates accepting a job offer back out at the last minute. Candidates are less committed due to a job-rich market, high confidence in job availability, and increased demand for flexibility. AHRI observes a strong correlation between return-to-office policies and candidates not following through on job offers. Other than the desire for greater flexibility, a better work-life balance and higher compensation are also pointed out as influential factors.

These trends put the hiring process under a lot of pressure. AHRI rightly emphasises evaluating current hiring processes and understanding candidate needs. They also advocate for transparency in compensation and company culture. However, based on my own experience as well as academic research, I'd like to add some considerations for long-term recruitment success, especially in senior roles.

1. Going beyond the resume early on

The pressure on recruiters to fill vacancies quickly can lead to challenges down the track. Rushing to compile a list of candidates meeting the job criteria, may result in overlooking clues about whether the role is a good fit. A resume showing all the right skills and qualifications does not imply suitability. 

Early understanding of a candidate's aspirations, values, and long-term goals is crucial, particularly in senior leadership recruitment. Achieving this nuanced understanding may require the expertise of senior recruiters with insights into the drive and expectations of senior leaders. Deferring this assessment until the interview stage heightens the risk of candidate withdrawal and can result in a significant waste of time for interview panel members.

Engaging candidates early on in conversations about skills and ambitions will help recruiters understand their potential for the role. This includes exploring professional experience and cultural fit with the organisation, but also whether the role resonates with candidates' personal and career objectives. While this approach may seem time-consuming, it significantly improves candidate satisfaction and contributes to improved retention rates. Offering a role aligned with the candidate’s broader professional trajectory and personal values substantially increases the likelihood of a fulfilling and lasting employer relationship. If a role doesn’t match the intrinsic motivation of the candidate, they will be easily persuaded by alternative offers. 

2. Offering the right role

Attracting and retaining a good fit for a senior leadership role is more than just finding the right candidate; it is just as much about providing the right role. This goes beyond competitive remuneration, work-life balance, and perks. A high-caliber candidate will quickly understand whether the role description accurately portrays the reality and complexity of the job and whether the KPIs are achievable. During the interview, the panel assesses the candidate, but the candidate also explores whether the organisational strategy, internal priorities, available resources, stakeholder support and company knowledge line up to allow them to meet these KPIs.

In the case of senior leadership and expert positions, those drafting the position description may not have an in-depth understanding of the specific requirements of the role. This highlights the importance of engaging external experts for specific role requirements, particularly when defining new senior roles, while also ensuring the fit of the role within the overall organsational structure. Employers need to deeply understand the required expertise, expectations, strategic imperatives, and market dynamics, and provide clarity on these aspects to the candidate. Expecting a candidate to figure it out after hiring is a sure way to lose them.

Moreover, a compelling role must offer opportunities for long-term growth and career advancement. Enticing overqualified candidates with high remunerations will only lead to disappointment at both ends. Senior leaders, whether they realise it or not, seek positions that enable them to develop and progress over time, and contribute to their professional journey and aspirations. True retention lies in the alignment of the candidate's career goals with the organisational strategy and direction, creating a sense of purpose and professional fulfillment.

3. Building good relationships

An integral aspect of senior leadership recruitment is the cultivation of strong relationships with candidates throughout the hiring journey. The experience of interacting with the organisation should reflect transparency, respect, and professionalism. This impacts the perception and reputation of the organisation, leaving both successful and unsuccessful candidates with a favourable impression. It is also important for gender equity. Research has shown that previous hiring experiences play a key role in the decision for senior women to compete for executive roles. 

Providing constructive feedback and maintaining open lines of communication for unsuccessful candidates not only leaves them with a positive view but can also encourage them to consider future opportunities with the organisation or become valuable connections in influential positions elsewhere. For the preferred candidate, a well-nurtured relationship during the hiring process sets a foundation for a smooth transition into their new role. Motivated and well-informed about the organisation's culture and values, the new hire is more likely to start their journey with enthusiasm, ready to contribute meaningfully from day one.

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Research and further reading 

Brands, R. A., & Fernandez-Mateo, I. (2017). Leaning out: How negative recruitment experiences shape women’s decisions to compete for executive roles. Administrative Science Quarterly, 62(3), 405-442.

Crowley‐Henry, M., Benson, E. T., & Al Ariss, A. (2019). Linking talent management to traditional and boundaryless career orientations: Research propositions and future directions. European Management Review, 16(1), 5-19.

Gallardo-Gallardo, E. (2018). The meaning of talent in the world of work. Global talent management, 33-58.

Garrow, V., & Hirsh, W. (2008). Talent management: Issues of focus and fit. Public Personnel Management, 37(4), 389-402.

Wightman, B. (2023). Holding out for a hero: Linking hiring duration and managerial fit. In Academy of Management Proceedings (Vol. 2023, No. 1, p. 12708).


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