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Declining a Job Offer

I've been assisting a company with hiring a new bookkeeper.  We offered the position to a candidate and they declined, stating they didn't think it would work for them and since it had been a week, they thought we picked someone else.  What's the best etiquette?  Should the candidate have alerted us when they felt it wouldn't work or waited until they got the offer?  At what point should a candidate assume they are not in the running (1 week, 2)?  This is for non-management, but I would think most companies would take at least 1-2 weeks to make a decision.


Sara Voight
Title: Controller
Company: Critical Signal Technologies, Inc
(Controller, Critical Signal Technologies, Inc) |

I'm not sure there is a set time for expecting a response by a candidate. I do think it would be helpful for communication to occur during the interview process where an employer shares an expected time frame for the hiring process. If the candidate is worried you have moved on, or is seriously considering another offer, then they should reach out to you. Regardless, it sounds as if this self-selection worked in your favor. You won't be hiring someone who does not communicate, and works in a black and white world with no flexibility.

Becky Warburg
Title: Contract Accountant
Company: Premier Business Solutions
(Contract Accountant, Premier Business Solutions) |

So do you think a candidate should alert HR or the person they interviewed with that they aren't interested in the position?

Jan Mazyck
Title: Principal
Company: Mazyck Advisors LLC
(Principal, Mazyck Advisors LLC) |

It would seem that the candidate had no indication that the company was interested in further pursuing them. Yes, it would have been nice for the company to know the candidate's lack of interest in going further in the selection process but from their perspective it seems that there was no expectation as to likely employment beyond the interview.

In an environment where businesses do not communicate interest, or the lack thereof for that matter, it is hardly reasonable to expect that courtesies would/should go the other direction particularly for a non-management position.

Sara Voight
Title: Controller
Company: Critical Signal Technologies, Inc
(Controller, Critical Signal Technologies, Inc) |

In most cases I would suggest they respond to the HR department. If there was a misunderstanding about what the position was, HR could potentially step in and clarify things to keep a candidate in the open and considering pool. In smaller companies, there is no HR, so the candidate would send a short note to the interviewer. There are times that you walk away from an interview and realize the company/position/location/culture/etc is not what you are looking for. In a perfect world you would let the employer know quickly so they were not reviewing ways to make a job offer and not taking other candidates seriously. This isn't a perfect world. so you should never stop looking at other candidates until the current one shows up on their first day (or even later...).

Samuel W Reed
Title: Cofounder and CTO
Company: BitMEX
LinkedIn Profile
(Cofounder and CTO , BitMEX) |

I don't think this is unusual--having been in the job market, most candidates are lucky to receive any communication from prospective employers during the hiring process; especially once they've been rejected. Having potential candidates contact an employer to terminate their status would require a fundamental shift in our hiring culture.

This is especially true for non-management. I would assume that in the candidate's mind, 1-2 more weeks equals another missed paycheck, on top of the wait they had to get into an interview in the first place. I would expect most lower-level employees to take the first opportunity as soon as it was available.

Bottom line, if you like a candidate, send them an e-mail that day to say they are still in the running.

Topic Expert
Dana Price
Title: Vice President, M&A
Company: McGraw Hill Education
(Vice President, M&A, McGraw Hill Education) |

1 week? That is an unrealistic expectation regardless of what should or should not have been done. You probably saved yourself a ton of trouble in the future, but like Sara said, make sure that your messaging to candidates is proper and actually communicated (and consistent among candidates).

Robert Honeyman
Title: CFO
Company: Advanced Predictive Analytics
(CFO, Advanced Predictive Analytics) |

In today's world, it has become not uncommon for companies to treat candidates with less than full respect. I rarely if ever get any sort of confirmation that my resume has been received or reviewed. I have had interviews where I've gone weeks without hearing anything. There have been times when I never heard back at all.

Given the environment, your candidate's response is completely reasonable and, to me, understandable. We live our lives surrounded by all sorts of devices that provide instant feedback on all sorts of issues and things in which we take interest. But when it comes to hiring, we treat candidates as if the telegraph is still something that needs to be discovered. The disconnect is quite startling.

In my opinion, every resume received demands a response. Every interview needs to include a statement of how the process works and leave the interviewee with a reasonable expectation of timing.

On the other hand, a candidate owes the potential employer nothing. The candidate has a single focus: find suitable employment. If a hiring company encounters a viable candidate and they want to stay in the hunt, they must communicate. Let the candidate know there's real interest and when they'll hear back. Absent feedback, the hiring company has to gamble that the job market is weak enough that all interesting candidates will still be available at the company's whim.

As well, failure to provide feedback sends a message to the candidate that communication is not necessarily a strong point in that organization. Since both sides to the transaction are evaluating, that may be viewed as a black mark against the hiring firm.

Topic Expert
Cindy Kraft
Title: CFO Coach
Company: Executive Essentials
(CFO Coach, Executive Essentials) |

Excellent response, Robert!

Topic Expert
Keith Perry
Title: Director of Global Accounting
Company: Agrinos, Inc.
(Director of Global Accounting, Agrinos, Inc.) |

Distilling my agreement with Robert:
Congrats to this candidate! It seems that they told you two, somewhat unrelated things.
1) When you offered the position, you forced their hand, and they had to decide. They decided it was not a fit. This is not necessarily the easiest thing to do, and so they've done you (and themselves) a service. Since they hadn't been offered the role, it is debateable as to whether they should have withdrawn (depends...we don't know what was going on for them).
2) Etiquette is that *you* tell them when you will get back to them, then get back to them by that time. It seems that you didn't tell them when they'd hear, and that can sound to a candidate like a "don't call us, we'll call you." So, yes there was a breach of etiquette.

Nicole Lucarelli
Title: Director
Company: Financial Services
LinkedIn Profile
(Director, Financial Services) |

Great response. There is a general lack of respect in the hiring process, some due, I think, to the ease of which information is passed. While easy to apply, recruiters get flooded with non-qualified candidates. However, once human contact has been made, the expectation for communication and respect should be the norm. If you as a company think someone is strong, mostly likely so is someone else. Don't leave candidates hanging and then expect them to be there when you are ready.

The link below is article that speaks to responsiveness and other areas that may indicate an offer should not be pursued. Even with high unemployment, companies need to realize that they need to sell themselves as much as the candidate.

Topic Expert
Wayne Spivak
Title: President & CFO
LinkedIn Profile
(President & CFO, |

I'd like to take a slight deviation and talk about dealing with non-employee relationships (specifically Consultants).

Nothing worse than either a) not communicating that you are not interested or b) leading them on and then letting the project die (without communication).

This leaves a bad taste in the non-employee potential vendors (and employees for that matter) and that really can and will sully you and your companies reputation.

People talk. Look at the Proformative Exchange. Bad reviews are given for a reason, and bad reviews will lead people not to use that vendor (or in this case the potential client/employer).

Patricia Montour
Title: CPA, CGMA
Company: Private Company
(CPA, CGMA, Private Company) |

I agree with Robert. In my experience, resumes and other submissions to the Company are only very rarely acknowledged in any way. As a candidate the complete lack of communication can be unnerving. We are also cautioned against following up too soon or too frequently to avoid a "stalker" image.

I believe that the Company should express an expected time frame for decision making during the interview. This would provide a point of reference for all concerned. Changes can and do happen during the hiring process, but a guideline does help.

Mark Matheny
Title: VP - FInancial Planning and Analysis
Company: Novolex (formerly Hilex Poly)
(VP - FInancial Planning and Analysis, Novolex (formerly Hilex Poly)) |

Things have changed greatly. With the "free agent" attitude becoming the new standard for employment and the ease of applying for positions with technological advancements, I think both HR and the candidate pool are not longer acting ethically as we have traditionally defined it. However, it is a new day with a new normal. Decisions are being made in day increments if not smaller.

Robert Ewalt
Title: Exam Development Manager
Company: Institute of Certified Management Accoun..
(Exam Development Manager, Institute of Certified Management Accountants) |

One week seems too short, but HR or the hiring manager could have said, "we have some other candidates to see, we should make a decision in two weeks." My guess is the candidate didn't want the job, but wanted to soften the rejection by mentioning "I thought you picked someone else."

Topic Expert
Brenda Morris
Title: Board of Directors, Audit Committee Chai..
Company: Boot Barn
(Board of Directors, Audit Committee Chair, Boot Barn) |

I agree they didn't want the job and used this as an excuse. That said, when I really want to keep a candidate in the running for a role, but am still speaking to others, I will personally reach out to them every few days to keep them feeling wanted.

Topic Expert
Malak Kazan
Title: VP, Special Projects
Company: ERI Economic Research Institute
(VP, Special Projects, ERI Economic Research Institute) |

I concur with the insight already provided. I would add that I always tell the stronger candidates that we stay in touch and they keep me informed if their availability for further consideration in the job changes.

Becky Warburg
Title: Contract Accountant
Company: Premier Business Solutions
(Contract Accountant, Premier Business Solutions) |

Thank you for your responses. We did indicate to all those interviewed that we would be taking up to two weeks to make a decision and that everyone interviewed would be contacted either way. Having been on both sides of the table, I always told HR, or the interviewer if I was not interested in the position after interviewing. My "honesty" as one person put it was very helpful.

Topic Expert
Mark Richards
Title: VP Operations and Finance
Company: VP / CFO - Private Company
(VP Operations and Finance, VP / CFO - Private Company) |

Robert and Nicole make good points that the ease of application and resulting flood of candidates has made responses less likely from the company to the candidate.

The timeline is all on the company as they are the ones who need to be certain they have completed all of the necessary steps in hiring (e.g. do we need the role, what are the skills needed, do we have budget, etc.). Most times I've found that if a company has jumped the gun and started to recruit before answering all of the questions, so they put the process on hold to get sorted out.

As a candidate, it is virtually impossible to know the timeline unless a company specifically states, but the tightest response I've ever gotten is "in the next few weeks".

For a candidate, because we are tracked in an ATS or recruiting database, if the job does not fit - then best to say so as soon as possible - especially true for an outside recruiter who wants to work with candidates they can trust. No need to wait for an offer if you've been in for an interview and it does not fit - that will not change if you get an offer.

As for the delays in hiring process, here is a tool that can at least help a candidate ask questions to see where a company is at in their thinking:



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