Ever had a Candidate turn down your Offer? How to better predict rejection using the Premortem

Posted by Johnny Campbell,
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Candidate Rejection - Recruitment PitfallsIn all the years that I have worked in recruitment, nothing got to me more than a candidate refusing a job offer. You invest so much time, effort and emotion in finding them, selling to them, courting them through the process and negotiating the offer only to have them throw you a blinder and refuse when you were so sure the deal was closed.

Recruiters often sit around after hearing such disheartening news and talk about “hindsight” and “what if” and “I guess we should have seen it coming”. You try to learn from these experiences but most of us chalk it up to randomness and tell ourselves that there really was nothing we could have done. Not so.

I’ve been reading a cracking little book over the last couple of weeks called “Thinking Fast and Slow” by the Nobel prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman. It really is a must read for any HR, Recruitment or Sales professional for its unique perspective on how the human mind works and how we make decisions. One of the latter chapters entitled “The Engine of Capitalism” discusses the problem of Overconfidence in the business world and hypothesizes that our “subjective confidence” is determined by the coherence of the story you construct and tell yourself about a scenario rather than the quality and amount of information that supports it.

If I was to ask a recruiter to predict what “deals” are likely to close, they will almost always overstate the realistic likelihood of each outcome, even with the best intentions in the world. We often overestimate our influence on randomness and focus on what we know rather than what we don’t know about a deal. Kahneman cites an idea credited to the famous research psychologist Gary Klein of the “PreMortem” and suggests that it may be the best and only way to truly analyse a project or scenario to correctly anticipate potential problems. The idea is to hypothesize that the project has already failed and to gather a group of colleagues to suggest why the project failed.

In a recruitment context, it would go something like this:

A recruiter is reviewing his or her pipeline with their manager and is walking through all the offers about to be made or pending. Instead of accepting the recruiter’s opinion about which offers are likely to be accepted, the manager tells the recruiter to imagine that all of them fall through. There’s no argument, you just have to accept that they failed. Now sit down and examine each offer one by one and ask “why didn’t the candidate accept the job”. Ideally you would involve your colleagues and each would assist in the “premortem” of the deal (a postmortem, as we all know, is what you do after someone has died to figure out the causes of their death). In his essay from 2007, Klein suggests that our ability to anticipate potential pitfalls and issues increases by at least 30%. By accepting the hypothesis that the candidate has already turned down the job, the recruiter would conceivably be more objective in their analysis of why this may have happened. Think about it. A recruiter is going to defend their prediction that the offer will be accepted until proven wrong but if you tell them that the decision has already been made, its easier to step away from the deal and analyse the risk objectively.

Next week when you sit down with your manager or you sit down with your staff, give it a try. Try to conduct a “premortem” on the offers you are about to make or you have outstanding. Try to think about reasons such as a counter-offer, a partner deciding to persuade them otherwise, a notice period that is longer than they thought, a death in the family, a faux pas in the contract, a delay in the offer being made, etc, etc. If its important enough and can be validated and controlled, try to influence or manage these risks before they present themselves.

Most of the time we stick our head in the sand and hope for the best. Climb a hill, take a pair of binoculars and open your eyes. It’s better to anticipate bad news and prepare for it than get blindsided.

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