It’s all going so well. You’ve found a great candidate who shone in their interview. You’re excited to have them join the team. But then — they decline the job.

This is bound to happen occasionally, but if candidates are frequently turning down your offers, it may be a sign that something is going wrong in your hiring process. Before making the offer to your next candidate, take a moment to consider the reasons your first-choice candidate turned you down. It will help you find ways to refine your hiring tactics and get more offer acceptances in the future.

Here are some common reasons that stellar candidates may be declining your job offers.

1. You’re Not Offering Them Enough Money

A 2016 survey of businesses revealed that the number one reason candidates decline job offers is low pay; it’s also the number one reason employees leave jobs.

It really is that simple. If you’re not offering a competitive compensation package, candidates will look elsewhere. Workers want to be paid what they’re worth, and if they don’t think you’re offering them a fair value for their skills, they’ll move on.

If many candidates are declining your initial job offers upfront (without much discussion) or after prolonged salary negotiations, it may be time to revise your pay scales. Research the average compensation for similar positions in your industry. Can you match or exceed the average salary? Consider the cost to your business of having an unqualified person in this role (or no one in the role at all). When you do make an offer, take into account not only the job responsibilities but also the years of experience and unique skills the candidate brings to the table.

Compensation is one of the main ways a company shows that it values its employees. When you offer competitive pay and benefits, what you’re really saying is that you value the candidate and the skillset they bring to the team.

2. There’s No Opportunity to Advance

The same survey found that another significant reason people decline job offers is that they don’t believe there are opportunities to advance at the company. People want to know that if they work hard, they will be rewarded with promotions and be able to take on new kinds of work. They don’t want to stagnate in the same role. In fact, Havard Business Review reports that every ten months of stagnating in a role raises the chances an employee will leave your company by an entire percentage point.

When candidates ask about their opportunities to advance at your company, it’s important you have a satisfying answer for them. Highlight your professional development opportunities and emphasize other ways the employee will be able to grow at your company. If you haven’t already, create a documented process for mapping each employee’s career path. This shows candidates that there’s not only room to grow their professional skills, there’s a defined path of steps they can take to get there.

3. Your Company Has a Bad Reputation

Just as you start checking candidate references when you reach the interview process, your candidates start checking your references — often in the form of online research. When they’re at the interview stage, many applicants will look more deeply into your company’s reputation; at this point, they’re likely trying to imagine themselves working for your organization.

If they find a Glassdoor profile filled with criticism from previous employees, or check your company’s LinkedIn page to see the average employee only lasts a year or two, they may take these as signs to move on.

In our always-connected world, there’s no sweeping negative press under the rug. Address it head-on. Pay attention to what former employees post online about your company. Address negative reviews or bad press during candidate interviews. Explain what your company is doing to improve these areas. With the right approach and a genuine commitment to improvement, you can turn poor reviews into an opportunity to show candidates how serious your company is about fixing its mistakes.

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4. Your Hiring Process is Disorganized

A cumbersome, slow or disjointed hiring process can dampen even the most gung-ho candidate’s enthusiasm for working at a company. Any of the following will leave a bad taste in a candidate’s mouth:

Taking weeks or months to get back to a candidate

Unresponsive companies lose out because candidates aren’t willing to wait forever to hear back and they may accept other jobs in the meantime. Even if your chosen candidate hasn’t accepted another job in the weeks or months you’ve taken to get back to her, she may wonder whether the radio silence indicates a culture of poor communication at your company, and decide to keep looking for something else.

This doesn’t mean you need to rush your interview process — speeding through without allowing ample time to consider each candidate can result in a panic hire, causing more trouble than simply having the position open. No matter how long your process takes, keep in touch with your top candidate the entire time, even if you haven’t made a decision yet. Frequent communication signals that your company values their time.

Don’t forget to stay in touch with your number two candidate; if you don’t assure them they’re still being considered, they may not be there as your backup if your first choice declines.

Putting the candidate through a ringer of many interviews with many different interviewers

Over-interviewing can scare a candidate off, too. If he has had multiple interviews with everyone from the human resources manager to the vice president of his department to a person he’d be working with in another department, it will raise a few questions. Is the company too disorganized to get multiple interviewers in the same room at the same time? If he accepts the job, will he have any autonomy over his work, or will every decision need to be signed off on by multiple people? The uncertainty may scare him off.

Schedule interviews with multiple key team members at the same time whenever possible. Communicate timelines clearly to the candidate, and set expectations ahead of time for how many interview sessions they can expect to go through.

Mixed signals from different interviewers

If the interview process reveals that interviewers have very different ideas about the job responsibilities or the company’s goals, candidates may become confused and discouraged. They may question whether the job description they applied for will truly match the day-to-day job if they accept. They may feel the company lacks a strong vision, or fear they will be pulled between competing priorities within the company.

Define the expectations for the position before the interview, and review them with all people involved in interviewing the applicant. It’s crucial to ensure your team members are on the same page about the position you’re looking to fill.

Learn From Every Rejection

We’ve only mentioned four reasons a candidate may decline a job offer. Of course there are many other factors that may cause an applicant to turn away from your company, including:


  • Organizational culture. A candidate learns a lot about your company’s culture by walking through your doors for an interview. They may get the impression your workplace is too staid or too relaxed for their liking.
  • The candidate doesn’t think they’d get along with their boss. Remember, while you’re interviewing a candidate to assess their skills and work ethic, the candidate is simultaneously interviewing your company to assess whether they want to be part of this team. They may decide they wouldn’t enjoy working with their manager.
  • The position’s hours are too demanding. If the hours you’re asking for aren’t amenable to the candidate’s lifestyle, they may move on to seek a position with a different work-life balance. In some cases, you may try a more flexible approach to hours but the reality is some jobs require very specific hours; if this is the case, be upfront about the hours to draw in only candidates who are comfortable with the position.


Ultimately, there’s only one way to determine what led a candidate to decline your job offer: ask them. Like exit interviews, declined offer interviews can provide a wealth of information about how candidates perceive your company and its hiring process, as well as your competitors and the job market.

The next time a candidate declines your offer, ask them why. What you’ll learn will help you make your company more attractive to future candidates.


Chris Lennon is Vice President of Product Management at BirdDogHR. Chris is an active participant in the talent management community bringing over 18 years of experience to BirdDogHR. He has presented at numerous industry events and has been quoted as an industry expert in leading publications like SHRM, TLNT, L&D Daily Advisor and more.