A Legal Employer’s Guide to Avoiding the Loss of Good Candidates

by Jon Lewis

Ask legal recruiting coordinators at law firms to name the most frustrating part of their jobs and there’s a good chance you won’t have to wait long before hearing something like “I hate it when we finally find the candidate we want only to have that candidate pull out or reject our offer.” Withdrawals and turn-downs can be a double whammy—not only has the employer failed to reel in a preferred candidate after what is frequently a lengthy vetting/interviewing process, but often they are also back to square one in trying to fill the need that occasioned the search in the first place. However, notwithstanding the costs in terms of time, effort, and aggravation, a significant number of employers repeatedly make the same kind of mistakes which unnecessarily heighten the risk of losing good candidates.

The catalog of such mistakes is long, varied and all too familiar.  A few of the more common examples are as follows:

Go Slowly
An employer who is slow in reviewing resumes/scheduling interviews/giving feedback; makes candidates slog through numerous rounds of interviews before reaching a decision; and/or hesitates about actually extending an offer after interviews are completed runs two significant risks: either the delay may cause the candidate to lose enthusiasm about the opportunity, and/or another employer may act more decisively by swooping in with an offer that steals the candidate away. (For more on the benefits of a quick recruiting process, see my prior article entitled Legal Hiring—The Need for Speed.)

Behave Inappropriately at Interviews
The list of inappropriate behaviors to which some interviewers have subjected candidates over the years seems almost limitless: keeping candidates waiting past the scheduled start time, interrupting interviews to take phone calls, failing to adequately review the candidate’s resume in advance of the meeting, asking off-putting (to say nothing of downright unlawful) questions, etc., etc., etc. It should go without saying that shabby treatment of candidates during interviews is not likely to lead to a successful hiring outcome. (I would also note here that even apart from inappropriate behavior it is important to select the correct interviewers to meet with candidates—some people are simply better at generating enthusiasm than others, and employers should to the extent possible choose to be represented by those interviewers who can most effectively cast both the employer and the opening in the best possible light.)

Create Pre-Offer Obstacles
Some employers make the lead up to an offer unnecessarily difficult, and thereby risk alienating candidates. For example, while an employer might decide they want candidates to provide multiple references or to complete a writing exercise as part of the process, there is seldom a good reason to require those things prior to an offer being made, rather than extending an offer which is expressly contingent upon the satisfactory completion of those requirements. Candidates are much less likely to balk at requests such as these if they come after an attractive offer has been extended, rather than before.

Make a Low-Ball Offer
It is not unusual for employers to make an initial offer that is less than what they are really willing to pay a particular candidate. When successful, this tactic may at times lead to hiring candidates on the cheap; however, it also carries the risk of losing potential hires who either are disappointed by the opening bid and/or receive a better offer to go elsewhere. Employers shouldn’t lightly assume that an initial offer is merely a first bite at the apple, as a second bite is never guaranteed. This is not to say that employers should never extend offers that leave them with a little wiggle room to negotiate, but offers that are well below what the candidate is hoping for and what the employer is really willing to pay are seldom successful.

Leave Offers Open Too Long, or Not Long Enough
While it is commonly appropriate to allow candidates a week or two before responding to an offer, barring unusual circumstances it is not a good idea to leave offers open for a more extended or even open-ended period. While some employers may genuinely wish to avoid pressuring candidates, in my experience candidates who require an unusually long time to respond to an offer typically aren’t really all that interested in or likely to ultimately accept said offer. On the other hand, giving candidates too little time to decide is also a dangerous approach—rush a candidate by demanding an answer within 24 or 48 hours and you are less apt to like that answer when it is given.

Obviously, the above list is far from all-inclusive—there are many other types of errors which can contribute to the unintentional loss of strong candidates. However, rather than dwelling on the negative, I would at this point like to suggest that there is actually a simple golden rule for preventing all of these problems, a single prescription which if kept in mind would enable employers to avoid not only the mistakes above but many others as well. It is the following:


Yes, that may seem like an obvious point. But it is very important to conduct all aspects of the recruiting process with the understanding that most strong candidates either (a) are not forced to make any move and/or (b) are also pursuing other options. No matter how attractive an employer may believe their open position to be, good candidates for that position will also be considering other opportunities as well, or can simply choose to stay where they are. Really taking to heart the notion that candidates have choices means treating those candidates with respect for their time and their potential value to other employers, throughout each step of the hiring process—those who do that will likely find that they lose good candidates considerably less often. (And as a final side note, keeping the same basic rule in mind in dealings with current employees will help significantly with their retention as well.)