When a Recruiter Should Break Up with a Candidate

Your best candidate turned down your offer, or vanished without a trace during the interview process. Now you’re wondering how it could happen. Could you have possibly seen this coming? Well, there may have been signs. Red flags. You can admit it. After all the work and time you invested, you just didn’t want it to end.

When you lose a candidate to another offer, it’s seldom because of something you missed or did wrong. It usually has to do with something out of your control – the other job was simply more challenging, or paid better, or had flexible hours. However, in today’s candidate-driven market, particularly for positions that are difficult to fill in any market, it can be easy to overlook those issues that would ordinarily cause you to avoid submitting a candidate in the first place.

Think those “little” things will be easy to negotiate with a candidate when an offer is extended? Or that, by the time the offer is made, your candidate will be even more excited about the job and therefore more flexible than they were previously? Think again.

Here are a few instances when you should break up with a candidate.

Won’t Answer Basic Questions

A candidate has to tell you right off the bat why they are looking. Or, if the candidate is passive, what would motivate them to make a change. Don’t accept a vague answer like they are “looking for something better.” Ask their definition of “better” and don’t move on until you get an answer. Skimming over this subject may cause you to lose a candidate to a counteroffer, or someone might drop out of the interview process because he changed his mind and isn’t ready to make a move or is too busy right now to find the time.

Also, it’s important to find out how much money they are looking for in their next job. The amount they are making in their current or most recent position doesn’t really matter, but knowing how much they want to make in their next job is very important. Putting a candidate all the way through the interview process only to discover that your company can’t afford her is a waste of everyone’s time.

Unrealistic Expectations

If your candidate has offers on the table and tells you he has to give an answer in a few days, you should probably move on. Likewise, move on if he then informs you that he’ll be glad to let you submit his resume for consideration if your company can interview him and make a decision within the next two days.

If a candidate informs you that he’ll need your your organization to pay him an extra $50,000 per year because you don’t have a retirement plan other than a 401(k) and he has a pension plan at his present job (this has actually happened), it’s time to move on.

A candidate making any outrageous demand is reason enough to break up with them. Unrealistic expectations are not going to disappear at offer time.


Sometimes the reason you don’t hear back from someone is because of catastrophic circumstances or unexpected work trips or interfering schedules. But they should get back to you eventually and let you know what is going on. Someone who is repeatedly slow to respond, or without explanation ignores interview requests or follow-up calls following an interview or after you have made an offer, might need to be removed the interview process or their offer withdrawn.

Begin by leaving a very polite voicemail message and sending an email stating that their lack of responsiveness leads you to assume that they are no longer interested in the opportunity, and that you have no choice but to withdraw them from consideration or rescind the offer. Let them know that you are disappointed but wish them the best of luck in their future endeavors. If this doesn’t bring a response, it’s time to move on.

With this type of candidate, it’s better to end it and move on sooner rather than later.