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Thank you for this job offer, but no thank you

We’ve never seen so many offer rejections. What if this were good news?

This has become a common complaint: candidates tend to reject job offers without warning and explanation.

HR directors and other Swiss-based headhunters around us observe that not only do junior candidates (we were used to this already) but now also relatively senior profiles: not yet the C-level, but one or two lines below, typically, at director or senior director level. These managers of a new kind are within the 35-40 years-old age range.

We are speaking here of true offer rejections: the ones happening when the contract is on the table, ready for signature. For the HR directors and hiring managers, these refusals are unacceptable when the candidate did not show any sign that could have helped anticipate the negative outcome and possibly prepare for a plan B. They do not understand that the candidate was all smiles and green signals until the masks came off and “true colors were revealed.” The feeling of betrayal can be strong. We heard adjectives such as “immature,” “not transparent,” and “disrespectful.” Sadly, those outrageous candidates end up being blacklisted by the company while they used to be “a great future asset for the company” a few hours beforehand. Fair enough?

Yesterday again, a still under-the-shock HR director of an industrial group of 7’000 employees told me he’d never seen this before in his entire (and long) career’s life.

It seems the millennials are simply getting older 😊 Fifteen years ago, we did not know how to develop this wild young generation. Today they surprise us again at the director level… let’s brace ourselves: in 10 years, they will enter the C-level.

In addition to leaving an entire team out in the cold, those candidates give “lame excuses” (again, we are quoting, don’t throw stones at us). In their twenties, they wanted to take more time to figure out what they wanted to do in their lives and travel the world. In 2023, they want to spend more time with their children, or they would like to finish the construction of their new house. “Sorry, the timing is not perfect for my family.” When there is an excuse at all.

Spoiled workers from rich countries?

We would like to open the door of understanding. We believe this lack of transparency (as we perceive it) might actually be a symptom of social progress combined with a reaction to the management style of the past decades.

Let’s put ourselves on the candidate’s side: since they started working, the millennials have bathed in words like “burnout,” “toxic management,” “reorganization,” and “exceed expectations.” Since the late 90ies, we have not only asked employees to perform, but we have also expected them to adopt the values of the company, to connect with the corporate culture, and- since the blackberries came on stage- to be available on evenings and weekend days. In parallel, society is now strongly pushing for more gender diversity, better parenting, healthier lifestyle, and sustainable consumption.

One cannot have it both ways.

We want more females to lead companies? Fathers may need to step back to take care of the kids and may refuse to work long hours. They won’t accept ruining the spouse’s career by relocating for a new job.

We want healthier lifestyles? The new managers may not blindly accept all kinds of stress, and they will not tolerate violent communication. During a recruitment they will pay attention to the tone of the emails, the quality of the exchanges, the harmony between the teams.

Sustainability?  They will not accept a job that requires business traveling.

Now one would ask: “sure, but why drop the whole process without proper explanation? Could they at least warn us?”

From what I see as a recruiter, first, all those reasons are still difficult to express in the public sphere. I am not even sure they are always conscious. It is still fearless for a man (and suicidal for a woman) to say, “I want to work 80%, and I want responsibilities.” So until they know better, the candidates remain silent on those topics:  they observe our communication, they pay attention to small details in our behavior, and in the end, they decide.

Second, the millennials never trusted their contract with the corporate world. This generation is the first one not to feel guilty for protecting themselves. The X generation calls them selfish, and the Ys watch them with a mixed feelings of contempt and envy – as they would themselves never dare ghost a company.  And we, headhunters, desperately try to assess who belongs to which category 😉.

All in all, what does it say to us?

We are collecting the fruit of some tough decades, and we have no choice but to adapt as we bear part of the responsibility.  Most recruiting processes happen under time pressure and pressure in general. It is incredibly challenging for candidates to collect a complete picture of their future employer. The truth is: before signing a contract, you never know for sure if the role will be as they described it to you. While generations X and Y would have enough trust to take the risk and sign, the millennials are not willing to take that risk. So, we have no choice but to rebuild that trust. For recruiters and hiring companies, this means improving the candidate’s experience – and it should not be lip service.

Luckily Switzerland is getting there, and I am optimistic. We see more and more C-level roles open for 80%-100% contracts. Most HR directors around us work hard to meet the market’s requirements.  Talent retention and talent attraction have become top priorities. One example : no later than last week, I discovered the new motto of the life science company #Tecan: “stay unique and make it count.” Right on the spot and a perfect illustration of change. 😊