The Art of the Job Offer: Encourage Candidates to Turn You Down

Build the best team by lowering
your job offer acceptance rate


people go about giving a job offer in the wrong way.  They try to sell the candidate and win them
over.  There’s a better strategy.


As a
hiring manager, your objective is to get great employees who are always
thinking about the challenges ahead, love their job, and are a good fit with the
company culture.  It is possible, with
the right interview, to determine if someone is a great engineer … but too
often hiring managers only go after people with great talent.  They forget about fit and that’s because fit
is so hard to interview for and assess.  


One great
way to determine fit is not to explicitly assess it all.  Instead, let the candidate make the choice
and opt-out.  We’ve been extraordinarily
successful at hiring here at Rapleaf and that’s because we encourage candidates
to turn us down.


First, don’t use the offer as an opportunity to
sell the candidate
.  Try to be honest
and open with each candidate.  Tell them
your goal for all employees is for them to love their jobs and that they should
not take the job if they have doubts. 
You’ve only been able evaluate the person for a dozen hours – but the
candidate has known herself all her life.  
She will be a much better judge if she fits the culture.


Next, be completely honest about the culture.   At Rapleaf, we take at least 15 minutes to
spell out, in detail, the company culture.  
Tell them your organization’s quirks and what is expected of
employees.  Some of the many things that
are particular to Rapleaf that we tell all candidates:


  • We’re frugal. 
    We’ll wait until we’re very profitable before we pay for fancy
  • We give each other a good dose of constructive criticism.  We happily give and take criticism.  We want to better ourselves and the
    others around us. 
  • We do not value our own ideas more than those ideas
    generated by our teammates.  
  • We work long hours. 
    We believe great things are accomplished 5% inspiration and 95%
  • We believe the perfect is the enemy of the good.  This means we focus on getting things
    done, not on building the most perfect system.  We strongly believe in rapid iteration.


talk through the culture during the offer.  
If you want your employees to work long hours, you better tell them that
is expected before they accept the offer.  Conversely, if you believe strongly in a
40-hour workweek, tell the candidate because many people are looking to change
the world and they want to work with people who really make the company mission
a priority.  


essential take-away is not to sugar-coat the experience.  Be completely honest.  


Then, tell the candidate your concerns about them.   Tell them what you like about them and what
they will need to improve upon to be a productive employee.  And tell them not to take the job if they
don’t think they can make those improvements. 
This is the toughest thing for a hiring manager to do but it is
important because it really sets the expectations.


Fourth, don’t give candidates a long time to make
a decision
.   Two days is fair.   If they don’t know they want to work for you
in two days, then they should probably turn down your job offer.


And give a salary that is a bit below market but give them a lot of stock.  You want to make sure candidates REALLY want
to work at your company.   Then you
should make sure you take care of your employees and give them frequent raises
so they end up being paid above market.  
This way you get the both worlds – employees who are really excited
about the company and who are happy that they are appreciated by management
(because of the frequent raises).  And  when your company increases its value, you want to make sure your employees benefit from the increased stock price.


Your goal as
a hiring manager is get the best team member, not just the best athlete.   If you’re managing a basketball team, you
want someone that is a great player.  
But you also need someone that will work well with the other team
members and makes them all better.


18 thoughts on “The Art of the Job Offer: Encourage Candidates to Turn You Down

  1. Willy

    Auren, this is right on! I see so many companies that do a poor job of communicating their identity both early and late in the hiring process. I would add that it’s really important to make a lot of information about fit available to the candidates as early as possible. That way you don’t end up wasting a dozen hours with someone who doesn’t take the job.

  2. Phil.

    > Conversely, if you believe strongly in a 40-hour workweek, tell the
    > candidate because many people are looking to change the world
    > and they want to work with people who really make the company
    > mission a priority.
    Let me guess, with that not-so-subtle slam you don’t think you can have a healthy lifestyle *and* change the world? Ouch.
    P.S. You’re entitled to your view on things obviously, it’s just the implicit assumption underlying your wording bugs me.
    P.P.S. If you’re going to require javascript for posting comments how about you say that up front too? :/

  3. Christopher Mancini

    Great post. It is an interesting stance in which you gauge the candidates desire to work for you by offering them below market salary. I enjoy that thought quite a bit.

  4. londenio

    Nice post. But I am not convinced this would work in general.
    1. You can only pay below market if you have a strong brand/reputation. That is to say, if competition is low.
    2. Some people have a lifestyle that would allow them to make up their mind in 2 days. Others need to move city, change kids to another school, convince their spouses. If you only allow for 2 days, you will only get the impulsive employee, who goes from job to job and who is also likely to leave you in 5 months.

  5. Bruce Daley

    Has living in the Bay finally driven you crazy Auren? That might work for a company like Rapleaf which is cool and has a lot of upside but how can a company like GM or the U.S. Army attract the people it needs with this strategy?

  6. Peter Harter

    Equity. Seems that element is missing from an otherwise spot-on post Auren. Google, Apple and many others weed out applicants by not offering top salaries, top options, etc.; they get good talent and they work hard because they are excited about working at the company. Bonuses, rising stock price, and employee perks keep them going. But not all firms are like Google and Apple, especially startups.
    I think it is important to remember how American culture embraces taking risks, failures and restarting. Entrepreneurship. People can jump into an untested underfunded startup and take a cut in salary and work long hours and then maybe hit it big. Maybe not. Your hiring formula seems to parallel if not reinforce this cultural embrace of risk and failure that our economy continues to benefit from.
    Hopefully this culture can continue to thrive and spread. There is threat of entitlement and outsized expectations.

  7. Steven

    Auren – Really like this post. I agree with Christopher on the 2 day rule. It’s a little much.
    What I really get from this, first and foremost, find an employee that fits your company culture. Second, find a employee that believes enough in themselves to work for less. It’s a neat point and I’d not thought of it.
    Thanks for the post.

  8. epd

    This is all well and good, the idea that the interview process should include deeply informing job candidates about company culture to make sure that they understand that the hiring process is about more than determining a match in skill sets/skill need. But what about those companies who *think* they understand their culture and can articulate it, but in fact do not? That is my current conundrum. My current firm went to great lengths to inform me of their culture since they are very sensitive to making sure all employees “fit in”. But one aspect they touted (flexibility) has turned out not only to be not true, but also 180 degrees opposite from how they portrayed it (exceptionally rigid and bureaucratic). I am left wondering, “did they really believe what they were saying?” or “does flexibility actually mean rigid and I’ve just misused the term all of my life?”
    In other words, kudos to hiring managers who drill down into company culture to make sure new hires only sign on if that culture is what suits them, but please, please, take a reflective moment to decide if that culture being described actually exists.

  9. am

    Agree overall. Things can end badly when a company is not quite honest about its corporate culture. I was just thinking recently that the next time I go into a job interview, I must have a detailed discussion about culture and tell them what sort of culture I thrive in, to make sure there is a good fit. It goes both ways, I don’t want to be disappointed and looking for a job again in 5 months.

  10. christian

    Auren, another great post.
    On your last point, I agree that a salary below market will weed out some people, attracting those that really want to work there. Personally, I only want to hire people who WANT to work for my company. It makes a huge difference in quality and passion.
    However, the issue I have with this tactic is that, far too often, companies forget part 2 of that strategy: frequent raises. Companies can only rest on their laurels for so long. If you do not reward your top performers, the allure of company brand or image will wear thin more quickly than you’d like, and they’ll take their great skills and that specialized knowledge and go right over to your competitor, who will be more than happy to pay them what they feel they deserve.

  11. Steve C

    “Conversely, if you believe strongly in a 40-hour workweek, tell the candidate because many people are looking to change the world and they want to work with people who really make the company mission a priority.”
    Well admittedly 40 hours is low, but after much experience in all sorts of different environments, I see returns diminish reliably after 45-50 hours, and over 55 is counterproductive in environments where you want creativity.
    You guys are in SF so it’s not like you’re hiring out of a pool of people who want to take it easy. People locate themselves here because they are serious about excelling in the tech industry. The question at that point is how best to harness that talent.
    It’s not hard work that wins – everyone works hard – it’s intensity, focus, creativity. It’s seeing path B as early as possible, because it turns out path A is the wrong one (that goes for the smallest architectural issue, to the largest strategic question). “Perspiration”: 60+ hour weeks (I’m guessing), mean you’re in danger of putting the blinders on and pounding down path A 6 months longer than you should have.
    Otherwise there are many good points in this post.

  12. John McAdams

    This is the most useless piece of drivel I have ever heard. What non-sense. What makes you such an expert on hiring? Please save your rambling for your poor employees.

  13. John McAdams

    The “below market salary” comment though is spot on. Employees should share the vision and work to build something great and lasting.

  14. Inna

    I always wondered, does this rule “pay less – get more” works for top management as well?

  15. Jan Heath

    As a recruiter I agree with you. Being straight about how the job really is helps everybody – the candidate has a better idea about what they will be going into and the company has an opportunity to see whether the candidate’s response to the specific details is positive and a good fit for what they’re looking for.

  16. Mike Myatt

    I have always believed that a candidate has to want the position more than I want them to. If you have to sell someone on your firm you are not talking to the right person. I concur wholeheartedly with your sentiments of getting the candidate to show how bad they really want to work for you. I will often times not even respond to initial inquiries, or even follow-up inquiries, as I want to see how hard someone is willing to chase me.

  17. Audrey

    It all depends on what one means by below market rate. I understand your philosophy in terms of trying to attract people who really want to work for the organization, however that means a candidate must be able to reasearch the organization. In order to retain good people, new hires who accept below market salaries should be reviewed at six months for an adjustment to bring them to market rates.
    Here’s an example of a situation locally. An LLC that manages 14 other LLCs with a focus on real estate is looking for a Controller. Qualifications include a Masters in Accounting and experience. They are posting the job at $50,440; the median starting salary for 2007 MBA’s from the state university was $75,000. This same company advertised the job early in the summer for $5K less.


Leave a Reply