You’ve worked hard to narrow down a pool of candidates. You make an offer to ‘the one.’ Then the unthinkable happens. Your dream candidate says “no.” Fair? No. Shocking? Yep. As disappointing as being dumped in a romantic relationship? Maybe.

Six Ways to Get Back on Track

Rejection hurts, but it need not be the end of the story. Here are six suggestions for turning that “no” around:

1. Don’t become defensive; gather information instead. When a dream candidate says “no”, perhaps the single worst thing you can do is get defensive, trying to talk the candidate out of “no” right away. Your defensiveness will only reinforce the candidate’s rejection.

Instead, empathize with the candidate. Explain that you understand how difficult it can be to make the right decision. Above all, get the candidate talking about their decision-making process, asking them to explain what factors and feelings led them to “no.” Ask in a curious, non-defensive tone.

Offer the candidate more time to sleep on it. With the additional time, and with the information you’ve gathered about why the candidate said “no,” you can re-craft the role to better suit the candidate.

2. Call in the cavalry. Address the candidate’s stated (and unstated) objections. This may mean bringing in help – from others on the executive team, the Board, or investors. They can help to recalibrate the pitch to your dream candidate. They will bring in fresh perspectives and connect with the candidate in new ways, which could change the outcome.

Find someone else on your team who initially had reservations about saying yes but who is now happy they joined your team. This person can be a supremely convincing advocate to get your dream candidate to reconsider.

3. Consider modifying the job title or responsibilities. If the candidate is concerned about the position not being a great platform for career growth, then you could address that concern by re-working the job title. It may be a small concession for you, but quite important for the candidate.

Maybe a candidate really wants to have a VP of Growth title and is attracted to an opportunity at another company with that title. Getting the candidate back into the fold could then be as simple as re-christening the VP of Marketing title as “VP of Growth.”

4. Switch up the channels of communication. If your dream candidate rejected you via email, pick up the phone and have a real conversation about what’s really behind the candidate’s rejection. While it’s fairly easy for a candidate to type “sorry, I need to say no” via email, it’s much more challenging to say those words live. Even better than the phone, set up a face-to-face meeting or a lunch where you can pick up on the candidate’s verbal and nonverbal cues, honing in on what’s really behind the “no.”

5. Find an “honest broker” to intervene. Identify someone the candidate knows and trusts outside of your company, who can help make the case for reconsideration. Of course, you’ll want to fully brief this honest broker on the candidate’s reservations and what you’re doing to address them.

6. Help the candidate by removing obstacles that stand in the way of “yes.” One of my clients, for instance, scripted talking points to help a dream candidate turn down an offer from another company. Be a problem-solver for the candidate you want, eliminating the roadblocks they perceive.


3 Tips For When You Lose

As Bonnie Raitt sings, “I Can’t Make You Love Me (If You Don’t).” Sometimes, it’s just not meant to be.

1. Accept the loss gracefully. Know when to quit, despite your disappointment. Don’t compound a loss by acting like a petulant child. You gave it your best shot; now move on.

2. Embrace the learnings. Analyze what went wrong and apply those lessons to your next executive recruiting situation. Look in the mirror and make sure you’re not somehow contributing to the problem: Was it your recruiting process that turned off the candidate? (Pro tip: Ask yourself whether you would want your best friend to go through your company’s recruiting process. If not, fix it.)

3. Take the long view. Remain on good terms with your dream candidate. Timing can go against you today, yet work to your advantage tomorrow. Maybe the candidate who rejected you can refer someone to you. I had a candidate break up with us but, because he knew the company culture so well, recommended another candidate who was perfect for another role.

The takeaway?

Breaking up is hard to do, and so is “being broken up with.” But when you approach it right, you may turn a “no” into a “yes” — either now or in the future.