Can You Really Get Feedback From People Who Turn Down a Job Offer?


In a workplace world where we conduct job interviews, exit interviews, and sometimes even "stay" interviews, it's not surprising that there's now a call to conduct interviews with people who turn down your job offer.

According to Ben Dattner in the Harvard Business Review, these are called "declined offer" interviews, and he says:

Like “exit interviews” these “declined offer” interviews can yield a lot of information about your own organization as well as valuable data about your industry and competitors."

Why so many workplace interviews don't work very well

Well yes, I suppose they would yield a lot -- if you can actually get people who declined your job offer to not only respond, but, to respond in a frank and forthright manner. And, that's where the trouble starts.

Getting people to be open in an interview is a difficult proposition, particularly a personal interview, and it's even harder if they don't have something at stake in the transaction.

For example, in a job interview where people have a lot at stake -- landing a job -- it's generally good for people to be frank and open because they want to be hired. But, even that isn't always a guarantee that the person being interviewed will be completely honest with you.

Exit interviews, where the company wants deeper information on why the person is leaving, are even worse because generations of employees have been told that the smart play is to keep your mouth shut when leaving and say as little as possible because you don't want to burn your bridges with the soon-to-be former employer.

It's not good form to bad mouth, and it's not smart because you may need them at some point -- in case you decide to return as a boomerang employee, or for a job reference.

So, most departing employees say little except broad platitudes that yield little insight and defeat the whole purpose of the exit interview. I know, because I have been the departing employee on a number of occasions and I am pretty good at offering up the softball responses that say nothing at all.

"Stay" interviews have the greatest potential for the employee to be open and frank, but sadly, too few organizations actually do them. They're a great technique, but few companies are forward-thinking enough to anticipate issues that employees might be having that could cause them to leave, and, that they really want to talk about before they decide to resign.

Feedback that's most useful from those who turn down jobs

So, back to the notion of a "declined offer" interview -- what are really going to get out of them, assuming that we can actually get people who turned down jobs to respond? Here's what the HBR article says:

The feedback that is most likely to be useful and within the company’s control is also likely to be the most sensitive and difficult for the candidate to feel comfortable sharing. It might be hard for a candidate to openly tell a hiring manager or a human resources business partner that she thought the hiring manager was unfriendly or unfocused, that some interviewers conveyed a low-level of enthusiasm about working at the organization, that there were too many interviewers in the mix, or that different interviewers seemed to convey divergent ideas about the company’s strategy and plans, the level of authority or responsibilities in the role, the key challenges of the role, or what would be necessary for success.

Therefore, it’s helpful to collect feedback via a third-party such as an external search, consulting or research firm; an internal market research, branding or analytics department that is outside of both the hiring area and human resources; and/or anonymously through web surveys or via email. By sharing feedback with a third-party outside of the hiring process or via an anonymous technology platform, candidates can be sufficiently candid and specific about their experiences and suggestions without having concerns about burning any bridges."

Good idea, but hard to execute

Let me put that in simpler language: the information that companies would want most from people who decline their job offers is the hardest to get and for people to be comfortable sharing -- and that's why you need a third-party solution to gather that.

Well, Checkster figured that out a long time ago, and it's the essence of their Automated Reference Checkup tool that makes it easy for people offering up references on former colleagues or employees to do it in a way where those references can be open, honest, and able to say what they really think in an easy-to-use online format managed by a reputable third-party. (Full disclosure: Talent Insider is "Fueled by Checkster" as they are our parent company).

A system like that would be the only way that a "declined offer" interview would work, and even HBR acknowledges how important it is to "ensure that the process is not too time consuming or burdensome for either the candidate or the organization."

In other words, this is a good idea but another one that is terribly hard to execute. Count me as unconvinced that many people turning you down for jobs would be all that willing to take the time to be completely open about why they turned you down.

It's a pie-in-the-sky idea that isn't terribly practical or take into account how unwilling people today would be to fill out yet ANOTHER survey.