The ‘Talented Jerk’ and 6 Other Signs It’s Time to Say Goodbye to a Candidate

Recruiting is a lot like dating: It’s a subtle dance of knowing when to move forward and when to walk away.

You can spend hours talking to a candidate, nurturing the relationship, and guiding them through the interview process. In the best case scenario, it’s a good match and the candidate accepts the job. In the worst, you have to end the relationship and move on. But how do you know when that is?

We spoke to two experienced recruiters to get their thoughts on this. One was Nwamaka Ofodu, a recruiter at Lyra Health, who finds talent for Lyra’s clinical operations. The other was Tom Mutaffis, a senior recruiter at LinkedIn, who focuses on the company’s data infrastructure and platforms recruiting.

“There are multiple checkpoints in the process,” Tom says, “where you have to make a decision as a recruiter — and in collaboration with a candidate and hiring team — about whether it makes sense to move forward or not.” He adds that he weeds out about 50% of candidates in the initial conversation when he and the candidate mutually decide the role isn’t the right fit.

But there are other times when the need to end the relationship might not be so obvious. Here, Nwamaka and Tom share with us seven signs that you may need to walk away:

1. If the recruiting and interviewing process goes on too long

Nwamaka and Tom both agree that the No. 1 reason to end a recruiting relationship is when the process is taking too long. “If there’s ever too much back and forth between me and the candidate,” Nwamaka says, “and the candidate still seems to be hesitant about joining forces with us, it’s time to walk away.” She says that’s because while the candidate can’t make up their mind, the role continues to remain open. And it’s her job to fill that role.

Admittedly, it’s tougher to walk away when you’ve gotten to the final interview or you’ve already made an offer. But Tom says there’s also no point in dragging out the process, especially after you’ve given the candidate, say, a week’s extension to weigh other offers. “There’s a saying in recruiting that ‘time kills all deals,’” Tom says. “if things take too long, they tend to fall apart.”

2. If you can’t agree on the candidate’s level 

One of the top reasons Tom has walked away from candidates is disagreement on the level of the role. He hires a lot of software engineers, and there are often different levels. He occasionally screens a candidate for a software engineer position and they’ll come back and say, “I want to be a senior software engineer.”

“Then we get through the whole interview process and our team determines that they’re not a senior software engineer,” Tom says. “We still want to hire them, just at a different level.” Sometimes that works out, especially if the candidate is eager to join the company. Other times, Tom says, you just have to say, “Unfortunately, this is not going to work.”

3. If the candidate has too many other offers or a better opportunity

“A common red flag for me is when a candidate has a bunch of different offers on the table,” Nwamaka says. She says that’s because when a candidate is weighing a lot of offers, it may be a sign they’re just shopping around. They may also be using the offers as leverage to speed up hiring processes they’ve already got in play. “And I don’t like to rush,” Nwamaka says. “I feel like the interview process is just that: a process.”

But there are also times when the candidate simply has a better offer, one you can’t match. Tom says that he recently worked with a candidate who had just been offered a higher-level role at a different company. The role would allow the candidate to grow into a level that probably would have taken them two to three years to achieve in the job at LinkedIn. So, Tom encouraged the candidate to take the other offer.

4. If the candidate doesn’t reply to emails or calls or is slow to do so

Both Tom and Nwamaka say that at the levels for which they’re hiring, they don’t encounter much ghosting. But Nwamaka believes that while people are busy, if someone really wants a job, they’re going to do everything in their power to show up and respond, so she’s not really in the game to chase candidates.

For Tom, a slow response time is not necessarily a red flag. While it’s generally a sign the candidate isn’t that excited about an opportunity, he says, “it could also mean they’re just really busy.”

5. If the candidate is a ‘talented jerk’

We all know the type: The candidate has a great pedigree, stellar work experience, and all the skills necessary to ace the role. The only problem is that he or she may also come across as abrasive, hostile, or difficult to work with. In other words, they’re a jerk.

Nwamaka has encountered that in her recruiting. She says that when she gets the sense that a talented candidate lacks the necessary soft skills, she often still continues with the process. She interviews the candidate. She has the hiring manager interview the candidate. “And then I’ll think, this person’s so good,” she says, “let me get a second opinion.” At that point, she sets up a group interview. She explains: “When I get various versions of the same opinion — ‘This person’s persona is not going to fit’ — then it’s usually when we’ve let them go.”

LinkedIn research supports this tactic. According to the Global Talent Trends 2019 report, 89% of talent professionals said that when a new hire doesn’t work out, it’s because they lack critical soft skills.

6. If you can’t agree on the role’s location 

As many employers are now calling for a return-to-office, more and more roles are going to be onsite. But this can be a sticking point in the recruiting process. Tom says that he’s had conversations with candidates in which he’s told them up front, “Hey, this role is going to be based in Sunnyvale, California. Is that OK with you?”

After the candidate has agreed, Tom has set up the technical screening and first round of interviews, but there have been times, when he’s about to set up a final interview, the candidate asks, “Well, what if I don’t want to move? How would that impact the salary?” In some instances, Tom will go back to the team to ask if remote work can be accommodated. But he often has to tell the candidate, “This specific opportunity may not be the best match.” Even then, however, he’s sometimes been able to find another role that can be done remotely, at the compensation and level the candidate desires.

Final thoughts

Unfortunately, there’s no decision tree that provides a clear-cut breakdown of when to stick with a candidate and when to walk away. Figuring this out requires equal parts data, educated guessing, and intuition.

“It can be compared to dating,” Tom says, “and nobody wants to break up with anyone or go through anything terrible like that. But then, nobody wants to be in a bad relationship either.”

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