In the August 5 edition of the Ask The Headhunter newsletter, “How can I push the hiring decision?” (sorry, it’s not online; you’ve gotta subscribe), I advised a reader that you can’t push companies to wrap up the hiring process (translation: make you an offer) because sometimes they just don’t want to.

Andy Lester, who writes The Working Geek, followed up with this story about complacent employers.

You forgot one other reason that people get led around by the nose in the hiring decision: The company is too incompetent to close the deal.

I recently had a friend, “Bob,” find a job that sounded like a great fit. The hiring manager said he’d be working with HR to get the offer worked out. A week later, no offer. Bob had wisely continued hunting and had some interest from a second company. When the second company called back for the second interview, Bob called the first company to light a fire. The first company was where he really wanted to work. “Yes, yes, we’re working on it,” the first manager said. Second company gives Bob an offer, who of course says he needs a day to think about it. He calls the first company with an ultimatum: “I need an offer by Wednesday at 5pm or I’m going with this other company.”

I don’t think you’ll be surprised to know that 5pm on Wednesday came and went. Bob called the first company on Thursday to let them know he had taken another offer. The hiring manager apologized and said “We still really want to hire you!” [This clown doesn’t know The manager’s #1 job or how to Hand-walk the offer.]

The first company wasn’t stalling or playing dirty with Bob. It’s just that the organization was too caught up in whatever it was that was drawing their attention away and couldn’t work on the important task of getting talent on board. They were so caught up in putting out fires that they couldn’t be bothered to hire a qualified fireman.

Losing an offer can be like breaking up with a crazy girlfriend. It hurts at the time, but boy, you’re glad you didn’t marry her.

Sorry for mixing metaphors, but there’s a company that shot itself in the foot. Andy may be right — the company was just too busy with other projects to complete the hire. But my guess is the company was over-analyzing its options. It got the “aim” part right, but it was never “ready” to pull the trigger and “fire” at the target.

When employers fail to hire the person they say they want, they oughta keep in mind that the one that got away will likely turn up again very soon — working for a competitor. (Thanks, Andy! I wonder how many other sweet-revenge stories like this are out there…)

  1. Great story – and way too common. I’ve seen the same thing as a recruiter. It’s frustrating for the job seeker but there’s not much you can do. There can be a lot of reasons this happens – the situation I’ve seen most frequently is that the hiring manager thinks there may be a perfect candidate out there if they just look a little longer. The job seeker they put on hold is very capable and can do the job but not perfect, as none of us are. This situation is usually the reason why some companies can’t see to fill key positions. The worst I’ve seen was a executive that told me the top priority in their organization was to fill a position that had been open for 18 months. A year later… it’s still open.

  2. Gary,
    I believe the problem this reveals is weak management. There’s nothing worse than a manager who cannot make a decision and a choice. That’s not to suggest a manager should not conduct a thorough search and try to hire the very best. My attitude about this stems in part from something I learned from engineering managers in Silicon Valley. A design can always be made better. But sometimes you have to stop designing and “just ship it!”

  3. For another lesson about why it’s important to stick to your guns and keep your standards high, check out

    This one’s a beaut.

  4. The perfect solution fallacy is in full effect, and it doesn’t happen only in hiring decisions. Reluctance to act in many circumstances is based on the mistaken belief that by choosing a perfectly acceptable option now, we rob ourselves of the chance at the perfect option when it comes along. The problem is that the perfect option never comes, and we’re left even further behind by missing out on the earlier acceptable option.

    My wife’s that way with cars. Eventually she realizes the two-year-old Accord with 20,000 miles for twelve grand doesn’t exist. Then she adjusts either her standards or the amount she’s willing to pay.