You have a vacancy and you go through resumes, interview people & you finally make an offer to someone for the job. They accept and say they will join in a month's time. Now 10 days before the joining day, they call/email you and tell you that they won't be joining. What do you do? You badly need an additional person in 10 days time (actually, you need him now). It would take 10 more days to find, interview and make another offer and then it would take the person a month more to join - so 40 days in all.

A large company may have extra people who can be moved around, how does a small firm handle something like this?

Is there anything I do in advance, to prepare for the risk of something like this?

  • 3
    Why are people turning down the job offer 20 days later? Are they accepting a counteroffer from their current company? – Justin Cave Jul 6 '14 at 7:58
  • 5
    That's why you keep a list of those which, while not the best of your applicants, did qualify for the post.. you could be calling them by now. – SJuan76 Jul 6 '14 at 8:59
  • 2
    @user93353 - It matters because it goes to a pattern. A candidate accepting a counteroffer from their current employer, for example, might be amenable to a counteroffer of your own. If more than a very small fraction of candidates are, say, accepting a job with some other company, then I'd strongly suspect that you're doing something very wrong in the hiring process. If you're worried about 1% of new hires flaking out for some reason between accepting the job and starting, you're probably overthinking things or you're doing something wrong on the staffing side. – Justin Cave Jul 6 '14 at 12:12
  • 1
    Hey user, and welcome to The Workplace. As-is, your question is a hypothetical and impossible to answer because as a hypothetical you can't highlight what the real underlying issue is. You are unable to clarify important parts of the problem which would make it answerable, so I have put it on hold. If you would like to try to edit your question based on the clarifications in the comments to make it more specifically answerable, then it will be automatically reviewed by the community. Thanks in advance! – jmac Jul 7 '14 at 1:00
  • 1
    @Rob, user93353, discussed in this meta post. – jmac Jul 8 '14 at 3:02

If people are turning you down after accepting your initial offer then you need to ask yourself why. You should also be asking them why, if possible, too.

I've always said that job interviews and application processes are a two-way street: The candidate is interviewing you at the same time you are interviewing them. This applies at the contract stage too. I've twice verbally accepted offers and then changed my mind once the written contract arrived for me to sign.

On one of those occasions I discovered a problem with the terms of the contract that made me decide I didn't want to work for that company. When I spoke to them they offered to remove that term from my contract, but I felt that I didn't want to work for a company that would write that kind of contract in the first place.

On the second occasion, the offer was made from their end on the basis of "I suppose you'll do" and I got another offer from an employer who said "You're exactly what we want. Come to us and we'll do great things together". Needless to say I found the latter more attractive than the former.

This isn't so different from an employer offering a job and getting a contract signed "pending references" and later rescinding the offer based on something in a reference they disliked.

So what do you do?

  1. Accept that no matter what you do, sometimes things will just go astray. No matter how attractive your offer is, your potential new employee may get hit by a bus or win $50,000,000 on the lottery.
  2. Make sure your offer is very very good. This isn't always just a case of writing a big number in the salary column. People like to feel wanted. People like to feel like they're making a difference. People like to feel like they're respected.
  3. Listen to them The applicant's seemingly off-hand remark about working from home, or that they're not sure they like some aspect of the role or your standard contract that you think is minor might be more important to them than you think.

There's an interesting article on this subject on the rands in repose website too.

  • What you should have done was have a backup candidate in case his happens. The Q implies that this is not the first time this has happened you maybe need to look at your offer. – Pepone Jul 6 '14 at 11:25
  • Agreed @pepone - if I interview 6 candidates and #1 doesn't accept the offer but #2 was also good enough then I'd have no problem making an offer to them... but if it's been 2 months since the interview because it took a few weeks to sort out a contract that #1 liked and their notice period was a month, then #2 might not be available any more... and even if they are, it might take 2 months to sort out their contract and wait for their notice period, etc. – Rob Moir Jul 6 '14 at 11:27
  • @Pepone - what exactly in the Q implies that this is not the first time? Actually this has not even happened once yet, because this is the first time I am giving offers - just a couple of days back actually. – user93353 Jul 6 '14 at 12:10
  • @Pepone - not sure if backup candidates will help - it will save a week, but not more than that. – user93353 Jul 6 '14 at 12:11
  • 1
    If you are in a hurry to have someone starting, then a backup candidate (who is willing to join) could help a lot. That candidate might have given notice to his company and accepted an offer at a third company (he was willing to leave his company or was between jobs when you interviewed him); if you make a better offer he might accept very quickly (tough on the third company but not your problem). Now if you have HR that cannot manage to hire someone within a week, that's a different problem. – gnasher729 Jul 6 '14 at 12:59

Different parts of the world have different time lines on what is acceptable for giving notice etc. During the interview process, you should identify:

  1. Why are they leaving a current job?
  2. Why do they want this position?
  3. When can they start and if not withing 2 weeks, what is the cause for the delay?

Many people post questions on this site on how to delay starting dates because they are considering other offers. If you really want to leave your current job for this job, then why would you need such a delay?

Offer a signing bonus, and if the person doesn't work for an acceptable amount of time, they are required to return the bonus to the company. If the money isn't there, offer some extra vacation time after a week or so.

Another suggestion is to keep in touch with the applicant from signing the offer to the start of work. During this time, you should continue to sell them on the quality of the company, position, and manager(s). Invite them to formal or informal company gatherings. They may not be able to accept because of distance or other time constraints, but it shows you care and really want them.

Do a review of your rate of retention for similar positions in the company. The reasons could be the same for current employees leaving and those accepting offers, but declining before their start date. You have to make an effort to keep people that goes beyond competitive salary and benefits.

Edit: People often want that little extra time between jobs. As a counter-offer, ask them to start sooner, but then let them have a 3-4 day weekend shortly after starting. Finding out what people truly want is all part of getting to know them better and showing a willingness to offer compromises/be flexible. Many places don't allow new employees any days off at all for a certain grace period. It seems like getting them to start is more important then a few extra days off.

  • A typical notice period where I am is a minimum 1 month in my profession. Plus many people want a few days between their last day and joining date. – user93353 Jul 6 '14 at 13:54
  • Another suggestion is to keep in touch with the applicant from signing the offer to the start of work. - yes, this is one of the things I am planning to do. – user93353 Jul 6 '14 at 13:57
  • @user93353 - Yes, whatever is an acceptable period should be substituted for the 2 weeks. – user8365 Jul 6 '14 at 14:01

For your need to have a worker right now, that's what temp agencies are for. Call one and ask them for additional manpower.

Somebody not keeping to a contract is what insurance companies over here would call "common risk of living". That's just the way it works. He could get hit by a bus or win the lottery. You will have to find a strategy to cope when things don't go as planned because it's rare that things work out the way you planned them.

If you have a signed contract (you do have signed a contract, right?) then you can ask a lawyer. Chances are, although you are right, there is nothing to gain from sueing. You won't get a worker from dragging somebody to court.

You should have a list of candidates you interviewed that would have gotten the job if this candidate had not been there. Call them. Ask them if they are still interested.

As a theoretical, future situation, there are a few things you can do:

  • Make sure the offer is binding. That means actually sign a contract. Consult a lawyer, maybe you can implement a clause where if he does not start working without a cause, he has to pay for the temp replacing him until you get a new hire.

  • Find out where you can find quick replacements. Things do happen. People get sick, win the lottery or just quit without notice. You cannot stop it, you can only try to work around it. Whatever the job profile is, I'm pretty sure there is a temp agency or consulting company that offers these services. Get to know their prices and calculate your projects accordingly.

  • Find out if you can buy insurance against this. Again, get to know their prices and calculate your projects accordingly.

  • Calculate defensively. Don't promise anything risky, like delivering a project on time you do not even have the people hired for yet.

And in the end: live with it :) Things happen. Life is chaotic.

  • This is a mid level skilled role. There aren't any temp agencies for this. – user93353 Jul 6 '14 at 9:40
  • 1
    @nvoigt, I have NEVER seen such a binding contract ever and seriously doubt it would even be enforceable-- and if it were it would be a disaster for the reasons you indicated. – teego1967 Jul 6 '14 at 10:59
  • 1
    @teego1967 It is normal and very enforcable between companies ("deliver until X or pay fine Y"). Consulting a lawyer won't hurt. – nvoigt Jul 6 '14 at 11:18
  • 2
    @user93353 there are temp agencies for all roles you can hire a tempory CEO for example. – Pepone Jul 6 '14 at 11:27
  • 1
    @teego1967: While it is not the same as directly paying for a temp, a quick scan brings up some templates for paragraphs in German employment contracts such as (shortened) "If the employee does not start their work as agreed upon in this contract, the employee is obliged to pay a contract penalty of half a monthly salary to the employer." And that is only for the case that the employer cannot prove any concrete financial losses due to the lack of staff, otherwise a full damage compensation can be requested. – O. R. Mapper Jul 6 '14 at 17:54

Interruptions like this are part of business. A new employee reneges, a current employee has extended sick leave, a project goes awry...

The way a small organization protects itself is in balanced structuring of job descriptions, cross-training, forward (disaster) planning, and managing in a way that promotes flexibility, alignment with mission, and a willingness to pitch in when the going gets tough:

  • Job descriptions Ideally, each job description should contain a mix of critical and less critical tasks, so that in a pinch, less critical tasks can be set aside temporarily in order to take on more critical tasks that aren't being done elsewhere. Underlying this is the need to hire not just for the job you need done but also for a wider range of skills that might also be useful for the company.
  • Cross-training Employees who have cross-trained are able to take on tasks of others. If you are able to get temp help, the temp gets the less critical tasks while the critical tasks are shared by trained employees.
  • Forward planning You should always be looking ahead to what could go wrong. While you do not want to invest a lot of time in detailed planning, you should be prepared for what your first step or two should be in navigating the worst things that could befall your company (your hardest worker leaves suddenly, you are without electricity, your bank calls in a loan or your investor pulls out, your product is recalled...)
  • Managing for change/interruption You need your team to be willing to go to bat for your company in times of stress, and you make this happen by demonstrating a willingness to go to bat for them on a daily basis, getting them what they need to do their jobs, protecting their work/life balance, promoting their professional development, being flexible with rules, etc. A leader should not be trying to solve a problem like this on his or her own - build a team that you can count on to help find solutions in times like this.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .