maciej łebkowski
Maciej Łebkowski

A tale about two candidates

in Professional

During my recent recruitment process, I had two candidates that were similar in many ways. In particular, and what’s especially relevant to this story, they both had salary expectations close to the top of the range for this position, and they both didn’t end up joining my team.

But their experiences were very different. And so will be the stories they’ll tell about their experience with me (and the company I work for by proxy).

The bad outcome

Looking back, I made a crucial mistake early on in the process of the first candidate. Let’s call him Jim. I wasn’t fully convinced by his profile from the start, and I wanted to talk about his salary expectations before everything else. Unfortunately, after a brief talk with the HR person overseeing the process, we let the idea go, and went with the recruitment as usual.

The first meeting went well, so we invited Jim to complete a coding challenge. This was below expectations, but after some consideration, I concluded with the team that there was nothing inherently bad about the code, and we decided to make an offer either way.

The offer was about 20% lower than his initial expectations. Jim didn’t agree with our feedback, made some deserved comments about our expectations being unclear, and continued his job search elsewhere. As far as I know, he accepted an offer that was over 50% higher than ours.

Better outcome

The first part of the second story is similar: an interesting candidate, let’s call him Tom, slightly odd profile (but it’s ok) and the initial interview goes well. If I learned nothing from the previous one, I would be on a trajectory to fail miserably for the second time.

This time I schedule a 15-minute chat with Tom before proceeding to the next phase. We talk a little about the challenge he would have to complete (he’s debating whether he has the time required to complete it), and I then get to understand their salary expectations a little better.

I closed his process the next day with a heavy heart. It was hard to give up on his experience, internal drive for code quality, and loyalty to his employer among other traits, but I just couldn’t find a win-win outcome for us regarding his salary expectations.

The conclusion

How was this outcome better? Maybe I shouldn’t let go so easily, but rather go through the whole process to see if we can work something out? Or convince Tom to accept our offer either way: to look at other benefits, the possibilities at our team that cannot be quantified?

You can imagine Jim’s reaction to me trying to lowball him. And his attitude towards the company for the future. And probably even if anyone of them accepted the offer it would be both a struggle in terms of compensation, as well as a prime motivation to jump ship at the nearest occasion. On the other hand, let me paraphrase Tim’s closing email:

I am very glad to meet your honest approach (…) Big thanks for not wasting my time (…) I still think highly about your company and I hope we can work together in the future, given the right circumstances.

I disqualified a great candidate, but I like to think I gained an ally and a few referrals in the process. Isn’t this the essence of a great candidate experience?

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About the author

My name is Maciej Łebkowski. I’m a full stack software engineer, a writer, a leader, and I play board games in my spare time. I’m currently in charge of the technical side of a new project called Docplanner Phone.

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