Every Time We Say Goodbye – Why Exit Interviews Matter

Written by Holtby Turner

Exit interviews are becoming common practice in real estate these days. It’s how organisations analyse turnover and broader assessments of talent management. A less common practice is to track how many individuals turn down your job offer. Even less common is garnering feedback from candidates who you offered a role to, but declined it.

It takes guts and humility in equal doses to ask these questions. However, in a similar vein to exit interviews, these refusal interviews will reveal a lot about your company as well as give you insight about the industry and your competitors.

Candidate feedback generally falls into three categories:

  1. Out of your control – like the decision to avoid disrupting children’s schooling with a move, or simply wanting to switch industries. These personal choices are not yours to fret over.
  2. In your control, but not just yet – like the quality of your office’s facilities, the job title being offered, or benefits package on offer. These are changeable but may need time.
  3. In your control, but not your reach – these will be the sensitive, awkward bits a candidate isn’t comfortable sharing. They most often include disliking the manner of their direct line or HR manager, having too many interviewers involved sending conflicting messages about your company’s strategic plans, or feeling confused as to what success looks like for them and in the organisation at large.

I know this because after 17 years in the world of recruitment, I’ve heard just about every possible reason why a candidate turns down a job offer.

Naturally, I’m not about to start listing them here. But what I will say is it’s very helpful to collect feedback via a third party be it the search firm, a freelance HR consultant or even via an internal department using anonymised, digital feedback. Whatever the method, it will enable candidates to be candid and specific about their recruitment experience with you, without fear of a subsequent professional retaliation.

Someone senior needs to reassure candidates that their participation in a refusal interview comes with no hard feelings, is in complete confidence and can even be anonymous. Knowing your company won’t be secretly black-listing them means that should a future opportunity arise they’ll feel welcome to apply again (perhaps even actively invited).

So if you’re wondering why Mr, Mrs or Miss Right got away, just ask them directly.

As a CEO or senior manager, you’ll find their feedback provides you with clear ways to improve your hiring process, corporate brand and the entire design of the service they received.

Clearly, fact and fiction will need to be assessed and pulled apart from time to time. We see the world from a certain perspective and our interpretations, conclusions and narratives may jar with others. For example, HR may feel you had poor interview skills, and as the hiring manager you may believe they gave you a shoddy candidate assessment that made the second interview all round ‘awkward’.

There’s an art and a science to both great interview skills and to collating feedback in an open-minded and forward-thinking manner. These include asking ex-candidates non-leading questions to reveal their true feelings, and comparing and contrasting notes with HR on candidates who refused offers with those who accepted; try to ascertain practically what can change for the next interview.

It’s not easy for anyone hiring to handle rejection. That’s why agents and consultants are almost always better negotiators than direct line managers, or even CEOs. Removing all things personal from recruitment would mean removing people from the process: we are people and our careers are personal. But facing the music and learning from the “one who got away” is essential. Overhauling your brand image and revamping your value proposition will help you win over the very best talent in real estate (which we all knows means winning overall).

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