recruiter says: half my candidates are no-shows for interviews

A reader writes:

I’m an HR professional, and I’ve been recruiting folks for various companies for somewhere around 10 years. Recently I changed industries and have started recruiting for my new company.  Overall things have been well, but lately I’ve been noticing an unusual trend: After setting up an interview with a hiring manager, the candidates don’t show and drop off the face of the earth!

I expect that to happen every once in a while. However, in the last month or so, it’s occurring much more frequently.  Over 50% of the time. What I don’t get is: Why?

The phone screens go fantastically with no red flags or hesitations, the follow up call to schedule the interview is pleasant and the candidate seems excited, then, “Poof!”  The candidate disappears. In your experience is that normal?

I could chalk it up to bad luck, but I just can’t comprehend a candidate that would seem interested in a job, run through a good portion of the process, then just not show from there.  I’ve tried reaching out to the candidates, but they’ve got our numbers and never answer or return my messages.

I wrote back and asked what types of jobs these are. He replied:

The positions are inside sales in the 50k – 90k range.

Screening/interviewing sales folk is newish to me (few dozen vs hundreds and hundreds). I’m used to hiring techie developer types for swanky tech companies, not sales folk for transportation sales companies…

Regardless, when you have an engaging phone screen with a candidate that pushes for the close asking, “What the next steps are?” or “When can we schedule and interview?”  I just can’t figure out why they wouldn’t show the next day…  Of course, I look like a turd because my candidates are not showing.

I can’t figure it out either; it’s definitely not normal. I have to think that the fact that you’re seeing this happen so often means that either (a) there’s something going on with the company or the job, in terms of glaring red flags — but they’d have to be really glaring to be scaring off this many candidates from even interviewing, or (b) there’s something going on with the candidate pool.

Questions I would ask to try to figure out what’s going on: Does the pattern pre-date you? Do your colleagues have any insight? Are the candidates all coming from the same source?  Are these solid candidates who seem reliable until they go AWOL, or is there something about the candidate profile that might make them particularly flaky?  Is the job reasonably desirable for this candidate pool? Is the company? Are you treating people well in the process before they disappear, or are you being like this guy or this guy?

Anyone with experience in inside sales want to speculate on what’s going on here?

{ 43 comments… read them below }

  1. MLHD*

    I find myself wondering if the company has a poor reputation? Perhaps they go through the phone screen, then decide to Google the company or ask around some more, and find horrible things?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’m wondering that too, but even then, I think the company would have to be Enron-level of bad press to be scaring off this many candidates from even interviewing. Sadly, candidates are willing to put up with a lot in this economy. I’d love to know what the company’s reputation is like though.

    2. anonymous*

      That could very well be the case. Just as you can Google candidates, and look through their Facebook entries, and any professional work they may have done — they can, and do the same to YOU.

      If your company has a bad reputation for having done some nasty things to people, or has a level of bad press, OR is in deep financial trouble, OR is known to be a ‘churn’ — don’t expect people to job jump into a position or company where red flags are found everywhere.

      Just as you will show courtesy to an initial job seeker and engage in a “front talk”, a candidate will treat you with courtesy in return. But, if there’s something out there about your firm, people will shy away from it. Even in a recession, and especially if they are employed.

    3. anonymous*

      That could very well be the case. Just as you can Google candidates, and look through their Facebook entries, and any professional work they may have done — they can, and do the same to YOU.

      If your company has a bad reputation for having done some nasty things to people, or has a level of bad press, OR is in deep financial trouble, OR is known to be a ‘churn’ — don’t expect people to job jump into a position or company where red flags are found everywhere.

      Just as you will show courtesy to an initial job seeker and engage in a “front talk”, a candidate will treat you with courtesy in return. But, if there’s something out there about your firm, people will shy away from it. Even in a recession, and especially if they are employed.

  2. Anon*

    Do you ask everyone to interview the following day? Especially if your candidates are currently employed that would be a huge red flag for me.

    1. Anonymous*

      can you explain why this is a red flag for you — i’ve had this experience where a feeling that they are rushing makes me worry, but i’d be curious to hear your thoughts.


  3. Sara*

    Are the candidates unemployed? I could see if someone was employed they would bail on actual interviews if the opportunity wasn’t appealing…

  4. Anonymous*

    Ignoring your phone calls entirely suggests that it’s probably not the candidates – it’s probably something in your approach. I’m not trying to be mean here, it’s just that no-show figure is very high. In this economy, it doesn’t make sense for that many people to walk away from a job opportunity that way unless something turned them off.

    I’ve walked away from a recruiter before after it became clear his goal wasn’t to fill the position with the best person available, but just to fill it, period. It made me think that the job wasn’t for me.

      1. Anonymous*

        Oh sure, I expect so, but I’ve worked with and spoken to quite the range of them, and in my experience? The best ones are the ones that are actually taking your skill set and preferences into consideration. They’re the ones that get their names passed on to my contacts whenever one of them is looking to jump jobs.

        The recruiters that call me up and ask me “research” about business cycles I’ve never had practice in and programming languages that I’ve never used because they want to recommend my resume for a job that doesn’t fit? I “lose” their number forever and never consider any recruiter from that company again.

      2. Holly @ Carousel*

        Not necessarily. A good recruiter will try to find the perfect person for the role, taking into consideration not only a person’s skills, but how well they will get along with the company’s culture.

        A good way to choose an agency is to see if they offer clients a guarantee on placements. If the recruiter has to replace the candidate or refund the commission if the person doesn’t work out, then you know they’ll be doing all they can to get it right on the first try.

        I know this is an old post, but did want to share that. It can make a person’s job search a lot easier to do a bit of research into recruiters before investing time in them.

  5. Anonymous*

    Overall I try to make the process fairly painless to the interviewee and the company is too small (20 or so employees) to be even seen on Glassdoor yet. That said, I’d say the reputation is fine. Certainly didn’t have any red flags when I started a few months prior.

    As for employed vs unemployed, it’s about a 50/50 split and about the same split showed.

  6. Brian*

    I’ve bailed on a handful of interviews for various reasons but I always called the recruiter to cancel. However, one time I left a voice mail the afternoon before but she was off that day and didn’t get it. I was horrified when she called me the day of the interview to ask why I never showed up. After that I always called AND emailed if I got voice mail to make sure they got my cancellation.

    As to why I changed my mind after accepting an interview, bad company reputation was usually the culprit. After I secured the interview I would reach out to my network about the company. If I didn’t like what I heard I would usually cancel. Whether I’m employed at the time has a lot to do with it as well. I can be downright flaky when I have a high paying job but just don’t like it or my boss is a jerk.

  7. Anonymous*

    I’d be happy to chalk it up to a process problem on my part… but I’ve run through other roles (marketing, operations, etc) with the same company (and others) and never have the same issues.

    The only factors that I could think of that were relevant were the type of hire (Sales folk) and time of year (so close to the holidays).

    But as I said earlier: The conversation seems fine, we schedule the interview at a time that’s convenient for the candidate (within a few days), and end the phone screen pleasantly enough.

    1. Anonymous*

      Well, may be that’s it? Sales people know how to fish around, make multiple moves yet do not commit and then vanish the moment they find something “better”? Also, some people “go just for experience”, so they collect data on interviewers, companies and so on.

  8. Interviewer*

    OP, do you ask your candidates for copies of their W-2s? As in, I don’t believe the career portfolio that sales people typically build, full of internal weekly sales matrices and monthly commission reports, or that company certificate of 1st Quarter Top Earner, or the email from the sales manager about the rockstar sales month in 2009? Instead, the latest trend among sales recruiters is to ask them to send you the past few years worth of W-2s to show upward progression, numbers well beyond base salary, and prove that your candidate actually earned the big commissions.

    1. none of your biz*

      If any prospective employer EVER asked for a copy of my W-2, you could be guaranteed I wouldnt show up for an interview.
      However, I would call/email to cancel.

      1. Bohdan Rohbock*

        Sales people are more likely to be willing to share, leastways if they think it provides bragging rights. Many sales people are all about the money, it’s their point system.

  9. Clobbered*

    Have you called your own phone from outside the office and left a voicemail? Did you receive it okay? Ditto for e-mail.

    I realist it’s obvious, but this is strange enough that I can’t help wondering if these people are letting you know but you are not getting the message?

    Since you are concerned on how this reflects on you, maybe it would be worth making reminder phone calls the day before, and standing down the hiring manager if contact is not made.

  10. The gold digger*

    Clobbered, that doesn’t really address the issue. So if they are calling to cancel and the recruiter is not getting the message, that still leaves the question of why they are canceling.

  11. Anonymous*

    Unless it’s Primerica or some other “inside sales” job that’s really a pyramid scheme/scam, not sure why that would happen. I’ve heard of this happening for call center jobs, though I don’t know if it’s at 50%.

    1. Anonymous*

      This is my wonder as well. Is this business herbalife, primerica, amway, etc etc?
      The people inside always religiously refer to it as a business. The people outside, well… it would explain so much.

  12. Phideaux*

    I would go with AAM’s answer b, perhaps it’s the hiring pool. There are some industries and job types that seem to attract less than solid people, and this may be the case here. Early in my career, I worked in the automotive industry and had contact with many “transportation sales” type. Like any job, there are good and there are bad, but this group in general seemed to have an unusually high flakiness factor. It doesn’tt surprise me to hear that nearly half don’t show up to pre-arranged interviews. It would surprise me even less to hear that upon accepting a job, they either don’t show up for work, or work a day or two before disappearing.

    1. Anonymous*

      HEY, Phideaux, my brother is in “transportation sales”!!!…. Oh, wait, I get your point…. Nevermind.

  13. Dawn*

    Just guessing here, but maybe the people being interviewed aren’t really sales people at heart, and once they have a chance to think about it they decide it’s not for them. I know how it is when a person is all excited about something new or different, then once they’ve had a chance to think about it, they run the other way. That’s no excuse not to call and cancel, but maybe that’s what is happening.

  14. Tinfoil hat*

    Maybe I’m just paranoid, but this sounds like such a weird situation… is it possible someone is trying to sabotage you? Are you sure that these applicants are all different people?

  15. Anonymous*

    I’d be concerned enough to ring some of them and ask why they didn’t come. It sounds like something fishy is going on here!

  16. Kate*

    I’d say google the name of your company and see if the suggestion of adding the word “scam” comes up. When I was job searching two years ago, I always googled the company, and I found a few that I would type in “Sales Job Company” and the suggestion “do you mean Sales Job Company Scam” would come up.

    Or maybe your company name is really similar to a company that has a scam reputation?

  17. Jojo*

    If I’m unemployed, I’d go to most interviews since interviewing is then my ‘full time’ job.

    When I am employed, I’m more picky as to which interviews I think is worth my time to take off from work. If the recruiter told me that they’ll give me typing test, spelling test, or anything like that, I’d tend to cancel, although I wouldn’t just bail without prior notice.

  18. Anonymous*

    Do you check references before setting up face-to-face interviews?

    I would also change-up your phone interview questions so that they are more than a screening process. Then perhaps you should “Google” your applicants or see if they are on sites like Linked-in.

  19. Anonymous*

    Sometimes people don’t have the courage to say they’re not interested in a conversation.

    Also, my first thought when reading this is that the posting they are responding to gave them one impression and when they received the call they got another. I used to phone screen for a tutoring company and I could always hear the subtle shift in the voice when the hours or pay isn’t what they wanted. They’d go through the motions, arrange an appointment and no show. It happened so often that I for “shift” candidates I would say something like, “I get the feeling [blank] isn’t what you were looking for. Do you have any concerns about the position I can address?”

    I’ve never had anyone get angry or defensive when I asked. For some we were able to clarify their options and they took a chance on the interview. Most sounded relieved to have an opportunity to say, “This isn’t what I want.”

  20. Charles*

    Are these interviews one-on-one interviews? Or are they “group” interviews (i.e., an interview in which many job candidates are brought in together)?

    If they are the latter, maybe folks do show up but see what’s going on and they leave without saying anything.

  21. Kathy*

    Are they youngish employees? As in under 30 years old (as much as you can tell)? I have heard about a lot of under-30 aged employees just dropping out of the process without any notification to the potential employer. I wondered if it was an age thing or what. And the experiences I heard about weren’t in sales, either.

  22. patel*

    I am a recent graduate looking for a job.
    I personally hate to do this, but I would accept that I did this to couple of companies. The primary reason being the company’s reviews. I found like 14 negative vs 1 positive review. I am sure not joining this company.
    I do agree that letting them know is a good thing (which I did to one of them) and they call you back trying to convince that its not true (I think its a waste of time). then I feel bad saying no again and said I will rethink. Now I dont pick her call anymore.

    This is just my experience that I thought worth sharing with the people here.

  23. Chris*

    I have to echo many of the responses to this query.

    1. I would check the company’s rep first. If the company has a high turnover rate, then they might not even bother to call to cancel.

    2. If you are cold calling people, they might not take you seriously. I am not sure about sales, but in IT, cold calling should tell you something about the company. Also, be careful of how many other people are calling out about the same position. There are times in which I am cold-called by no less than 10 recruiters about a position (I am on a list somewhere that I cannot get my name removed). If someone sees this, they see a company just looking for warm bodies.

  24. Natalie*

    OP, since you mentioned you are a small company, do you have any web presence? That is, does your company have a website at all? I don’t know if this is true of every generation, but people my age nearly always google a company before going in for an interview. If I couldn’t find a website for the company, I would assume it was a scam or fly-by-night operation.

  25. Diana*

    I can totally relate to this! Some people apply for jobs because they are collecting unemployement, and have to make a certain number of applications to enter a week. Here’s how I weeded out the no shows, and it might work for you. Do NOT schedule an interview at the end of the phone screen. Instead, make up some story that you need to complete your phone screens and then call them the following day. This gives them time to research your company and think about the job. If they were having second thoughts, or didn’t have the nerve to decline an interview, they will not pick up your call or return your message. I have had 100% success with this, and it was such an easy solution!!

    1. Tarryn*

      I am a Recruiter for a sales company as well. I find my retention is about 50% of my interviews will show. I would love to try this method, but how much extra time did it add? Also how many people were scheduled for interviews per day? We hire A LOT of Sales Reps for outside sales, so we’re interviewing about 25 people a day. I’m worried that if I did this, I wouldn’t be able to make my quota of 25 interviews scheduled a day. Thoughts?


  26. Mike Mah*

    It is really annoying when these candidates just disappeared. There is a lot of unemployed candidates out there, but not sure why those candidates can be no show and no response call.

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