we hire people to work in a really tough location — and they keep dropping out before their start date

A reader writes:

I work for a contractor; our primary industry is providing professional staff at locations around the globe. One of the locations where we have staff is something like the the Wall in Westeros — it’s a far-away military installation, and it has an incredibly strong reputation as a place where you don’t want to get sent.

Surprisingly, we don’t have a ton of trouble finding candidates for positions at the Wall. However, at least 70% of the people we hire to work at the Wall flake out on us before their start date!

Our program manager, recruiters, and deployment staff will spend weeks working with new hires to ensure that they have all their documents prepared and book travel to this location. We keep in constant contact, and most employees will emphasize over and over again how excited they are about their position. And then the day they are supposed to fly to the Wall, we will get an email saying they aren’t coming.

These are mid-level professionals with security clearances, and they know where they’re headed when they apply to and accept our job. We’ve tried bonuses for 3 months+ service; daily, friendly calls from the recruiter, waiting to book travel until 2-3 days before departure, raising the salary….but nothing seems to help. We’re still losing the majority of our candidates for these positions between offer acceptance and start date.

Alison, if you were in our shoes, what would you be looking at? Everyone in my office is stumped on what to try next — or if this is just part of the territory when you’re staffing positions in tricky locations.

It might indeed just be part of the territory — people getting cold feet at the last minute, or hoping a better offer will come along and then taking it if it does.

But I can think of two things you could try, if you haven’t already:

1. Have you talked to some of the people who pulled out at the last minute? It could be interesting to get their perspective on what happened and see if there was anything you could have done to avoid it (even if that meant not having had them accept the offer in the first place). The key in getting this kind of feedback will be making it clear to them that you don’t want them to feel guilty, and that you’d just be grateful for any insight they can lend you because it’s been a persistent problem that you haven’t been able to solve.

2. How much “truth in advertising” are you using during the hiring process, before people accept the offer? I’m always a big fan of really making sure that people know what they’re getting themselves into — that you’re being candid about all the downsides and possible disadvantages so that they don’t feel surprised or misled later on — and it sounds like that’s even more important in your situation. I’d take a look at how well you’re preparing people for what they’d be getting themselves into, and I’d specifically tell people “we’ve had a lot of people take the offer and then drop out when they really hit the reality of X, Y, and Z, so I’m asking you to really think carefully about those factors before accepting.”

Additionally, if you’re not already offering some kind of orientation between offer acceptance and when people are due to leave, I wonder if they might help too — a sort of course in “here are the ways in which working at the Wall is grueling, and here are strategies to help you thrive there anyway.”

Also, I would drop those friendly, daily calls from the recruiter, unless you’re finding that people genuinely like them. Those would annoy me, and they’d also freak me out a little — in a “what are they trying to distract me from?” sort of way.

And of course, no matter how right you get the process, I’d also assume you’re always going to lose some percentage of your candidates. That sounds like it’s just part of the deal. But if you haven’t tried the two things above, I think they’re worth a shot.

{ 344 comments… read them below }

  1. A. Thrope*

    Well now I’m completely curious as to where The Wall in this story is. Oil fields of North Dakota? Arctic Circle? Middle East?

    1. Dawn*

      I’m thinking something like Whittier, Alaska: NPR did a great story on it in January. “On the edge of town, there stands a 14-story building called Begich Towers — a former Army barracks, resembling an aging hotel, where most of the town’s 200 residents live.”

      1. Nursey Nurse*

        It wouldn’t be Whittier; it’s not that remote. It’s only an hour-long drive to Anchorage, a city of 300,000 people with shopping, dining, and leisure options galore, as well as any service (medical, dental, banking, etc.) you might need.

        1. A grad student*

          But assuming you’re hiring outside Alaska, how many people willingly sign up to be that far from their families and friends? Places don’t have to be objectively remote to be very unpalatable.

        2. Underemployed Erin*

          Are you familiar with this area? Some years ago, I actually visited Whittier, and there is this single lane tunnel used to get to Whittier. I was pretty sure that the tunnel is closed over night, and the traffic alternates direction every half hour or hour so if you do it wrong, you are sitting at a red light for 30 minutes or so waiting for it to change so you can go through the tunnel and leave. I thought that the tunnel was shared with trains and cars and had to air out so you really had to know the schedule of when you could get into and out of Whittier.

          Wikipedia had the following to say about the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel: “Because eastbound traffic, westbound traffic, and the Alaska Railroad must share the tunnel, rail and road traffic are coordinated by two sophisticated computer-based systems: the Tunnel Control System and the Train Signal System. These systems control the timing of vehicles entering the tunnel, spacing them for safety, and lower railroad gates when a train is approaching.”

          1. Nursey Nurse*

            Yeah, I’ve driven the Whittier tunnel several times. Sometimes you have to wait a while to get through, especially if you have just missed an opening, but the tunnel is open several times a day in each direction and it’s really not that hard to get into/out of Whittier. It probably is still considered a remote location by some people, just because it’s in Alaska and it can be slightly inconvenient to leave, but I doubt it’s the kind of remote that would scare off 70% of job candidates.

            1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

              I’ve had two friends who chose not to accept offers for jobs in Alaska, after they really thought through that they would be “moving to Alaska.”

              Both were good paying jobs in major cities, but I think for people who finally think through what moving from the South to Alaska is like (i.e. once they start having to learn about different types of jackets, long underwear, what snow tires are) it becomes daunting.

    2. Katie the Fed*

      It’s actually been really easy to recruit for the middle east – they get a really nice tax break (no taxes on the first $150k) plus a ton of overtime and very little oversight. I met all kinds of characters during the Iraq war.

      1. Ghost Umbrella*

        Last I heard, the tax break was only on the first $75k or so now. Not that you’d exceed that by much. I had a buddy–mid-career, combat experience, TS clearance–go over to Afghanistan for $80k. It doesn’t pay what it used to.

        1. DisenchantedinDC*

          Still a nice tax break on 75k, and at least in my line of government, it still looks pretty good on your resume. Also consider that that is not only tax-free, but pretty free-and-clear considering if you’re actually in theater you will have basically no expenses for housing, etc.

        2. Anon for this*

          Tax free on both ends, accommodation + transportation often paid for, health covered. $80K banked is pretty good for a year.

        3. Tau*

          Is this the general tax exclusion for a US citizen living in a foreign country, or is this something specific to the military? I know the former is around $100k. (Although for that one, considering that you’re paying taxes in another country I get kind of annoyed they care about it at all).

    3. The IT Manager*

      The LW mentions security clearances so I am betting it is an actual military installation – possibly somewhere in Afghanistan or maybe Djibouti which I have the impression as less dangerous but more miserable than bases in Afghanistan or Iraq (in the past). Or even some small isolated base somewhere that we’ve never heard. The large bases if they have been around for a while have some decent amenities/distractions (gyms, food, etc) and a lot of security. The small bases have nothing like that and tend to be more dangerous.

      1. jmkenrick*

        Yeah. I think if danger was a major factor, OP would have mentioned…so I’m guessing we’re more looking at some place really isolated. Antarctica? Siberia?

      2. NavyLT*

        It’s generally not hard to find people who are willing to go to the places where you might get shot, depending on what the work is. I’d be interested in whether it’s a climate problem (Djibouti), isolation problem (Diego Garcia), or both (some place in Alaska I’ve never heard of), or if the field doesn’t necessarily draw the type of people who don’t mind a dangerous posting.

        1. YourUnfriendlyPhlebotomist*

          Seriously, you guys are making me want this job!
          Isolation for a few years? Yes.
          Doing something other people fail at? Yes.

        2. JM*

          My co-worker’s son was stationed at Guantanamo for several months, and it was awful for the prisoners, but apparently conditions aren’t bad for the military folks who are stationed there. Lots of sport fishing, gyms, athletic teams, etc. Kind of like college, without the classes. My co-worker and his wife actually went on vacation to visit their son while he was at Guantanamo – it was that nice. Of course, he did mention that when they took a boat out, crossing one canal/bridge area would mean getting shot by an armed guard. Other than that…not bad at all.

          1. Izzy*

            I knew someone who grew up on base at Guantanamo. She loved it and complained all the time about moving back to the west coast. She moved away before the Iraq war and before the prisoner abuse, so it didn’t have a bad rep at the time.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              They’re supposed to be removed from society, yes*. But humiliation and abuse, which have been widely documented there, aren’t supposed to be part of the package.

              * Actually even that’s debatable, for people being held there without evidence of a crime.

              1. Can't Think Of A More Clever Anon Name Today*

                Again, and again, this is why I love this site. You are a good person, through and through.

          2. BananaPants*

            My brother is active duty military and has been to Guantanamo many times. He says it’s nice! Lots of MWR activities for servicemembers and families, great snorkeling/scuba if that’s your thing, rec sports, etc.

            1. Helka*

              Sounds like a real change. My dad was posted to Guantánamo a few decades ago and has nothing but stories of utter misery.

          1. Becky*

            I have several acquaintances who’ve done research stints in Antarctica. There is not a high drop-out rate for these programs, and in some fields they are highly desirable positions.

            1. blackcat*

              That’s true for the major bases. It’s also my understanding that they heavily vet people who go to the South Pole station (which is far, far more remote than most Antarctic stations), particularly the half dozen or so who winter there. *shudder*.

              1. LK*

                Less vetting than you’d think; a good friend of mine has done several winter stints at Amundsen Scott (which is the US South Pole station) and there have been several issues with people who were not well-suited to work in the environment, who have been known problems among the winterovers for years, who have returned again and again to screw up in new and different ways each winter.

            2. Elizabeth the Ginger*

              Yeah, it’s hard to get to some of those Antarctic stations! Since they’re generally short-term gigs, they’re pretty desirable for adventuresome types. I have a friend who did a three-month stint as IT support at the South Pole, and absolutely loved it.

              1. Nashira*

                I had a professor in college who did a winterover *decades* ago, who frequently mentioned how cool it was and how much he enjoyed it. That being said, I have no idea what he did as an anthropologist there.

                1. Honeybee*

                  Maybe studied the actual scientists at the station? Like cultural effects of the winterovers in remote, harsh locations?

              2. Connie-Lynne*

                I have a friend there now on a gig as a carpenter. Everyone I know is super-jealous (including me).

              3. irritable vowel*

                I once applied to work at the post office there! (I’m a librarian, I figured that was as close as I was going to get, skills-wise.) Never heard back, sadly.

                1. Sarak*

                  Fun story: people who are wintering over at McMurdo always have a big party the night the last plane leaves and they’re stuck there for the winter.

                  They watch The Thing and The Shining.

          2. Brett*

            I was actually part of NB Palmer Cruise 92-2, which picked up Ice Station Weddell I (https://s3.amazonaws.com/Antarctica/AJUS/AJUSvXXVIIn5/AJUSvXXVIIn5p97.pdf)

            The physical screening for going down in winter was pretty tough, but there was no security clearance screening associated with it at all. I think there were over 600 applicants for the position I had (and each applicant had to be recommended by an NSF regional program director before they could apply). There was definitely no recruitment problem there.
            I actually was very lucky… a random paragraph in my “statement of physical health” (an extended metaphor even) caught the eye of an NSF national director who was reading the applications, and she personally selected me because of that one paragraph.

        3. Jcsgo*

          That was my first guess but I have absolutely no clue. I couldn’t imagine what kind of place they’d be referring to – just don’t know that much about remote locations.

      1. glache*

        Oi I’m Australian, it’s not that bad! Then again if you’re talking the WA/SA/NT border or something maybe…

    4. Alli525*

      I’m assuming Minot, North Dakota. I had a friend of a friend stationed there (Air Force) who said that he didn’t mind the 3-day shifts in an underground bunker because at least he didn’t have to deal with the insane amount of snow for those 3 days.

      1. Blurgle*

        Or as we call it up here, the subtropics.

        I suspect it’s something more like a remote mining camp in Nunavut.

    5. xarcady*

      I’m thinking a very small military base in another country, where you can’t bring your family with you. Something close to the DMZ in South Korea, for example. There’d be a language barrier if you left base, a small base with little to do when not working, the threat of attack from the north, and some unpleasantly cold winter weather, unpleasantly hot and humid summer weather, and monsoons.

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        Could be. But the people I know in the ROK don’t spend much time worrying about an attack from the north. I don’t know anyone spent time in the US military in South Korea, though. ROK military yes, but not the US.

        1. Lizzie*

          My uncle trained ROK Rangers and there’s a lot of what qualifies to me as actual abuse (of the ROK soldiers — they don’t touch the US folks. Imagine that). For US personnel, it’s really not bad unless you go off base a lot (civilians, reasonably, are not very happy with the spike in crime you see around the bases) and honestly the DPRK carries on a lot but it’s all posturing.

    6. Liane*

      I don’t know about today, but 25+ years ago, the US Air Force Base at Thule, Greenland was infamous as Place You Don’t Want to be Assigned. According to Husband, who is ex-USAF, Thule was so remote, freezing, & lacking in amenities that very troublesome personnel might be transferred there both to get them out of their (current) superiors’ hair and as a sort of unofficial “punishment duty.”

      1. Aglaia761*

        I was just coming to say that I have a feeling it’s Thule. It’s still known as a place you don’t want to get sent. I help support the weekly flight there and I have to say. The Air Force does a pretty good job of trying to make it work for the soldiers and staff. Every couple of weeks there are entertainers and musicians headed over to entertain everyone.

        But yeah, it’s a looooong 15 months for those guys and gals

      2. M.*

        Oh. My grampa was stationed there, I think. He had some interesting stories about Greenland. And also Alaska. They liked to send him where it was cold.

      1. BananaPants*

        Or Thule. It’d be a place big enough to need the contractors that our OP is hiring but undeveloped/isolated/without amenities, so it’s much less desirable.

  2. Cambridge Comma*

    Is there any way to speed up the time between job offer and acceptance, and departure? Perhaps having too long to think about it (and talk to others about it) is causing people to second guess themselves.
    I don’t know if it’s feasible to start the departure processes for your shortlist before the job offer, so that the candidate that accepts gets going sooner?

    1. GTMO Gal*

      Coming from GTMO, this happens all the time. You cannot speed up the process because it just takes a while to get security/paperwork done. I am guessing every remote military base it like that.

      It comes with the territory. Living in a place that sounds like an adventure (and it is), but leaving the comforts of home is hard.

      GTMO by the way is awesome and one of the best places in the world to live.

        1. Anna*

          I’m not sure if this is the MAIN reason that GTMO Gal liked it so much, but coming from living on military bases in different locations, the amenities on-base at Gitmo are probably really nice because people stationed there can’t go off-base for entertainment (or couldn’t, I don’t know what it’s like now that relations have thawed).

        2. GTMO Gal*

          It is the community spirit. You cannot leave base. There are 5000 people. You never everybody and must make your own entertainment. So lots of pot lucks, game night, its Friday parties. Truly, my social calendar was busier in GTMO.

          There are 2 restaurants (menu did not change in 3 years), bowling alley, and 1 outdoor movie theater (free.) We get live entertainment 3 or 4 times a year.

          However, no winter and tons of water sports. Scuba dive after work. Boat rentals $16 hour.

          Children can wonder without worry of being harmed. Eveyone has security clearance. Never lock your door. Keys kept in ignition for 3 years.

          As a contractor, no taxes.

          1. Katie the Fed*

            “It is the community spirit. You cannot leave base. There are 5000 people. You never everybody and must make your own entertainment.”

            Interesting – that’s the same reason I HATED being deployed to Iraq. Too insular. Everyone was in everyone else’s business. This might be an introvert/extrovert thing.

            1. LBK*

              Yeah, that sounds hellish to me. I’m often sick of being around my friends after a long vacation together, and they’re all people I already know and like. Doing that with 5000 strangers for months or years? I’m getting anxious just thinking about it.

              1. Katie the Fed*

                To add to that, as a rare civilian female, let’s just say I got a LOT of attention/notice. So if I sat with a guy friend for lunch, everyone knew about it.

                Honestly, the whole thing was like high school. Just hotter, dustier, and with rockets.

                1. LBK*

                  When I first read this I pictured space rockets, not explosion rockets (probably being fired at you), which actually sounded kind of cool. I would totally go to NASA High!

                2. Rebecca in Dallas*

                  That’s what I heard from one of my friends who was deployed to Iraq as a (female) officer. It was a huge strain on her marriage (her husband was also military), just relentless gossip.

            2. MK*

              To each their own. I think a lot of people would love living like that, at least for a time, others would loath it, many would be OK with it or tolerate it with not much difficulty, especially if the rewards were substantial.

              1. Katie the Fed*

                There were things I liked a lot too, and I look back on it as a great experience that helped me grow a lot. But it’s such a weird environment, especially as a civilian who hasn’t worked in a place like that before. But the financial benefits were good – hazard pay, overtime, etc. We did have to pay taxes but if you have no living expenses for 6 months and make a lot of overtime, it can be well worth it. I paid off my student loans and put together a down payment for a condo.

              2. Episkey*

                I would probably like something like that. Built-in friends & activities! I did a year in AmeriCorps and it was like that — I really enjoyed it!

            3. neverjaunty*

              Eh, it can also be just the kind of community you like. You can be an extrovert and get sick of the same people, or be an introvert and love that you don’t have to keep meeting everyone.

              1. Katie the Fed*

                Yeah and it really depends on the people you’re with. If you get a good group, it’s fun. My first deployment was with a bunch of jerks. Second one was much more palatable.

            4. AnotherFed*

              It gets to be almost comfortable, in the same way go home for the holidays is. Yes, Joe always smells like Axe, you know the minute you see green beans that Bob is going to complain about them, and Walden is going to be so dorkishly overexcited by a superhero movie that you debate skipping it. But you can’t spend that much time with so few people without them growing on you like fungus. Maybe it’s Stockholm syndrome.

          2. Natalie*

            Probably a stupid question, but do they bring in civilians to staff the amenities (the restaurant and such) or are those military assignments? If they are civilians, does that mean they have to live on the base, too?

            1. Katie the Fed*

              Those are almost all contractors. There are three different types: Government civilian (working for their respective agencies), government contractor, and military. And then under the contractors you have your American ones and your third-country nationals which is why you’d go to the embassy in the Green Zone and have to pass through an outer ring of security manned by Nepalese Gurkhas, Salvadorans, maybe some Ugandans depending on when you were there. Iraq was a weird place :)

              1. Molly*

                My understanding is that the outer-facing security is always local in part to deter terrorist attacks, protests etc – you’d be attacking the locals instead of the Americans. Pretty f’ed up.

            2. Jeanne*

              This kind of stuff can be fascinating. Another episode of This American Life was about life on an aircraft carrier. They are all military on there I believe, no contractors. One woman spent 8 hours a day filling vending machines. She joined the navy and while they sailed she filled vending machines.

              1. NavyLT*

                We had a few contractors on the carrier when I deployed, but they were there to work on some of the IT stuff. Some of them were there for the whole deployment, and some would fly out to the ship if something broke, then head back once they’d fixed it. But yeah, all the stuff like cooking, cleaning, laundry, and haircuts gets done by sailors.

            3. The IT Manager*

              The people who staffed the cafeteria, cut hair, worked in the store, cleaned the bathrooms were usually third country nationals. Civilians, not Americans (would cost too much), not locals, but groups of contractors from some other country (with I presume cheap labor). The 3rd party nationals would live on base in their own area. American civilians almost always work for government agency. Sometimes locals did work on base and they did do a good bit of the perimeter security with the military.

      1. mm*

        Really? I had a friend stationed there (military doctor) and she HATED it. She only agreed/signed up to go because she’s single and didn’t want her coworkers with families to have to move there.

    2. BuildMeUp*

      I was thinking this, too – people might accept the job because they really need one, but not be happy with all the details, keep interviewing, and get something else before their start date. It sounds like there may be no way to shorten the length of time, though!

    3. Aglaia761*

      Also if they are going to a military installation they have to get “orders” issued and spots booked on a military flight to get there. AMC is awesome, but if you don’t have the right paperwork to get on the plane…you ain’t getting on the plane. The more remote the facility, the fewer flights there are to get there.

      It’s one thing if you’re going to Germany, it’s another thing if you’re going to GTMO, Thule, Wake Island, Etc.

  3. Katie the Fed*

    I work with a lot of contractors in this field, and my guess is they’re not getting paid very much so they’re looking for other gigs at the same time, and when something better comes along they bolt. They’re hedging their bets. Plus they have clearances – demand for cleared contractors is higher than supply, so they have options.

    I’m seeing this a lot more and more – government is paying less, so contract companies are bidding super low, and then they have trouble finding the manpower to keep the positions filled. I’ve lost a LOT of contractors over the last couple of years – they’re just not being paid enough to make it worth their while. Some of them stay on just long enough to get enough experience to make them more competitive, and they bolt.

    Of course we told our leadership this would happen when they emphasized low-experiece quantity over high-experience quality. Unfortunately, you get what you pay for. I constantly worry about losing my rock-star contractors, but they also deserve to be paid what they’re worth.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      I realize I didn’t give any advice – do you have a non-compete clause in their contract? That’s what I would do. Once they sign on, they can’t work for a competitor for a year.

      1. Mike C.*

        Don’t you actually have to start working though?

        And seriously, what the heck? Unless you’re willing to pay for that year, why should your company have the exclusive right to someone’s ability to work in their industry if they have to pull out for some reason? I don’t really care that it’s legal, it’s incredibly unethical.

        1. IT Kat*

          It’s incredibly common, though, and not just for government contracts – I work in IT, for private companies, and have 3 non-competes under my belt from 3 different companies.

          The thing is, most don’t block you working in THAT INDUSTRY, just for a direct competitor. So you can go to work somewhere doing the same thing, just not for a direct competitor of your previous company.

          I understand that they’re common in Sales, too.

            1. Mike C.*

              Even still, they can have a chilling effect, and many are enforceable. Either way, they’re incredibly unethical.

              1. AnotherHRPro*

                I understand you are opposed to these, but people do not have to agree to the terms. If someone doesn’t want to work under a non-compete they don’t have to. It just means that job isn’t for you and you should find a position without such an agreement.

                I have a non-compete and am fine with it. I understood what I was signing and do not have any trouble with the terms of the agreement.

                1. Anna*

                  I take issue with this approach. “If you don’t like it, don’t work for them/in that industry/at that job.” It puts the onus on the employee, whose in a position of less power to start with, and absolves the employers who wield more power in the relationship. Good that you don’t have a problem with it. That doesn’t automatically make it okay.

                2. Mike C.*

                  That’s not good enough. Why should an employer have free reign over who you work for next and how long they have that power?

                  What happens if your management changes and things go south? Maybe your company is bought out or merges, what then?

                  How many different situations are written about in this very blog where the answer boils down to, “this sucks, here are some things you can do in the short term, but it’s more likely than not that you need to find a new job”? Dozens every month? On top of that, you think it’s perfectly fine that the employer then get to say, “we’re going to take away your most likely job prospects, best of luck!”

                  What should someone to do, just not work for a year or two?

                3. AnotherHRPro*

                  Most jobs that require these types of agreements tend to pay more. This is by design. More risk, more reward. The employee (in my case, me) is being compensated for taking on that additional risk.

                  And the employer is taking on risk as well. Attracting the best possible candidates is more difficult with non-competes.

            2. sunny-dee*

              Totally enforceable (depending on how it’s written) and totally common. They don’t want someone learning important work product — customer info, best practices, upcoming projects — and then bailing and going to a competitor with all of the relevant, competitive information.

              1. Honeybee*

                Not totally. It depends on where you work, the industry, the company, and a slew of other factors.

                Besides, you can accomplish that with a non-disclosure agreement. I signed an NDA when I started working at my company that I wouldn’t disclose confidential information ever.

                And lastly…if it was really to prevent that stuff, a year isn’t long enough anyway. It’s not like all my knowledge magically leaves my head in a year. NCCs don’t prevent leaks; that’s what NDAs are for.

              2. INTP*

                I understand it for those purposes but the OP can’t really justify it that way. Someone bailing before they even start can’t significantly hurt the business with what they know, they just put them out the price of a plane ticket.

                1. HR Wannabe*

                  And the cost of the clearance, the admin cost to the company, the admin cost to the Govt., the labor time with the recruiter, the program manager… When someone just disappears, it hurts everything for at least a month sometimes more.

              3. Observer*

                Yes, but that would not apply to someone who never started work. Which would mean that it would probably not be possible to enforce it in any case (even with a direct competitor) in the case where someone hasn’t started work yet.

            3. Anxa*

              How would you know if your’s is unenforceable?

              I signed a non-compete for a part-time job and was laid off(?). I would love to be able pick up some shifts doing that again at a competitor, but I still have about 5 months left in my non-compete.

          1. Kyrielle*

            Yep. It’ll be another year before I can work for a competitor of my former company, but the job I moved to not only doesn’t compete with them, it doesn’t even serve the same market. I’m not sure the non-compete is enforceable (as TL mentioned, I think they may be unenforceable in a lot of jurisdictions, especially if they’re overly broad), but I really don’t care, since I want to stay in the area I’m physically located in, and working for their competitors would mean moving.

            1. TL -*

              Yeah, IIRC, something like “White Chocolate Teapot Spout Developer may not take a job developing white chocolate teapot spouts for Teapot inc’s competitors for 2 years after termination of employment” might be enforceable but a blanket ban on taking a job with a competitor generally isn’t.

              1. TL -*

                (and even the first one would, I think, have to involve some sort of proprietary white chocolate development system to be really relevant.)

              2. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

                My NDA is really specific, it doesn’t say that I can’t go to work for a competitor, but states that I cannot actively solicit business from my current company’s clients for 18 months after leaving.

                I appreciate the “actively solicit” part, because it acknowledges that clients will sometimes follow people, or if a client gets pissed and leaves it’s not my fault it the come to me.

          2. Mike C.*

            It doesn’t matter if it’s common! There are tons and tons of practices that were at some time and place common that were terrible.

            Non-compete agreements without pay for the time out of work place an unfair burden upon the employee and distort the nature of the at-will model. And yes, there are many that attempt to block one from working in their industry. Even then, what happens if your industry is such that all the major employers are direct competitors?

            1. sunny-dee*

              They also prevent unscrupulous people from stealing company secrets and “selling” them to a competitor. (And, yes, I know someone who had this happen to him personally.)

              1. Katie the Fed*

                Or staying on long enough that the company pays for your security clearance and then you take it and bolt :/

                1. Mike C.*

                  Plenty of employers offer benefits that stay with the employee (education comes to mind) and for the vast majority of people it serves as an incentive to stick around, not bolt.

                  It still doesn’t justify the idea that because of a few bad actors an employer is justified in locking someone out of their chosen profession if they happen to leave the job for any reason at all.

                2. non-profit manager*

                  I would think a better way around this would be to enter into an agreement with the employee that if they leave the company after x amount of time, the employee would need to reimburse the company based on a pro-rated schedule. Otherwise, if the employee bolts, the employee might not be able to use the clearance due to the non-compete and the company has still lost the money. Both parties lose.

                3. DisenchantedinDC*

                  Meh, what do you consider “bolting”? My understanding is that while a security clearance represents a very real cost to the government in terms of manhours, there isn’t actually a bill that the company pays.

                  It’s reciprocal – if a company wants me to stay somewhere with my clearance, they have to make it worth the time. We are trying to hire for another cleared seat right now at my job and it is an uphill battle.

                4. Katie the Fed*

                  I’m pretty sure the company pays the government for the clearance process. That’s why they wanted people who already have clearances.

                5. Anna*

                  I think that’s what it started out as but has become this other beast entirely. I understand a company not wanting its proprietary information taken to a competitor, but some of the non-compete agreements are quite far-reaching and become more of a restriction on livelihood.

                6. DisenchantedinDC*

                  I thought the reasoning behind wanting cleared people (which we are doing now) is because they are known quantities who can get started right away? If you hire somebody who takes 5 months to clear, you just lost 5 months of profit on that person’s seat.

                7. DisenchantedinDC*

                  ClearanceJobs.com says no direct cost associated with a clearance – definitely let me know if you have seen resources to the contrary, though! I always thought it cost the company like $12k or whatever, but since in my current position I have been told that is not the case.

                8. Observer*

                  That’s what claw back agreements are for.

                  Much more sensible and ethical. And probably far more enforceable.

              2. Mike C.*

                There are tons of laws against handing over proprietary information to those to whom it doesn’t belong. Telling someone they can’t work isn’t going to prevent this.

                Besides you can do this while still working for someone. And you can still pay someone not to work. But the idea of being able to legally lock someone out of their profession is crazy.

                1. non-profit manager*

                  Agreed. And non-disclosure agreements are a better way to protect information, as it applies during employment, as well.

              3. Judy*

                Actually, Non Disclosure agreements keep people from stealing company secrets and selling them to a competitor. Non Compete agreements keep people from working for a competitor.

                Several doctor groups my sister was entertaining offers from when she started her practice required non compete agreements, so that if she left the practice she couldn’t practice within 100 miles for a year. That’s pretty rough.

                1. Nashira*

                  … Seriously? A lot of areas have trouble finding enough doctors as it is. Expecting doctors to sign an NCC is an especially unethical deployment of an inherently unethical practice.

                2. Mike C.*

                  At the surface level the distinction is true, but the “spirit” of a non-compete is that someone doesn’t bolt to a competitor and spill their professional guts while the information is fresh. I give an example of this below – Find in Page “Ferrari” if you’re curious.

                3. OK*

                  There is a local drive up coffee shop here that requires employees to sign a non-compete. It says they cannot work for another coffee shop in a certain mile radius. The town is 2 sq miles and has two coffee places.
                  She’s bat$hit crazy and put in microphones to hear what employees say about her. She tried to without a final paycheck from an employee that quit with 2 days notice. She tells the girls they cant have time off in the summer……she’d provide at least a month’s worth of questions.

                4. Not So NewReader*

                  In the medical profession? REALLY? I thought the main idea was to share information and cure people. Just. Wow. That’s messed up.

              4. non-profit manager*

                In California, we use confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements to protect against that. Non-competes are overly broad for that purpose.

              5. Honeybee*

                No they don’t. You don’t have to work at a competitor to steal company secrets and sell it to them.

            2. Can't Think Of A More Clever Anon Name Today*

              I agree : that they “distort the nature of the at-will model”

              They have always made me uncomfortable and not something that I’d be willing to sign on, unless the pay was just too great or something, and even then I may push back.

              Someone up thread mentioned a NDA which seems better, in situations like this.

          3. Kylynara*

            I worked for a place that had a non-compete, but it said you couldn’t work for their CUSTOMERS for 1 year. They created it shortly after I started when they fired a guy who was starting his own company doing the same thing and stealing their customers. (He did teapot maintenance and would go to Customer A do the work and bill customer A and bill customer A through his own company, even though he was on the clock with the company I worked for and the customer had called the company I worked for.)

            Eventually they incorporated the non-compete into the company handbook and I had to sign it. I did some teapot design, but was primarily an admin assistant. I was rather peeved to have such a huge block of future employers blocked for a full year, but it ended up not being an issue and actually being helpful at getting rid of someone who wanted me to do a couple hours of contract work for him and I didn’t want to deal with him.

            1. Stephanie*

              My old company had that, but you couldn’t work for a customer for two years after a departure. I knew that wasn’t enforceable.

            2. Tau*

              Yeah, I’m not allowed to go work for a client I’ve worked directly with for… a year, I think? It makes sense in my case since my company contracts people out to clients, so it’d be really easy for a client to go “actually, since you’re basically working full-time for us anyway, how about we cut out the middleman and you come work for us directly”, and they do specify that it has to be a client I’ve actually worked with and not just any client of the company.

              (Also, not allowed to work for a competitor or form my own competing company within 10 miles radius, and not allowed to form a competing company with other former employees for two years, so the bases are well and truly covered. The former is the one that really irks me, because it sounds like I might have to leave the area when I leave this job.)

        2. super anon*

          A bit off topic, but when I did a short stint with Edible Arrangements I had to sign both an NDA and a non-compete, and this was for a part-time customer service position!

            1. Stephanie*

              HAHA. I remember reading about Jimmy John’s having either a noncompete or nondisclosure for its restaurant employees. Maybe they have a special way of spreading mayo.

            2. super anon*

              I think they were more concerned with the information on how the bouquets are arranged (it’s a science of x amount of pineapple flowers, and x amount of strawberries, etc all artfully placed so everything fits and looks the same) getting out. it was still kind of silly and a bit overkill considering the only thing i did for production was dip fruit items in chocolate.

          1. Can't Think Of A More Clever Anon Name Today*

            hmm.. who is a direct competitor of Edible?? lol

            And yeah, there isn’t much that I think can’t be figured out, aside from maybe what kind of chocolate they dip?? haha.

          1. Kyrielle*

            …which is hilarious, because $PreviousJob, which had a non-compete that we had to sign, is headquartered in…California.


        3. Katie the Fed*

          Mike C – you raise good points. I hadn’t really thought through all the implications – you can tell I don’t work for business.

          I had another idea – once they’re hired can you bring them on to start working at HQ while the paperwork gets processed? That way they’re already gainfully employed and not just sitting around for months waiting.

  4. Juni*

    There are firms you can hire who will do “Why didn’t you show up?” calls for you. You can develop a survey and have the third party call to administer. Always offer a bribe – a $50 Amazon GC or something – and you’ll get decent responses. I spent a holiday season doing these kinds of calls for a company, and it was so interesting. I basically just introduced myself as a representative of an independent company hired by Acme Inc., and said that I was asking folks who accepted a position but did not start a few questions, about ten minutes, in exchange for a $50 gift card. Since it was around the holidays, most took me up on it. Most questions I asked were really simple! “Is there a reason you accepted the position and then did not start?” I had a little decision tree in front of me, so if they said, “I got another job offer that paid more,” I could ask things like, “How much more were you offered, and was it for a similar position with a competitor?” If they said, “I did some research and found out that Acme had a bad reputation,” I could follow up with, “By bad reputation, do you mean ethically? Or how they treat employees, or customers? Tell me more about that.”

    Then I assured them that their answers were confidential and anonymously collated, confirmed the address we had on file (provided by Acme Inc.) and popped a gift card in the mail the following day.

    1. Lead, Follow or Get Outta the Way!*

      This is interesting. My guess would be that the companies that employed this type of service would be fairly large, perhaps 5000+ employees?

      1. Elizabeth*

        My employer is right around 500 people, and we contract for a service like this. We’re particularly interested in people who have specific credentials who decide not to come to work for us, since they make up our single largest employee group (1/5 of the entire organization).

      2. plain_jane*

        It depends. For a company doing this on an ongoing basis, yes, they’d need to be pretty big. But for a small company, if they’re having an issue like this, they might go to an independent contractor/consultant to do the follow-up calls. I can imagine you could be in the ~25 employee range (if it’s a high-end skillset) and still find it valuable.

        $50 is a really good incentive for some areas, and not enough for others.

    2. Can't Think Of A More Clever Anon Name Today*

      This is pretty neat.

      There really is a business out here for EVERY need.

  5. fposte*

    I’d add a third thing–talk to the people who *did* make it. Treat them as an elite squad and ask them what they think made them that way when so many people fold. See if you can find a way to select for that better in fugure.

    1. Carrie in Scotland*

      Excellent idea.

      Could you get the employees to talk about making it in The Wall at an interview stage perhaps?

    2. Prismatic Professional*

      This. This is key!

      Look for the bright spots. Who is succeeding where the majority are failing? Learn from them. <- From the book Decisive (about how to make better decisions by Chip and Dan Heath). I love that book. :-) This method also helps increase the level of hope and feelings of efficacy (which are both excellent things).

  6. Mephyle*

    You mentioned several different measures you are using to combat this issue, but I don’t see that any of them address the fact that this is a place people really don’t want to be, apparently even if you pay them more.

    I think the particular parts of Alison’s advice that speak to that problem are “even if that meant not having had them accept the offer in the first place” and “truth in advertising”.

    I will go out on a limb and make an internet diagnosis that many of your hirees are excited to get a job, any job, but then between the hiring and the trip out it starts to weigh on their minds how harsh and tough the place is, and their second thoughts get the better of them.

    About the only people who stick with it and go are likely either adventurers who are excited by the idea of living dangerously and the desperate unemployed who will do anything for a job.

    1. Jennifer*

      Most likely they are still job hunting and couldn’t pass up the job unless they found something less Wall-ish. Unfortunately, “completely undesirable location” is hard to combat even if you are throwing truckloads of cash at people.

  7. Dan*

    Sounds like your company should open up to remote working. If they’re not doing physical work, which they probably aren’t if they’re mid level consultants, then that shouldn’t be a problem.

      1. Anon for this*

        Not true. From someone who has a clearance and whose spouse has a secret clearance. We’ve telecommuted all over the world over the years. Partner still telecommutes most of the week from home in the DC area.

  8. LBK*

    Would using employment contracts or non-competes (as Katie mentions above) be an option here? I agree with Alison’s guess that people are taking the job just so they have something and then continuing to search. Given that they have a considerable amount of time between acceptance and departure, they probably aren’t having too much trouble finding something else.

    You may obviously turn off a huge percentage of your current applicants by imposing that requirement, but I think it will also give you a more realistic hiring pool if the only people who apply are those who understand that they’ll be locked in once they get the job.

    1. Mike C.*

      Non-competes without payment are incredibly unethical and I’m really disappointed to see people here seriously suggesting them.

        1. Green*

          That reply was for somewhere else on this thread. But I, for once, agree with Mike C. Non-competes for people who haven’t started is unethical and likely unenforceable.

      1. LBK*

        Can you expand on that? I’m not familiar with non-competes that include payment – would that be some kind of required severance that the company would have to pay out whenever the employee left, for any reason?

        1. LBK*

          Oh, I see that you detailed it further above.

          I don’t think a non-compete that’s as broad as some of the ones tech companies issue is necessary, but I think something like having people agree to stop job searching between their acceptance of the role and when they depart for the location isn’t unethical. It ensures that people understand what they’re signing up for.

          1. Mike C.*

            To better answer your first question, let me give you an example that is ethical in my view. Let’s say your job is to help design cars for the Scuderia Ferrari racing team, and you want to move over to Mercedes. Obviously you can’t help but bring all sorts of crazy knowledge and experience with you so there’s a system where you go on “gardening leave”. You get paid for a year not to work, then you move on to your next job. That way there’s some space where time sensitive secrets aren’t being passed on but the employee is able to move between jobs.

            What you propose is a different ball of wax. It doesn’t seem bad from first blush, but it does feel overly aggressive when a candidate might be waiting for other offers. Perhaps with a signing bonus to even it out?

            1. Katie the Fed*

              Signing bonus is good. I just think the company needs some kind of assurance you’re not stringing them along, but I totally support making that financially viable.

              1. Mike C.*

                A signing bonus with time attached means the employee is protected from the opportunity cost of signing such a document and the employer has some leverage to retain people.

              2. neverjaunty*

                Why? The company could back out at the last minute, too, and they aren’t paying a penalty. Non-compete agreements are just going to punish people for making a decision they’re perfectly within their rights to make. If someone finds out that their supervisor-to-be has lost five sexual harassment suits and then decides ‘hey, maybe I’ll work somewhere less creepy’, say, they should be punished by losing their ability to work in their field?

                1. Katie the Fed*

                  Maybe a signing bonus that has to be repaid if they leave in X amount of time, then? I don’t know – just brainstorming some options.

                2. neverjaunty*

                  Sure, but it’s the same problem – the company is trying to get the employee to give up the right to change their mind about beginning employment, while giving nothing in return. (If they decide they don’t want to fill the position after all, do they owe a “non-signing bonus”?) The solution is to find out why people are walking away from this job, not to punish them if they find out something that is a massive red flag, or if they have a better opportunity.

                3. Helka*

                  So at what point do we tip from “get the employee to give up the right to change their mind” to “give them an incentive so they won’t choose to”?

            2. LBK*

              Is that a common way of doing it? I can’t say I’ve ever heard of a company that’s willing to pay someone to not work for a year just for the protection of their inner workings, but maybe this is an industry-based thing?

              The OP’s says they’ve already tried a bonus for staying on and it didn’t work. I see where you’re coming from on the general concept of contracts/non-competes, but I think this is a unique situation where it won’t warp the job market to require it and allow people to self-select out if they aren’t willing to sign something binding. That differs from working in tech where non-competes are so common that you’d likely dramatically limit your job opportunities if you weren’t willing to sign one, so the idea of everyone being free to look elsewhere is disingenuous.

              Removing the specifics of this situation, it’s always considered operating in bad faith to continuing field interviews/offers immediately after you accept one, so I don’t think there needs to be leeway given to people who are doing that – I wouldn’t in any other position. Arguably even less leeway should be given in this case because (like I said below) I can’t imagine anyone is taking a job that would require such a huge life change as a last resort. This is more like a safety school and it’s a waste of time and money for the company to continue fielding candidates who are going to treat it as such.

              1. Honeybee*

                But how are you going to enforce a non-compete that starts before the employee even begins the job? I don’t see that going well for the company, and honestly, I don’t think it’ll solve their problem.

                1. non-profit manager*

                  Really, you can’t. Unless, for example, the employer provides a significant starting bonus with no repayment provisions if the employee bails.

              2. Mike C.*

                In the UK it’s the law for non-compete situations. The example I gave is a bit extreme given the nature of the motorsports world, but it’s one I’ve seen multiple times as international racing teams shift employees around.

                One point about non-competes in tech – you have to exclude Silicon Valley (and the rest of California!) because they happen to be illegal there.

                If we’re only talking about the time between accepting an offer and starting work that seems to be a solution, but it’s certainly non-optimal.

            3. Green*

              I know a partner at a major consulting firm who is being paid not to work right now due to a non-compete. Same goes with high placed execs who move into roles within the industry.

              1. LBK*

                Interesting. I work in finance where I’d think confidentiality would be a huge deal between competitors and I haven’t heard of it, but maybe the managers I’ve known well enough to talk to about it haven’t been high enough up that it mattered.

                1. Jules the First*

                  When I left my last job for a competitor, OldJob paid me for a month during which I was not allowed to talk to coworkers at OldJob or start work at NewJob. OldJob also issued a list of clients that they suspected they might have in common with NewJob and I had to recuse myself from those projects for a year (on the grounds that I knew too much about OldJob’s dealings with those clients).

                  It’s not common in my industry until you get to a certain level, but, for example, my boss at NewJob had to take six months gardening leave and then leave the room every time his former employer came up for another six months.

        2. Jerry Vandesic*

          One of my non-competes required the company to pay my salary for any time they wanted to enforce the non-compete. If they wanted to enforce it for the full year, as specified in the contract, they would need to pay me my previous rate for a year. This would be offset by any non-competitive earnings I had while under the non-compete, but if I didn’t work they would have paid me my full salary.

          1. Jerry Vandesic*

            I worked at another company that would have also paid me for my non-compete for one year, but there was no offset for earnings. So, if they enforced the non-compete, but I took a job in another industry, I would have been paid twice. Combined with a generous severance plan, I know some people that nearly tripled their pay when they were laid off and took a new non-competitive job. I thought this was a but unusual, but the company was pretty paranoid about people taking information to competitors.

      2. non-profit manager*

        I don’t think a non-compete without payment would be enforceable. I also agree it’s terribly unethical, but I am against non-competes in general. There are better ways to protect confidential and proprietary information.

        1. Mike C.*

          The vast majority of non-competes in the United States don’t pay for time. I had one at my last job now that I think of it, but it was limited to industry and I was able to go to a drastically different place. Even then, they had never enforced it against any of the others who were leaving like crazy.

    2. non-profit manager*

      I don’t think a non-compete without payment would be enforceable. There would be no “consideration” – meaning, the employee has given up something but not the employer. Non-competes would probably only work once employment begins.

      1. Liane*

        From what I have read, including on AAM, in the USA (except California), whether a given non-compete is enforeceable or not depends mainly on the clauses. Specifically, how hard would would the wording make it for you to find a job in your field that didn’t trigger the non-compete? For example, a clause for a TV/radio station that says “cannot work for another broadcaster in the continental USA” or “cannot work for another broadcaster in this market for 10 years” wouldn’t be enforceable. On the other hand, “cannot work for a broadcaster in this market for a period of 1 year” would probably be enforceable. A popular DJ where I used to live left a job at Station A. Exactly a year later, he was back on the air in my city at Station B. He even said that he had been waiting out his non-compete time.

        1. neverjaunty*

          Right, but what non-profit manager means is, whether the agreement is an enforceable contract. “I promise to do X” is not a contract unless you get consideration for it (like money) or under some other circumstances, like the other person reasonably relying on it (which I don’t know how you would find in this circumstance). You’re not giving the person anything if they back out of working for you.

          1. non-profit manager*

            Exactly. The terms of the non-compete won’t matter if it’s not even a contract. Without consideration on both sides (both sides giving up something in exchange for something), it’s not a contract and therefore not enforceable. No need to even get to the terms.

            1. Sue Wilson*

              That’s not how precedent treats them, especially since if it’s a condition of employment, in which case you are a getting paid in return. You have a better case if your company tries to get you to sign one after you’ve accepted.

              1. selablad*

                My ex-boss tried to get me to sign an NDA and non-compete after I resigned… needless to say I did not take him up on his kind offer :)

              2. Observer*

                But that’s the key – the job is a “consideration”, ie the payoff. But, in a case where there is NO payoff – ie the person already quit or was fired and there is no other payment, it’s not worth the paper it’s written on, and there is no precedent otherwise. By the same token, if the person never got a paycheck, then you can’t say that they received some “consideration”.

        1. non-profit manager*

          Are they enforced? Or do people only expect them to be enforced and behave as such?

          My spouse signed a non-compete. We are in California, as is the employer. I told him to go ahead and sign, but it’s unenforceable here and if they try, well good luck. I think a lot of employees assume the employer’s behavior is legal, when in reality many employers put this stuff in because they know most employees will believe it’s enforceable and behave as such.

          I hate non-competes. There are better ways to protect legitimate business interests, such as non-disclosure and confidentiality agreements.

          Kind of like polygraphs. They don’t detect lies, but so many people think they do that they often give up stuff.

        2. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

          I mentioned the details of non-compete above, but it basically says that I can’t actively solicit my current company’s clients for 18 months after I leave (whether I go freelance or work for a competitor).

          The only time I have seen it “enforced” was when a really unethical sales guy (who was fired for doing some really shady stuff) made a hardcore push to our largest 25 accounts, sending proposal bashing our current company and stating why his new super awesome, mega company of one could do *such* a better job. And really then I think the C&D letter was mostly to get him to stop referencing us.

    3. Observer*

      A non-compete that seriously hurts the employee’s chance of getting another job is really pretty unethical in this type of context. It’s also not likely to work.

      Firstly, you are highly likely to turn off quite a number of people – including the people you want. That’s always a risk with a large blunt instrument – you take the chance of hitting a LOT of stuff you didn’t intend to.

      Secondly, I suspect that this would be unenforceable. Unless these people actually become employees and get paid by the company, I don’t think a non-compete is enforceable.

  9. a real bob*

    I’m guessing one of the super remote places in the middle of freakin nowhere Russia at one of the old weapons sites being administered by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency.

  10. Interviewer*

    I agree that the daily calls sound a bit oppressive. Like, “Hey, we’re so excited that you’re joining our cult! Are you packed yet?” I picture you guys trying to solve the problem with really long meetings where you set up a schedule of regular check-ins, making sure you’re in front of them, reminding them about the job, asking if they’re ready to go. You’re hearing all the right things on the phone, but people don’t show up for the travel. Because they are FREAKING OUT with all the phone calls. But you don’t know that. So you have another round of really long meetings where you question everything, and make a game plan to double down on the contact with candidates, and instead of getting better, it’s getting worse. Am I even close?

    I realize it’s not always possible for them to visit the area before accepting an offer, so they know what’s up, but do they get a chance to connect with any of the people they will work with, maybe a supervisor or site director? After the offer is accepted, that’s one legitimate phone call that could make a huge difference. Having that connection as you head off for parts unknown could be a good way to cement the offer acceptance.

    Aside from that, the ones who bolt are finding a reason to do so, and any data you can get from that group will help you going forward.

    1. Kyrielle*

      Yeah, the phone calls would have me second-guessing, and probably bolting. That’s…just weird, and overly pushy. An occasional, *emailed*, “Just touching base and letting you know the process is continuing, current schedule is X. If you have any questions, feel free to call me at (number)” wouldn’t be weird, but even weekly calls would be a bit odd, and daily? I’d freak out.

    2. Angela*

      Yes, daily calls to someone who*wants* to work in a more isolated area is probably not the best idea. Personally, I’d take the path of least resistance, say everything was good to go, while freaking out about the constant contact from a company I don’t even work for yet (assuming I’d be micromanaged to an extreme) and frantically look for another job.

      1. irritable vowel*

        This is a really good point. The people who take these jobs are probably not the kind of people who are going to want to deal with constant check-ins from an HR person. OP, your recruiters may be doing the exact opposite of what their intention is by being off-putting to folks who find a remote field assignment desirable.

    3. JMegan*

      I was going to suggest the same. Skip the daily phone calls from the recruiter, and instead hook them up with somebody who is currently working on site. Do this as part of the interview process, or at minimum as part of the offer. Don’t wait until after they have accepted the offer – you want to make it clear that this information should be a factor in their decision to accept or refuse an offer.

      You can arrange a call/email/Skype conversation, and give the candidate a chance to ask all the “what’s it REALLY like?” questions that they may not ask a recruiter.

      1. Chickaletta*

        This is a great idea. Have them start making connections and possible friendships before they even leave so they have someone they’re looking forward to meeting. Maybe set up an open chat room / Facebook page for employees and new hires. We have this for exchange students so that before they leave the country they can connect with the other exchange students and ones who’ve been to the country before and they can bounce concerns off each other, ask questions, get reassurance, etc.

      2. katamia*

        That’s a great idea, unlike daily phone calls. I’d let all their calls go to voicemail pretty quickly.

    4. Shannon*

      Yeah, I don’t even talk to family that I don’t live with every day and I love them. It reeks of desperation.

      Don’t your recruiters have better things to do?

      I love the idea of a welcome packet. Give them all the appropriate welcome information about the location. Give them the boss’s work contact info. Maybe start an email list for new employees that briefly talks about things that are going on at the Wall (this week, we had a brick counting contest and pot luck! Bob won the contest with 70 bricks counted! Everyone brought their family’s favorite dish! We also made strides in our mission to support the wall by providing 9 new braces!) And maybe a weekly or biweekly email letting them know where their hiring paperwork is at, touching base and offering to let you reach out to the recruiter.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I don’t understand the need for daily calls. It’s kind of clingy. It would frighten me and I would think twice.

  11. YourUnfriendlyPhlebotomist*

    Do you need a phlebotomist because it sound like the challenge I need. More practically maybe you could host your final rounds of “interviews” on location. Obviously these people would have already gone through clearances but I assume that that would have been happening by the final rounds of interviews anyway. Bringing your candidates to the location could weed out the uneasy people, or reply here for my number and I can start in 2 weeks. ;-)

    1. Katie the Fed*

      Agreed, but like I explained above the company probably put itself in a bit of a bind. They told the government “we can get you 20 contractors at a pittance” and the government said “good deal! You win” and now they can’t.

      1. caligirl*

        My company just lost a contract to another company that bid the pittance. None of our people are going to leave and go to the incoming company so it will be interesing to see what happens and if they can really fill those ‘pittance positions’.

        1. Katie the Fed*

          If my experience is any indication, it’ll be filled with terrible people who can hardly string a sentence together, or good people who leave as soon as they can find something better. I’m glad I’m not a contractor. :/

          1. Anon On This One*

            This is the crazy side of the whole bidding process. Most of the people where I work are not making what the market supports, but they love what they do and who we help so they’re willing to let it go. Up to a point. There’s been a lot of discussion recently about allowing for better salaries to help with retention, but the truth is our contract was awarded because the company said they could do it as cheaply as possible. That doesn’t do anyone any good; especially not the people we serve.

      2. Dan*

        Yeah… sorry to the OP, but as one who makes his living off the government dime (albeit not a fed), I have ZERO sympathy for companies who bid low and then try to offer low ball salaries. The situation the OP is in is finding out that the free market is telling the company that their offered wages, are, in fact, “not competitive” (despite any advertising materials to the contrary.)

        In this case, the company either takes a loss or doesn’t perform on the contract. It’s a bad or miscalculated business decision either way, but oh well. Such is life.

        1. Katie the Fed*

          Yep. And the government is a bit at fault here too. Senior managers so often count quantity over quality – so the company can provide the quantity of people but they’re….problematic.

          Bottom line in this situation is that it’s a supply and demand problem. OP is competing for a limited resource (cleared contractors) that’s in high demand. The only way to compensate for that is more money, because this is the kind of job you take to get a boatload of tax-free money for a year or two and then pay off your mortgage.

      3. The IT Manager*

        I’m seeing the same thing of a sort. “I’m not telling you how to do the job (because I can’t), but I can’t figure out how you’re going to do the work with only a team of three.”

      4. Aglaia761*

        I’m a gov’t contractor and maybe it’s because I’m in a different sector, but price only accounts for 1/3 of the selection criteria for my contracts.

        Not only do I need to have a good price, but I also have to meet all of the SOW requirements AND prove via references that I’ve handled similar contracts in the past. Those two things are worth 2/3 of the criteria and outweigh the price.

        1. The Cosmic Avenger*

          There’s been a push the last 5-10 years for contracting officers to be required to accept the “least cost technically acceptable” bid. That means that if Company A is a world leader with people who are universally recognized as world experts and leaders in their field, and they regularly revolutionize the industry, the government will have to contract with Company B if they meet the bare minimum in the RFP and bid $1 less than Company A.

          The concept (not paying for a Tesla when all you need is something to delivery pizzas) is not unsound, but the implementation is deeply flawed.

    2. Dan*

      Yup. The OP writes that they tried bonuses and increasing pay, and “it didn’t work.” What didn’t work was the *amounts* that were offered. Enough money will get people into places like this.

      1. LBK*

        But I think part of the reason that works is similar to the psychology of 30 day free trials/money back guarantees – you’re banking on people being attracted by something that seems like a good deal and then being trapped by their own laziness. In the OP’s situation, the employees have weeks or months to just sit around and wait for buyer’s remorse to set in. I can see even an outrageously high salary slowly losing its appeal as you dwell on whether you really want to do this job for 90 days.

        1. Dan*

          Well, I think in the OP’s position, employees have weeks or months to find a better job. If I’m on the market, and a below-market offer comes in with a long delay between acceptance and start date, I’ll accept the offer and continue to look. There is absolutely no risk to me in accepting said offer, so why would I turn it down?

          Pay me enough money, and I’m not going to keep looking. The whole point of taking jobs in places like the OP is trying to fill is to sock away crap tons of money for a short period of working. If the OP can’t offer that, then she won’t fill the positions.

          1. LBK*

            The whole point of taking jobs in places like the OP is trying to fill is to sock away crap tons of money for a short period of working.

            Oh, that’s a good point. I hadn’t thought of it that way. I think if we’re getting into that realm, though, we may be outside the OP’s budget constraints or ability to control, so other suggestions are probably still more helpful.

          2. Katie the Fed*

            This is why I think they should start them at HQ (or another office) as soon as they sign. Have them start working, or at least going through the motions and getting paid. Then they’re employed while they’re waiting for the paperwork to get them to their destination. Companies do this a lot with people between contracts.

          3. Honeybee*

            Dude, this. The only way I’m going to work in Siberia or Minot is if you offer me an obscene amount of money so I can put in my 18-24 months, pay off some debt, sock away some serious cash because there’s nothing to do and build some impressive experience so I can get the heck out.

    3. ComputerGeek*

      Seems very simple.

      If you paid $1M per year, I suspect you’d have fewer candidates dropping out before they started.

      That’s too much? I bet $500k would still be attractive enough.

      Some place around $100k might not be enough if people have other options.

      So there you go…back of the napkin says that unless you’re paying between $100-500k, you need to look at salary first.

      1. Dan*

        Why do you think $100k is enough? I make that state side, and I’m on the low side of salary at my company. What would it take to get me to take a job in tough conditions? Enough money to pay off my $100k student loan debt and save for a healthy house down payment in 2-3 years. We’re looking at $200k minimum…. $300k would be gravy.

        1. Ad Astra*

          I would move just about anywhere for a job in my field that paid $100k a year. How’s the nightlife on Mars?

        2. Katie the Fed*

          I knew married couples in Iraq who were going to stay there for 3-4 years. They got to live together, had no living expenses, and could save all that sweet, sweet tax free money. People made their fortunes there.

        3. Elle the new fed*

          Keep in mind it’s $100k and living expenses are likely paid and there may even be tax breaks. Solid money in the bank sounds pretty great to me.

        4. Chinook*

          “Why do you think $100k is enough? I make that state side, and I’m on the low side of salary at my company. What would it take to get me to take a job in tough conditions? ”

          I think part of the problem is looking only at the dollar side of compensation. What are the other perks? Do you get flown back to civilization for free once a year? How is the internet/telephone/smoke signal communication set-up and at what price? How easy is to make myself comfortable there? Do I only get to bring 2 suitcases with me and live in government accommodations or can I have furniture shipped up at a reasonable cost? What is the cost of food and its availability? Is it a dry community? These are all things I would (and have) considered before working up in Northern Alberta, never mind more remote locations. Money is only part of the factor.

  12. Case of the Mondays*

    I hate suggesting this but if you have a contract, you can include penalties. You can’t force work out of someone but you can make it miserable for them to refuse to work. Your contract could state by accepting this job you agree that company is going to do x, y and z in preparation for your start and that costs the company $5,000. If you renege from this agreement you will be responsible for $5,000 in liquidated damages to the company.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      Exactly what I was thinking. Although, I don’t really think of it as a penalty, more as making sure the candidate really, really is thinking it through before accepting.
      “We will pay this with the understanding that you will begin work on x day. If you do not begin work, you will be charged $x for security clearance, $y for flight booking…” It would make me think twice.

      1. neverjaunty*

        It would make me think twice about accepting the offer, ever. Who in their right mind would sign on for this, knowing that if you got a better offer, or found out something terrible about the job, or had to back out because of a family emergency, that they’d charge you money? It would just mean that the acceptance rate would drop to zero.

        Also, good luck enforcing it.

        1. Honeybee*

          Mmm, not necessarily. My company covers relocation costs for certain roles, and the relocation package is phenomenal. I’ve heard it estimated that the value’s around $20K. But the catch is that if you leave before you’ve worked there 12 months you have to repay the costs. I thought that was fair. First of all, once you accept a job offer you aren’t supposed to keep looking for better offers – accepting a job, continuing to look, and then reneging if you get a better offer is unethical. Second of all, exceptions can be made for family emergencies or other contingencies – the clause is designed for people who would use the relo to move to a new city and then bounce to work somewhere else.

    2. Mike C.*

      This is really the wrong way to go. Seriously folks, the answer is not to punish people for changing their minds about working what is likely a very, very dangerous place.

      1. LBK*

        But they aren’t being coerced into applying or accepting the job in the first place. Assuming the company is being transparent about what’s expected throughout the hiring process, it kinda seems like it’s your own fault if you knowingly apply for a job in a dangerous location.

        1. LBK*

          And because I’m sure the argument will be made that the job market is so bad that people are forced to take anything – there is a huge gap between being forced to take something part-time/low paying/outside your industry to pay the bills and being forced to take a job that requires relocating to an apparently distant and dangerous place. I find it extremely hard to believe there’s anyone that can’t find any other job besides that one.

          1. Dan*

            “I find it extremely hard to believe there’s anyone that can’t find any other job besides that one.”

            I completely agree with you, and I assume everybody else does too! I don’t think people are accepting and reneging to sit on their butts, I think they’re reneging and *taking other jobs*. Remember, the OP’s problem are high drop out rates pre-start, not people who quit early once in the field.

            1. LBK*

              Often when people defend quitting a job early on or continuing to job hunt after starting a role, the argument is that because the job market still isn’t great, it’s justifiable to accept any job you can find to pay the bills and then move on once you find something you actually want. My point is that I don’t think that applies here because I don’t think anyone is committing to moving across the world out of desperation, which might be more understandable – they’re purposely accepting in bad faith and banking on the fact that they’ll have something better before they have to move.

              1. Dan*

                You can call it bad faith if you want, but the reality is with so many acceptances come drop-outs, the “market” is telling the OP that her company is undesirable to work for given the offered terms.

                Assume that KatieTheFeds’s assessment is correct and the company low balled the bid with below market rates, and I’d have to ask, who operated in bad faith? Companies with competitive salaries and benefits have high acceptance and retention rates, with very few no-shows pre-start.

                This kind of thing is a side effect of the “at will” employment model. You want people to commit to working for you? Commitment is a two way street. When you really need it, you make it binding both ways by offering a contract.

                1. LBK*

                  I wouldn’t say it’s operating in bad faith to submit a low ball bid if you think you can actually fulfill it and turn out to be wrong.

                  I think we’re way off track from the point I was debating here, which was Mike’s statement that you shouldn’t punish people for changing their minds about wanting the job. All I was trying to say is that quitting a job right after you start is always frowned on and I don’t think the situation here is an exception, and that given the various factors I don’t think it’s unethical to ask for a contract or other binding arrangement.

                2. Kyrielle*

                  And it would actually work for the goal: people who are intending to keep looking and will only take the job if they don’t get anything better would not want to sign that contract, and would not accept.

                  You would probably also lose some candidates who would work out but get nervous – but you’d reduce the “operating in questionable faith” candidate pool by a huge margin.

                  Although it may also be that some candidates don’t realize that it will take so long, need a job sooner, and keep hunting because they _need a job now_. Then they get one, and if it looks pretty rosy, they drop out. The earlier suggestion of having candidates start working in some capacity right away (and getting paid) would help with that one, and as a carrot, is preferable to the stick. IMO.

        2. Charityb*

          The risk with tacking on fines/penalties etc. to lock people in is that this sounds like one of those fields where workers are in high demand and have plenty of other options. People in those positions tend not to take kindly to things that are that heavy-handed, especially if this is unusual in the industry. (It’s different if the industry commonly has non-competes and long-term employment contracts of course). The most talented/skilled employees will weed themselves out and the OP’s company will be left with people who are either unqualified or desperate.

          It’s definitely something that they could consider, but I’m skeptical of how effective something like that would be. (This is setting aside ethical considerations of course, which are certainly worth discussing). I can totally relate to the frustration that the company’s team is going through but it’s hard to be overly coercive with people even if they willingly agreed to apply to the job.

          1. LBK*

            I agree that you’ll likely turn away the best people since they’ll have options, but if the highly qualified people are all quitting and taking those other jobs anyway before they even do any work, does that really leave your company better off than accepting the mediocre person who’s willing to sign a contract? Related to yesterday’s Inc. article, this may be a situation where any employee is better than no employee.

            1. Charityb*

              That’s a good point. I guess the issue then is that the company has to decide if that would work. *Are* there people desperate enough to get themselves entangled in something like this? Are those people at least minimally qualified? I definitely agree that you don’t always need the top performer; sometimes just having a warm body is good enough, but there are other situations where it’s better to bow out of a contract than to send whoever you can scrounge up off the streets, especially if the work is highly sensitive or if the company’s reputation (among their clients) is valuable.

      2. AndersonDarling*

        I think the location is just secluded. If it is in a war zone, then the recruiter shouldn’t be taking folks off the street and expecting to plop them in a barracks. They should be stationed at other less traumatic locations first.
        I hope that isn’t the case here.

        1. Kelly L.*

          Yeah, I’m picturing isolation and horrible weather. But I suppose there might also be ice zombies.

          1. Nursey Nurse*

            I *hate* it when I show up at a new work site and find that it is plagued by ice zombies. It inevitably means we’re going to be chronically understaffed.

            1. Barney Gumble*

              Just because an ice zombie didn’t go to college doesn’t mean it can’t be trained to do the job. A lot of it is just prejudice — “An ice zombie? Working for MY company? Our customers would leave in droves!” Ice zombies are dedicated workers, often have a deep familiarity with the job sites, and (I’ll point out) have no trouble adopting to swing shifts.

              1. Nursey nurse*

                Yes, but they also have an unfortunate tendency to devour their colleagues every time they start feeling a bit peckish.

                1. Barney Gumble*

                  That’s usually an issue with catering — a lot of catering services have trouble meeting the dietary requirements of a diverse workforce. They’ll say, “Hey, we have a vegetarian option!” and leave it at that. If you do your catering through a contractor, there are some very good ones that have reliable options for ice zombies.

                  Occasionally I’ve found that it’s a badge issue, especially with the break room cleaning staff. A quick announcement about break room courtesy and clearly labeling both lunches and employees solved that one for me.

          1. Charityb*

            That’s not necessarily true. Lots of people have security clearances without having work experience in remote or inhospitable locations. In fact, there are plenty of jobs that require secret or top secret clearances but have nothing to do with foreign military installations; it’s not even safe to assume that someone with a clearance has ever even worked abroad.

            1. Red Rose*

              My husband has his clearance and works with many others who do. All of his work has been in the not remote (although sometimes inhospitable) location of northern Virginia.

          2. Aunt Vixen*

            I had a TS clearance that I barely needed for seven years. The fact that I had it made it easier to get another job when I was laid off under the sequester, and within about two weeks of getting to the new gig and the clearance actually being relevant I knew I didn’t want to stay. And both those jobs were in the DC area, not on any base.

        2. Ghost Umbrella*

          It’s not folks off the street. It’s already-cleared folks with experience in this field. Probably former military, a lot of ’em, because that’s how many defense contractors get clearances to begin with.

      3. Chicken*

        I think it’s pretty shitty to punish people who have a change of circumstances and opt not to go, but reasonable to do what you can to ensure that only serious candidates who are truly willing to relocate accept the job.

        Part of that is probably increasing pay (if possible), and part of it is making sure that candidates understand what they are agreeing to BEFORE they formally accept the job – meaning that you should expect far fewer people to take the job in the first place. I do think it’s reasonable to ask candidates to commit to the job at some point though – as much as this company could be doing a better job recruiting candidates, the candidates should be letting the potential employer know that the job won’t work for them more than one day before the job starts!

      4. Zillah*

        what is likely a very, very dangerous place.

        I agree that penalties aren’t the answer, but I’m not sure where you’re getting this from. It’s a pretty significant detail, and I don’t think the OP would have left it out if it was the case.

    3. Wilton Businessman*

      Nobody in their right mind is going to accept a contract that penalizes them if they change their mind before they start. Besides, do you really want an employee to show up under duress?

      1. Case of the Mondays*

        Such contracts are actually common for positions that include training. I signed one when my company paid for my bar exam and bar prep before I started (I’d pay it back if I didn’t show) and my husband signed one when he went to a training academy for 6 weeks before the job (he’d pay his tuition back if he didn’t show). Both contracts had exceptions for certain no-fault scenarios like disability in the meantime. If I got hit by a truck and lived but couldn’t work I wouldn’t have to pay it back. If I just went to another firm I would.

        1. Natalie*

          Training makes more sense because you, the employee, are actually getting something of value that can be easily quantified. I doubt a contract that penalized you for not starting would even be enforceable if no consideration is being given to the employee.

      2. One of the Sarahs*

        Or if there’s a month to the start date and they get sick/their family gets sick, etc etc

  13. Jady*

    Are contracts an option? That seems the most obvious way to ‘lock’ someone in before you start paying for travel tickets if you want to go that route. You could offer a signing bonus too.

    Stop the calls. That would annoy the hell out of me and push me away from the company. It makes me think the company doesn’t have their stuff together and micromanages. I would be a big red flag. A few calls is fine given the nature of the commitment, but no more than 2 a week. Even that I think might be too much though.

    The biggest way to guarantee the lock though is a better salary. Your salary not only has to be competitive for the position against other companies, but also competitive given the pains of the job as well. If people are moving halfway across the world to an awful place, it better well be worth it. Also look into better benefits if possible – more vacation time to visit family, pay for their travel expenses home for vacation, bonuses the longer they are with the company, etc.

    1. Dan*

      TBH, better benefits almost always equals more money.

      The company is likely trying to staff this project with a certain budget, and is now finding that they can’t perform.

  14. JM*

    Can you have a responsible, trustworthy employee who works at that site to call or email the candidate, after they accept, to have an honest discussion of what to expect, how they deal with problems, etc.? Maybe having a one-on-one with someone who actually works there and deals with the day-to-day issues would be more believable and reassuring than hearing it from “corporate.”

    1. Addiez*

      I would do it before! Then you might scare off already-accepted people when what you really want is people to be informed when they accept their offers.

      1. INTP*

        I actually like the idea of doing it post-acceptance because people tend to have tunnel vision pre-acceptance and just want to get the job so their options are open, then decide whether they want it or not. If they already have their offer, maybe they’ll be (even unconsciously) more open to really hearing what the employee is saying about the difficulties of the placement rather than treating it like another stage of the interview and trying to come across like they are totally into the idea of challenging geography. Maybe it could be encouraged to have that conversation before formally accepting the offer, so that they don’t waste too much time on paperwork?

    2. LBK*

      Oh, I like this, and I agree with Addiez that it should be before an official offer is made – something along the lines of “We’re interested in making you an offer but we want to ensure you have a realistic picture of the role before we give you any numbers.”

    3. AnonAcademic*

      This is what I was thinking – maybe even assign them a mentor/buddy who helps orient them to the process? They might be able to help ease the transition from acceptance from starting, and even if not, they might be able to find out from candidates who withdraw what their reasons were.

  15. AnotherHRPro*

    One other thought… If you don’t already, give the candidates access to people who have gone to the Wall. Let them talk to and meet people who have been there, done that. The more of a realistic work preview you can provide the better. If it is possible to send them to the Wall (or to the town near the Wall) during the selection process that would be good as well. You want people who accept the offer to fully understand what they are agreeing to and have facts that they are basing their decision on. Without that, they might start second guessing their decision and back out.

    1. Jill*

      This is what I was going to suggest. I would bet you have a lot of candidates just doing some internet research or hearing doom and gloom predictions from friends and family and changing their mind because of that. You’ve gotta be spending a lot of time and money on all these false starts with candidates….might some of that money and time be better spent flying strong candidates to the site? Once people actually get a chance to explore the area and talk to those already there their fears may be set aside.

      If physically getting them there for a site visit isn’t feasible, can you at least Skype with people already there? Maybe put together a video tour of the site, surrounding area, possible living and recreational spaces, etc?

  16. AMT 2*

    Is it possible to have people start *before* they fly out? Maybe just getting people into some sort of training onsite at your main office or wherever, so that they actual begin working for the company a week or two before leaving, would help retain them long enough to get them on the plane. Its a lot easier to back out having never started, plus it would give the employees time to get acquainted with the company, policies, job responsibilities, other employees, ask questions, etc. Hopefully they could have any doubts reassured by being there in person in a way that daily recruiter phone calls just cant do it.

    1. AMT 2*

      Something like this would work well with the one-on-one, mentoring type options mentioned in the two posts above…

    2. Meg Murry*

      I was going to suggest this too. Ok, so the person doesn’t have the paperwork in place to go to Westeros yet. Can they go to an office for a few weeks for “training” of some kind first? So 2 weeks after hire, ship them to somewhere that’s not-quite-Westeros and that civilians can get to, run some training classes and maybe some exercise classes, and then ship everyone from there to Westeros at once. Maybe if you ship a “class” of people together, they will be more likely to go.

      How long are we talking between the initial offer and the day they are scheduled to fly out? And is the person getting paid anything between now and then? If you told me “sure, you have the job, you’ll fly out in 3 months” – well, unless I have a position right now I can stay in for another 2.5 months, I’m going to keep looking for those 3 months, because in the meantime I have bills to pay. Or for that matter, between the time the person first applies and the time they ship out? If I applied to something 3 months before I got told “you’ve been picked” and then it took another 3 months to actually ship me out? I would have been searching that whole time for a Plan B (or considered your job Plan B and been searching for Plan A).

    3. DisenchantedinDC*

      Yes, this. Does your company carry a bench at all? Even bringing people on for 2 weeks and getting them started and paid would probably go a long way.

      I work for a tiny company that could never do this. But it might be a real cost of getting candidates in.

    4. Silver Radicand*

      I agree with this as well.
      In the National Guard, when someone was on the Delayed Entry Program, they would enter a training group with others waiting to go to basic and would still drill regularly and go over the basic thing they would need in basic. This early commitment helped give the soldiers a better view of what actual drills and basic would be like.

      If the process of getting paperwork together is taking too long and essentially isn’t guaranteed (what if the background check fails!), the incentive to continue the search and reason to worry is pretty high. Once an offer is made, making arrangements and starting the job as soon as possible may help reduce the pre-employment losses.
      (I get the same issue hiring for an outdoor job with winter approaching. Get them started as soon as possible, while the alternative is no-money, not less-money-but-inside)

  17. TB*

    The first thing that popped into my mind is that they’re discovering something bad about the employer, or the conditions, or both, long after accepting the job. Like, maybe you describe it as a 4 on a scale of 1-10, and afterward they do some research and discover it’s actually a 0.5. So is it possible you’re not getting them to understand the actual conditions, and after they accept, they get on the internets and find out what they’re getting into? Have you googled your company/location enough to find out what’s being said about it?

    1. neverjaunty*

      This is a really good point. If people are dropping out right before starting, something is happening that changes their minds.

    2. Honeybee*

      This was my thought, too. I mean, it’s possible that the months between have people mull it over or get better offers, but if this is literally 70% of people I think something bigger is the issue here. And the first thing I thought of is that people are hearing some bad stuff about your company post-acceptance that is scaring them off.

    3. Rana*

      I wonder if it’s because, after accepting, they then have to “sell” the position to family and friends? When it’s before acceptance, I can imagine a lot of spouses saying some variant of “Sure, honey, if that’s what you want” and then rethinking it when the possibility becomes a reality. Or friends squelching their reservations while the job’s just an idea, but revealing them when it seems that their friend might actually take that job. OP couldn’t do anything about the friends, but finding some way to get the candidates’ spouses into the loop might be helpful, like a relocation package that talks about that side of things.

      Of course, this is all speculation. OP needs to figure out what’s actually going on with these candidates, not just what might be going on.

  18. CaliCali*

    I think it can partly be ascribed to a better economy. People have more options, and if you’re staring down “good pay but out in Siberia” versus “OK pay but a 30-minute commute,” 99% of people are going to go with the more convenient option. As mentioned above, people with clearances tend to be in high demand, and any candidate who makes it to the offer stage with you is likely in talks with someone else as well. Even if they take it, they may be hedging their bets, especially given the glacial pace of government contracting and hiring.

    Also, other questions: 1) is the nature of the work/location such that people can bring their families? 2) if so, given the remote location, is it enough pay to run a household on with a single income? How does pay compare to COL in that isolated area? And 3) if one can’t bring their families, how frequently are workers able to travel home? Is that travel cost paid by the company? I think that’s another factor — far-off military bases are not usually conducive to any kind of family life, and many mid-level professionals have that as a consideration as well.

  19. hbc*

    I wonder if having an interview question like “What would be the most likely reason you would turn down this job offer?” would yield any interesting results. Or “What do you see as the biggest drawback of the position?”

    No one is going to tell you that they’d take any offer in a better location, but there might be a pattern of responses. If 80% have concerns about the weather, maybe you want to give more weight to candidates who’ve actually lived in similar climates, send them on a test run at a similar location, or at least spend more time on the topic (whether to scare them away or reassure them.) If they’re concerned about family, offer an orientation-type meeting before they sign up, or hook up a family member from someone there to talk honestly about the experience, or showcase (start creating?) the little niceties that make it not so bad for families there.

    But the best data will come from the 70% who bailed. At least, those who weren’t just scared off by the daily (shudder) calls.

  20. Christian Troy*

    I think you need to find out why people are flaking out before you can find a solution. I like the idea someone mentioned above about doing surveys for gift cards because if it turns out they’re leaving for more money, then you know they’re leaving for more money. If they’re leaving because they don’t have any exposure to the Wall and freak out when it comes to actually leaving, then you might have to change your hiring practices and exclude people who have not been there or in similar environments. A lot of global health jobs (compensated positions, not like go volunteer if you pay 5k) will automatically exclude people who have not lived/worked in resource poor countries because they don’t want people flaking out before or freaking out when they get there.

  21. Gene*

    I was thinking Johnston Atoll, but that base was closed early in the century. I was THIS close to taking a job there in the early 80s, but I met the woman who was my first wife about the same time. And then got a local job offer.

    I go along with the “Sign a contract at job acceptance with monetary penalties for backing out” sentiment.

  22. the_scientist*

    I believe the term is “hazard pay”.

    But in all seriousness, the short answer is probably that the money isn’t worth the isolation/harsh living conditions. For example, I work in a healthcare related research field. I have an advanced degree, and I live and work in an expensive city. I make over 60K but less than 70K a year, which isn’t bad for someone only two years out of grad school. If I were to take my skills to Nunavut/NWT/Yukon, I’d be making at least 100K a year, and probably closer to 120, plus I’d get a “northern bonus” of an additional 10-30K per year for every year I worked there, depending on the level of remoteness of the community. Now, in some communities a litre of milk costs $15, so the high salary and bonus is in part to offset the high cost of living there, but it’s also to make it attractive to work in fly-in community of 500 people, where is stays dark 24/7 for several months of the year (for example). These positions also have primo benefits and vacation time, all part of making the job attractive/tolerable. Even then, people who are not from these communities generally don’t stay there long; it’s simply too hard. So bottom line, people are probably dropping out because you’re not making it worth their while- a generous signing bonus could be helpful, or better benefits/more vacation time, if you can’t offer higher salaries.

    1. Dan*

      The OP “tried all that” but as I mentioned elsewhere in the thread, they’re not offering *enough* of higher salaries and/or signing bonuses.

      Keep in mind that “better benefits” in lieu of wages still come at a cost, it’s just a shell game large companies play. If I have to give someone an extra three months of vacation, that’s three months of work that isn’t getting done or that I have to pay someone to cover.

    2. TB*

      But if that’s the case, why is it taking would-be employees so long to figure that out? Why do they commit and then back out at the last minute?

    3. Chinook*

      “I believe the term is “hazard pay”.

      Up here it is called “isolation pay” or “northern pay” which is not only a bonus but also reflects that this type of location is often a lot more expensive to live in some ways (think $10 loaf of bread). You can make a killing if you are willing to adapt but, if you want a lifestyle similar to what you had down south, you will be lucky to break even. If you aren’t aware of this reality before you accept a job, then quick research could become very eye opening, especially since the most interesting and popular blog posts usually involve complaining and worst case scenarios.

  23. Ghost Umbrella*

    OP, your company probably A) is not paying enough to make people take this job if other options present themselves, B) has a bad reputation for how it treats its employees/contractors, or both. You say you raised the pay, but you probably didn’t raise it enough. Everyone still remembers how easy it was to make six figures overseas not that long ago, and the cleared job market is no longer as dismal as it was right after the sequester.

    Also, we talk amongst ourselves. If I tell my friend that I just signed on with So-and-So Company to go to the Wall for a year, and she tells me that So-and-So treated her poorly, or didn’t have their shit together, or was just generally shady, I’m going to have second thoughts about working for them.

  24. INTP*

    If there are plenty of applicants, is it possible to be more selective about who is offered these jobs? You may not find people with experience at that particular location, but maybe try making it a requirement that people for that location have worked in other highly undesirable locations so they really know what they’re getting into.

    Otherwise, more money. I don’t agree with the non-compete contract. If you’re hiring people for a location like this and evidently not paying enough that it’s worth their while to actually go do the work, then you’re going to be dealing with people who are only interested in the job due to a lack of other options, and people backing out when an option presents itself is a part of the deal. (It’s kind of like when a company hires someone to work part-time, or on a contract/temp basis, or requires insane hours with average pay, then gets upset when they leave as soon as they get a full-time, direct hire, and/or reasonably demanding job. If you don’t want your employees to leave the second they find something better, then invest more in them.) I don’t think trying to extort people is an appropriate way to deal with it – raise your pay and selectivity if you can’t keep absorbing the cost.

    1. INTP*

      Also, I agree with Alison’s suggestion to consider whether you’re adequately letting people know what they’re getting into. Even if you don’t intend to deceive or bait-and-switch, there can just be an instinct to sugar coat things or err on the side of optimism because that’s what’s socially acceptable most of the time. It’s only natural to try to make the best impression possible when you’re interviewing someone you like. I would actually err on the side of overstating the hardships. Try to scare them a little in the interview – tell them what they’ll find when they google it (because they’re going to do that for sure). (And again, hire people who are experienced with undesirable locations who would already know this place’s reputation.)

  25. olympiasepiriot*

    I’m with the people who are saying lay off the daily calls. That would be a real turnoff to the kind of person who would thrive in possibly dangerous isolation.

    No idea of the skill set, but maybe you should target recruiting to environments with people who do other isolated jobs in extreme places, especially with similar weather.

    Some of us are good at that, some aren’t.

  26. Collarbone High*

    Have you tried a sponsorship program, the way the military does? When a servicemember is assigned a new duty station, they’re paired up with someone who’s already there, several weeks before they’re scheduled to arrive. That person (the sponsor) acts as their POC for everything from paperwork hassles to personal questions like “Do I need to bring a year’s supply of my favorite shampoo, or can I buy it there?” The sponsor is also encouraged to help the new person integrate into life in the new location by including them in social activities, teaching them cultural mores, etc.

    If not, this might help the contractors feel more confident in the assignment, by talking to someone who’s already working there (ideally, choose sponsors who love the assignment and will project that) and by removing a lot of uncertainty about what the assignment will be like. It also might make them feel more accountable (now if they back out, they’re letting down this person they’ve befriended, not just a faceless bureaucrat) and the sponsors could alert you if they get the sense the new hire is about to back out.

  27. Blue_eyes*

    Could you arrange for candidates to talk to someone who is currently or was previously at this location? I know that could be difficult to arrange, but it might make candidates feel more at ease and get a better understanding of what they’re getting in to. Alternatively, you could have people who are there write some kind of “guide book” or “what to expect when you live in _____” booklet that you could give to people after you offer them a position.

  28. Mando Diao*

    I think the daily phone calls are skewing the time line here. These hires probably decide early on that they aren’t actually going to follow through on this job, but they’re saying “Sure, okay, whatever” on the phone every day so OP assumes that the hires are still in the game when they really never were. They’re not bailing at the last minute; they never intended to go if they could help it, and they’re saying what the recruiters want to hear so they can get off the phone.

    Another issue is that if a company is oppressive enough to call every day to “check in” on me and is already communicating with me that often, I probably wouldn’t want to initiate a conversation about why I don’t want to work there after all. I would assume that they would call back three or four times a day to get me to change my mind.

    Is there a way to run background checks on the hires before the travel is booked? OP might be able to see if some of them have already filed W-4’s for new jobs.

  29. Kimberlee, Esq.*

    Can you do it like airlines do and overbook? Hire 150 people when you have 100 slots, or something like that? Since your dropout rate is so known and so high, it sounds like it would be uncommon for you to end up in a situation where you have to eat extra payroll expense when everyone shows up.

    1. Noah*

      This is what I was thinking too, and maybe switch to buying refundable tickets.

      I work for an airline. When we open a new city we usually hire at least double the amount of staff needed because so many people will not complete training. The pay isn’t that great, and the hours suck. Some of that is made up for with flight benefits, but not all.

  30. gsa*

    I know of a vbb that posts these kinds of jobs. Their vetting to be able to post is regulated. It is a military focused site, but the job listings section will be helpful to the OP.

    Ms. Greene,

    I will post up the www for that site if that is OK.

    Please let me know.


  31. Barney Gumble*

    Maybe a stupid question, but if the bottleneck is a shortage of cleared contractors making it easy for those with clearances to act the way they are acting, might it be worth-while to go through the process of getting someone their first clearances rather than looking for people that already have them? Which option is more expensive?

    1. Katie the Fed*

      It can take up to a year to get a clearance, and if they don’t get it you’ve wasted a lot of time/money.

        1. Aunt Vixen*

          Plus there may not be a year’s worth (or however long) of work they can do without having the clearance. The job where I got my clearance, there was plenty of unclassified work to do and an unclassified area of the building where uncleared people sat. The job I switched to, there was hardly any unclassified space in the building and if you were hired for a job that required a clearance it was because they needed you to do that work specifically. Many years ago a friend of mine got a job offer with a start date dependent on the clearance coming through–and the clearance process took so long that he and the employer mutually decided okay-never-mind a year and a half later. Luckily he hadn’t given notice at his previous job in the meantime.

  32. snuck*

    Ok, some of this has been mentioned in comments, I’m hoping some of it is new. It’s long. Sorry ;)

    If people are job hunting then they might be frustrated with the delays in getting clearances and through your slow process, and taking another job in the interim.
    To offset this can you offer them a reduced rate of pay (an onshore rate if you will) that gets them working sooner, and pay coming in sooner. Use this time to do orientation, training, medicals and all manner of other things. (I assume this is when you are down to one person for a role, but wading through process tape.)

    If people are taking other jobs is it an employees market out there – do you need to offer more money, smoother transitions (is there anyone in the industry doing it better than you – ask them to share their processes?) and so on.

    Can you offer sign on bonuses for referrals from existing employees – these guys will then have a better idea of conditions etc. Make these realistic, and contingent on the person actually making it to site and another slice of cash for staying. Really look at this – people in the job already know others in the industry, often know when mates are looking to job hunt before it happens, and will be able to be honest about the conditions with their contacts so it’s not a blind signing. And it’s a double bonus – you get a new employee that knows the gig, and the existing one feels more connected to you and is less likely to leave (because they have friends there, and are listened to, and they’re rewarded).

    Look at your pay rate… is it reasonable for the hoops you are asking people to go through. What is your onboarding cost? Because if it’s costing you money to keep losing these people why not just pay them more and even out the cost overall?

    Between final interview and formal offer acceptance can you get the prospective employee to talk to some people on site, maybe ring in to a team meeting and listen in (to part that’s security clearance ok), and share with them a small bundle of letters or similar that have been written around the job and lifestyle. And then make it clear if they accept your offer you are assuming they will stop accepting other offers – you need to talk about this with them.

    Stop the daily phone calls. Talk about creepy stalker! A weekly call to confirm where they are at with the process of onboarding might be good, but that’s it. If you are wanting to keep tabs on them pay them and put them in an office with you and get them to start doing onboarding training. Ringing every day is controlling with little reward for the employee.

    Take a look at the other benefits you are offering – are you offering enough flights, holidays, health cover… and is it a generous offer (holidays that can be taken as consecutive days/weeks, health cover for everyone in the family, return flights for visitors if possible to a nearby location where the family might holiday together briefly out there if not on base nearby).

    Small things that can be done to increase their loyalty to you in the delay process that really won’t cost much in the overall scheme of things – fit them up for their outfits, order their footwear (you can always rotate it back if they skip out), start organising their logins to systems, add them to non-security-necessary mailing lists that is directly relevant to both job AND lifestyle (ie if there’s a local newsletter), get them to come in and meet other team members when they are in the office building etc. (And pay them. Seriously. If this is a three month process what are they supposed to do for those three months? Sit on their hands and wait?)

  33. Blurgle*

    This sounds *so* much like Alert, Nunavut.

    Is there any way you could screen for people who have lived in smaller or more remote communities? Are you sure you’re compensating them enough given the situation? And do you give them a clear idea of the isolation (and perhaps the weather) *before* you hire them, rather than in those conversations afterwards.

  34. Biff*

    This hasn’t been stated, but… if people cannot bring their pets, see if you can work out getting that changed. People may think “Oh, Mom can take Hercules the Massive Mutt” for a year, but then… when you get right down to the brass tacks, it’s not that Mom can’t take him, it’s that they don’t want to be without him.

  35. Biff*

    Another thought — I wonder if the general interview process is potentially culling the sort of people that will do well on the job. For example, if you are selecting people that are personable, engaging and have a lot of hobbies…. of course they are going to keep looking when reality hits. Someone who is going to do well in isolation might come across as sort of ‘off’ or ‘odd’ in the interview process. I personally put on a ‘face’ for interviews because I know this. But someone who is attracted to the job might think “oh, this is so me, so I just need to be me at the interview.”

    Personally, if I could take my dog and had the internet, I’d happily go hang out at the “Wall of Westeros” for a year. I might even sign up for another tour of duty.

    1. Noah*

      That is an excellent point. I worked for an air ambulance company that has very remote bases. Our crews worked two week shifts, flying into the nearest major airport from across the country and then driving 5-7 hours to get to their assigned base. The ones that could handle the work and the remoteness were not the ones I would want to work with in the office on a day-to-day basis. Just different personality types work better in different situations.

      1. Meg Murry*

        Yes, I have an acquaintance (I wouldn’t quite call him a friend) who has worked as a contractor all over the world doing electrical installations and cell phone tower installations, servicing power lines in the middle of nowhere, etc, mainly on military bases. Honestly, dude is kind of weird, and I bet he doesn’t make the best first impression in interviews. But apparently he’s really good at what he does, and has adapted well to the livestyle of taking various contract jobs – for instance, he no longer has a home in the US, just a storage unit, some family members he stays with from time to time and a favorite extended stay hotel chain.

        Can you see if there is any kind of trend to your hiring, such as “people who have done this before more than 2X are more likely to actually show up, people who have done it once or never tend to back out?”

        Or, since you staff around the globe – if Westeros is your “worst place to be sent”, what is numbers 2-5? Can you try to heavily recruit people who are coming off contracts for locations #2-5 to do a stint in Westeros next? Or see if you can get some kind of rotation going where you offer a deal to someone – rather than do a year stint in Westeros, they do 6 months in desirable location and then 6 months in Westeros for higher pay?

        1. Biff*

          I love the idea of getting a ‘reward’ location but I feel like they gotta do the WHOLE stint to get the reward, otherwise, they may bail after their six months in the Bahamas, you know? I’d be more inclined to say that they get a raise for their NEXT stint at the wall.

    2. bkanon*

      I was thinking this, too. As long as I had internet access, Netflix, and caffeine, I’d probably be thrilled to do an isolated job. Fewer people to deal with daily? Score.

  36. A Reader*

    I bet what happened at the Wall is that you recruited and convinced the new hire, but you didn’t convince their spouse, mortgage, and children’s school district. If spouse ain’t happy, ain’t NOBODY happy.

    1. Rana*

      I had this thought, too. Some sort of support package for the spouse – a guarantee of some sort of work, a support network of other company spouses, an informational website/handbook, etc. – would probably be helpful.

  37. fitz*

    This is easy. They aren’t paying enough. I went to Iraq in 2007 (probably in a similar industry–clearances required, etc) and worked with people who’d been there for plenty of time and stayed quite some time after I left. If you pay enough, people will go. If the money sucks, it isn’t worth it.

  38. Not So NewReader*

    There’s really good suggestions here, OP. I think it could be that this is just a tough slot to hire for. I had one job where they hired twice as many as they needed. By the end of the first week we were down to the number we needed, the attrition was crazy. But they knew that they would lose half at least so they made compensating steps.

    I also think that you are going to find soooo many reasons for backing out that it might not be that helpful to know. “I was mad at my gf/mother/neighbor, but once I calmed down I realized moving to the South Pole was not that great an idea.” or “I lost my job/fiance/house and I decided to throw caution to the wind. Well, I have come back down to earth now and I really don’t want this job in Siberia.” or “I suddenly remembered that I absolutely have to go to the golf course/medical specialist with mom/dust the church pews every week and I cannot do that from West Overshoe.” The point being that if you ask people why they changed their minds, you have no guaranty that they are giving you a real reason, they may offer you a secondary reason to avoid any nastiness- real or imagined.

    I think start at square one, your ad, your recruiter and rethink, rework everything from there forward. Change one area at a time, see where that puts you.
    You could also ask people already working for you if they would recommend people. Maybe offer a finder’s fee for successful hires.

  39. Menacia*

    How about asking those who accepted and actually showed up what made them do so, and if they continued to work there, what they liked, what could be done better, etc.? How long do employees usually stay on at this location, is it just a temporary stop and are then moved elsewhere, or is it a job until you retire/die/quit kind of deal? One other thing, perhaps you should use the comparison of the job location to The Wall in your adverts, might be just the thing to attract those who will not only show up, but stay. :)

  40. Beth*

    Daily phone calls for potentially weeks? That would put me off a dream job, let alone a tough one. It raises flags about the company culture’s attitude towards boundaries -if the environment itself is difficult, you want to be able to get along with your coworkers, not feel distrusted by them.

  41. Employment Lawyer*

    You need to give them incentives to do what you want. Depending on how much this all costs to lose someone, you might want to consider a few things…

    1) Hire them immediately at some temporary and non-classified position, to take them off of the “job hunt” market. Once they have resigned and are working for you, they will be less likely to leave. This will also confirm their willingness to leave their current position, and will help ensure that you aren’t just being used to get more perks at their own job.

    2) Screen applicants for knowledge of the position, in a way that requires them to have that knowledge. I.e. give them warning that you will have a third interview in another week, and at interview #3 you will test their ability to tell you what it will be like there, using publicly available info and the info you give them. People who want the job will put in the work, and then you will be more assured they aren’t dreamers.

    3) If you have authority over your “program manager, recruiters, and deployment staff” then, frankly, consider firing them. If they can’t figure out how to improve beyond 30% retention, no matter what, then perhaps they are not the right team.

  42. Anxa*

    Is there anything you could do for family support?

    I wouldn’t be surprised if people don’t want to leave their families behind. Is there anything you could do to support families (including their own careers and education needs) at your location? Could you help with childcare if it means a two-parent household will become a one-parent household while one parent works with you?

  43. Observer*

    Something I find telling is that you say you tried “everything” but your list does not show any attempt to find out what actually happened – not from those who came and those who didn’t.

    That’s problematic on two levels. One is that you are missing out on you most important source of information. Even if you get different specific information, you should be able to see patterns. The second issue is that it seems to bespeak an attitude issue – and it’s an attitude that could be turning people off.

    I do think that you (as an organization, not personally) need to re-think your attitude. Who really thought that daily calls would be a good idea? It doesn’t sound like anyone has really looked at this from the point of view of the potential employees. If someone had, I think it would have become pretty obvious quite quickly that this is not a good idea. Also, thinking about it from that point of view would have lead you to another important question – why do people keep telling you one thing, then doing the opposite?

    So, what to do?
    1. Start asking people what’s up. Why did they come, why dd they not come, why did they say they are excited and then not show? (Yes, offer a reward if yo need to.)

    2. Reconsider the pay scale.

    3. Think about benefits. It’s not just about money. Google doesn’t do a cafeteria to save people money, but to keep them from needing to leave the campus. etc.

    4. Check out your reputation. Deserved or not, if people hear that you don’t take care of your people, are intrusive or overly demanding, or in some other way not good to work for beyond the problems of “The Wall”, it’s going to make things harder for you.

  44. verrlet*

    I’m betting it is that town in Alaska that goes dark for the winter months so that it is a drawing place for vampires

  45. Tau*

    Okay, so this is obviously less extreme that what you’re talking about, OP, but:

    My current job is entry-level and extremely travel-intensive. I am currently working in our home office and know that any day my boss could say to me, “hey, Tau, we need you in $PLACE starting the day after tomorrow” and then suddenly I’m working on a client site a year, maybe living in a hotel for a big chunk of that, and commuting back home for weekends. Not everyone’s cup of tea.

    Things my company did and does to make sure their candidates don’t flee:

    – They were very, very honest about this in the interview process, being open about both the benefits and drawbacks but stressing the drawbacks and making clear that this is not everyone’s cup of tea.
    – They supply lunch, where the candidates are joined by some current employees who are currently working in or have previously worked in that role. The interviewers leave during lunch and take pains to tell the candidates that they can ask the current employees honest questions and get honest answers and nothing will be filtered back to the interviewers or affect the interview process at all.

    These two points were great and hugely important and I feel like everyone who’s trying to hire for a position with drawbacks like that should really think about them, honestly.

    – They select for candidates who are less likely to have trouble with this: a lot of their advertising is aimed at recent grads in their early-mid twenties who aren’t from the area. I imagine people like this are less likely to have family or friends that make them want to stay home and they may view the travel as more of an adventure (never to mention that the relatively low pay is less likely to be an issue). There’s a few things about perks, benefits and general hiring process/company culture that seem aimed at being more attractive to this general category. Similarly, if there’s any particular type of person who does well on the Wall, you might see if there’s anything you can offer that would make things more attractive specifically to them.

    – There are several months of probation/training where the new employees are based in the home office. I feel like that really helps to build up some loyalty to the company, ease you into the work and just normalise the whole experience because you are surrounded day-in and day-out by other people in the same boat. Obviously you are hiring for a very different job, but I wonder if there’s something you could do to make the start of work be a little easier than “hey, you’re flying to the Wall now”, a few weeks’ training in King’s Landing you could tack onto the start where they could meet people also going to or returning from the Wall or something.

  46. Desichan*

    I definitely thought this was Guantanamo as well. I just moved back to the states after my second tour there. I was a government civilian there and it isn’t a bad place to live. I will say that government employees will also back out sometimes right before they are supposed to be getting on the plane! I’m not sure why that is. I don’t really know what can be done to discourage that. Perhaps the idea of moving there is just too overwhelming to some people. If it is GTMO, I think your best bet is besides paying really well, giving them some honest feedback of what their daily life will be like. Tell them about the fun things but be honest about the parts that aren’t so fun. Also, it might be good to have some employees who are living in the area and actually doing the job reach out so they can answer questions that potential new employees might have. The government makes their active duty military and civilians attend sponsorship training at the FFSC. I don’t know if contractors can take advantage of that, but it was a great one hour class.

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