“No” Does Not Always Mean No: It Could Simply Mean “Not Now”

What does it mean when a prospective employer or prospective employee says "no"? Here are some possibilities.

When looking at trends recently, I have noticed one regarding what a “no” really means. Previously, a “no” meant that it is over, move on, or anything else that your mind may hear.  I grappled when choosing this as a message for a blog, but I felt as though it was important enough to try to delve into this much deeper. Usually when I am writing my blogs, the ideas come to me in a complete format of which I can easily transcribe to paper. But this idea of discussing what a no means has not been like that. I have been tossing the idea around over the last couple of weeks, and I am still not exactly sure how to express my thoughts. However, I will do my best in discussing the perspectives and potential outcomes for a prospective employee and prospective employer.

Is The Prospective Employer Or Prospective Employee Saying No?

“Who says no?” This is the first question we have to ask. If it is a prospective employee saying no to a prospective employer, we have one set of considerations that we must deal with. If it is the employer saying no to a candidate, we have another set. What you must realize when you are working with a knowledgeable recruiter in your area is that it is rare that they will set up a conversation when no one will benefit from the exchange. If the recruiter knows his or her candidate and client, then a conversation even if a “no” results, it is still a good use of everyone’s time. If on the other hand a recruiter is just setting up meetings for the sake of setting up meetings, then everyone has wasted their valuable time as well as any effort put into the preparation for the discussion.

The Candidate Or Prospective Employee Saying “No”

Let us assume for argument purposes that a meeting has been set up by an experienced recruiter. After the first or maybe second conversation, there does not seem to be a fit that is going to consummate in a deal. As mentioned above, let us look at the candidate side first. The candidate may be in a position that the timing is not exactly right. Or they may feel that the platform that the new prospective employer shared also was not right. Or any other reasons. If the recruiter takes this at face value, and does not explore further, clearly a “no” means no. However, a good recruiter should explore this much further. The interview is now over so there is no reason that a candidate would not be forthright with the recruiter. This “exit interview” or debrief with candidate and recruiter should be able to yield valuable information.  I cannot tell you how many times a knee jerk reaction “no” has been changed by thoughtful questions. These questions can somehow reveal the true motivation of the candidate. Obstacles can be overcome either today or tomorrow, which may yield a new position at that same firm within the next 6 to 12 months.

The Firm Or Prospective Employer Saying “No”

Now let us look at the prospective employer saying no. Assuming a qualified candidate, why would a company say no? The number one reason that I see the company says no to a qualified candidate revolves around timing. The timing of the new acquisition just may not be right. The company/firm may have different objectives, and you do not meet them today. It does not mean that they cannot be met in that same 6 to 12 months mentioned above. Once again, having a deep conversation, at this time with the manager, this could be revealed. It is important, from the candidate’s perspective, that they do not close the door upon hearing the no.  A well-crafted email after the disappointing news goes a long way. It gives the candidate one last chance to put their best foot forward in writing to the hiring manager. This will only work if you are dealing with the hiring manager and not HR. Because timing changes and opportunities can be created, I never want to have a candidate not having an opportunity to revisit the situation that they really wanted.   As one of my hiring managers said to me recently, “The third time’s a charm.”


If you would like to discuss your options, please reach out for a confidential conversation at 760-477-1284 or email at [email protected]. He can also be reached on LinkedIn. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter here, which is a compilation of our weekly blogs, so you never miss one. You can find our listing in the “supplier and services” section of the Red Book under the title of “executive recruiting”.

About Harlan Friedman, JD & Founding Member, H. Friedman Search LLC. Harlan is a thirty-year veteran Public Finance Banker turned recruiter who specializes in the placement of all levels Public Finance Bankers, Healthcare Bankers, Municipal Advisors, Compliance Officers, Issuers, and Bond Counsels.