back to blog

Should You Offer a Job to the Runner-Up?


It’s tempting to go back to your second choice if things fall through with your top job candidate. The longer and more involved your hiring process, the more you lose when you get to the end of it, extend a job offer, and are turned down.

But don’t just pivot and ask the runner-up without some meaningful reflection. Consider these questions first:

Why did the top candidate turn down the position?

Ask the top candidate for feedback. They may be reluctant, but if they’re candid, their reasoning could offer valuable insights into your recruiting process. It could simply come down to an over-inflated salary requirement, or they just wanted a shorter commute. Still, nearly half of U.S. job seekers in high-demand industries like technology and banking say they’ve turned down an offer because of a bad recruiting experience. 

If your recruiting process turns off your top candidate, or if they see your compensation package or opportunities for growth, for example, as deal-breakers, you need to ask yourself if you’re attracting the right candidates in the first place. Do you want to hire the next-in-line if that person is willing to settle for a job that your top candidate couldn’t bear to indulge? These questions involve a work culture gut check, which is critical for recruiting success.

Is your second-choice candidate a close contender?

Not all runner-up candidates are equal. Some just barely lost out, while others may be missing vital technical skills or soft traits in areas like leadership or collaboration. Review your notes and talk to every person on the hiring team. Remind yourself why they were the second choice. Did they find themselves in that position because they just didn’t cut it, or would you have been happy extending the offer to either candidate and the top pick simply blew your socks off?

“If your runner-up was a close contender (and everyone on the team agrees), then yes, extend the offer,” says The HT Group Executive Recruiter Lori Lankford. “But if the runner-up was not an ‘easy yes,’ then it’s probably better to start your search again. Sometimes it’s better to restart the hiring process than to offer the wrong person the job and deal with turnover or disrupting the team.”

Are you willing to answer some tough questions?

If you go ahead and extend the offer to the runner-up candidate, don’t botch it. Do it quickly and graciously. Even if you haven’t been entirely transparent by telling them they’re second in line, they may suspect it if you contact them with an offer after some time has passed. Outside recruiters can be exceptionally helpful in these situations because keeping a second-choice candidate interested and answering the tough questions that go along with it is an art form.

Extending an offer to a second-choice candidate introduces some complications, but they’re not difficult to overcome if you’re sincere about hiring them. Put yourself in their shoes: You’d have some tough questions, too. Be prepared to answer:

  • What happened to the top candidate?
  • What was the reason I wasn’t selected first? Is it something that might interfere with my ability to do or to enjoy the job?
  • Are you willing to revisit the salary/benefits/flexibility/other reason(s) I may not have been the most comfortable choice?

Understand that you may need to earn back some trust and admiration from your second-choice candidate before they accept. Doing so, however, can be well worth the effort. And remember: If you need help navigating these types of sticky situations, we’re just a phone call or email away.


The HT Group fills roles in Temporary Staffing, Executive Search, Technical Recruiting, and Retained Search.

And be sure to connect with us on LinkedInFacebook and Twitter for up-to-date news and tips and let us know what’s on your mind.