When Is The Right Time To Let Go Of A Candidate?


By Jas Singh

The worst part of my job is when you hear someone you have successfully placed has been fired. Often, it’s through no fault of theirs but in rare cases it can be due to performance.

Sometimes its due to performance. Sometimes it’s bad management. And sometimes its due to circumstances totally outside anyone’s control (e.g. the common instances of “restructuring”).

To this day I still take it personally.

However the truth of life is that sometimes even with the best intentions things just don’t work out. And I’ve realised over the years that there’s no shame in this – provided both hiring manager and candidate have given their best, sometimes there are things that you cannot predict. Although there are definite principles and processes you must apply, hiring is a complex process. There is no magic formula. Sometimes, you have to move on.

But it did cause me to have a think – when is the right time to call it a day?

Most people are let go too quickly or too slowly. Both have their problems. Let go too fast and you’ve not given them a fair shot. Hold on too long and you are delaying the inevitable and possibly making things hard in the long run.

So when is the right time to let go?

Below are some points that are important to consider.

1) Work to performance goals – and regularly review them

The most common mistake made in hiring is simply not stating the performance outcome of a successful hire. Very few hiring managers can articulate exactly what the successful candidate needs to achieve.

This doesn’t mean general statements like being successful at prospecting new business or coming up with a new marketing strategy. Most candidates with these types of goals will think they have met the criteria. Be as specific as possible – a sales target of $250K after 12 months. Cutting spend by 5%. Integrating the new IT system by 2017.

By being clear about expectations, managing non-performing candidates becomes much easier. Everything is transparent – and although no-one likes to be let go, people are much more willing to take it on the chin if management has been clear from the start.

2) Be honest about progress

Although performance goals are important, as a manager your job is to try and support your colleagues as much as possible to hit them. In fact, the best leaders are actually those who serve their teams the best.

And part of successful management is being honest about progress. Although it requires tact, it’s much better in the long run to be honest about how someone is doing so that changes can be made, rather than try to cover something up to protect another person’s feelings. First and foremost people want to succeed – and are prepared to take other people’s advice on board if that is going to help.

Rarely does sub-par performance happen overnight. Performance is usually the result of months, sometimes years, of consistent effort and application.

As a manager it’s your duty to be honest about progress so that any changes can be made. And in the event that you do have to let someone go, at least it is something that they may be prepared for.

3) Give them time to consider options

If things are heading towards a parting of ways, the best way to try and keep things amicable is to try and give the employee as much time as possible to try and find a new opportunity.

Often hiring managers – even the very best one’s – become distressed, even depressed by the reaction of people that they have let go. They knew they weren’t performing, I tried to be honest about progress and they even mentioned themselves that they weren’t enjoying the job so why the character assassination in the exit interview?

Stress. That’s why. All of a sudden they’re out of a job with no income. Families to support. Mortgage to pay. And with little time to find a new opportunity – which may be difficult depending on market conditions.

Very rarely is there need to abruptly terminate someone’s contract (although sometimes don’t get me wrong it is the only course of action). If things aren’t working out, give candidates time to prepare. So they can prepare their resume’s. Start meeting recruiters. Begin applying for jobs and attending interviews.

One CEO I work with of a FTSE 250 company even helps candidates himself if they have to be let go. He realises that non-performance is a two way thing – with himself and the candidate both sharing some responsibility. I’ve seen him regularly coach candidates on next possible career moves that may be a better fit and even recommend potential new opportunities through his personal network.

Firing someone doesn’t have to be a sudden, unexpected act of misery.

4) Be decisive

Once you have carefully assessed the facts and come to a decision there’s only one thing to do – don’t turn back!

More than anything else, people do not like an indecisive leader. If you’ve agreed to a three month performance review, forget about firing and be totally focussed on supporting the candidate. If you do decide that there is no alternative to letting someone go then do so – don’t be tempted to ride things out based on the opinions of others or hoping things may magically change.

Being fired is never a nice experience but in my experience things are made much worse if candidates do not know whether they are in or out. Often, the waiting game is much worse than the event itself.

By being decisive you are being fair to others. You give them time to prepare so they can move on with their lives. The last thing anybody wants is false hope during an already stressful period.


Just like hiring is a process, so is firing.

Hiring managers should take considerable care to ensure that expectations are managed and reviewed over time and that candidates are fully aware of what is happening.

Your reputation depends on it.

Do you need to let a candidate go?

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