The real reasons why design candidates say no

It's no secret that the Bay Area tech industry has been a candidate-driven market for some time now. It's not rare for job seekers to turn down offers or opportunities that don't check all of their boxes. Even at the start of the global pandemic, when tech companies were laying off employees or freezing hiring, top design candidates were still in high-demand, being contacted by recruiters and hiring managers regularly.

If you're a company looking to hire qualified candidates in a competitive or uncertain labor market, you can improve your acceptance rates by understanding common reasons why candidates reject offers. We spoke with senior product designers in the Bay Area to get their fresh take.

Salary & Benefits

While competitive salary is a powerful bargaining tool, never assume that this is a candidate’s single motivating factor. Candidates could value culture, growth opportunities, or attractive benefits over cash compensation. 

“I really value when companies are upfront about salary expectations and bands,” shared one senior product designer. “Offering below market salaries or refusing to share a salary range upfront is a big red flag. When companies are transparent about what your potential colleagues are getting paid, it shows they care about gender discrimination and closing the pay gap.”

“Unlimited PTO may sound really attractive, but it’s actually nebulous and doesn’t promote great work/life balance,” offered another senior product designer. “A company once offered me a ‘minimum 15 day vacation policy’ instead of flexible or Unlimited PTO, which ensured employees took time off to prevent burnout.”

Tips for hiring managers:

  1. Re-confirm salary expectations throughout the interview process. 
  2. Offer maternity leave and fertility benefits. (Maven and Carrot are two companies that offer this benefit as an add-on.)
  3. Nix unlimited PTO and adopt a flexible work policy that doesn’t create uncertainty among employees. Some employers have implemented dedicated “mental health days”.


One of the number one things candidates look for in times of economic downturn is long-term job security and opportunities for growth. Some ways companies can showcase their stability are by sharing a clear product strategy, outlining a concise and intentional interview process, and providing clear expectations for the role and growth opportunities.

“When I’m speaking with a potential employer, I ask each interviewer to share their product strategy with me. If there isn’t consistency in all of their answers, then I know there isn’t alignment on the product roadmap within the company,” shares one senior product designer.

“I always ask myself...Will this role help me get to where I want to go in 2-3 years? What story do I want to tell about my experiences here when it's time for me to leave?”

Tips for hiring managers:

  1. Build job security into your employer value proposition (EVP) by mentioning training, mentorship, and extended learning budgets. Calm does this well.
  2. Share a clear product strategy and roadmap with interviewing candidates.
  3. Be able to answer during the interview: What will this role grow into?

Poor Candidate/Interview Experience

Culture and people are two top motivators for designers, so a candidate's interview experience is crucial for getting them to come onboard. Long periods of time in-between interviews and feedback and unpaid design exercises reflect poorly on companies trying to engage design candidates in the interview process.

“If I’m waiting a long time between interviews that gives me the impression that a company has not yet figured out what they’re looking for and are not very serious about hiring,” shares a senior product designer.

“I once had a company ask me to do a design exercise even before presenting my portfolio. It showed me that they didn’t have a good sense of how to evaluate designers and it raised concern about what it might be like to collaborate with the stakeholders there,” added another senior product designer.

“Before accepting a role I always look at the ratio of PMs and designers to engineers, and number of designers at the chief executive or VP level. If there are 25 PMs for each designer, I assume that the big problems aren't solved by designers and that stakeholders view designers as service providers,”

“Lack of diversity and inclusion is a major reason why I reject an offer. If there are no BIPOC and women in leadership roles, then I see that as a huge red flag.”

Tips for hiring managers:

  1. Decide on an official cadence for design interviews and a maximum number of days you will allow before providing feedback.
  2. Many designers see unpaid design challenges as unethical. If you must assign a design challenge to assess a designer’s skill, make it completely unrelated to your company or brand. You can find ideas on design exercises here and here.
  3. Make your diversity and inclusion efforts apparent. Evaluate executive leadership, and eliminate bias in the hiring process and promotional process. Read more about how to include a more inclusive workplace, here.

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