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The morning a new full-stack developer was expected to arrive at tech startup Skritswap Inc., company founder Melissa Kargiannakis waited and waited, growing increasingly worried. The job offer had been accepted and signed. What could possibly have gone wrong?

Eventually, an e-mail popped up: “I can’t do this,” the new hire wrote. A few hours later, another message: “Actually, I think I have changed my mind again.” Could they talk?

“Sweet Lord,” Ms. Kargiannakis said in an interview, recalling the incident. Her company, based in Sault St. Marie, Ont., uses an artificial intelligence-powered platform to make complex documents easier to read. Like many tech entrepreneurs, Ms. Kargiannakis faces intense competition for skilled, experienced talent, but the no-show was a first. She did call the developer back, but ultimately did not go through with the hire.

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According to global staffing firm Robert Half, it’s not unusual in today’s tight labour market for candidates to back out after accepting an offer – often because they’ve been pitched a better deal, or their current employer has come up with a convincing counter-offer.

Ghosting – the bane of the online dating world – has entered the realm of recruiting, with some candidates abruptly cutting off all contact with prospective employers. “It’s difficult to deliver rejection personally, so some people just avoid it,” says David Bolton, Robert Half’s Vancouver-based metro market manager.

“But ultimately, reputations are at stake. A candidate’s professionalism can be called into question … Similarly, a candidate may speak poorly of a company that stopped communicating and share their negative experience with their [professional] network or online,” Mr. Bolton said. The candidate pipeline can dry up quickly if applicants hear bad things about the company, Robert Half has found.

The changing hiring dynamics are such that recruiting firm Hays Canada offers career advice on how to quit with class. (Be professional about your reasons for leaving; focus on your new job and what it can offer you; don’t burn any bridges; if you must tackle anything negative, be constructive.)

Hays also provides pointers on how to handle a counter-offer if your current employer suddenly brandishes a raise to make you stay: (Revisit why you started looking for a new job in the first place; an increase in salary won’t fix everything; weigh the pros and cons of both jobs and decide what is right for you in the long term.)

As employees feel more confident about prospects for moving on, employers face greater recruitment and retention challenges, Hays Canada president Rowan O’Grady said. “Companies have to pay market rate.” They don’t necessarily have to pay the most, but they do have to pay within the competitive range, he said. “Companies that don’t are sitting targets [for headhunters] from companies that do.”

Employers also risk an exodus if word gets out that they are paying new hires more than current employees in the same role, he said.

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But money isn’t all that matters. Employers also have to be competitive in terms of providing a work environment where employees can “take ownership” of their jobs, expand their skills, try new things. “We often see people who want to move on because they feel no empowerment… they are just following instructions,” Mr. O’Grady said.

In Fredericton, C-Therm Technologies Ltd. recently hired a customer success manager and is looking to fill three other positions, which would increase the headcount to 30. “We have shifted from having to fight for every sale to being in the position where business is coming in as fast as we can service it, so we are looking to grow capacity. These are problems we like to have, but they’re still challenging,” said C-Therm managing director Adam Harris.

C-Therm's thermal sensor technology, which analyzes how effectively materials transfer heat, is used by such clients as NASA, the United States Navy, Adidas, Procter and Gamble Co. and 3M Co. for research, development and product design. Mr. Harris hopes the scope of work and opportunity to innovate will attract prospective candidates. "There's always a different application. Some days it is working on a better baby diaper, other days it's an explosive."

As a startup, Skritswap still has relatively few vacancies, but with an eye to the future, Ms. Kargiannakis tries “to be really courteous and respectful” in her e-mails to candidates who were interviewed but not selected this time around. All applications are kept on file.

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