columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues--everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.

A reader asks:

I work for a contractor. Our primary function is providing professional staff at locations around the globe. One of the locations where we have staff is far away and has an incredibly strong reputation as a place where you don't want to get sent.

Surprisingly, we don't have a ton of trouble finding candidates for positions there. However, at least 70 percent of the people we hire to work there flake out on us before their start date.

Our staff will spend weeks working with new hires to ensure that they have all their documents prepared and book travel to this location. We keep in constant contact, and most employees will emphasize over and over again how excited they are about their position. And then the day they are supposed to fly out, we will get an email saying they aren't coming.

These are midlevel professionals with security clearances, and they know where they're headed when they apply to and accept our job. We've tried bonuses for at least three months of service; daily, friendly calls from the recruiter; waiting to book travel until two or three days before departure; raising the salary ... but nothing seems to help. We're still losing the majority of our candidates for these positions between offer acceptance and start date.

If you were in our shoes, what would you be looking at? Everyone in my office is stumped on what to try next -- or if this is just part of the territory when you're staffing positions in tricky locations.

Green responds:

It might indeed just be part of the territory -- people getting cold feet at the last minute, or hoping a better offer will come along and then taking it if it does.

But I'd consider two things, if you haven't already

First, have you talked to some of the people who pulled out at the last minute? It could be interesting to get their perspective on what happened and see if there was anything you could have done to avoid it (even if that meant having them decline the offer initially). The key in getting this kind of feedback will be making it clear to them that you don't want them to feel guilty, and that you'd just be grateful for any insight they can lend you because it's been a persistent problem that you haven't been able to solve.

The second, and perhaps most important, is about how much "truth in advertising" you are using during the hiring process, before people accept the offer. I'm always a fan of really making sure that people know what they're getting themselves into -- that you're being candid about all the downsides and possible disadvantages so that they don't feel surprised or misled later on -- and it sounds like that's even more important in your situation. Take a look at how well you're preparing people for what they'd be getting themselves into, and explicitly tell people, "We've had a lot of people take the offer and then drop out when they really hit the reality of X, Y, and Z, so I'm asking you to really think carefully about those factors before accepting."

Additionally, if you're not already offering some kind of orientation between offer acceptance and when people are due to leave, I wonder if that might help too -- a sort of course in "here are the ways in which working at this location is grueling, and here are strategies to help you thrive there anyway."

Also, I would drop those friendly, daily calls from the recruiter, unless you're finding that people genuinely like them. Those will annoy a lot of people, and cumulatively they might even be alarming -- in a "What are they trying to distract me from?" sort of way.

And, of course, no matter how right you get the process, I'd also assume you're always going to lose some percentage of your candidates. That sounds like it's just part of the deal. But if you haven't tried the two things above, they're worth a shot.

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