Important Notice:
This site has moved to, please update your bookmarks. If you were looking for a specific post, you can use the site search option, archives, or categories at the new domain to find it. Thank you!

Friday, June 25, 2010

turning down an employer's offer a second time

A reader writes:

Here's a situation I never would have seen coming in this market. I received an offer for a job about 1.5 years ago. Ultimately I rejected it to stay at my current employer because the compensation package as a whole was just not quite enough to allow me to pull the trigger. 

Fast forward to today - my current job has lost a little extra luster due to precarious security (ongoing layoffs) and reduced benefits. I start looking for jobs and lo and behold, the same company needs the very same position. Naturally I apply, although of course I'm looking elsewhere as well. I interview with all the same people and more. And now it appears an offer is imminent. I expect it to be similar to last year's, only this time I'd take it for sure. 

Except....I also have late word of another imminent offer (or at least I think it is) that promises a significantly better package and a comparable quality of job.

Neither offer is in hand yet, but I'm already dreading the potential of turning the same employer's offer down a second time - if it were to come to pass. I guess it's just human conscience, but that just feels like it's wrong in some way. But then I think I'm just following all the rules, applying and applying until I get offers in hand, and logically I can't think of anything I'm doing that's really wrong here. Can you? Give me some assurances that an employer, even in this situation, has to know that I'm not only looking their way!

I don't think you've done anything wrong at all;  you're just dealing with a convergence of events that's going to put you in an unfortunate situation (if having two job offers can be considered unfortunate).

My take would be different if you had allowed yourself to become a serious candidate with little intention of accepting the job, or if you'd had serious reservations you hadn't shared with them. But neither of those things is true. Your interest was genuine, you didn't hide anything from them, and you planned to accept an offer if you received one. And of course it's reasonable that you were looking at other jobs as well -- it would have been foolish not to, in fact, since there were no guarantees that you would get this job, no matter how promising things looked.

As is so often the case, the best way for you to handle this, if it does come to pass, is to be candid and straightforward. Tell the company that you've been seriously interested in the position all the way through and had every intention of accepting an offer if one came, but there's now another offer in the mix that you can't turn down. (Also, keep in mind that they may want to counter that other offer; you never know.) Explain that you're worried this is frustrating for them, and that you feel terrible and hope that won't think you wasted their time, and that that was never your intention.

Of course, a lot of people in their shoes wouldn't seriously consider future applications from you, out of fear that they'd be wasting their time. But if you express yourself well, a really good employer will be able to read you well enough to see that you operated in good faith. Good luck!


Anonymous said...

Thanks, I was the questioner. Yes, I am indeed operating under the assumption that this course of action will burn any remaining bridges with this employer.

For better or worse, I did in fact get the other offer and the course of action I described is what I feel I have to take.

Peter said...

I was approached by the same company twice in the last three years, went through the interviews, and did not get the offer. I hear some people were only hired on the third or fourth attempt.

If it's OKay for the company to head hunt you for position and encourage you to apply and then not proceed with an offer multiple times, there is nothing wrong with being offered something and turning that down, multiple times.

Every time the situation is different, and clearly both sides are looking for the best fit, every time again.

Charles said...

Here are a couple of questions for the original questioner:

First, are there any red flags indicating that this company is having problems keeping staff and that is why they are willing to give you a second chance?

If not, then I would think that any company that is willing to give a candidate a second chance, after being "rejected," is a company that sounds like they would be a great employer. Perhaps, their willingness to be so understanding indicates that there may be more opportunities for advancement than most places.

Second question, just how much better is that second offer? Is it really that much better that you are willing to bypass their open-mindness?

Anonymous said...

I wish I had this problem. (Tapping my red wishing shoes)


Good luck and congrats to the original questioner!

Charles does make an excellent point. If this company is not a toxic employer, this action shows an open mind. Unless you have a high cost of living (not standard, they are two different distinctions), sometimes money cannot be the only factor.

Anonymous said...

The difference in salary is nominal in and of itself. The difference was pension vs. no pension, 6% in 401 matches plus a big gap in bonus programs. It's pretty substantial when you add it up.

Interesting point on the open mindedness of the employer. I don't know. That could certainly be. I didn't get a strong sense of that, even though I did like them. But they are in fact a midsized company going through some big budgetary challenges, although on the other hand they could do some really exciting things if things fall their way. The other employer is a big, conservative and stable company that will probably remain exactly that way.

It's too late now to rethink it, but that's interesting insight.