I turned down a job offer but now I want the job

by Ask a Manager on April 18, 2012

A reader writes:

I have been unemployed for the past 4 months. I rejected an offer for employment a month ago. I recently saw that the job that I applied for is now being reposted. What is the professional etiquette in regard to me contacting the employer to review potentially joining them? I was clear on my reasons as to why I rejected the offer (after 4 counteroffers between us). But now as unemployment continues to dry up and no offers have come forth, is going back to them a bad idea and can it be seen as unprofessional?

It’s not unprofessional, no, but it’s probably going to be greeted with some skepticism, for a couple of reasons:

1. They’re going to worry that you don’t really want the job and that you’re just taking it because you’re starting to feel desperate — and that you won’t be satisfied with the salary and that you’ll leave as soon as you find something that pays more. Or that down the road you’re going to push for a significant raise that they’re not prepared to give you.

2. You’ll look like you don’t have a good idea of what you’re worth. You negotiated fairly hard, it sounds like (four counteroffers), and ultimately turned down the offer over money, which implies that you didn’t think it was a fair offer and that you could get more elsewhere. Coming back to them now is basically an admission that you were wrong.  There’s not anything wrong with that — in fact, it can be the best way to come to terms with a salary that you originally thought was too low — but it has the potential to make things awkward.

Neither of these are necessarily prohibitive factors, however. You’ve just got to be aware of them, so that you can navigate the situation effectively.

Your best bet is to approach it head-on by saying something like this:  “I saw that you’re still hiring for the X position, and I wondered if it could be worth talking again. I’ll be frank — a few months in this job market have educated me on how salaries have fluctuated. While we couldn’t come to terms on salary earlier, I’m equipped now with a better understanding of where the market is, and I think we could reach an agreement we’d both be happy with.”

Be aware that they’re going to have the upper hand here — you’re essentially saying, “I made a mistake, and although I turned you down before, now I want the job and hope you still want me.”

They may decide to pass. Or they may not. But as long as you handle it professionally (which includes being gracious if they turn you down), you don’t really have anything to lose. So if you think it’s a job you’d be happy in, give it a shot.

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{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

YALM April 18, 2012 at 8:08 pm

Ugh.

OP, you stated that you were clear about why you rejected the offer and that there were several counter offers. That sounds like it was strictly about compensation. But was it?

They liked you enough to offer you a job and engage in a counter offer conversation. That works in your favor. But…rejection hurts. As a hiring manager, I might not reject you out of hand, but I’m going to be wary. If there’s more to attract you back to this opportunity than just compensation, you need to sell that. And you need to believe it to sell it. If you’re just going back to get a paycheck, and I sense that, I’m likely waiting for another candidate.

I won’t say it can’t be done. I work for an employer I previously rejected for $$. But there was a four year gap in between applications. Even then, I had hurdles to leap to get in the door.

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John Hunter April 18, 2012 at 9:05 pm

I agree with you. One of the things I see much too often is people being reluctant to try things they should. It may be a bit awkward but definitely give it a shot. Yes you are not guaranteed success getting the job but I would imagine the odds are many times greater than the average place you are applying to now.

And those looking to hire people should keep this idea in mind. If you had people you liked a year ago but they didn’t seem ready at the time. Contact them. Yes they will most likely say they are not interested. But a few (over the years) will be and that makes it worthwhile.

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Wilton Businessman April 19, 2012 at 12:00 am

Hmm, tough choice. As the hiring manager, I’d really want to hear that you are committed to the job. You are going to have to convince me that you’re just not in it for the money because your 99 weeks are running out. You’re going to have to convince me that you’re not just going to bolt when something “better” comes along. And even then I’m going to be skeptical.

Unless you’re a superstar (which, lets face it, superstars don’t last 99 weeks), you’re facing an uphill battle. It’s worth a shot, the most they can do is say “no thanks”.

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Liz T April 19, 2012 at 12:01 am

They’ll also have the upper hand in terms of salary–I doubt they’ll give you the highest offer you received last time.

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Dan April 19, 2012 at 5:00 pm

Yeah, this is what I was thinking. If the OP decides he wants to try again, he should be ready to be offered something as low as the employer’s initial offer if anything at all.

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GA April 19, 2012 at 12:45 am

Agree with Yalm, You can say something like ,– In our last discussion i was focussing more on compensation but later i realized [ keep an answer ready for what made you realize] that there is more than compensation in your organization/Role..fill in the blanks for what is more than compensation….I’m equipped now with a better understanding of value this role brings for my professional growth and how i can contribute in organization’s growth for long term goals, and I think we could reach an agreement we’d both be happy with. I will understand if you decline further discussions for the very reason of me being focussing more on compensation earlier [ which was not aligned to Job market also] but I wanted to take this opportunity of admitting my mistake and thanking you for valuable time.

You will go with certain disadvantages but you need to choose your + and – in life. They may appreciate your honesty of admitting the mistake and at same time you need to let hiring manager save his face that he was unable to provide you more compensation earlier and you rejected them [ provided you deserved it].

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Curious April 19, 2012 at 3:04 am

OP – Well done for figuring out that what you can get on the market at the present time doesn’t align with what you would like to be paid and that you need to be flexible, possibly even swallow your pride a bit. A lot of job seekers don’t get this, even 4 months in and spend a long time out of work because of it. It was a mistake I made so fair play to you for that. I hope it works out for you.

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Tim C. April 19, 2012 at 6:32 am

When I applied for my very first job out of college I did this. Back they though the job market was desperate for applicant with my backround. However I had the philosophy you will not get it unless you ask. I am 100% certain you will not get this job unless you try.

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KayDay April 19, 2012 at 6:47 am

OP, well, the good news is that they liked you enough to counter 4 times. Also, since you had a very specific reason to turn down the position, it’s a lot easier to tell them that specific requirement X has changed (e.g. “After a few discussions with people in the field, I have now realized that the market rate for this position is $ and I can work with that”). Also good is the fact that they still have not found anyone–either they never found anyone as good as you or maybe the salary they are offering IS too low.

That said, they still have a very good reason to be cautious about you. It’s still worth applying, but keep in mind they may turn you down.

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Britta April 19, 2012 at 8:43 am

Agree with everyone’s advice. It’s worth a shot, at least. Worst case scenario, they turn you down, in which case, it’s a good learning experience. I would just be really careful that they don’t sense even the slightest hint of desperation on your part. And be really honest with yourself: compensation aside, is this really, truly a job you’re going to be satisfied with?

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moe April 19, 2012 at 10:07 am

Hmm, maybe just me but I’d be really hesitant to even try this. I think you risk a really bad reaction from the hiring folks, should the answer be “no,” and people do talk… and I also wonder about any static that might remain if they do hire you. Will they always wonder if you just “settled,” are still looking, or have one foot out the door?

I don’t see it as that different from the situation in which one is successfully able to negotiate a raise by using another job offer. You’ve perhaps gotten the job/raise, sure, but you’ve also shown your hand about your decision-making and likelihood of staying long-term. Resentment is likely on both sides.

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Jamie April 19, 2012 at 10:13 am

While I agree with Alison that it can’t hurt to try, emotionally I’m with Moe in that I would be super hesitant.

The only way I’d consider that is if I were truly desperate – so if you are it’s worth a shot – but for me it would be hard to hide that level of desperation.

Pros: They wanted you badly enough to even humor four counter offers.

Cons: Their best wasn’t good enough for you so will be fighting a reputation of being high maintenance coming in the door.

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Ellen M. April 19, 2012 at 11:46 pm

Well I think it is a REAL long shot that they’d even be willing to discuss it with you, OP. And IMO decisions made purely out of desperation are rarely good ones… as for “what have you got to lose?”, it could hurt your professional reputation in your field. I don’t know if it would be worth it, to be honest.

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Kris April 20, 2012 at 12:36 pm

Worst they can say is no.. Actuallly they could throw in some obscenities but that’s unlikely.

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New Grad August 15, 2012 at 4:22 pm

I got two job offers at the same time and had only a few days to decide. One job was a 1 year contract job for a BIG Internet Giant that’s the “best place to work”. The other was a smaller company where my impact would be huge! And I would be doing strategy work on a small team and also it would be client facing and internal with lots of growth. Wages were on par but with OT I made more money at Temp job. I picked the big company with cool perks not really sure what the day to day would entail. This job is my first out of college. To boot I have $1500 per month in Private loans to pay off since my parents couldn’t help me with college.

I chose the temp job. I have been here a month. Im not being challenged. I dont feel valued as a temp or supported. I feel that my manager told me the role was more challenging than it turns out to be. The other position is still available at the smaller company. I would like to ask the hiring manager to discuss the position again. I was honest about my choice between companies, and my time pressures etc. How should I go about contacting her? Would this burn bridges with my contacts at BIG TECH CO and my future full time employment there (it is my dream company )

- a confused new grad

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Ask a Manager August 15, 2012 at 4:34 pm

This post may help:
http://www.askamanager.org/2010/07/can-i-back-out-of-my-new-job-if-i-get.html

If you’ll ever want to work at that Big Internet Company in the future, don’t burn the bridge now.

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New Grad August 15, 2012 at 5:24 pm

Yah I guess thats right. I’m bummed that I made this choice particularly because I was made to believe it was a better choice. When indeed it wasn’t.

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Tracers December 2, 2013 at 10:33 am

I am in the EXACT same boat. I could have written this post! I took a job with a big tech co under the impression that it would be extremely challenging. I’ve been here a month now, and I’m thinking that the other job offer I had with a smaller company that paid much less would have been a better fit for me. I think it would have taught me so much more. Now I just dread going to work, because I feel so bored and underutilized. You posted this a year ago – I’m curious how it all turned out for you?

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Rachel September 24, 2012 at 4:04 pm

I think the advice given here is perfectly valid: seeking to be re-considered by an employer that you’ve already turned down once simply isn’t realistic. It’s like going back to someone that once asked you to marry them after you turned them down: not a classy a move, and unlikely to be well-received, however they may once have felt about you.

However, the thing that really strikes me about this advice given in this scenario is how it compares with the conventional wisdom that is dished out in relation to how people should go about turning down job offers. I’ve seen people advise that you should personally thank everyone involved in the hiring process (as if they were doing you some great favour by offering you a role you ultimately decided for some reason you didn’t want). I’ve even seen some advise that you should recommend someone else for the job you turned down (you know, just in case you have friends that are more desperate / less marketable than you and who may want your leftovers, and because by turning down a job offer with someone you are of course de facto agreeing to work as an unpaid recruiter for them).

All of the above advice is given in the name of “not burning bridges”. As the advice in this article readily shows, when you’re turning down a job, there’s no way to avoid burning a bridge. Of course, when you decide that you don’t want to accept a particular job offer, you should impart that news politely, professionally and with respect. Just as you’d expect any employer to be polite, professional and respectful if they were turning down your application for the role. However, don’t kid yourself that any action you take will avoid the reality that by turning down a role you are probably walking away from the opportunity of ever working for the organisation in question. And you are certainly walking away from the specific role you’re turning down forever, no matter how nicely you sugar-coat the news.

It’s human nature not to like being rejected, and when you’re the one doing the rejecting, you’d better realise you’ll only get the chance to do so once and once only.

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Ask a Manager September 24, 2012 at 4:31 pm

If you’re seeing advice that says that you have to do those things when turning down an offer … well, that advice is wrong. You certainly CAN do them, and it’s nice to, but they’re in no way expected or obligations.

Nor should turning down an offer burn a bridge, in the sense of ruining the relationship.

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Jamie September 24, 2012 at 4:13 pm

“I’ve even seen some advise that you should recommend someone else for the job you turned down (you know, just in case you have friends that are more desperate / less marketable than you and who may want your leftovers”

I don’t think there is anything wrong with this, if you’re turning it down because of fit and not because they pay you in gum.

For example – a lot of companies want an IT what does some network and some DBA. If I interviewed with them it might not be a good fit because I’m much stronger in DBA than networking…and if they needed heavy networking it’s not where my interest lies. But I know several people who would be perfect for that, if it was a decent company if asked I would certainly pass along some names – if they were interested.

After all it’s all about fit. A dress might not fit you at all, but hang perfectly one someone else.

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sky December 12, 2012 at 7:02 am

I am hoping someone can help me out here to get back the job offer.

I went for a interview for the job that I really wanted and it was a very good firm and stated a specific salary $1.4 and they said ok and was told before I left that I got the job offer. I was really happy then as I have zero experience and in this industry that I applied for, experience was everything. Then I went back to talk with my parents about it and ask around and they all said I asked for too low pay so went online to research and found on jobsearch website it was indeed so then I went to email back to the company I wanted about 30% more the what I initially quoted to them which of course they rejected and replied that my email shows that I have rejected their job offer. So I foolishly tried to bargain and ask for 15% more instead then I was told the job offer was retracted. I was really disappointed at myself because I tried looking for other similar jobs but non of which gave me close to what the company gave me. And now I want the job back. Everything just happen recently less then a week ago.

Can someone please tell me how should I go about doing that please urgently?

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sky December 12, 2012 at 7:07 am

I know what I did was really stupid and it definitely left a bad impression in their mind but I really want to get this job offer back as the job prospects and terms they offered then was really established and will definitely help me build a strong employment track record. Actually further research after the job offer was retracted from me tells that I should expect a lower starting pay as this industry that I am in pays well as I gain more exposure and experience and I should not expect a lot in the beginning. Damn!

Can anyone please help?

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Ask a Manager December 12, 2012 at 10:35 am

I don’t think there’s much more you can do. First, trying to renegotiate after you already accepted an offer is going to piss them off — imagine if a company offered you a job, you accepted and withdrew from other hiring processes you were involved in, and then they came back and said, “Actually, we want to give you 30% less than what we agreed to earlier.” You’d rightly feel like you didn’t want to work with those people. The same principle applies here, unfortunately. I think this bridge is burned, and you’ll have to move on.

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sky December 12, 2012 at 10:51 am

I guess you are right. I knew it in my heart, just didn’t wanna admit it. *Sigh* will have to live with my mistakes and possibly a life changing career and look for other sub-par jobs for now. Man, I can literally feel a stab in the heart missing out this great opportunity. Appreciate the advise and thanks for saving me from more embarrassment begging them for the job again.

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Keyla December 12, 2012 at 2:03 pm

Hello,

Not sure where to post but my situation is similar. I rejected an offer for a teaching job back in October. I deal with anxiety and it affected my decision. The HR lady saw it personally and seemed understanding about it. The next day I realized I shouldn’t let this anxiety affect my decisions and apologized to the principal via email explaining my whole situation (stress and everything) she didn’t reply at all and I know for sure she read the email. Almost two months later, the position is still up and it is in fact opened. ( I called to ask) Would it be wise to go in person and ask for another opportunity, admit my mistake, and tell the principal I am ready?

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Ask a Manager December 12, 2012 at 2:15 pm

Don’t show up in person. You could contact the HR person by email and ask if they’d be willing to reconsider you for the opening now.

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Keyla December 12, 2012 at 2:26 pm

Sorry, I forgot to mention that I had emailed the HR lady back then the same thing and she seemed very sweet but lied that they had gotten someone else and were just waiting for the signatures. She even told me God bless and good luck :/…unless the person rejected them too but I wouldn’t know…Thank you for your reply.

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Ryan May 12, 2013 at 7:40 pm

Hi guys,
I want to share my experience with you.
I had two offers. I turned one down and chose the other. But second company has some funding problem and they suddenly terminated my contract before joining. I emailed hiring manager of first company and they had not filled the position. They hired me again immediately.

My advice:
1>While rejecting the offer, don’t burn the bridges.
2>Don’t feel embarassed to ask again. You are not going to lose anything.

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Adi May 20, 2013 at 5:05 pm

Hey Ryan,

My situation is very similar to yours. What did you email the HR? I have emailed the HR too, but have not gotten a reply back and it has been 2 days.

Should you be apologetic? or just ask if position is available? I probably cost them time and money, not accepting it then

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Augustine June 17, 2013 at 10:59 pm

i had accepted the offer letter but i did not join the ompany. Can i reapply for the position. Will the consider this time.

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Row October 27, 2013 at 5:08 am

Hello Everyone,

I have also turned down a job offer me. They told told to think about it. I replied to them to increase the offer at least 15%. After my email regarding the salary, they did not reply to me. I really like the job description given to me. Now, I feel that I want to accept the offer first given to me, but that was 2 months ago. Is there a chance to be reconsidered? if yes, how will I email them?

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