A reader writes:
For months, I have been planning on joining a nonprofit organization in another country, starting in September. We negotiated terms and I was told I had the position back in June. Since then, I have communicated frequently with the director of the organization, as well as several other staff members, to prepare the documents I need for my visa, etc. The director also asked me to meet with people in several organizations in Washington, D.C., while I was still here in the U.S., and even wrote introductory emails for me to some of them. These meetings were conducted on my time and dollar.
Suddenly my job offer has been retracted. I get the sense that it is not a budgetary issue, but that the director has developed a personal problem with me. During the salary negotiations, we had agreed on two possible packages, one of which was a higher salary, and the other a lower salary plus reimbursement of some expenses. She recently indicated they planned to go with the second option, and I wrote back saying I preferred the first option, if at all possible. After receiving no response for a week, I was told they cannot meet my requirements and therefore they have made the final decision not to bring me on. I immediately requested a phone call to discuss the issue, and have been strung along for nearly two weeks now, as the director has rescheduled the call several times and has finally ceased to respond to my request to talk at all.
I am stunned that my request for one compensation package over the other elicited such a strong response, and I am even more upset by the fact that I cannot seem to make this person talk to me to smooth things over. At this point, I would like to contact the people with whom I met in D.C. (and to whom I had been introduced as a new member of the organization) and inform them that I will not be taking the job after all. Several of the people I met with work at organizations that are currently funding projects at the nonprofit I was about to join. How can I tactfully tell them about my predicament in a manner that will clue them in on the lack of professionalism at the organization they are funding, while also putting myself out there as a job seeker open to any leads they might be able to provide?
You can certainly reach out and let them know that you won’t be working with XYZ organization after all, but I wouldn’t try to clue them in on anything about the organization’s professionalism. There’s too much risk of it reflecting poorly on you — because often when someone badmouths an organization, however subtly, they’re the one who ends up looking bad. And in this case, they barely know you, but it sounds like they do know the organization. So you’re already at a disadvantage in a he-said/she-said.
You’ll come across much better if you take the high road. Let them know that you won’t be working with the organization after all, but that you’d love to work with them in the future. You can even add, “In fact, I’m currently looking for a role doing ___ for a similar organization, and would love to talk with you if you know of anything that might be the right fit.” (Or you could make it more general and suggest a less-specific coffee or something, if that feels appropriate.)
Some people may ask you what happened. Your best bet then is to keep it very simple and keep bitterness out of your response — so something like, “Unfortunately we weren’t able to agree on final terms.” Resist the impulse to go into the details. You might succeed in raising questions in their mind about the organization, but you’re even more likely to end up raising questions about (a) why you’re sharing dirty laundry, and (b) whether there was something on your end that caused the organization to pull the offer. Neither of those help you.
Now, as for what happened itself … I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I’m not sure there was ever a final job negotiation that you should have been counting on. When compensation hasn’t yet been finalized, negotiations are still in process. And you hadn’t finalized things — you had agreed on two possible compensation packages, but ultimately you wanted one and they wanted the other, and things fell through. So I’m not sure this is quite like having a finalized job that then gets pulled — it’s more like having offer negotiations aborted. They shouldn’t have been having you introduce yourself as a new staff member to people outside the organization, but nor should you have agreed to do it — because you hadn’t come to terms yet, and things were still up in the air. I realize it’s not quite that straightforward, because both sides clouded it up by moving forward with other elements before they should have — but ultimately, if you haven’t fully agreed on final terms, nothing is official.
I realize that doesn’t help you now, but it might be useful to keep that in mind as you process what happened here.